"Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claimed victory in a presidential election that his opponents say was marred by fraud, accusing protesters against his rule of seeking to usurp power," Bloomberg Businessweek reports. "Putin, 59, who has been at Russia’s helm for 12 years including the last four as premier, won another six years in the Kremlin with 63.8 percent of the vote, with more than 99 percent of all ballots counted." Thus returns to power a man who has fascinated and exasperated the Western press.
Masha Gessen gives an overview of recent Russian political history. "Mikhail Khodorkovsky was the richest man in Russia when he dared confront then president Vladimir Putin, criticizing state corruption at a meeting with Putin in February 2003," she writes. "Arrested that fall, then convicted in two Kafka-esque trials, Khodorkovsky has been imprisoned ever since, the once powerful oligarch now an invisible hero for the growing opposition to Putin’s tyranny. From Moscow, as elections approach and demonstrators spill into the streets, Masha Gessen chronicles the clash of two titans, each of whom has badly underestimated the other."
Jeffrey Tayler reported from the ground in Moscow and published an account of what he found last month. "Russia is divided between those who are willing to stand up to Putin’s regime, and those who, out of fear or for personal gain or even just habit, favor its continuation. Dread of chaos and repression, Russians often say, is in their genes, and overcoming such a genetic patrimony takes guts, plus the certainty that what is to come will be better than the present. Trepidation and inveterate pessimism are motivating some people to stand by the devil they know," he wrote. "In all likelihood, that will be enough to ensure that Putin prevails in the Mar. 4 presidential election. Last September the Kremlin declared that Putin, who currently holds the title of Prime Minister, planned to switch roles with President Dmitry Medvedev. Putin’s approval rating promptly dropped to 35 percent, but it has climbed back up to 50 percent or higher. Should Putin win the election and serve out two full, six-year terms, his tenure as Russia’s de facto leader, including his previous two terms and a stint as Prime Minister, will have run for 24 years—nearly as long as Stalin’s. The surprising strength and resiliency of the opposition movement, however, raise doubts about whether he can hold on to power that long."
Joe Nocera profiled Khodorkovsky, the jailed dissident, back in 2010. "Once the most famous of the Russian oligarchs, he ran Yukos Oil, which under his leadership became the best-run, fastest-growing, most transparent company in the country — a gleaming symbol of hope for Russian industry. Mr. Khodorkovsky, however, has spent the last seven years in prison, much of that time in Siberia," he writes. "Stripped of his company, which was sold off to politically connected insiders, Mr. Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, were convicted of trumped-up tax charges brought by prosecutors acting on behalf of Vladimir V. Putin, who had come to view Mr. Khodorkovsky as a threat."
David Remnick covered the rise of Garry Kasparov as a politician. "Kasparov is forty-four. He was the world chess champion for fifteen years. Until his retirement, two years ago, his dominance was unprecedented. Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Fischer—none came close. Chess has outsized meaning in Russia, and Kasparov at home was a cross between the greatest of athletes and a revered intellectual; with his status came celebrity, foreign investment accounts, summers on the Adriatic, an apartment along the Hudson River, friendships among Western politicians and businessmen, and the attentions of beautiful women," he writes. "Now he has volunteered for grim and, very likely, futile duty. As the most conspicuous leader of Drugaya Rossiya (the Other Russia), an umbrella group of liberals, neo-Bolsheviks, and just about anyone else wishing to speak ill of Vladimir Putin, he is in nominal charge of opposition politics in a country that, in actuality, has no real politics except for that which takes place in the narrow and inscrutable space between the ears of its President."
And C.J. Chivers tried to grapple with the authoritarian prime minister's mixed legacy. "Is Vladimir Putin a savior, a man whose eight-year reign has elevated Russia to new economic heights?" Chivers wrote back in 2008. "Or is he a bully, a strongman who uses violence to maintain a hold on power? The likely answer is both."