As Bill McKay, the young Californian running for Senate played by Robert Redford in the movie The Candidate, asks after realizing that losing his ethics and ideals got him the position he wanted so badly: What do we do now?
Russia is faltering under the weight of corruption and a system that makes a few exceptional billionaires and puts anyone who complains in jail. Democracy is a pipe dream. Russian protestors are not likely to go away easily, and Putin will make some concessions to reform and transparency. Such reforms may work in the short term, but they are not the answer for Putin's long-term success — or Russia's.
The story of what Putin has done to Russia, and his desperation to maintain the status quo, is told not so much through the election but through his continuing persecution of a dead lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky uncovered massive public corruption and died in police custody after months of torture. I first wrote about Magnitsky in November, but the real impetus for his case comes from American businessman (and Magnitsky client) William Browder, who explained the whole horrible mess in an article for Foreign Policy.
It may be risky to read too much into the Magnitsky case. But, there is something in Putin’s desperation — that he would still want to punish a dead lawyer, by prosecuting him posthumously — that makes me believe his house of cards may not survive the disdain so many Russians feel for him.
What happens now? I don’t know what Americans should do; US-Russian relations will likely stay their course. As for Putin, congratulations. Unlike most presidential transitions to new leadership, you actually made the mess you are inheriting. The question is only whether you will try to fix it.
Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images: Women walk past a campaign poster for Vladimir Putin in the Russian city of Smolenks Friday.