The opposition bemoans the fact that Russia's media are almost entirely under the Kremlin's control. In a country as vast Russia is, with democratic institutions still to be developed, most Russians get their political guidance form television. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who intends to run for president next year, called for the opposition to boycott the elections. "Elections under this system will be an imitation of the democratic process rather than a free expression of the will of the people," Kasyanov told the Gazeta newspaper.
Another opposition presidential candidate, chess master Gary Kasparov was not available for comment Monday, but his secretary Dennis Belov told ABC News, "We know the regime has the weapons to use against us, propaganda, the lies on television and force on the street, but Kasparov thinks Russia will face economic and social crises in the coming years. The current regime is undemocratic and our opposition movement will gather further support. However, by doing what he has, Putin will be able to retain his influence for some time to come."
The stability of Russia, one of the world's major suppliers of raw materials, particularly oil and gas, is of paramount importance to the United States and the global economy in general. President Putin may have been criticized for his human rights record, particularly for the treatment of the rebellious Republic of Chechnya, but at least he is seen as predictable.
World markets have reacted positively to the prospect of a future Russia with Putin at the helm. Tim Ash, Emerging Markets Economist at Bear Stearns in London told the Reuters news agency, "Markets will appreciate the fact that Putin's strategy is clarifying and that he will remain a dominant player on the political scene. Irrespective of one's view of Putin's democratic credentials, markets respect the stability and prosperity he has brought to Russia, and should react positively to the latest development."
President Putin has always cared about Russia's image. Presenting Russia as a modern and democratic state has been a constant theme of his administration. Few Russian analysts doubted he would break democratic rules and usurp another term in the presidential office. But few doubted that he would step down from what Russians see as very successful leadership. Becoming a leader of the governing party, and perhaps prime minister, is the obvious democratic way out. President Putin once again proved that he is a master at manipulating democracy while adhering to the rules of the game.