Time magazine’s rationale for naming Russian President Vladimir Putin “Man of the Year” is heavy with caveats. Those subtleties have largely been ignored by the Russian media, much of it Kremlin-controlled.

In numerous dispatches last week, Russian newspapers and wire services enthused about what they — and most of the country, apparently — seem to like about their president.

Pravda reported (correctly) that the magazine credited Mr. Putin with “bringing political and economic stability to Russia after an extremely hard period of the 1990s” and noted, approvingly, how he had given a “sincere” interview to the magazine’s journalists.

The Moscow News observed that Time’s choice “underscores the importance that Russia has gained on the international stage since Putin came to power.” Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti, the state-run news service, ran several stories trumpeting Mr. Putin’s comments to the magazine, such as “Putin says Russia’s revival is focus of his life” and “Russia will not allow foreign states to alter its course.”

Given short-shrift — and likely unnoticed by most Russian readers — were the more critical aspects of Time’s analysis: “Putin is not a boy scout. He is not a democrat in any way the West would define. He is not a paragon of free speech.” The stability he has imposed on Russia has come “at significant cost to the principles that free nations prize.”

Mr. Putin may have given his country short-term stability but unless something changes he’ll just go down in history as another authoritarian Russian ruler. That will be true for 2007 and years to come, since Mr. Putin has now made clear that he plans to stay in power–as prime minister–when his term ends next year.

* By The Editorial Board (New York Times; 26 Dec. 2007)