WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Vladimir Putin turned Russia’ parliamentary election into a referendum on himself – and won by a landslide. But, while he refuses to spell out his plans for remaining in power once his second term expires next spring, his economic policy is clear.

The strangest thing about the Duma election was that Putin lost his nerve. He over-exposed himself in public appearances that were as aggressive as they were vague in substance. He ran against the West and the “chaos” of the 1990’s, just as he raged against Chechen terrorists in 1999 and against oligarchs in 2003.

The Kremlin abandoned democratic procedures, controlling which parties were allowed to run and their candidates, while Putin’s United Russia monopolized media coverage. Opposition activists were blocked from most campaigning, and often arrested, while Kremlin-controlled courts denied their complaints. People were intimidated into voting for United Russia on a mass scale. Independent election monitors were barred.

As a consequence, the new State Duma has not been elected so much as appointed. It lacks legitimacy and its members are unknown. But Putin’s legitimacy has also been tainted by the pervasive fraud. His only “mass” meeting in Moscow drew no more than 5,000 people. The main questions are how authoritarian he will become, or whether this pathetic campaign will weaken him.