Russia’s Potemkin Democracy
It has all the trappings, but Putin and his deputy control the results.


John Dunlop is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an expert on the Soviet collapse and Russian domestic politics. Yesterday, we featured the first half of a conversation between Dunlop and National Review Online’s Daniel Foster about the rise of Vladimir Putin, once and future president of the Russian Federation. In Part II, Dunlop describes the farce that is the upcoming Russian “election,” discusses Putin’s Soviet-imperial ambitions, and reveals the identity of the “Russian Karl Rove.”

DANIEL FOSTER: Let’s talk about the upcoming elections in Russia. There will be parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election in March. Can you give us an outline of the three or four main parties in play?

JOHN DUNLOP: Well, as of today, it looks like four political parties are going to clear the 7 percent barrier [required to create a party or “faction” in the Russia Duma], which is a very high barrier. It was put in there intentionally by Putin and his team, to keep democratically oriented parties out.


FOSTER: How so?

DUNLOP: It’s very hard to get 7 percent. So the four parties that appear likely to clear the barrier are, first of all, the party of power — United Russia, which will probably get somewhere between 55 and 65 percent of the vote. Of course, part of the question is how the vote is going to be tabulated. Is there going to be cheating? Manipulation? But it’ll get over half the votes. That seems clear.

Then there is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, KPRF, which should get 15 to 17 percent, something like that. The Communists could actually go higher if there were free elections. I think they have more appeal to the population than 15 to 17 percent, but they have been constant in all elections since the Russian presidential elections in 1991, and they’ve had a significant degree of clout as a result. They focus on social issues, and on nostalgia for the Soviet Union and Soviet empire — when it was a great state, and so on.

There are two other parties that look like they will be in the 7 percent area. One is the Liberal Democratic party [LDPR], headed by a semi-fascist demagogue, Vladimir Zhirinovsky — a kind of clown, but a very gifted one. He’s been around since the early ’90s as a major political figure, and there’s a 10 to 12 percent segment of the electorate that loves the guy and will always vote for him. So the polls suggest that he’s definitely going to get in with his party. It’s almost like a one-man party, because most of the other people on the party list are not so well known.

And then the last group, the last party which seems likely to clear the barrier — there are still questions whether they will; recent polling data suggests they’re going to — is the so-called Party of a Just Russia, which is headed by Sergey Mironov, until recently the speaker of the Federation Council, the non-elected upper chamber of the Russian parliament. He’s a well-known figure. It looks like they’ll get a little more than 7 percent. Now, both the Liberal Democratic Party and A Just Russia are tainted by the puppet master — that’s not my term — of Russian politics: Vladislav Surkov. He’s propped up those parties to take away votes from the Communists. In other words, both of their appeals are to the constituencies that the Communists might be expected to get votes from.

FOSTER: Let’s talk more about the puppet master, Surkov, because he’s an intriguing figure. Who is he? Where did he come from? What’s his role?

DUNLOP: He has a high position in the Russian presidential administration under Medvedev, and is a close confidant of Putin.