`I cast my vote for those who love Russia as much as you love England'

RUSSIAN TRICOLOURS fluttered in Samotechny Lane as residents of my Moscow neighbourhood walked through the fresh snow to vote in elections for a new State Duma. At School Number 1275, a policeman watched for terrorists and party agitators breaking the law against campaigning on polling day but he tolerated a reporter.

The voters emerging tended to divide into two kinds. Those prepared to be open with a foreign journalist had generally voted for Western-leaning liberal parties. Others were more cryptic, like the old man who said: "I have voted for those who love Russia as much as you love England. We were allies ... but now ... good old England does not support Russia." He was affronted by Western criticism of Moscow's solution to the problem of terrorism in Chechnya. His comment suggested he voted for the new Unity Party, endorsed by the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

Moscow's inner-city districts tend to be inhabited by thosewho think of themselves as the intelligentsia. Thus Samotechny Lane seemed to be producing a strong vote of confidence for Yuri Luzhkov, who is hoping for a new mandate as mayor of the capital. And for parliament my neighbours were voting in droves for Grigory Yavlinsky's liberal Yabloko Party. Alexei, a student, chose it because he liked a broadcast in which Mr Yavlinsky had asked: "If, over several years, a person goes on insisting that two plus two equals four, does that make him obstinate or principled?" Sofia, a middle-aged woman in a Persian lamb coat, and her daughter Natalia had also voted for Yabloko for that reason.

Another possible solution for a Russian disgruntled with Boris Yeltsin's reforms but not wanting to return to communism is to vote for Fatherland- All Russia, the bloc supported by Mr Luzhkov and led by the former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. But nobody I spoke to had done so.

An out-and-out Kremlin opponent is likely to vote Communist but stereotypes can be misleading. Not all Communist supporters are elderly: Zalina, a journalist in her 30s, said she had voted for a nationalist linked to the Communist Party because her Orthodox priest had advised her to do so.

And not all pensioners are Communists. Galina Alexeyevna, so impoverished that she eats only bread, had voted for the Unity pro-Kremlin party. She liked Mr Putin, not so much for his Chechnya policy but because, at 47, he is relatively young. "We need someone like him instead of an old man who, as soon as he takes the top seat, starts to think it is a throne and he is tsar and God Almighty."

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