Leading article: Once and future President

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The more Russian politics tries to imitate the democratic version, the more – regrettably – it seems to stay the same. Thus we had the spectacle of an annual party conference – that of the governing United Russia party – nominating the Prime Minister and former President, Vladimir Putin, to be the party's candidate for President next time around. The proposal was made by the current President, Dmitry Medvedev, in what amounted to a declaration that he will not seek re-election.

Mr Putin's personal popularity almost guarantees that he will return to the presidency after elections in March. And there are reasons for his standing in the polls. In his eight years as President and almost four as Prime Minister, most Russians have benefited from both social stability and rising living standards – a combination no regime has presided over in Russia for the best part of a century, if ever.

The prospect of Mr Putin returning to the presidency is nonetheless a disappointing development. As President, Mr Medvedev has sent many positive signals about the future he envisages for Russia, in terms of modernity, political freedom and the rule of law. These are early days, and much could still happen before March. But Russians, who have endured so much in recent decades, deserve better than more of the same.

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