Today's Blogs

Bearish on Russia

Vladimir Putin’s anointed successor, 42-year-old Dmitry Medvedev, secured more than 70 percent of the vote Sunday in Russia’s presidential elections, to the surprise of no one. Medvedev has said he will name Putin as his prime minister, but some wonder how the two will share power. Opposition protesters who said the election was fixed clashed with riot police in the streets of Moscow Monday.

“To call it an election is insulting to countries that have real ones,” writesEdward Lucas, a former Moscow bureau chief of the Economist. “Mr Putin has neatly sidestepped the two-term limit stipulated in the Russian constitution, but achieves his other objectives, chiefly a speedy return to power in a few months or years. … As so often in the past eight years, Russia’s rulers will have preserved the letter of legality and political propriety, while trampling on the spirit.”

At the New Republic’s Plank, Michael Idov reports from Moscow, where he spent Election Day visiting polling sites and attending a party of the anemic opposition. “Those that think that the Putin-Medvedev regime (is that what we’re calling it now, by the way?) is quashing a potent opposition movement are humoring themselves, because the alternative is too nauseating to consider. We’re not exactly sure how to deal with a narrative of near-unanimous voluntary submission to autocracy. Russia is as conclusive a repudiation of the idea that every nation hungers for the democracy-capitalism combo as Iraq (if not as tragic). More conclusive, in fact: In Iraq, various species of idealism are still butting heads. In Russia, people give up their liberties out of well-considered pragmatic self-interest.” He also files a video diary from a dreary Moscow apartment.

At Sean’s Russia Blog, Sean asks the West to look deeper at what drives Russian politics: “Why pretend there is a contest when there actually isn’t one in real political terms? Dima is Putin’s man, so by that simple fact he’s also most Russians’ man. So instead of harping again and again on the obvious–Russia is not the democratic, liberal nation we all pray for–we need concentrate on why Russians may not love Putin, but they love Putin’s Russia.”

Conservative Kim Zigfeld at La Russophobe is all doom and gloom at the results: “We’ve said for years now that we’d have much preferred to see Vladimir Putin remain in power in 2009 than to allow a proxy to take his place, because remaining in power would signal that he doesn’t yet have sufficient control to make him comfortable with a proxy – in other words, that he recognizes vulnerability. But now he has allowed Dmitri Medvedev, an utterly unqualified sycophant, to assume the nominal reins of power whilst he remains as prime minister, and this is a darkest omen for Russia’s future, indeed.”

At Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness, British blogger Chekov strikes a more positive note, hoping that Medvedev—who he points out was 25 when the USSR disintegrated—will be the first true post-Soviet leader. “Although Russia’s path of sovereign democracy and state-based energy monopolies will remain true, Medvedev is a leader who will not have the ‘siloviki’ baggage of his predecessor. Authoritarianism may remain, but there is every chance that controls on the press may be relaxed and the primacy of the rule of law will be more fastidiously asserted. Beyond this there is no great appetite for extensive reform in Russia and western observers will simply have to accept that the system of government there enjoys the support of a large majority.”

At Lex Libertas, Owen—who lived in Russia for two years—looks to recent history to remind readers that Putin may not be able to hold onto power despite being named prime minister. “Remember, Putin was picked in ‘99 because he was a weak, unknown candidate. There were various factions fighting to see who would take over from Yeltsin, and in order to sort of make a peace agreement Yeltsin selected Putin, who wasn’t a part of any of the factions. … I’ll withhold judgment for the time being. The thing about Russia is that you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Given the chaos of the 90’s, any smooth transition of power is progress, even it’s one as rigged as this.”

Writing at Robert Amsterdam,the blog ofthe lawyer for jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khordorkovsky,contributorJames worries that others will copy Russian “democracy.” “Perhaps the worst part of the complacency with which the world has tolerated the Russia’s election farce is that many other authoritarian nations will take this as precedent - an understanding that skillful manipulation of democratic processes is perfectly OK with international partners. China, for one, seems ideally poised to copy Russia’s brand of sovereign democracy as though it were a counterfeit Prada handbag.”

At the Oil and Glory, Steve LeVine, an ex-Wall Street Journal correspondent in the former Soviet Union, opines that heavy-handed Russian energy policy won’t change under Medvedev, citing as evidence that Gazprom—the gas behemoth that Medvedev formerly headed up—on Monday decreased supply to Ukraine by 35 percent.

Others try to find humor in the darkness. “Closing Russian polls this Sunday are indicating that Dmitry Medvedev, long preened to be the next Russian President has won in a landslide victory over the opposing candidates. Putin, in the meantime, is taking up the newly coined role of ‘Prime Minister’, which, shall we say, is Russian for ‘Medvedev is my bitch,’ ”  quips Grant Martin at travel blog Gadling.

Russia Today, the English language news service run by state news agency RIA-Novosti, declares Medvedev has a “thumping mandate.”

Read more about the Russian presidential elections. Slate’s Anne Applebaum ponders why Russia bothers with elections.