In its selection of Russian President Vladimir Putin as its 2007 Person of the Year,Time magazine is careful to make clear that "it is not anendorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At best, it is a clear-eyedrecognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individualsand forces shaping that world-for better or for worse. " Reassuringwords.



It’s also reassuring to know that Time‘s editors didn’t gethoodwinked by Putin’s steely blue gaze or hard-as-rock presidential pecs (which, bythe way, are featured on several softporn-style politico websites). As stated clearly in its lead editorial, "Putin is not a boyscout." (Are there any world leaders who are boy scouts?)



More seriously, what Time‘s selection does acknowledge, with allthe appropriate concerns and caveats about the rollback of democracyand a free press, is that Putin "has performed an extraordinary feat ofleadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known itand brought Russia back to the table of world power."



Time is not the only magazine keeping its eye on Putin. At The Nation, we’ve watched the Russian president from the early days of his presidency (Who Is Putin? and Putin’s Choice) through the horrors of the 2003 incident in Beslan, Chechnya (Putin’s War), to the ongoing process of de-democratization (From Russia, With Hypocrisy) and his continuing crackdown on news media (The Fight for Press Freedom in Putin’s Russia.



At a charged time of conflicting narratives in Russia and the West aboutPutin’s Russia, what interests me about Time‘s assessment isthat most Russians would agree with it.



Some in the West have argued that Putin’s popularity results from hiscontrol of television, or his suppression of opposition parties. Ifonly it were that easy. In fact, most Russians value the economicstability Putin has brought to their lives and their country after the Yeltsin years of turmoil and corruption–and view his impact as essentially positive. Putin is also credited by Russians with bringingtheir country back as a powerful player in the world–at a time when thegeopolitical power of oil is reshaping the map. Here too there areconflicting narratives with most US pundits and politicians attributingonly malign motives to Russia’s actions on the world stage.



Time’s recognition of Putin’s leadership, in all its facets, may signalthat it is time to think anew about US relations with Russia. Will weengage Russia in intelligent ways–as Stephen Cohen has argued weshould (in theNation‘s pages)–or continue on a path to a new Cold War withPutin’s Russia?