An overall sense that that Putin’s first two years in power did not bring about hoped-for changes might explain why public support and sympathy for Putin was showing subtle signs of erosion. Surveys taken over the last two years by the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) indicated a gradual reduction in both the number of people who thought Putin could “restore order in country” (82 percent said he could in May 2000, 73 percent in April 2001, 72 percent in January 2002), and in the number of those who thought he could “get Russia out of the economic crisis” (73 percent in May 2000, 66 percent in April 2001 and 64 percent in January 2002). Another leading polling agency found that a plurality of Russians shared Moskovsky Komsomolets’ view that the bureaucracy had tamed Putin, and not the other way around. Forty-six percent of those contacted by the Public Opinion Foundation on March 16 said they believed Putin was under the influence of other people and did not take decisions independently. Forty-three percent said this was not the case.

Still, compared to the single-digit approval ratings that his predecessor regularly received in polls, Putin’s level of support remained positively astronomical. The head of state also continued to enjoy adulation bordering on a personality cult in some quarters. For example, a new Monopoly-like board game that went on sale last week, called “Manager of Russia,” features on its box-top a drawing of a person who looks very much like Putin and is pointing to a message reading: “To children from the president: Learn to do business for the benefit of Russia!”