Anne Applebaum succinctly describes what’s wrong with (what’s left of) Russia’s democracy:
What is really missing in Russia is not just a political opposition but the machinery needed to create one: yes, free media, but also politically independent businessmen willing to provide the finance, politically savvy people willing to work for the president’s defeat without fear of reprisal, and politically educated voters who feel they have a reason — other than a desire for cheap groceries — to turn up at a polling booth. Not all these elements are equally abundant in every mature democracy, including ours. But they are sufficient to ensure that elections are, most of the time, genuine contests between at least two plausible political parties.
Is there a cheap solution? Maybe:
Our ability to foster the growth of a Russian or Iraqi political culture, complete with independent businessmen, independent journalists, independent election officials and, above all, voters who do not still retain some fear of independent voting, is extremely limited. Nevertheless, there are minor ways we can influence the process, as our experience with Russia should tell us. Clearly the selling of democracy — through the provision of scholarships for journalists, seminars for judges, textbooks for lawyers — shouldn’t stop once a new democracy begins to hold elections. The tools of “democracy promotion” and education aren’t powerful but they are, by foreign policy standards, quite cheap. It will cost a lot less to teach Iraqi schoolchildren about their new bill of rights than it would to send in the Army and Marines again 10 years from now.