© Associated Press
A few years ago, it began to look like Vladimir Putin, the man who had been at the center of Russian power since 1999, was finally losing his grip. Protesters in Moscow and other major Russian cities took to the streets in the bitter cold of winter to protest the very convincing allegations of corruption in the 2011 Russian Duma elections. Putin, who was looking to return to the Russian presidency in 2012, was the focus of their bile, and for the first time in years a real, credible opposition movement appeared, in part led by the charismatic anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny.
At the time, it really looked like Russia was poised to undergo its own Arab Spring, and finally move away from strongman politics to a real democracy. Flash forward to 2013, and that all seems rather laughable.
Putin did return to the presidency in 2012, easily beating
his rivals. The opposition movement ultimately struggled and split; Navalny in particular was hobbled not only by criminal prosecutions
, against him but also his uncomfortable associations with nationalism. The Kremlin has been able to casually repress dissent, from the art rock troupe Pussy Riot to the LGBT movement, despite Western condemnation. Just last week Putin announced that the well-respected and frequently critical Russian news agency RIA Novosti
, founded in 1941, would be dissolved - with a new network
led by a notorious reactionary taking its place.
Perhaps nowhere has Putin's new self confidence been better revealed than on the world stage. As Max Fisher of The Washington Pos
t's WorldViews blog wrote
when declaring Putin his "Man of the Year," "Putin has made himself and his country unusually consequential this year, exerting Russian influence - usually meager - over some of the most important moments in international relations."