Russians see little hope of change they crave in Putin's next term
Mozhaisk (Russia) (AFP)
Retired rocket scientist Anatoly Alexandrovich has a blunt suggestion for how the Russian healthcare system could be improved: "Drop an atomic bomb on it".
The 77-year-old has spent the morning bouncing between various doctors' offices in Mozhaisk, a town some 68 miles (110 km) to the west of Moscow, to get a prescription for medicine to treat a blood clot.
"Doctors get annoyed at the patients and the patients at the doctors," he says of the underfunded system.
"If a doctor prescribes an expensive medicine in Russia then the local administration shouts at them -- then the department of health shouts at the local administration."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is set to win a fourth term in a landslide on Sunday, has laid out plans to double spending on healthcare over the next six years along with a raft of other measures to tackle social problems.
But Anatoly, who has come with Soviet medals pinned to his chest for his hospital appointment, says previous declarations from the Kremlin have led to little change on the ground.
"Over 18 years with Putin, nothing has got better. Corruption has got worse. The courts, the prosecutor, everything is corrupt. Power has merged with the criminal underworld and Putin knows this."
The president has led a lacklustre election campaign, declining to take part in televised debates and shooting no new material for his own advertisements.
Instead, he and a compliant state media have sought to reinforce his image as the man who brought stability after the chaos of the 1990s, as well as restoring Russia's standing on the world stage.
It is a message that has proved popular with voters, nearly 70 percent of whom are expected to back Putin in the polls -- according to state pollsters -- though many of them acknowledge serious problems after almost two decades of his rule.
- The devil you know -
Galina Belousova, a 30-year-old shop assistant who has brought her young daughter for an appointment at Mozhaisk hospital, believes it is harder to bring up a child now than it was during her grandparents' time in the Soviet era.
While her grandparents had stable employment, Belousova's husband can find only irregular work and might go more than a year without bringing in a salary.
"Everything is getting more and more expensive... it seems like it was easier to live then than now," she says, adding that monthly child support is barely enough for a pack of nappies.
Belousova questions if anything will change over another six-year term but still plans to vote for Putin, who has promised to raise spending on families.
"Of course I hope that Putin will improve something, though I have doubts. But it would be dangerous to elect another president," she says. "We're scared that it would be worse. I know what to expect from him."
The other seven candidates in the weekend election are a motley crew of Kremlin-approved challengers, including former reality TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak, ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and millionaire communist Pavel Grudinin.
None is polling at more than 8 percent, while Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and Putin's most vocal critic, has been barred from standing for legal reasons.
"It would be good if there were more jobs. Because businesses are suffering, collective farms are dying... people have nowhere to work," says road worker Vladimir Kirikov.
On a lane leading to Borodino, the site of the bloody 1812 battle with France during Napoleon's Russia campaign, Kirikov praises Putin for restoring the country's defence capabilities after the "ruin" he was left by Boris Yeltsin.
But the 25-year-old's hopes for the president's next term are low: "Just that there's no war."
© 2018 AFP