The era of Vladimir Putin began 18 years ago this week.
On August 16, 1999, the Russian State Duma confirmed Putin as prime minister by a vote of 233-84, with 17 abstentions.
It wasn't entirely clear at the time, but that vote marked the end of Russia's rocky and tumultuous post-Soviet experiment with liberal democracy.
Because from that moment on, it didn't matter if Putin was the prime minister or the president; from that moment on, power resided in him.
Slowly but surely, power became personalized. Institutions were steadily eroded and replaced by the cult of Putin the leader.
A child born on that late summer Monday 18 years ago would know no other leader than Putin.
For a bit of context, Leonid Brezhnev ruled the Soviet Union for 18 years and one month -- a milestone that Putin will soon pass, making him the longest ruling Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin.
The problem with the Putin era isn't just that it has been so long.
In November, after all, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have been in office for 12 years.
The problem is that Putin has ruled without the checks and balances and independent institutions that constrain and limit the powers of Western democratic leaders like Merkel.
For Putin, of course, longevity and unchecked power are two sides of the same coin.
He has used his time in power primarily to eliminate and make a mockery of any and all constraints on his power -- from the media, to the Duma, to the courts, to civil society.
This, of course, has been a recipe for autocracy. But it's also been a recipe for the stagnation and ossification that will -- sooner or later -- be the Putin regime's undoing.
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