The Russian election sends a shudder of foreboding and fear down the spine. President Vladimir Putin has made sure to stage this show, with the appearance of turning to the electorate while making sure that no such thing is possible. He has muzzled free speech, barred opposition candidates from standing, and fixed the actual returns. Dissenters once again risk being condemned to mental asylums or punishment camps in a revised version of Gulag. On election day, Garry Kasparov, one of the forbidden opposition leaders, carried a plastic shopping bag in central Moscow with the words on it, “I am not participating in this farce.” Riot police surrounded him to prevent onlookers from spotting that bag. There could hardly be a more perfect representation of the political illegitimacy that Putin has put in place. Such is the reality of Russia today.
More than a travesty of democracy, here is a reenactment of Communist practice, a kind of civilian version of it. In a process that was purely personal and of course invisible even to insiders, Putin picked Dmitri Medvedev to replace him as President, while he simply appoints himself Prime Minister.
Who is this Medvedev? He rose through Gazprom, the state oil and gas giant. Fawning as usual, the Western press generally calls him a “moderniser” and a “liberal” or at least more “moderate” than Putin. Practically the entire world media has shown Putin and Medvedev celebrating pulling off the election by attending a rock concert, both dressed in smart black leather gear. Modern, cool, eh? In just that mode, previous Western journalists used to discover that hard-line general secretaries of the Communist Party were devoted to children and jazz, and drank whisky too.
Oleg Gordievsky, the former KGB colonel who defected to Britain in 1985, tells me that the election was pure falsification. Contacts in Russia inform him that the actual numbers of voters who turned up in the booths are significantly lower than those announced officially. The whole show is a KGB triumph. To him, Medvedev is an “empty space.” Over the next two years, nothing will change in the Putin-Medvedev relationship, he foresees, but then Medvedev is likely to try to establish the control over the armed forces and foreign policy that properly belongs to the presidency. We shall then see if anything has filled the “empty space.”
Actually today is worse than Communism, Gordievsky thinks. Communism at least had an ideology behind it. Now Putin and Medvedev are putting the power of the KGB and the state at the service of nothing but bandit capitalism. And he added the remarkable throwaway line, that Putin is short and ugly, as Stalin was, for which reason both men needed to take it out on the rest of the world.