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Last Updated: Friday, 29 February 2008, 07:11 GMT
Putin boom passes rural Russia by
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

A Russian traditional wooden Matryoshka doll depicting President Vladimir Putin, right, and Dmitry Medvedev 28 February 2008.
Dmitry Medvedev looks set for the top Kremlin job

A visit to Moscow can be a shock. In a little over two decades, the capital of communism has become the capital of consumerism.

In some parts of town, newcomers may find themselves confined to window-shopping.

The phrase "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it," could have been dreamed up with the exclusive shops and restaurants of modern Moscow in mind.

Plenty of Muscovites can afford it, and this city is awake 24 hours a day to allow them to spend, spend, spend.

Many Russians, especially in the capital, are having the time of their lives. They want the party to go on.

That's why, even without the considerable media and financial resources he enjoys, Dmitry Medvedev would still be very well set for the top job in the Kremlin.

Moscow the magnet

Mr Medvedev is the chosen successor of Vladimir Putin, the man who has presided over the good times.

"Fifteen years ago it was a very bad situation, after perestroika, you know, no food, the beginning of capitalism," 30-year-old marketing manager Anna Artamonova told me in her office north of the city centre.

Village of Smirnovka
Tatiana Danilovna's house in Smirnovka has no running water

"But now I think everything is like in Europe or the United States, you know, the level of life. I can't say about all Russia," she admits. "I live in Moscow. In Moscow, I think the level is very high."

Anna rightly suspects it's not the full story. You don't even have to leave the Moscow region to see a very different country: a land of villages which people of working age have largely left in search of a better life, returning only occasionally to care for elderly relatives.

Smirnovka is such a place.

No heating

"There's no water in the house, and we have to buy firewood and have it brought from the forest," 70-year-old Tatiana Danilovna told me, as she paused from sweeping the snow off the doorstep of her wooden house.

No running water, and no central heating - this within commuting distance of the gleaming offices of central Moscow.

Vasily Kuznetsov, member of Perm city council
Vasily Kuznetsov says Russian paralysis is a thing of the past

Leave the capital region behind, and a pattern starts to emerge.

Perm is a city of a million people in the Ural mountains region. The signs of the good times are striking: showrooms full of shiny cars; 24-hour shops selling electronic goods.

But beyond the city limits, in Krasnokamsk, they are talking about the time last month that they lost their water supply.

"Water was brought to several locations across town," Svetlana Ivanova told me. "People queued up with flasks and buckets for hours, standing outside in the cold. Some of the water was only brought for pensioners, so not everyone got it."

Progress

Vasily Kuznetsov is a member of Perm's city council. He accepts that there are problems, but prefers to emphasise progress - like the big road-building programme the municipality has embarked on.

"I tell you that in these seven or eight years, we've gone from complete impotence," he says, summing up Mr Putin's time in office.

"We were frustrated after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We felt like we couldn't do anything. We weren't going anywhere. We've got out of that situation."

Clouds

Even Mr Putin's supporters accept that more must be done to tackle the problems which remain. The biggest clouds on the horizon are inflation - last year it was close to 12%, this year it could be higher - and the consequences of creaking, Soviet-era, infrastructure.

"There are a few real threats," says Sergei Markov, a member of parliament for the pro-Putin United Russia party.

"One is the increasing gap between rich and poor. If we combine this increase with some kind of liberal economic reforms, which could strip some governmental support from poor people, it can lead to an uprising."





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