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Are Russian elections free and fair? Is Vladimir Putin an autocrat? Is Russia a cold and closed-off place?

Those are questions that Americans have for Russians. We have some answers from Russians themselves.

The presidential election Sunday will train a spotlight on the state of Russian public opinion, but we want to provide a more textured look into what Russians are thinking. So we asked Americans outside our Washington headquarters last month what they wanted to know from Russians. Then we played back or read those questions to Russians strolling in central Moscow’s Gorky Park.

Here’s what we found:

Q: What are the differences between living in Russia and living in the United States?

A: Zhanna, a young architect, said Russians set the bar higher for themselves than what they can really achieve. Artyom Znamensky, a young web designer, echoed several others in describing material life in America as better.

Q: Is Russia really cold, dangerous, and mysterious – or is that just a stereotype?

A: The Russians agreed these are stereotypes, though the March snow you see in Gorky Park confirms that it is, in fact, cold. Fitness and finance entrepreneur Elena Yanchukova said she sees a hidden a hand at work in building stereotypes both in Russia and in America. Zhanna, the young architect, said foreigners who come to Russia quickly see their prejudices dispelled.

Q: Is Putin an autocrat and a dictator?

A: Civil servant Alexander claimed that while almost everyone in Russia supports Putin’s foreign policy, his actions at home left more people uneasy. But when Andrian Shaposhnikov said there was no reason to fear Putin, a woman passing by didn’t hide her disagreement.

Q: Are Russian elections free and fair?

A: Web designer Irina Yelmeshina described Russia’s effort to boost turnout as proof that it has free elections. But Yanchukova sees the lack of a strong competitor to Putin as a problem.

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The Washington Post’s Julie Vitkovskaya contributed to this report.


Video: The Washington Post asked Americans what they wanted to know from Russians and posed those questions to Russians in central Moscow. Here’s what we found.