I spent a number of years working in Yeltsin's Russia. I remember it as a free-for all, with unregulated capitalism and unrestricted corruption to go with it. At that time, Russia simply did not know where it was going. The laws needed to regulate the country simply were not in existance, or were relics of the Soviet era and philosophy, and were thus unusable.
I stopped travelling to Russia in 2001, so I don't know much about Putin's Russia first-hand. But from what I understand, Putin has successfully implimented many of the basic framework of laws that a capitalistic society needs, and has brought the rampant corruption down to a more civilized level, although corruption at the top is the hardest to get out. The Russian economy has made tremendous strides under Putin, far better than Yeltsin.
As far as the stumbles, such as the press and Gazprom, I would say that they are a case of "2 steps forward, 1 back".
I started working in Russia in 1991. I saw firsthand what a screwed-up country it was back then. Most of you have no idea of the strides they have made since then. In 1991, most people could not even THINK like they needed to to live in a capitalistic society, much less act accordingly. Even if they worked for a private company, and the owner was working right in front of him, workers still stole just as they did before when the company owner was the state (in Soviet times, there was a saying, "He who does not steal from the state steals from his family.")
A lot of that has changed. While there is still a body of über-rich oligarchs, there is also a substantial and growing middle class of educated professionals, that are the backbone of a modern economy.
I loved working and talking with Russians. They are intelligent, passionate people, although they do not think exactly like we westerners do. The way they do things frequently can only be described, for good or bad, as "Russian". But I have no doubt that over the next couple of generations we can see some great things from them.
Coming back to Putin, I'll say that the biggest indicator of whether the country is on the right track or not is whether Putin and his administration leaves in an orderly manner on the day they are due to be voted out.
[Edited 2006-01-06 16:50:29]
The only thing you should feel when shooting a terrorist: Recoil.