Putin of all the Russias

VIENNA -- For those who still wondered who Vladimir Putin is, the mystery is over. His actions this week show that he is Russia’s new autocrat. He is a Czar pure and simple.

The seven years since Putin assumed power in the Kremlin have been a time of conflicting signals. On one hand, he appears to be an educated and dynamic leader committed to modernizing Russia. On the other hand, with the help of the military-industrial KGB complex – the “ siloviki ” – he has systematically weakened or destroyed every check on his personal power, while strengthening the state’s ability to violate citizens’ constitutional rights.

This week, Putin told the United Russia party that he will place his name at the top of its ballot for the parliamentary election scheduled for December 2, which could enable him to become Russia’s new prime minister after the presidential election due in March 2008. Of course, as he put it, Russia will have to elect as president a “decent, competent, effective, modern person with whom it would be possible to work in tandem.” But what that really means is that Russia will have to choose a man Putin has hand-picked to do his bidding.

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