Ben Judah, EUObserver
BRUSSELS - Vladimir Putin has succeeded in returning to the Russian presidency despite several tumultuous months of anti-regime protests, but his rule is likely to be entering its final phase.
Many of those who view Putin's regime as illegitimate do so because of electoral fraud and rampant corruption, and the protest movement has demanded a more European Russia: clean elections, an end to the Putinist monopoly on power and a halt to rampant graft.
There is, however, next to nothing the West can do to play politics inside Russia. In fact, bombastic comments from American officials have only helped Putin frame the movement as Western-funded to a nation deeply suspicious of foreign meddling.
But with Putin far weaker than in his previous presidential incarnation, the European Union can exercise real influence in Moscow, thanks to its role as Russia's largest trading partner and hydrocarbon consumer, cultural magnet, and the destination of much of the proceeds of Russian corruption.
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