Hard fact:

The eight years of Vladimir Putin’s presidency have faithfully reflected his formative years in the Soviet secret police. Putin’s term ends this spring, but he is nearly certain to become prime minister. That means, we fear, that little will change. The next US president will have to deal with a Russia that is not only nuclear-armed but increasingly wealthy and authoritarian.

Putin has not tried to re-impose the Communist economic system or reopen Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago. He has used the Kremlin’s powers to quash all serious political opposition, recreating a virtual one-party state. Putin’s allies have used threats and other tactics to crush rivals.

President George W Bush, and soon his successor, will have to come to terms with the authoritarian Russia that is not the democratic Russia that recent American administrations had hoped would take root after Communism. They will have to deal pragmatically with the realities of Russian power. The United States will need to champion Russia’s persecuted democrats, journalists and other embattled minorities, calling international attention to the dangers they face. Descending back into Cold War rhetoric and reflexes will not help anyone. But neither will pretending that Putin and his allies are people of good

will and democratic intentions. — International Herald Tribune