Prominent Swedish scholar and Russia specialist Anders Aslund Monday said Vladimir Putin is rebuilding Russia as an authoritarian regime and runs a corrupt government. VOA's Barry Wood has more.

Aslund says that after a promising start under President Boris Yeltsin, democracy has failed under his successor Vladimir Putin. Since at least 2002, he says, Mr. Putin has been undoing Russia's fragile advances in democracy and moving towards a corrupt authoritarianism in which the state is again dominant. Speaking at Washington's Peterson Institute where he is a senior fellow, Aslund said President Putin and his inner circle are enriching themselves by fraudulently obtaining ownership shares in Russian energy companies.

"I think today we are seeing the greatest larceny in any country that we have ever seen, not counting Saudi Arabia where there is no clear distinction between state finances and family finances," said Anders Aslund.

Aslund says he does not expect Mr. Putin to surrender power when his presidential term expires next year. Outlining the central conclusions of his just published book, "Russia's Capitalist Revolution," Aslund says there can be no doubt that Russia has created a market economy. But, he says, Russia's market economy goes hand in hand with its increasingly authoritarian political structure.

"I don't think that this [system] can hold," he said. "I think it will break. It will break because of corruption. And it will be a political break rather than an economic break."

Speaking at the same forum, Harvard University Professor Richard Pipes says building Democracy in Russia is not easy.

"I'm not at all convinced that even if you had pure capitalism in Russia you would have the rise of democracy," said Richard Pipes. "Russians are very insecure people."

Just returned from three weeks in Russia, Pipes said President Putin and his policies are popular and that polls suggest he enjoys 70 percent support from the public. He said Russia has a long tradition of favoring a strong ruler and that people generally equate freedom with chaos.

Aslund says Russia's economic success is impressive with high rates of economic growth and real advances in per capita living standards.