Vladimir Putin will be inaugurated to serve a third term as Russia's president next month. The pomp and circumstance of the Kremlin ceremonies, however, won't be able to hide the fact that, far from being a triumphal restoration of his rightful role, Putin's return to the presidency is in fact a tacit admission of failure. Putin and his associates have not yet succeeded in achieving the truest mark of success for any political regime: the ability to pass the system intact to a next generation of leadership.
The Putin system continues to depend on Putin personally for it to be able to function. If the post-2008 "tandem" between Putin and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev was meant to be a transitional stage allowing Putin to gradually assume an elder statesman role in Russian politics, it failed. Putin has been unable to depersonalize power and to create a stable and self-perpetuating political and economic elite to run Russia. Without Putin, "Putinism" disappears.
Putin will have three inter-related challenges in the coming years. The first is how to bring in new people, particularly of the post-Soviet generation, into the top echelons of the government. For much of his time in office, Putin relied on two broad groups of associates: those who served in the Soviet security services -- the so-called siloviki -- and those who had known or served with him during his years as St. Petersburg's vice mayor. But concerns that Russia is poised to enter a new Leonid Brezhnev-style "era of stagnation," with the same people remaining in office and the "arteries" of Russia's political and economic systems hardening up in response, will force Putin to tap new networks of cadres, in particular a new generation of managers. Putin has already hinted that there will be a major shakeup in the cabinet when it is announced next month, and this may provide him with an opportunity to retire many of the familiar faces that have dominated Russian politics for the past decade.