Vladimir Posner, the famed Soviet spokesman from the Cold War, published an editorial in the New York Times yesterday defending Putin’s regime. It’s nice to see his ability to transfer his affections from one totalitarian regime to its successor.
Most people, not just Russians, vote with their wallets and stomachs, and most Russians, as I pointed out, are enjoying their best-ever lifestyle. Hence, they voted for Putin. And in that sense the “Fair!” criers are right: the elections were legitimate.
Nevertheless, the political playing field was tilted in Putin’s favor: he had far more television exposure than anyone else, the true opposition parties were not allowed to register and could not have their candidates run, Putin refused to participate in any debates (thereby avoiding unpleasant questions), there was ballot-stuffing and, to an even greater extent, the busing of people en masse to vote for Putin. In that sense those who cry “Foul!” are right: the elections were unfair.
But don’t worry, even though there was major electoral fraud, Posner insists that Putin is in favor of democracy by
a) backing away from the United Russia party, which is no longer his support base; b) supporting democratic reforms that will facilitate the registration of political parties and the direct, popular elections of governors; c) coming out in favor of creating a public television network; and d) promising to curtail many of the bureaucracy’s privileges.
All of these are vague promises, and it is especially galling to suggest Putin’s democratic convictions based on direct elections of governors — it was Putin who removed this right eight years ago. Also, let’s just ignore the fact that Putin has a habit of imprisoning anyone who dares oppose him politically or murders any journalist who threatens to expose the truth. Posner concludes that,
It is far too early to state that Putin has gotten the message and will be less authoritarian and more democratic in his third term. But one should never underestimate the Russians, who, as the proverb says, are slow to hitch up their horses, but move very fast.
It would be wonderful if Posner was right, and that Putin will allow Russia to transition to democracy. Yet after what we’ve seen from Vladimir Putin, it’s difficult to believe in him.