Second, Putin’s political repression makes certain that only the bravest and most self-sacrificing individuals challenge his rule. Emerging opposition leaders are either removed, smeared or co-opted before they gain sufficient popularity to present a threat. A popularity figure of 80-plus percent simply tells us that Russians cannot conceive of an alternative to Putin.

Third, well-educated professionals are emigrating from Russia in massive numbers. According to Rosstat, Russia’s federal statistics service, more than 300,000 people left the country from 2012 to 2013, a migration that tellingly coincides with Putin’s stage-managed return for a third presidential term; the rate of departures climbed even higher after the annexation of Crimea last year. By comparison, approximately 70,000 people left from 2010 to 2011. The cream of Russian society is voting with its feet, leaving a stultifying, ever more corrupt environment for greener pastures that allow them to productively apply their talents.

Fourth is the reliance on diversionary tactics, such as the annexation of Crimea, to deflect attention from the country’s deepening economic problems. In the past, the Kremlin has relied on high oil prices to improve living standards. Putin’s sudden embrace of nationalism and territorial expansionism suggests a desperate gambit to keep his numbers from slipping.