The next afternoon [after the raid on Garry Kasparov’s office], Sunday, brought glorious weather, and thousands of people took advantage of it to do some shopping. Many of them ended up in Red Square. Workmen had placed a giant skating rink between Lenin’s Tomb and Christian Dior’s new flagship store at GUM. Hundreds of young parents stood in line holding their children’s hands as they waited to skate. They seemed happy. The gray, thousand-yard stare so representative of Soviet life was gone, replaced with, of all things, a smile. It was not difficult to see why so many Russians—more than seventy per cent, in most polls—seem to support the President. Since Alexander Litvinenko’s death, there has been much public discussion of what Putin will do next year, when his term concludes. He has promised to step down, but he has also said that he intends to “retain influence,” and people have speculated on the many ways he could do that: as Prime Minister, for example, or as chairman of Gazprom. Nobody knows, perhaps not even Putin. Russia today, and not for the first time, has wagered its well-being on the price of oil, and, as long as salaries continue to rise, people seem untroubled by the future and unwilling to dwell on even the most compelling warnings from the past. Oil prices have crashed before. In recent months, they have fallen more than twenty per cent. At some point, if the fall continues, it may no longer be possible to ignore Russia’s dead Cassandra.
“I have wondered a great deal about why I am so intolerant of Putin,” Politkovskaya wrote. “Quite simply, I am a forty-five-year-old Muscovite who observed the Soviet Union at its most disgraceful in the nineteen-seventies and eighties. … Putin has, by chance, gotten his hands on enormous power and has used it to catastrophic effect. I dislike him because he does not like people. He despises us. He sees us as a means to his ends, a means for the achievement and retention of personal power, no more than that. Accordingly, he believes he can do anything he likes with us, play with us as he sees fit, destroy us as he sees fit. We are nobody, while he whom chance has enabled to clamber to the top of the pile is today Tsar and God. In Russia we have had leaders with this outlook before. It led to tragedy, to bloodshed on a vast scale, to civil wars.” For her part, she said, “I want no more of that.”
— Michael Specter, Kremlin, Inc., The New Yorker, Issue of 2007-01-29