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Published: Wednesday, 3/7/2012

Russia's rocky road

Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia this week by a wide margin. Since then, thousands of Russians have marched in Moscow, claiming fraud and challenging the outcome.

Mr. Putin first held the office from 1999 until 2008. After taking a break because of term limits, he came back this year to win a six-year term, and is eligible to run for another six-year term after that. So he could lead Russia as president or prime minister for a czar-like 25 years. Josef Stalin was around for about 30 years.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called this week's election "clearly skewed." The head of an observer mission said: "There was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt." Russian observers claimed busloads of voters were transported to vote several times at different locations.

Even so, Mr. Putin is popular with many Russians, who are accustomed to strong leaders. Largely because of the rising price of oil, which Russia relies on for two-thirds of its export earnings, average Russians probably live better under Mr. Putin than they did before him.

Although Mr. Putin brooks no political rivalry from them, Russia's oligarchs also have flourished during his time. For the most part, they support Mr. Putin and his United Russia party.

Now that he has been elected, Mr. Putin may be easier for the United States to deal with. Russian politicians score political points by blasting America and stirring resentment among voters who resent the country's loss of global prominence after the fall of the Soviet bloc.

Mr. Putin can ease up now on the America-bashing. Despite the opposition he faces, he likely will have a relatively free hand to set policy for years.

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