The consequences of Barack Obama’s miserably failed “reset” policy with Russia became horrifyingly clear last weekend. The Russian people did their part in fighting for American values, but America itself did not meet them halfway, and so an iron curtain came clanging down across Russia.
Last Sunday, Russians went to the polls in a parliamentary election that former parliament member Vladimir Ryzhkov predicted would be “the dirtiest in post-Soviet history.” As if to prove him right, in the days leading up to the vote Lilya Shibanova — leader of the country’s only independent polling place monitor, Golos — was arrested and her laptop confiscated. State-owned media also aired a vicious (and false) attack on her organization’s integrity. Also, one of Russia’s most independent and outspoken foreign correspondents, John Helmer, was summarily booted out of the country, and a full-scale crackdown was launched everywhere against Russian media.
Clearly, the Kremlin planned unprecedented ballot box stuffing and wanted to minimize the blowback.
The campaign tactics of United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s party of power, were truly shameless. They posted billboards which were exact copies of government efforts to encourage voter turnout, making it seem the party was state-endorsed. They infiltrated schools from first grade to colleges with ominous propaganda agents. They deluged the Internet with racist and sexist videos meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
When opposition activists tried to stage a concert in Ekaterinburg, the power went suddenly, mysteriously dead.
Election fraud is so commonplace in Russia that a leading Russian paper, Vedomosti, produced a lengthy analysis of all the ways it is carried out. The article scarcely raised an eyebrow.
So-called “president” Dmitri Medvedev stated:
Every adult citizen of our country has the right to come to the polling station and freely cast their vote for the political party of their choice.
It’s hard to square that comment with Medvedev’s actual policy, which has been to exclude parties led by all the major opposition figures (Boris Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, Garry Kasparov, Lyudmila Alexeeva) from registering for a place on the ballot. Medvedev has also refused to allow opposition parties access to the airwaves, and there are no major debates between leading representatives of United Russia and the opposition forces.
There was good reason for such desperate actions, though. For the first time — in the wake of his decision to declare himself president for life, and after being outed as an “enthusiastic womanizer and violent bully who beat his wife” — Vladimir Putin was humiliated by being loudly booed at a heavyweight fight. Later, the losing fighter exposed the horrific conditions of Russia’s health care system. United Russia’s support in polls has plummeted. A Twitter account mocking Medvedev has almost as many followers as he does.
Life on the street in Putin’s Russia gets worse by the day, and no amount of regime propaganda can change that reality.
More and more young Russians are declaring their intention to abandon their country, and are doing so. The Russian stock market, supposedly a safe haven because of Russian oil reserves, is down over 20% since the beginning of the year, and entry to the WTO looks to severely undermine Russia’s domestic manufacturing industry due to the lack of protective tariffs. The country faces a horrifying demographic crisis due to an almost complete breakdown in social policy. It recently faced yet another in a long string of embarrassing failures in its space program. There was even a humiliating electoral setback in occupied Ossetia. Everywhere you look, there is bad news for Putin and United Russia.