A close election in France and a fractious one in Greece combined to keep Vladimir Putin's return to the Russian presidency out of the headlines. And his inauguration yesterday, while long on pomp, was conspicuously short on content. Yet his job swap with Dmitry Medvedev, who is expected to become Prime Minister in days, can take Russia in one of several directions.
The fear is that Mr Putin's third term could put the brakes on Russia's political development – a fear that the arrest of opposition demonstrators on the eve of the inauguration did nothing to dispel. But the references in both men's somewhat perfunctory speeches to democracy and the rule of law fuel hope that the mostly peaceful protests of recent months have sown seeds hardy enough to survive the Russian climate. Mr Putin presides over a country that is changing. If he is to leave a positive legacy from his third term, he needs to work with the grain of progress.