MOSCOW, Russia (AP) - The success and possible future undoing of President Vladimir Putin lies in the contrast between people like provincial housewife Yekaterina Arsentyeva and Moscow student Kirill Guskov.
In the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Arsentyeva sees Putin as the only man who can ensure her children have a decent future. In the capital, Guskov can't hide his contempt for Russia's leader and the culture of corruption he has overseen: "A fish rots from its head," he fumes.
An Associated Press-GfK poll released Monday reveals a stark divide between Moscow and the rest of Russia over the man who has ruled the country for the past 12 years. A total of 60 percent of Russians maintain a favorable opinion of the president as he begins his third term. In contrast, only 38 percent in the capital - where tens of thousands have joined anti-Putin protests - have a favorable view of him.
The division extends to views on the fairness of elections and the state of the economy, while almost all agree that corruption is among the most serious problems facing Russia today.
The split promises to have profound, albeit still unknown, consequences for the future of the protest movement and of Putin himself. The outcome depends in large part on the economy, which the poll shows is the primary concern of most Russians. While anger over the trampling of democratic rights has brought Muscovites out to protest in droves, any deterioration in living standards could prove the catalyst for protests in the provinces. Pending hikes in utilities prices have the potential to cause broad discontent.