There's not a lot to like about Vladimir Putin: he's autocratic, vain and runs a corrupt government. And he doesn't give a fig for human rights. The repression in Chechnya, the jailing of the businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the Pussy Riot protestors, the murders of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and of Alexander Litvinenko, the former spy -- all this happened on Putin's watch. Who would not be on the side of the 100,000 people who turned out on Moscow's streets last winter to protest against Putin's election to a third term as president and to demand fair elections and an honest government? Russia would be better off without Putin -- who would argue otherwise?
As a matter of fact, millions would. Talk to many Russians and they'll tell you that life under Putin is vastly better than under Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin let a handful of oligarchs hoover up Russia's wealth while ordinary Russians were reduced to selling their possessions on the street. Putin, by contrast, has quelled the economic mayhem -- inflation is down, pensions have increased. Even more importantly he has restored Russia's sense of self-worth -- crushing the Chechen revolt, refusing to play along with the West over Syria. Living in Notting Hill you might not find Putin to your taste, but for those facing the realities of contemporary Russia he is a godsend, the strong leader that the country needs at this crucial time of transition and uncertainty.