"Who else if not 'him'" is the perfect explanation of why Vladimir Putin will win the upcoming elections with just enough majority of the vote to feel "welcomed" by the Russian people, but not enough to deserve a "dictator" status on the international political scene. (Actually, the way U.S. presidential primaries are going, Obama may get reelected under the same circumstances...). One may argue that Vladimir himself created the system in Russia, where no young leadership has a chance to rise to the top, and that the brightest have left the country or work for Western companies. However, there may be a different explanation: majority's easy satisfaction with mediocrecy.
Main reasons to vote for Putin? "Stability" and "who else if not him?" As my Moscow friend's older family members explained: "you [the younger generation] haven't lived through World War II and haven't lost your lifetime savings in 1991 and again in 1998. Putin is stable, and we have enough now." You can add to this list of Russian nation's bad luck the Mongolian invasion, Ivan the Terrible, a line of brutal tsars who kept the slavery of the Russian nation legal through 1861, then World War I, Communist Revolution, Cold War, and deprivation of the Yeltsin's years. This makes Putin look like George Washington (if not Jesus) altogether.
Since Putin took the office in 1999, life has become "great"! World War III hasn't begun (yet), salaries have risen, and money is somewhat safe in the Russian banks. Russians' satisfaction with basics is the real reason why Putin will win the elections. All the protestors who showed up in the streets do not amount to even 0.1 of one percent of the Russian population, and they probably represent 1% of Russia's entire 142-million-people population. The public show of civic and political activity is great, but in many ways irrelevant. In fact, very few Westerners know that Putin's rankings went up after the protests - the "country folk" did not like seeing expensive foreign-made cars creating traffic jams, and well-fed city boys and girls holding up iPads with anti-Putin slogans. Common people in Russia cannot afford to buy an iPad or a Mercedes...
In fact, Putin has benefited greatly from the protests. At the end of the day, he can sincerely claim that opposition in Russia is allowed and lives a vibrant life and the elections will be fair (there is just too much attention from all sides of the fence). And, most importantly, the young opposition (which is driven and educated but severely outnumbered by the old Soviet generations) assisted Putin in playing the class-war card in the upcoming elections.
To top it off, Putin's luck never runs out. By vetoing the U.N. Syria resolution and being ambiguous about Iran's nuclear program, Russia has contributed to the great instability in the Middle East, which means high oil prices. High oil prices mean great things for Putin: 2.5% of debt to GDP ratio, tripling (!!!) salaries of the military since January, and vibrant social programs (handouts).
In general, Russians are tired of Vlad. However, aside from pure luck, he performs the basic managerial functions of leading the country, and no one else seems to be capable to take his role at the moment. Recent public debates have shown Zhirinovsky's irrelevance bordering with insanity. In the past, his semi-fascist, racial, nationalistic slurs were funny or had a grain of truth in them. Now, he looked just like an old irrelevant Yeltsin-era dinosaur. Zyuganov is a communist, and there is no return to that. Then, there is nobody else who has any type of public recognition to attract any significant vote. Tired of Putin or not, someone has to wake up and lead the country. After Russia's presidential elections 2012, Putin will.