In 2007, right before he stepped down after his second term in office, then-President Vladimir Putin was at the height of his political career, enjoying ratings of 80 percent. Since then, however, Putin's popularity has dropped significantly. But you wouldn't know it judging by his cool, confident behavior in the past few weeks, despite the widespread protests. It's as if Putin is stuck in time — stuck in the halycon days of 2007. This happens when absolute power not only corrupts leaders, but also distorts their sense of reality.
In 2007, Putin had become the epitome of a "strong hand" that so many Russians admired. He was a leader who "soaked" not only terrorists and certain oligarchs, but also bashed the United States and NATO when necessary. According to his army of supporters, Putin was precisely the strong man Russia needed to bring at least a modicum of order to a country that seems to be historically doomed to permanent chaos.
But now, Putin's strong arm isn't performing the same wonders that it used to. Russians are placing new demands on him and his government. After millions witnessed blatant election fraud on Dec. 4, tens of thousands of people across the country demonstrated under the slogans "We are not cattle!" "Stop lying to us!" and "We demand respect!"