Fred Kaplan makes excellent points about the Yeltsin-era roots of Vladimir Putin's power grabs. As he writes "So, by the time Putin was elected president in 2000, the vestiges of a democratic Russia had long vanished." This is the biggest flaw you see in American coverage of Putin-era Russia, a deep investment in this mythical era of Yeltsin and Democracy. Realistically, Yeltsin offered a Russia that was geopolitically weaker and therefore friendly to American foreign policy. It was also a Russia that was more open to western advice about how to run the country, and where the powers that be were more likely to have western friends.
What you never had, though, was any recognizable political democracy.
Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.