This article, though a bit fluffy, gives a nice overview of Putin.
So, perhaps the more things change, the more things remain the same.
This defines Russia/Soviet Union more than you think. I unfortunately don't have much time to delve but my two cents...
1. Russians prefer stability to "democracy". Russia has always had a "strong-man", whether Tsar, Soviet President, or now an all-powerful President. Also especially after we more than helped to botch their immediate post-Soviet Union economy. Jeffery Sachs
is an idiot. His cluelessness of a command economy's structure (70 years worth) and shock therapy; and drive for personal gain uncessecarily hurt their economy and started the new anti-Americanism after our brief honeymoon with the new Russia. We missed a huge opportunity to advise and nurture it to be more friendly to us. It unfortunately has taken a strongman to take control and sort things out to where they are now. What's a few missing human rights when you have stable prices and available food?
2. Democracy is a grass-roots created sytem of government. Russia has never had nor will in the foreseeable future have it. What you may get in Russia is their version of a constitutional monarchy and a House of Lords dominated parliament...and that we should be lucky to get. See number 1.
3. Russia's economy has three major problems and infinite minor problems. Until these are solved, we don't have much to worry about.
1. It is now oil-based. Oil is a commodity and is cyclical. There is no economic diversity.
2. The economy is 90% based in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The rest of the country is stagnant.
3. There is still no land ownership in Russia. You lease from the government.
4. Russia will continue to re-establish itself as a regional power from Europe to Asia. Internationally it still has a ways to go to retain its former importance but like any rising or falling regional power- see Iran, pre-Sarkorsky France, Venezuela - it will be an irritant to US foreign policymakers.
5. I would not want to be an independent or foreign journalist there. For death tonight we have Radioactive poisoning or bullet to the head, which do you prefer?
My gaze into the crystal ball sees more of the staus quo for now. This is base on my own studies, and travel and family in Russia. BTW Condi is also an idiot. I have never seen such a Soviet/Russian expert be so wrong in her assumptions - of course it doesn't help to be a foreign policy neo-con.
The martial arts begin and end with respect...