Putin's popularity takes a hit ahead of vote
Moscow - Vladimir Putin's approval ratings have declined to historic lows, polls showed on Friday, as liberal media suggested the powerful prime minister was growing out of touch after Russia was swept by protests.
The day earlier Putin gave one of his trademark strongman performances at his annual phone-in with Russians, making light of the rallies and joking that he mistook the white ribbons on protesters' lapels for condoms.
Liberal media said that despite visible efforts to present to the Russians a newer, more democratic version of himself, the 4 1/2-hour phone-in only exposed a gap between society's expectations and Putin's inability to change tack.
"His style looked outdated and [his] jokes [are] not funny," Vedomosti business daily said in an editorial. "Comparisons of the white ribbons to condoms and accusations of being paid to demonstrate were not pretty or smart."
Prominent commentator Mikhail Fishman added in the same newspaper: "Putin does not realise that the rising tide is largely directed against him personally."
"Therefore, the political crisis based around his figure will be accelerating - and pretty fast," he wrote.
The opposition and observers say Putin's ruling United Russia party cheated its way to a slim majority in parliamentary polls this month, with public anger culminating in a series of mass protests across the country last weekend.
Over 24 000 people have already said on Facebook they are attending a new protest on December 24, an uncomfortable prospect for Putin as he heads into his campaign to return to the Kremlin in March presidential elections.
The most recent polls showed Putin's popularity has taken such a dive he will not be able to secure victory in the first round.