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By Conor Humphries
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's approval rating has fallen to an eight-month low, a poll said on Wednesday, as faith in Russia's leaders is tested by an economic crisis that has put more than one million people out of work.
Despite a sharp deterioration in the economy, Putin and ally President Dmitry Medvedev have enjoyed high ratings since they took up their posts last year. But polls have shown their public approval fall steadily in recent months.
Public trust in the work of Putin fell from a peak of 72 percent in mid-October to 65 percent on November 22, the lowest point since March, according to weekly poll figures posted on the site of the Public Opinion Foundation on Wednesday.
Medvedev's rating stood at 54 percent, down from 62 percent in October.
"This is extremely serious for the government," Moscow Carnegie Centre analyst Nikolai Petrov said. "In the absence of any stable political institutions, Putin's popularity is the foundation of the country's political stability."
He said the fall was clearly caused by the economic crisis, and government decisions to raise pensions and scrap a controversial transport tax were efforts to stem the fall.
Russia remains mired in a deep economic crisis, with GDP contracting 8.9 pct in the third quarter from a year earlier. Unemployment has climbed by more than a third, from 4.1 million in May last year to 5.8 million in October.
Trust in the prime minister's office fell from 80 percent in August to 73 percent in November, according to rival pollster VtSIOM. A third poll from the Levada centre registered a fall in trust in Putin from 66 percent in August to 60 in November.
"Putin and Medvedev's ratings are not directly dependent on what they do and say, they reflect the general situation in the country," Levada Centre analyst Denis Volkov said. "We have seen a steady fall, but no collapse."
Public trust in Medvedev fell from 58 percent in August to 51 percent in October, according to the Levada Centre. The
Kremlin-aligned analyst Sergei Markov warned against reading too much into the poll ratings, saying ratings always fell as Russia's long, grey winter.
"They'll get better again in May when the sun comes out," he said.
(Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Reuters