But with Vladimir Putin's decision to annex Crimea and the nationalistic fervor and hunt for traitors that followed, an increasing number of Kremlin-watchers now say Russia becoming something simpler and cruder: a good old-fashioned autocracy.
It has long been assumed that Putin was the front man and decider-in-chief for an informal collective leadership -- the "collecticve Putin," if you will.
But with Western sanctions poised to hit key members of Putin's inner sanctum hard, and reports that much of the elite was dismayed by the annexation of Crimea, it increasingly looks like Putin is turning into an autocratic ruler who is no longer restrained by his court.
Is the collective Putin becoming less collective? And if so, what are the implications?
On the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we discuss this issue. Joining me are Kirill Kobrin, editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology magazine "Neprikosnovenny zapas," Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of "Sean's Russia Blog," and RFE/RL correspondent Merkhat Sharipzhan.
Also on the podcast, Kirill, Sean, Merkhat and I discuss the new "pan-Russism" -- the Kremlin's efforts to use ethnic Russians abroad as a political weapon.
Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.