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Resolute Putin Faces a Russia That’s Changed
The New York Times | February 24, 2012 | 05:45 AM EST

A guest hovering around the doorway of an elegant restaurant last fall glimpsed a ritual worthy of a czar.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin stopped in his tracks, eyes ahead, arms hovering at his sides. An aide materialized, silently whisked away Mr. Putin’s parka, and vanished. A second aide appeared with a sport jacket and slipped it over his shoulders. Then Mr. Putin resumed walking without a word or a look, “almost as if he had never stopped,” noted the guest, Clifford G. Gaddy, an American scholar.

Mr. Putin, who grew up in a hardscrabble Soviet housing block, has spent more than a decade in a byzantine world of petitioners and servants. Now, in the year he turns 60, he will face his biggest challenge: coming to grips with a society that has greatly changed under his watch, while he has remained essentially the same.

Mr. Putin now seems assured of a convincing victory in the first round of the presidential election on March 4, making a runoff unnecessary. The emerging threat to his rule has slid beneath the surface. But it will follow him across the six years of his third presidential term, as he will be forced to respond to a populace beginning to demand more of a stake in the governing of Russia .

With his once phenomenal popularity gradually waning, Mr. Putin will have to find other ways to guarantee his legitimacy.

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