PutinIt appears that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is trying to buy votes in the upcoming presidential elections in three weeks.

This week, Putin promised to increase the wages of teachers and doctors and improve the healthcare and education systems in the country as a way to win over the middle class, after tens of thousands protested in freezing temperatures in December to show their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

And last week, opponents of Putin hung a huge yellow banner facing the Kremlin with a giant "X" daubed across Putin’s face, next to the words "Putin Go Away" in Russian.

"The sheer brazenness of such protests and the anger at Prime Minister Putin among the urban middle classes were unthinkable a year ago," said New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Nevertheless, Putin is still expected to win the elections, which would mean 12 more years of his rule.

In the meantime, Putin is trying to win over voters. This year, Putin has already increased wages for military and law enforcement personnel.

According to the Financial Times, Russian analysts said Putin’s promises would not do away with the discontent brewing among the urban educated classes, given Putin’s reputation for corruption and vote-rigging. 

But that won’t stop Putin from trying. Last week he tried to woo Russia’s internet activists by saying he would broaden Russia’s political life.

The challenge for Putin, Mikhail Dmitriev, head of the government-connected Centre for Strategic Research, told the Financial Times, will be paying for the pledges he is making. Russia’s budget is already in deficit this year.

Putin said the cost of fulfilling his promises will be about $30 billion. Economists say Putin will have to either raises taxes or cut social spending in  years to come if he is going to slash the deficit.

Putin also called for a "workers' aristocracy" that would provide professional training, create broader public ownership of Russia’s biggest companies, improve access to affordable housing and increase handouts to low-income families so they will continue to have children and counteract Russia’s declining population.

(Photo © RIA Novosti / Sergey Mamontov)