Was it also a campaign tactic that the Kremlin began aggressively supporting the anti-West dictatorships in Syria and Iran, siding with both rogue regimes against concerted Western efforts to sanction reckless nuclear weapons development and ruthless anti-democratic crackdowns? That’s unlikely, because Russia has been pursuing that same policy for years, though surely without any significant popular pushback. It’s certain, however, that the Kremlin’s actions both at home and abroad confirm the total failure of the Obama “reset.” The Kremlin has not moderated its anti-U.S. policies, nor has it become more willing to listen to criticism of its domestic crackdown. Instead, on the Obama watch, we are only seeing those problems worsen.
On the day of the election, United Russia did not let up. Its agents actively campaigned at polling places across the country in clear violation of election laws. Internet platforms from Live Journal to Golos to Voice of Moscow radio to the Moscow Times and Novaya Gazeta newspapers came under determined DDOS attacks. Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front political party, was arrested on the street without charges before he could engage in any political activity. Golos representatives were barred from access to the polling stations. And Putin even got the Highest Authority on his side, ordering Orthodox priests to fan out across Russia and lobby in support of votes for United Russia.
Exit polls showed United Russia losing its majority, having collected 45 to 48% of the votes. And they were accurate. The party did not win a majority of the popular vote, although because of the gap between itself and the second-place party, Russia’s Byzantine electoral system will allocate it just enough seats to hold sway with a bare majority. But the party will end up with a shocking one-third fewer seats than it had in the last parliament.
The Communist Party’s presence in parliament will nearly double. The Communists won a fifth of the total votes cast. There won’t be another legislative election in Russia until 2016, since members serve five-year terms.
Both international and Russian poll observers proclaimed the election dirty and illegitimate. If United Russia did so badly despite overwhelming fraud in its favor, what would have happened if American pressure had forced Russia to allow real opposition parties onto the ballot and had guaranteed those parties access to media and an honest vote count? In that case, we might have seen a whole new chapter in Russian history being written.
Instead, what happened was that America failed to lead. Instead of confronting Putin, Obama gave him aid and comfort, helped him pretend that Dmitri Medvedev was a real president rather than a sham, and helped him sweep his anti-democratic crackdown under the carpet. When the people of Russia looked to America for a beacon light of democracy, they got the cold shoulder.
If Obama’s policy remains in place, Putin will repeat this atrocity again in a few months, this time for his own personal benefit, and Russia’s transformation to a neo-Soviet dictatorship will be complete. And let’s be clear about what that means: a proud KGB spy, who spent his whole life learning how to hate America, will be given power for life.
We will see continued Russian efforts to roil the Middle East, both to keep the price of oil on the rise and to foment terror against American targets around the world. We will see increasing trouble for the nations in post-Soviet space, like Ukraine and Georgia, and increasingly brutal repression for those who stand up for American values behind the new iron curtain.