Incumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin has made numerous impressive achievements during his two terms including the consolidation of the Kremlin's power and the marked improvement of economy, analysts say.
Dmitry Medvedev, first deputy prime minister of Putin's cabinet, has won Russia's fifth presidential election, according to the preliminary results announced by the Central Election Commission (CEC) Monday.
During his eight-year rule as president, Putin has made many contributions to Russia and has been very popular among Russians.
His most impressive achievement is the consolidation of the Kremlin's power by the building of "power vertical," an authority tree to take decision-making rights back to the root, namely the central government, and to save the then largely dysfunctional state from falling apart.
Shortly after Putin's victory in the 2000 presidential election, he mounted a drive to sideline the governors who had wielded considerable power under his predecessor, late President Boris Yeltsin.
In June 2000, Putin deprived governors and regional legislature speakers of their seats in the Federation Council, the upper house of the parliament, and the immunity from prosecution that came with them.
Also in 2000, Putin set up seven "super districts" over Russia's 89 federal regions. Each of them were overseen by a presidential envoy to make sure the regions under each district obeyed federal law.
He even pushed through a new tax code to gather most tax revenues for the federal government which will then redistribute the money among the regions.
The second war against separatists in the Caucasus republic of Chechnya decisively hauled the country from split-up and boosted Putin's popularity to as high as some 70 percent.
The president made his second step to strengthen the central government's power by kicking oligarchs out of the power center and even the country.
Lacking broad public support in the mid-1990s, the then president Yeltsin turned to the country's super-rich, whose fortunes mostly were collected from Soviet debris, for help. Those oligarchs, such as billionaire Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, once had an important say in the government decision-making and dominated the media.
Several months after the 2000 presidential election, Gusinsky was jailed and then ousted from the country, agreeing to pass control of NTV television to state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom.
Oligarchs' political ambitions were mostly blown out in 2003, when oil giant Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sent into jail. The once richest man in the country is still serving his prison sentence of eight years for fraud and tax evasion.
In the following years, Putin started to streamline the government structure and promote the pro-Kremlin United Russia party as a ruling party with parliamentary majority to strengthen the executive power.
Putin has also managed to achieve remarkable economic improvement, registering an around 7 percent annual economic growth from 2000 to 2007, making the country one of the world's top ten economies and a member of what is called the Golden BRICs, a group of prominent emerging markets including Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Putin's cabinet took a series of initiatives to boost the economy, such as including expanding investment, stimulating domestic consumption, optimizing industrial structure, encouraging exports of high-tech products, facilitating energy exports, cracking down on economic crime and underground economic activities, as well as improving fiscal, financial and tax systems.
As a result, Russia's gross domestic product (GDP), a key indicator for economic performance, increased from 260 billion U.S. dollars in 2000 to 1,260 billion dollars last year.
Foreign trade went up from 150 billion dollars in 2000 to 468 billion in 2006, accounting for half of the country's GDP, while foreign investment in Russia has totaled 198 billion dollars as of September 2007.
Russia even paid off all Soviet-era debts and accumulated the world's third largest monetary reserves.
Analysts, however, believe that a big stake of the oil-gas-rich country’s growth lays on the surging oil price, which quintupled from some 20 dollars per barrel to around 100 dollars during his two terms as president.
Russia, the world's No. 1 gas exporter and No. 2 oil producer, is feeding one quarter of European gas markets and is still expanding its gas and oil pipelines network into the European and the Asia-Pacific region. It's even mulling to set up a gas OPEC, which has sparked concerns from major energy buyers such as Europe and the United States.
Backed by powerful economic might, Putin felt confident to flex Russia's military muscle and readjusted its foreign policy and began to play tough with the West.
The wars in Chechnya and the sinking of Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in 2000 triggered Putin's military reform, which is marked by improvement of command system, troops structure, re-equipment and development of advanced weapons such as new types of submarine, missile, fighter jet and aircraft carrier.
Russia's military expenditure increased at an average rate of 30 percent since 2000 and will be quadrupled to 959 billion rubbles (some 39 billion U.S. dollars) in 2008, accounting for some 16 percent of the national GDP, official figures showed.
On Aug. 17, 2007, Putin announced that Russia would resume its strategic bombers' long-range patrols over oceans, a rare step taken after the Cold War. Later that year, Russia suspended its obligation in an arms control treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), to get a much louder "NO" across to the West, typically on U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in Central Europe.
Meanwhile, under Putin's rule, Russia also improved ties with other members of the world community, actively exerted its influence on hot issues such as nuclear issues in Iran and on the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East peace and Kosovo's independence, and strengthened its role in international organizations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
"Russia is in the midst of one of the most difficult periods in its history. For the first time in the past 200-300 years, it is facing a real threat of sliding to the second, and possibly even third, echelon of world states," Putin said in a document issued just before he assumed the presidency in 2000.
However, in May Putin might leave his office fairly content with his efforts to have taken Russia back to the center of the world stage and reached many of the goals he set eight years ago.