This summary of the Russian political situation posted on the Free Republic is pessimistic but, I believe, too close to the truth. Putin is already a shoe-in for the 2012 election, and there's some certainty that whomever is "elected" in between will be merely a temporary fill-in.
Put another way:
Back in early June on WAMU's Diane Rehm talk show, Andrei Sitov, the Washington-based representative for Russia's government-owned and controlled ITAR-TASS news service (and himself a government spokesman pretending to be a correspondent), portrayed the Russian election as analogous to the U.S. race. "There are two frontrunners now," he stated, "the two First Deputy Prime Ministers [Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev]. An intriguing possibility is that [Putin] will say 'I endorse both--you choose'--the Russian people choose." Sitov went on to explain how these two would be promoting themselves to the Russian electorate just as American presidential candidates would do after the two parties have completed their nomination process.
At which point the U.S. commentators cried foul, explaining that Medvedev, a St. Petersburg lawyer and former head of Putin's administration, and Ivanov, the former defense minister and an old KGB crony of Putin's, are members of the same ruling cabal that has been progressively tightening its grip on Russia.
A comparable situation in America, clarified Stanford's Michael McFaul, would be "if George W. Bush decided that Karl Rove and Condoleezza Rice would be the two candidates and all opposition Democratic candidates would not be allowed to run. Second, all of the television stations from which Russians get their political news are either owned or controlled by the state. These are the reforms that Putin has instituted as president of Russia."
And what do we have to look forward to?
Even worse, the new man will be trying to show that, like Putin, he can rule with an iron fist. This means belligerence and a search for scapegoats bordering on the irrational will be the order of the day. For a taste of things to come, ponder the anti-U.S. tirade from TASS's Sitov towards the end of the WAMU broadcast. It would have done the Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky proud: "The Putin course will continue," Sitov declared. "He is saying this to the future U.S. president's administration. You need to know that the good old days when you could lie to Russia and steal from Russia, when you could trample on Russia--all those days are over."
It's a quick read, and worth it.