Is Russia's President Putin a dictator or democrat?

President Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK

Russia's Central Election Commission has allowed more than 500 foreign observers to monitor the March 14th. presidential election. Half of the monitors are from the Vienna based OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The election looks like a foregone conclusion for incumbent president Vladimir Putin. Jill Zobel spoke to Nikolai Petrov from the Carnegie Center in Moscow and to Russiaa expert Gerhard Mangott, from the Austrian institute for international relations and asked them to analyse Mr Piutin's appeal to Russians.

Putin's election campaign,  photo: CTK
MANGOTT: "They trust this man because they think he will do better in the future. They have hopes associated with him and they have expectations associated with him - that's one reason. The second explanation is there is simply no one else, there is no alternative to Vladimir Putin, that is why he is popular. And the interesting thing is that this is like a soap bubble, it could implode at any time. Whenever anything goes wrong with the economy, all this myth of Putin being the savior of Russia could implode and that is where his vulnerability lies."

So he is vulnerable but the mood in Russia after four years of Vladimir Putin, Nikolai would you say it is more optimistic?

PETROV: "Yes I would say that the situation in the economy improved essentially and it is felt by ordinary Russians but we need to have in mind that since Mr Putin has come into power that state control over the mass media has essentially increased and so if we are speaking about a kind of virtual origin of Mr. Putin's popularity then it is kept by this control over mass media."

MANGOTT: "The nationwide television stations are either directly or indirectly under full state control. Of course there are some independent newspapers but they have a circulation of a few hundred thousand in the huge cities of St. Petersburg or Moscow, in the huge cities of the country. So it's not the print media which has an impact on public opinion it's the electronic media."

It's also expected I believe that after the March 14th elections the communist party, after 101 years, will basically cease to exist.

President Vladimir Putin,  photo: CTK
MANGOTT: "The communist party is really in disarray at the moment. They are bankrupt, not only in financial terms but they are bankrupt in terms of programs and ideas. They did a very poor campaign for the parliamentary elections last year but they have also been the object of a slanderous media campaign by the authorities and they have been the victim of so-called spoiler parties, parties that were created by the Kremlin to pull away votes from the communists. So what you may see over the coming months is that the Kremlin is even nationalising the communist party as the only real opposition party in the country."

Is he a dictator, is he Czar, or is he a democratically elected president?

MANGOTT: "I don't consider him to be a dictator, he's definitely not anti-democratic. I think he doesn't care about democracy. He has a different mission. He feels himself being a modernizer of Russia in order to make it a great country again. So he's very much a pragmatic nationalist and he has done a good job in terms of modernising Russia, real income has gone up, fiscal responsibility is in place, so in economic terms he's very successful. "