Vladimir Putin, Act II
Was it ever in doubt that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wouldn't run for the presidency again?
Not really. And since Putin and his stooge, President Medvedev, have effectively destroyed or cowed the opposition since Putin stepped down in 2008, his ascension to the presidency is a foregone conclusion.
Still, Putin had to make a good appearance and he didn't disappoint:
The announcement, greeted by cheers at a congress of Prime Minister Putin's ruling United Russia party, ended months of speculation over whether he or President Dmitry Medvedev would run. The two have ruled in a power 'tandem' since Putin was forced by the constitution to yield the presidency four years ago after serving a maximum two consecutive terms.
"It is a great honor for me," Putin said to a long standing ovation from thousands of party members in a Moscow sports stadium after Medvedev proposed his mentor return as president. "Thank you, I hope for your support."
Putin, 58, described in leaked U.S. diplomatic cables as the "Alpha dog" in the tandem, then left the stage and embraced Medvedev. He also proposed his younger and more liberal protege replace him as prime minister after the March election to lead a young reformist government.
Over 11 years, Putin has cultivated the image of a vigorous leader, filmed riding bare chested, scuba diving and showing his judo skills. His policies, crushing a Chechen separatist rebellion, taming super-rich businessmen and bringing wayward regions to heel have similarly won him popularity.
But critics say his return to the Kremlin, virtually unopposed, could herald an era of economic and political stagnation in the world's largest country.
The president's term has been changed to six years so Putin will be eligible to serve until 2024. By that time, all vestiges of democracy will have been wiped out - largely because the Russian people want it that way.
The Russian economy is not in very good shape, but we can expect Putin to continue to block America's efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of Iran while opposing us in other vital areas as well. "Reset" or not, Russia is going to be a big problem for the US as long as Putin is in power.