Since the outburst of Russian disapproval in December over reported fraud in the parliamentary elections, Putin has shored up his base, activated his impressive political machine, reminded Russians of the chaos of the 90s, and pulled out the well-worn "foreign interference" card. He has kept his opponents marginalized and divided, and they have been largely invisible.
While Putin cruises to victory, much on the surface of Russian politics looks the same as it was. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that nothing has changed. The shifts occurring deep within Russian society may take time to alter the political landscape, but they are fundamental and will have far-reaching consequences.
Although he remains powerful, Putin's aura of invincibility has been punctured and his legitimacy seriously undermined. For their part, Russians are learning how to be active participants in their own polity.