As a democratic exercise, Vladimir Putin’s 87% victory at the polls this weekend was a travesty, meaningful only as a defining chapter in the tragic story of opportunities lost and destruction caused that his 24 years in power have become.

Yet to judge a Russian election by the standards of liberal democracy is today a dangerous self-indulgence. Putin’s victory should be seen through the eyes of the Kremlin, because Russia’s story is no longer one of a wayward transition from communism. He has established a new and yet familiar style of autocracy for Russia that — not for the first time — defines itself against the West. In those terms, this weekend’s charade was a wholly successful piece of political theater that will provide a crucial backdrop for Putin’s comeback from the deep military humiliations that Russia’s military, including its commander-in-chief, suffered in Ukraine two years ago.

From this vantage point, Putin can now expect at least another six years in office that would make him Russia’s longest-serving leader since Catherine the Great, the empress who first seized the lands Putin is fighting over in Ukraine. Having vastly miscalculated the willingness of Ukrainians to fight back and of the West to support its defense, Putin’s intuition that he would be able to outlast both looks to be panning out. He didn’t even have to wait for November’s presidential election in the U.S. for Donald Trump to turn off the spigot of aid from Washington. Trump’s grip on the Republican party already ensured that.