Data: Putin on the Fritz
Russia watchers remember the late 1980s and early '90s as a time when tyrannies toppled and the archetypal Evil Empire was dissolved. The intervening years, alas, have shown that building a free country is more than a matter of switching flags and ordering new stationery: The latest survey from the watchdog group Freedom House downgraded Russia from "partly free" to "not free." The country has fallen to its 1988 level, now sharing a "political freedom" rating with Iran and Lebanon and a "civil liberties" rating with Egypt, Qatar, and Chad.
Much of the blame lies with President Vladimir Putin, whose penchant for "managed democracy" has manifested itself in stronger state control of the press and the cancellation of regional elections. But it's worth noting that the decline into unfreedom from a post-Soviet plateau begins in the late '90s, before Putin took office. The president is not the only problem in Russia, and the country's slide into authoritarianism could outlive his departure.
Graph: Political and Civil Liberties in Russia (not available online)