Vladimir Putin was expected to get around 64 percent of the vote for his latest seizure of the Russian presidency, and so he did. And a very nice number it is too, not too little and not too much. These arrangements are simplicity itself. Employees of the state, including the armed forces, are ordered which way to vote. Buses transport all sorts of innocents and dupes from the provinces to vote early and often. Loyalists feed the voting booths with bundles of votes from absentees to create what is jocularly known as the “carrousel” effect — one fellow was actually filmed shoving photo-copied sheets into a ballot box. Observers unanimously concur that this election has been another staged performance having nothing to do with political representation or the law.
Simultaneously the election to the Iranian majlis, or parliament, was rigged. Developments between Russia and Iran have run more or less parallel for a long time. It wasn’t an accident that Stalin read all the books about Persian despotism that he laid hands on. Neighbors borrowing from one another, both countries experienced constitutional crises starting in 1905; both after the First War had revolutions ending in dictatorship; and both are comparable police states. Although still lagging behind the figures of the Soviet gulag, Iran nowadays takes an easy lead in killing its citizens: Last year alone there were 161 secret executions there, never mind the hundreds more that were publicized, including women and children and homosexuals. But Putin copies Stalin’s famous guideline, “no man, no problem,” and he has seen to the murder of no less than 144 journalists, all carried out by anonymous killers never brought to justice. Identification, almost a kinship, underlines Russia’s arming of Iran and its defense of the Iranian nuclear program.
Huge numbers of Russians are all too well aware that Putin has set up one-man rule, enforced by a neo-KGB quite as powerful and secretive as the old Soviet KGB, reversing the reforms of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin era. What was once the protest of individual dissidents has swelled into large demonstrations against Putin and the corruption of politics and morality that he has set in place. As in the Iranian and Arab world, bloggers mobilize discontent. One such blogger, Alexei Navalny, seems to be gathering a mass movement in order to make peaceful protest a constant feature of the street.
On the day of the phony election, military vehicles lined the square in front of the Kremlin. The show of force was certainly forbidding. General Ion Pacepa, head of the Romanian secret police when he defected to the West in Communist days, calls Putin “Vladimir the Bare-Chested,” a perfect nickname. This president, self-elected into the indefinite future, is in the position of Bashar Assad. Refusing to reform, the Syrian president prefers to slaughter his fellow citizens, an atrocity he is able to carry out only with the help of the Iranian regime. Putin’s decision about the level of repression to come will almost certainly reflect the conviction common to the tyrants of Russia and Iran that harming their own people is the right and necessary prelude to harming everyone else.