Whoever had time to watch the FOX/Google presidential debate was most certainly spending the next day dissecting just how much of a lacklustre performance Texas Governor Rick Perry delivered and how Mitt Romney succeeded in re-establishing himself as the GOP's best bet to beat Barack Obama in 2012. There are those who find the entire enterprise tiresome and prefer not to spend a regular night listening to nine Republicans harbouring largely similar ambitions. But one is well-advised to remind oneself of the marvel of having such a beautiful process in the first place when compared to the tedious predictability of Russian politics. President Medvedev today nominated Vladimir Putin to serve as Russia's next president. I am not guessing that anyone doubts that Putin will be 'elected'. Not just because Putin is so incredibly popular, but also because anyone daring to challenge him in a serious manner will find himself constrained by two rather daunting hurdles. On the one hand the regime has established a system that favours the government party in ways unthinkable a mere twenty years ago. The press is gutted and the society mobilised in ways that are Orwellian in character. Should a journalist dare to live up to the promise of his profession, he can be certain to face what the state media will term an accident. Then on the other there is the constant danger that too successful a challenge will inevitably lead you to spend the remainder of your life in prison, as Kasparov can attest to.
For many years Western observers made themselves believe that there is a secret struggle between Putin and Medvedev as to who is going to run for president next. And there is a decent chance that such a struggle did indeed take place. But in hindsight Medvedev, despite his moderate leanings, has always been too soft and indecisive as to mount a serious challenge to the Prime Minister. He has been overrun by the Putin time and again and even whilst Medvedev was president, it often looked as if it was Putin who was really in charge. Some observers have suggested that Putin brings stability to Russia and is therefore not the worst thing that could happen to the country, while others have suggested that Russia is on a pathway to again become a Tsarist system. There is some truth in all of that, but one should not forget that Putin is first and foremost a populist; the sort of chap that would sport a little war to manifest himself favourably in history (one might remind oneself for a moment of the 2008 August war). The one thing he will not do is to reform the system of the Russian state, a state that has—as today's news again demonstrate—become literally sclerotic.