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Christian Esch's insightful piece about Vladimir Putin for Der Spiegel went online a week before the Russian president's re-election, but the timeliness didn't matter, because, as the story's title explains, "How Russia's Eternal President Has Changed His Country," Putin is timeless. Through his leadership, the Kremlin set a system in place in Russia where the state can seemingly neither live with Putin nor without him. The economy is hurting, and many domestic ambitions have gone unfulfilled, replaced by grandiose visions of conquests abroad (see: Crimea, Ukraine, Syria).
The piece illustrates this reality by investigating the on-the-ground realities in the Kuzbass mining region in Siberia, where people reside thousands of miles from the seat of power in Moscow yet feel Putin's presence everywhere. There is little to no resistance to speak of, and one interviewee spoke of not realizing she lived in an authoritarian state until, well, it was too late: "Natalia always knew that the opposition was suppressed, she says. 'But I didn't care. I was for Putin. I was so ... amorphous,' she says. 'You were apolitical,' [her daughter] Ksenia corrects her severely. 'A perfect citizen of this country.'" From Putin evangelizing grandmothers to former Kremlin operatives to the small (and largely ineffective) resistance, this piece captures the distressing realities of the Russian political situation—outside of the hand-wringing of American views about Russian election meddling—and it's one with little change in sight.