I highly recommend reading Garry Kasparov’s editorial in The Wall Street Journal: The U.S.S.R Fell–and the World Fell Asleep.
When the U.S.S.R. fell, it wasn’t immediately replaced with the freedoms and democracy that westerners enjoy and take for granted. As Kasparov wrote:
Elections did nothing to uproot the siloviki, the powerful network of security and military officials. The offices and titles of the ruling nomenklatura changed, but the Soviet bureaucratic caste remained as power brokers with no accountability or transparency.
The reforms in Russia enacted by a dream team of national and foreign economists were piecemeal and easily exploited by those with access to the levers of power. Instead of turning into a free market, the Russian economy became a rigged auction that created an elite of appointed billionaires and a population of resentful and confused citizens who wondered why nothing had improved for them.
What officially died in Russia when the U.S.S.R. fell wasn’t authoritarian rule, just the ideal of ‘for the greater good’ it had been wrapped in for about 70 years.
…the thugs and despots are flourishing once again. They still reject liberal democracy and the free market—not because of a competing ideology like communism, but because they understand that those things are a threat to their power.
Here he is on Putin:
A rising cash flow enabled him to negotiate a Faustian bargain with the Russian people: your freedoms in return for stability. Few envisioned how far he would go in collecting on that bargain, but that’s always the trap with empowering authoritarians. Every step Mr. Putin took without consequences encouraged him to take another, and another.