Nine years ago, when he became President, Putin had in his hands the leadership of a declined and tired state; a former superpower that had lost its way in world politics. Despite Yeltsin's efforts, Moscow was still regarded as a third-role player in international politics, behind America and Europe. Putin changed that status. During his eight-years long leadership he transformed Russia's image, putting the country back on the map and on news headlines. After years of silence, Moscow became again a constructive and strong partner in shaping international politics. Even the sharpest critics of President Putin have to aknowledge that fundamental reality.
What reality? The fact that Russia is a major international player in energy politics. If in the past, Europe was dependent on the Middle East for oil supplies, today its probably Russia's natural gas diplomacy that plays a crucial role. The recent problems that were created in many European countries due to Moscow's decision to choke off gas supplies prove the significance of the so-called 'Gazprom Diplomacy'. But, obviously, it isn't only that. Under Putin's leadership Russia succeed to 'look in the eye' its traditional competitors, the United States and Europe--something which would sound more like a joke after the fall of the Soviet Union. Its characteristic that Vladimir Putin clashed with Washington regarding the plans of the second for a missile shield in eastern Europe; while at the same time Moscow strengthens its diplomatic role in the Middle East and make advantageous economic deals with Latin American countries. Even the horrible situation in Chechnya belongs to the past and there is hope that bloody events, like the 2004 massacre in Grozny, will not happen again. Nonetheless, Russia's transformation couldn't take place without cost.
That cost has to do with the criticism of Vladimir Putin regarding the quality of Democracy in the country. But the Russian case shouldn't be examined in comparison with the Swedish or Swiss model of Democracy. Putin undertook a huge country with huge problems and imposed stability on a nation that previously has rarely known what this term is about. Because, indeed, the Russian bear could have been turned into a third-world aggressive and corrupted country--but that didn't happen. On the contrary, the former KGB agent led Moscow with persistence, embolding the spirit of 'Mother Russia' to a nation that re-elected him in office with popularity rates of almost 75%. As Time Magazine wrote once, he choosed 'Order before Freedom' taking the responsibility for setting priorities. That was the risk.
Today, Vladimir Putin is the key person behind Dmitri Medvedev, while he intends to claim Russia's Presidency again, in 2012. But until then, Putin will not stay with his hands crossed; on the contrary, he will continue taking initiatives and playing a crucial role in international politics. Therefore, if U.S. President-elect Barack Obama was, without any doubt, the 'Person of 2008,' I have serious reasons to believe that Putin will be the man of 2009. Again, as it happened two years ago.