Experts in Washington in recent days have expressed concern about what they see as increasing authoritarianism in Russia. 

At a conference organized by the American Enterprise Institute, researcher Lilia Shevtsova described Russia as a petroleum state with nuclear weapons. The country, she says, is an authoritarian state in which bureaucrats and a corrupt business elite are in charge.

As President Vladimir Putin has rolled back the political reforms of the 1990s, she says, power has been concentrated in the Kremlin. This kind of political system, says Ms. Shevtsova, cannot endure.

"The post-Soviet system in Russia and beyond Russia-Russia plus, is not sustainable," she said.  "The problem is that we don't have forces, groups of people, who are ready to organize a breakthrough."

Another Russian academician speaking at the Washington conference, sociologist Yuri Levada, says Russia faces a host of domestic and foreign problems. It has, he says, worsening relations with its neighbors, including those that were once part of the Soviet Union. 

Pointing to surveys showing that 70 percent of the Russian people support President Putin, Mr. Levada says loyalty to Mr. Putin is based largely on the absence of alternative leaders. Fearing a leadership vacuum at the end of Mr. Putin's term in 2008, Mr. Levada foresees a difficult transition.

"Without an institutional system, without normal succession system, every change of ruling personality at the top in my country during the last 100 years was some type of catastrophic change," he noted.

Mr. Putin says he will not seek re-election as president.

But on the economy, the outlook is quite different.  Anders Aslund, who heads the Russia program at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, says with a natural resource-based economy, Russia has been riding the crest of the boom in oil prices.

"By and large, this is a very rosy picture," he explained.  "Russia has gone through a large economic boom since 1999 with growth averaging seven percent per year. And there is no significant decline in sight. And this flood is raising almost all ships."

Mr. Aslund says Russia has become a model of financial discipline, running a large budget surplus this year while inflation remains steady.

Russia in 2006 will for the first time host the annual G8 summit of leaders from Western Europe, Japan and the United States.  President Putin says energy security will be the principal theme of the meeting that will take place in June or July in St. Petersburg.