Putin’s Choice

How Vladimir Putin, an astute politician, responds to domestic pressure after resuming the presidency on May 7 will decide his political legacy. And the West’s response could have a marked effect on whether he presses for liberalizing reforms and survives, or follows his KGB-honed authoritarian instincts and stokes further protest.

BRUSSELS – Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin as Russia’s president was always a foregone conclusion. But, when he is sworn in on May 7, he will retake formal charge of a country whose politics – even Putin’s own political future – has turned unpredictable.

Putin’s return to the presidency, following a period of de facto control as prime minister, was supposed to signify a reassuring continuation of “business as usual” – a strong, orderly state devoid of the potentially destabilizing effects of multiparty democracy and bickering politicians.

Instead, the Russian people have now challenged the status quo. Their reaction to Putin’s plan – from the announcement last September that President Dmitri Medvedev would stand aside for his mentor, to the deeply flawed parliamentary and presidential elections – and their accumulated resentment of Kremlin cronies’ massive enrichment, has placed pressure on Putin and the top-down system of government that he created.

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