July 17, 2007 / 1:03 PM / 11 years ago

Putin more liberal than most Russians, poll shows

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive foreign policy enjoys huge support at home, an opinion poll showed on Tuesday, adding in a commentary that the Kremlin chief seemed more liberal than most his people.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin makes a speech during Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's inauguration ceremony in Moscow, July 6, 2007. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

Half of those polled also believed Putin would run again for the presidency next March — though he has repeatedly said he will stick to the constitution and step down after two terms.

The survey, conducted for Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital by local pollster VTsIOM, showed that 81 percent of 1,600 people polled in 46 Russian regions in mid-June agreed that Russia was forging a strong global role.

Asked about another investor concern — increasing government involvement in the Russian economy — 90 percent of respondents said they backed the policy.

“Given the significant popular pressure, it is impressive that the government under President Putin has been as hands-off as it has been with the economy,” a note accompanying the poll results said.

“Similarly, Putin’s more aggressive foreign policy stance, while undermining relations in the West, has proved popular at home,” Renaissance Capital said. “The case can be made that Putin is a liberal relative to the median Russian voter.”

Putin has begun his final year in power amid rising tensions with the West, caused by fears of Russian energy ambitions and differences on a range of international issues from Kosovo to U.S. missile defense plans.

Russia is now embroiled in a diplomatic row with Britain over the murder of a Russian emigre in London that has led to London announcing the expulsion of four diplomats.

Putin has made national resurgence and a quest for a new global role — possible now after several years of strong economic growth — key themes of his presidency.

He has rejected criticism, much of it from the West, that his political reforms have been at the expense of democracy and caused a stifling of political opposition.

The poll showed most Russians believe Putin has done the right thing.

A total of 66 percent of respondents agreed, to varying extents, that Russians lived better now than in the Soviet Union in 1991. Seventy-two percent said Russia was moving in the right direction.

Assuming Putin steps down as pledged next March, 52 percent said they would “definitely” or “probably” vote for a candidate of his choice.

Two men are most often mentioned as possible successors - first deputy prime ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev.

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