Putin's winter fairy tale
Vladimir Putin's position on Syria and Ukraine may have been criticised in the West, but Russia's president is adored and admired by many at home, as Steve Rosenberg discovers on a visit to Volokolamsk.
In Russia, there is something magical about the early winter snow. It transforms muddy fields and dilapidated farmhouses into a fairy tale - a snow globe you want to pick up and shake and could stare at for hours.
Of course, every fairy tale has its heroes. And, 70 miles from Moscow, so does this one.
Viktor Krestinin shows me his cows. Then he reads me his couplets. Viktor is the poet-farmer of Volokolamsk. Here's one of his verses:
Be you a genius or a VIP, there's no wonder,
We all end up 6ft under,
We all get our just deserts I tell,
But some go to heaven and some to hell.
From the way in which Viktor describes his president, there'll be no burning in hell for Vladimir Putin.
"I support Putin and how he's hammering the terrorists in Syria," Viktor tells me. "Putin's a real leader. It's like me and my farm. This place was a mess before I took charge. And Russia was a real mess before Putin took over."
While he backs Russia's military campaign in Syria, Viktor tells me he's against the idea of putting Russian troops on the ground there.
"But what if Putin said it was necessary?" I ask.
"Well, if the motherland says it's necessary, then we obey. You don't discuss the orders of the commander in chief. You carry them out."
At School Number One in Volokolamsk, I'm given a similar lesson.
"When we listen to his speeches on TV, we feel Putin cares for all the people. He's a good president," says teacher Ludmila Verbitskaya.
Ludmila has been teaching English here for 35 years. Her son, she says, has become a monk. And her president, she tells me, has become a good Christian.
"You trust him completely?" I ask.
"And whatever decision he takes about Syria, about the military operation, you will support that?"
"Yes we will support."
"Do you think he makes any mistakes?" I enquire.
"We are not afraid of his mistakes," says Ludmila. "Every man can make mistakes. But if he trusts in God, God will correct him."
Out on the street I get talking to Marina. She's worried, because she believes it was Russian air strikes in Syria that provoked the attack on the Russian passenger jet over Sinai. I remind her that those air strikes were Vladimir Putin's idea. So, does she believe the air operation was a mistake?
"Well, if it was, there's nothing I can do about it," Marina says.
"Has this changed your attitude to Putin?" I ask.
"No, not at all," replies Marina. "We love him, he's a man of the people!"
Few Russians hold their president directly responsible for the decisions he takes. That's partly because of the age-old tradition here of respecting the man at the top - the tsar, the emperor, the general secretary, whoever it may be. And, partly, because of Russian television which heaps praise on Vladimir Putin from morning till night.
Across town at the Patriots of Russia club, teenage cadets in uniform march along singing about the joys of military service.
"You and I are destined to serve Russia! Serve Russia, this remarkable country!"
This is just the kind of patriotic fervour which Putin's Russia has been nurturing.
Inside, one of the cadets takes apart a Kalashnikov rifle and puts it back together again - all in just 16 seconds.
"Vladimir Putin is a great ruler," the cadet tells me. "It's not just Russia that thinks so. But the whole world."
The Patriots of Russia make me feel very welcome. That cannot be said for my final destination.
We drive to the Textile Workers Culture Palace. A big sign in the hall declares: "Terrorism is a threat to society."
We had hoped to meet the local choir, "Constellation". Instead, we meet a policeman. The culture palace director has called in the constable, suspecting that we are terrorists planning an attack. He asks us to fill out a form explaining the purpose of our visit.
"Do you really think we're terrorists?" I ask the culture palace director.
"These days you can't be sure of anything," she replies.
Police paperwork complete, we're finally allowed into the rehearsal room. As we enter, Constellation is singing about a river flowing through a forest of birch trees, and a white bird flying to heaven and back bringing divine forgiveness to Earth.
"Music helps us so much," one of the singers Maria tells me. "The TV news bulletins now are full of shooting and killing. But coming here gives us faith in the future. But it's not just the music. There's also something special in the Russian character that helps us to stand strong and overcome trouble."
The thing about fairy tales is that, despite all their twists and turns and dramas, they normally have a happy ending. Russians are still counting on one. And many people here still trust their president to make it happen.
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