By Ray Fleming

THE news that Vladimir Putin will stand for election as Russian President next March has been expected for a long time. Putin is genuinely popular among the Russian people but even those who wanted and expected his return may have experienced a brief sense of deja vu. Others may feel a twinge of anxiety when they put a cross next to his name and regret the cynical way in which the game of political chairs has been played with Dmirtri Medvedev.

Outside observers will see these manouevres as a certain sign that Russia will never become the democratic free society which seemed just possible when Mikhail Gorbachev introduced perestroika and glasnost in the early 1990s. There has been a flicker of protest from Russia's capable finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, who may have expected to become prime minister but saw that disappear as Putin swapped with Medvedev.

Foreign companies and other foreigners who have to deal with Russia may welcome an end to the puzzle of how independent President Medvedev really was and which of his initiatives were his own and which Putin's. However, business dealings with Russia are unlikely to become easier and some economists think that another twelve years of Putin will take Russia back to the economic and political stagnation of the late 1970s. Parliamentary and presidential elections will follow but the important deals are already done.