Not Even Weather Can Dampen Putin's Spirits

ReutersValentina Morozova, an LDPR observer from Tula, stopping Vladimir Putin as he tried to submit his ballot Sunday.
With his protege widely expected to be elected president in a landslide victory, not even the miserable Moscow weather could dampen President Vladimir Putin's mood as he cast his ballot Sunday in southwest Moscow.

His wife even said the freezing rain was a blessing.

"Today when we were leaving home, Lyudmila Alexandrovna said, 'It's raining -- a good omen,'" Putin told reporters at Polling Station No. 2074 at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

After he and his wife had cast their ballots, Putin said he was in a "good, festive" mood, a disposition apparently not disturbed by an elderly woman on crutches who unexpectedly approached him as he tried to submit his ballot.

The poker-faced Putin was caught off guard by the woman, an observer from the Liberal Democratic Party who appeared to be complaining about something. When a security guard attempted to remove the woman, Putin motioned to him to stay back and proceeded to hear her out, at one point placing his hand on her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her. After Putin left the polling station, election officials identified the woman as Tula resident Valentina Morozova. She ignored repeated requests by reporters to reveal the contents of her brief conversation with Putin. "She's late. He's no longer president," said Anna Soinova, an observer from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which formally nominated Putin's handpicked candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, for president.

Putin, in fact, does not officially leave office until May.

Many voters at Putin's polling station said they were satisfied with the choice of candidates and that they had cast their ballots for Medvedev.

"It's time to be responsible people," said Yelena Odina, a preschool teacher. Odina declined to say which candidate she had chosen, saying only that she had voted for stability and continuity. People are tired of political upheavals, she said.

Gennady Zaitsev, former head of the Federal Aviation Service, said he voted for Medvedev because there were no other worthy candidates.

"Who else? The Communist Party? Been there, done that," Zaitsev said.

And LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky would put everyone in prison if he were to become president, Zaitsev said, referring to Zhirinovsky's promise to jail thousands of officials.

Pensioner Vladimir Sysoyev said he had voted for Medvedev because the Kremlin-backed candidate would continue Putin's effort to keep Russia strong. He said he was not concerned that Medvedev's victory was largely a foregone conclusion. "It's done this way everywhere," Sysoyev said.

After Putin voted, he dined with Medvedev, Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov at the central Moscow restaurant Expedition, which specializes in Arctic cuisine and is frequented by government officials.

Nina, a manager at the restaurant, said the staff learned of the august visit roughly 30 minutes before the guests arrived. The senior officials dined for about 90 minutes, said Nina, who described the ambience as "very good."

"They joked in a carefree manner," she said.

Sea-urchin caviar piqued Medvedev's interest, and whitefish and Arctic cisco were also served, RIA-Novosti reported.

When Mironov could not find the dish he wanted, Putin said: "We'll come here next week."