Vladimir Putin: Not a Man to Be Trifled With

Not a Man to Be Trifled With

His authority is unquestioned, his popularity overwhelming. Yet Russia's future under his stewardship is hazy. Four years ago, Putin's election was greeted as a symbol of renewal. Now Putin is increasingly seen, especially outside Russia, as personifying a restoration of the Soviet mentality, if not its menace.

Putin's image is that of an energetic, forceful reformer. He has restored Russia's self-confidence after a miserable decade of chaos and humiliation. Yet the buoyant economy is held up by oil and natural-gas prices--which once made the Soviet Union seem like the way of the future, until prices collapsed. Putin has not used the...