The dead Vladimir Putin left in his wake
A STRONGMAN or a killer. A democrat or a despot. A public servant of modest wealth or a kleptocrat of the highest order. How bad is Vlad?
As US President Donald Trump found out this week, a vast coalition in the West, including many of Mr Trump's own supporters, consider the Russian President a malignant force in the world.
A leader who, in the absence of change, must be resisted, contained and constrained, rather than accommodated and cosied up to.
It is never easy sorting out fact from fake news about Mr Putin but intelligence services in Britain and the US have recently delivered clear findings of Russian skulduggery.
The nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil was egregious enough, but Russia's carefully planned cyberwar operation to interfere with the last US presidential election represents an outrageous attack on democracy itself.
Nothing of that scale could have happened without the personal approval of Mr Putin, a former KGB colonel who exercises a kind of unchecked power, direct and indirect, that has no equivalent in the West.
His enemies often end up in jail or dead. In the case of accountant Sergei Magnitsky, it was both. He was bashed to death in his cell after discovering massive tax fraud and company theft involving Putin allies.
Other Putin critics who have been assassinated include crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya and liberal politician Boris Nemtsov.
And a UK government report found that Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko's polonium poisoning in London was "probably" approved by Mr Putin.
A sinister hand is also seen in Mr Putin's rise to the Kremlin. After leaving the KGB, he joined the staff of the first democratic mayor of St Petersburg following the collapse of
Communism, and then became president Boris Yeltsin's surprise pick as prime minister.
As the country descended into chaos, a series of apartment bombings devastated Moscow and other cities.
Mr Putin blamed Chechen rebels and used them as a pretext to restart a war which propelled him to the presidency in a country that reveres authoritarian leaders.
But there was evidence the bombings were the work of Russian security agents.
Politkovskaya and Litvinenko tried to investigate these bombings before their deaths.
But Russians appear content to turn a blind eye as long as Mr Putin continues to deliver stability and restore Russia's place on the world stage.
His meddling in support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, his annexation of Crimea and his proxy war in Ukraine, which resulted in a Russian missile shooting down MH17 killing 298 including 38 Australian residents and citizens, are examples of his increasing ruthlessness in projecting Russian power.
Even in sport, despite the success of the World Cup, Russia has been on the outer, accused of widespread drug cheating sanctioned by the Kremlin.
Republican Senator and former US presidential candidate John McCain is unequivocal. "Vladimir Putin is a thug and a murderer and a killer," he said.
When the same thing was put to Trump last year, he replied: "There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. You think our country is so innocent?"
Mr Putin and his supporters deny all the allegations against him, calling them nonsense.