Two practical questions can be asked of any political system: First, what distinguishes the political parties? Second, who is in charge?
For a while in postcommunist Russia, the answers were blindingly clear: parties were divided between those nostalgic for Soviet times and those who wanted reform. Who was in charge? The president.
After twelve years of transition, the answer to the first question has blurred. With the Communist Party in terminal decline, ideologies are vanishing. Indeed, anybody hoping for an obvious clash of left and right during the recent presidential election campaign was bound to be disappointed, because the answer to the second question is even more emphatic today: President Putin's re-election was never in doubt. This president is very much in charge.
Putin's all-encompassing popularity, which is genuine, and his blurring of all political dividing lines has given him an unassailable position. Many bemoan this state of affairs, but his ascendancy might be less malign than it seems.