The British are having quite the little spat with the Russians at the moment. The latter are insisting that the British Council, a cultural department of the British Embassy, be closed. The British maintain that they are well within their rights to keep this department up and running.
The souring relations between the United Kingdom and Vladimir Putin's Russia come as a result of the 2006 poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko in England. Russia has refused to extradite the man the British suspect of the murder.
Meanwhile, in a year of Al Gore and J.K.Rowling, Time Magazine chose Putin as it's "Person of the Year", in part, they say, because:
At significant cost to the principles and ideas that free nations prize, he has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it and brought Russia back to the table of world power.
The Washington Post has published an interesting rebutal. Fred Hiatt, in a piece entitled "The Myth of the Strongman" maintains that:
[Time Magazine has bought]into the central myths that Putin has fostered, that the Bush administration consistently has promoted and that increasingly are accepted as historical truth.
Where Time says that, "if Russia succeeds as a nation-state in the family of nations, it will owe much of that success to one man, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin"; Hiatt points out that under Putin's leadership Russia has not only abandoned the Democratic reforms that were taking root in Eastern Europe at the beginning of this decade, but also that Russia has actually fallen dramatically in the ranks of economic growth.
What a strutting Russia will mean in the days to come is unclear, but Time Magazine did get one thing right in their explanation of their choice:
[A]fter the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia receded from the American consciousness as we became mired in our own polarized politics...That view was always naive. Russia is central to our world—and the new world that is being born. It is the largest country on earth; it shares a 2,600-mile (4,200 km) border with China; it has a significant and restive Islamic population; it has the world's largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and a lethal nuclear arsenal; it is the world's second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia; and it is an indispensable player in whatever happens in the Middle East.
We ignore developments in this nation at our peril.