Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency is intended to preserve the ruling system he created in 2000. But the inability of Russia's elite to cope with new social and economic pressures means that continuity will endanger Russia's stability.
Change from within Russian society may come through as yet unseen professionals of the post-Soviet Russian generation. Failure to change could lead to disintegration which itself would be a blow to a future society based on liberal-democratic principles.
Russia's economy is not yet in decline. But the indicators and inherent weaknesses – such as a reliance on energy prices, a falling demographic and corruption – suggest that decline is probable in the medium term.
Russia's foreign policy is weaker – less influential – than it has been at any time since the Yeltsin years. A lack of true friends and a default position of opposing the West at every turn give Russia poor returns for its loud voice on the international stage.
The West should reassess its understanding of the nature and trajectory of Russia. Relationships should be based not upon the personal relationships between leaders, but upon a set of guiding principles based upon generally accepted international norms and values.