1. Putin’s expected election triumph will set him up to be president for life.
It’s true that during his presidency and his tenure as prime minister, Putin has ruled Russia like a latter-day czar. He has ended direct elections for regional governors, subdued unruly oligarchs, marginalized political opposition, and neutered the judiciary, the news media and Russia’s legislature, the Duma. But Putin’s neo-czarist system has been sputtering for some time. Slower economic growth, crime, corruption and a bloated bureaucracy have led many Russians to say “Dostali!” (“We are fed up!”)
So after Putin announced his plans to return to the Kremlin, and activists with cellphone cameras documented ballot-stuffing during Duma elections in December, something snapped. Subsequent street protests shattered Putin’s aura of invincibility and his image as a good czar. The ruling United Russia party, which took a drubbing at the polls, may be rebranded or dismantled. Medvedev, seeking to mollify the protesters, is reinstating elections for regional governorships; the incumbents will have every incentive to distance themselves from Moscow.