London Guardian 
December 2, 2011
As prime minister for the past four years, Vladimir Putin never really went away. But his looming reincarnation as the all-powerful, executive president of Russia – the country’s “paramount leader” in Chinese parlance – poses a stark challenge for which the US, Britain and other beleaguered western powers seem ill-prepared. As president, potentially until 2024, Putin has one overriding objective: the creation of a third, post-tsarist, post-Soviet Russian empire.
Putin famously described the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “evil empire” of Ronald Reagan’s imagining, as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. His aim, once this weekend’s heavily managed parliamentary elections and next March’s presidential coronation are out the way, is to put this disaster to rights. Reinstalled as president, and with his political potboy, Dmitry Medvedev, pushed aside, Putin will again exercise unchallengeable control over Russia’s external affairs.
Never much interested in domestic policy, Putin’s only political trick is a hyper-nationalism that pits a proudly embattled Russia against a hostile, US-led, world conspiracy. But the trick works. Despite mounting criticism during the Duma campaign, both supporters and opponents acknowledge his perceived achievement in restoring Russia’s standing in the world following Boris Yeltsin’s chaotic 1990s decade.