Putin Rings Down the Curtain on Democracy in Russia

Georgy Bovt, writing in the Moscow Times, explains how the Kremlin has utterly obliterated the last vestiges of democracy in Russia and rendered the country a nation of helpless, bleating sheep, just as in Soviet times. Welcome back to the USSR!

In the wake of protests in December and February, the authorities made concessions to the opposition by announcing a host of political reforms before the March presidential election. The law to ease the registration of new political parties, intended to liberalize the political process, was passed quickly. But every other amendment proposed by the opposition was ignored, including the two most important: the ability for parties to form coalitions prior to elections and the demand to lower the barrier for parties to gain seats in the State Duma. At present, that barrier stands at 5 percent, and voters who support the smaller parties risk not only having no representation in parliament, but also seeing their votes effectively awarded to the winning party. The result will be a major “Balkanization” process in which dozens of new parties are formed but are rendered useless.

Then there is the bill to return direct gubernatorial elections.

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McFaul Highlights Russian Self-Destruction

Writing on Foreign Policy, Russia scholar Leon Aron takes Russia to task for brutally “tormenting” the new American Ambassador, Michael McFaul.

Even though Aron is wrong to fail to acknowledge he has not one but two fatal biases when writing about McFaul (he admits McFaul is a personal friend but doesn’t stop to wonder whether he can write objectively about him, and he himself is an academic like McFaul and therefore has a vested interest in arguing that academics can be successful diplomats), and even though Aron’s piece is utterly one-sided (it doesn’t contain a single word of criticism of McFaul’s policy or of the Obama administration where Russia is concerned), the article still contains an important truth about McFaul and Russia.

McFaul is one of the best friends the Kremlin ever had.  He is aggressively seeking to rationalize the “reset” policy he helped to engineer, dealing with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin as if he were just another world leader and not a proud KGB spy bent on American destruction.  He is faithfully carrying out the partisan agenda of his lord and master Barack Obama, whose goal is to make Americans believe he has turned Russia from a dangerous enemy into a friend and thereby win votes in November. Yet Russians can’t see this.  Ruled by a proud KGB spy and seething with contempt for America and her values, Russians simply can’t help but view every move McFaul makes through their crazy, paranoid lenses, and they can’t help attacking anything they perceive as different.  McFaul holds out a hand of friendship, and the Russians bite it off.

It’s just too bad that, undoubtedly because of his biases, Aron doesn’t follow this truth to where it should lead him:  Obama and McFaul have promised us over and over again, using their promises to justify their policy, that Russia would not act this way.  They’ve promised us that Russia doesn’t hate and want to destroy us, that Russia is a reasonable country that, if treated reasonable, can be our partner.

But the Kremlin’s treatment of McFaul shows this is a lie.  Russians hate Americans and their values, and any other view of Russia is just wishful thinking, the kind that Neville Chamberlain liked to engage in.  Just as Obama and McFaul lied to us when they told us Dmitri Medvedev was a real political force in Russia, rather than a sham figurehead, they are lying to us when they tell us Russia can be trusted, can be brought around by their “reset.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The reset policy is only seen by the Kremlin as a sign of weakness and an invitation to exploitation.

McFaul’s approach to Russia has proven an absolute failure. Russia has opposed American policy throughout the Arab world despite America’s unilateral withdrawal of missile defense in Eastern Europe. Medvedev has admitted his presidency was sham, and Putin has rolled back to power as president for life on Obama’s watch.  Putin’s blitzkrieg on American values within Russia has continued unabated while Obama and McFaul turn a blind eye, and America has lost he moral high ground it used to hold where such issues are concerned.

Hilarious “Reporting” on Astrakhan

If you are a New York Times reader, then you believe 1,500 people protested for fair elections in Astrakhan today.

But if you rely upon Reuters or the Associated Press, then you think it was 2,000.

On the other hand, if you’re an AFP person, then you understand it was 4,000.  Of course, that depends on which AFP reporter you are talking to, because some of them say it was actually 3,000.

Let’s put it this way. If MSM journalists can’t even count consistently, what chance is there that anything else they say will be even vaguely correct?

Failure and Humiliation in Astrakhan

Instead of being a force to galvanize a new round of opposition enthusiasm, the efforts to protest the recent mayoral election in Astrakhan have served only to emphasize the weakness and indeed dissolution being experienced by the opposition forces.

The Just Russia party promised that every single one of its deputies in Moscow would travel to Astrakhan to rally in support of Oleg Shein, their defeated candidate for Astrakhan mayor who claims fraud denied him the office.  But in the event, less than a third of the deputies (Russian-language link) actually made the trip.

Just Russia, of course, is hardly a focal point of the opposition.  Though it had a place on the ballot last December, none of the opposition leaders endorsed it much less participated in its operations, and it has always been thought of as a Kremlin patsy.

The focus on Astrakhan resulted in major reporting in the Washington Post and the New York Times about the city and its political leanings. But what the reporters found when they looked was disheartening:  Little access to the Internet, and even less interest in the criticism of Putin to be found there.  The people of Astrakhan simply don’t care about democracy or about Shein’s fate, and the arrival of the glitterati from Moscow (like Aleksei Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak) came with a resounding thud.

An absurdly small number of people turned out for the Moscow-led protest demonstrations, and many of them had been brought in from outside the city — a practice that was condemned by the opposition leaders when Putin tried it in Moscow.  Putin scoffed at the protests and defied them. Larger demonstrations were organized in support of the status quo.  Soon, local elections officials were turning the tables and accusing Shein himself of fraud.

So all the protests in Astrakhan managed to accomplish was to remind the world how confused, disorganized and isolated the opposition movement is now.  When the opposition leaders say that it doesn’t matter that protest activity has dissolved in Moscow because they are seeking real political power in the remote regions, their claims ring hollow.  There is no groundswell of support in the regions for opposition reform, the regions are where Putin is strongest.

Blowing the Lie about Russian Internet Access Away

Photograph taken by blogger-activist Roman Dobrokhotov showing an area of Astrakhan opposite his hotel in the center of the city.

Washington Post reporter Michael Birnbaum is in Astrakhan this week, and has filed two devastating reports that drive the final nail into the coffin of the lie that Russia has a vibrant Internet.

First, Birnbaum reports on how nobody outside Moscow has the vaguest clue who Alexei Navalny is, then he reports on how nobody in Astrakhan knows that mayoral contender Oleg Shein is on a hunger strike to protest what he believes was a rigged election that caused him to lose.

He notes that people in Astrakhan, a giant city of 500,000, have virtually no viable access to the Internet, hence they know neither Shein nor Navalny — and Astrakhan is of course a typical Russian city, not an aberration, which is why nobody anywhere outside Moscow knows Navalny.

This comes as no surprise to us, of course, since we’ve been reporting on Russia’s Potemkin Internet for years now. And it should surprise nobody else either, not if they are aware of Russia’s puny household incomes and creaking infrastructure.  Most Russians simply can’t afford Internet access, and even if they could their browsing experience would not encourage them to use it and their level of civic activism would make it even less likely that they would use Internet access to defend their citizenship rights.

It is, quite simply, a myth that freedom on the Russian Internet may save Russian democracy. In fact, exactly the opposite is the case. It’s because the Russian Internet is accessed by virtually nobody that there is some freedom there, more at least than in the rest of neo-Soviet Russia. The Kremlin simply doesn’t care much about the Internet because it knows hardly anybody can or will use it. Were it otherwise, the Kremlin would quickly snuff it out.

Pain and Humiliation for Putin’s Russia

A tsunami of bad economic news swept over Putin’s Russia this week.

Capital flight roared to sensational new levels, on pace to far exceed $100 billion this year.  Capital flight in the first quarter of this year was double that of the same period last year, a year in which Russia experienced one of the worst years for capital flight in its history.

The IMF warned that Russia’s eternal bogeyman, inflation, was also on the warpath.

And the Kremlin itself admitted that economic growth this year will be much less than it had hoped.

The Putin economy is failing, and this should be no surprise. Vladimir Putin has no economics or business credentials whatsoever, and he is liquidating freedom and the rule of law in favor of  neo-Soviet dictatorship. The Putin economy will fail just as badly as the Politburo economy he still worships, in his benighted ignorance.

Nothing better exemplifies how utterly wrongheaded Putinomics is than the pathetic screechings of his government over the sentencing of mass-murdering terrorist Victor Bout and the return of the Stalin tetrad. The fact that the Putin regime thinks it can afford to spend time defending terrorist maniacs and reviving Soviet political culture tied to even more terrifying criminals rather than working hard to right Russia’s sinking economic ship speaks volumes about how far from reality Putin’s head really is.  It is stuck in the sands of propaganda just like the Soviet ostrich always was, and the results for Russia will be just as bleak.

This time, however, nobody can blame the institution of dictatorship. The people of Russia are not victims this time, if they ever were. This time, they have embraced Putin and brought the horror upon themselves.

Holy Crap

Remember back in the summer of 2009 when His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Russia traveled to Ukraine and delivered furious, fire-and-brimstone condemnations of Western conspicuous consumption, implying that the West was evil and Ukraine should rejoin the holy Russian fold?

Remember how it soon came to light that while making these righteous utterances His Holiness was sporting a $30,000 Breguet watch, an item that cost the equivalent of four Russian average annual salaries?  That was a rather embarrassing situation, to be sure, a new low you might say in the annals of Russian corruption and incompetence.

Well, you may have forgotten about it by now but the lackeys who work for His Holiness certainly have not.  For this reason, when they spotted Kirill in a publicity photograph once again showing off his costly timepiece (see there below, proudly displayed on the left wrist) . . .

. . . they quickly pulled out their Photoshop software and removed it before the photograph could see the light of day

Unfortunately for His Holiness, however, they did not notice that the watch had been reflected in the shiny, costly surface of the shiny, costly table at which His Holiness was seated. Therefore, they did not remove such reflection along with said watch, leaving a tell-tale sign of their mendacity.

Russian bloggers pounced, and the His Holiness was forced to retract and apologize. But Kirill himself continued to maintain the watch had never been on his wrist.

So instead of doing the moral thing back in 2009 and getting rid of this devilish watch, selling it and giving the cash to Russia’s sick and poor (who number in the millions, Russia does not rank in the top 125 nations of the world for average life expectancy), and instead of doing the at-least sensible thing and wearing it only in private, Kirill’s “solution” is to go right on brazenly displaying this obscene item and to have his henchman Photoshop the watch off his wrist.  At least, that is, until they get caught red-handed.

It may seem horrifying, but what else can one expect in the most corrupt major civilization on this planet? Nothing more, of course, not even from the man who is supposed to be the nation’s moral compass.

And so goes Russia.

If We Were Writing Romney’s Acceptance Speech

Here’s what presidential candidate Mitt Romney would say as part of his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention if we were writing it:

My fellow Americans, for the last four years President Obama has been telling you that a man called Medvedev was the ruler of Russia. He had cheeseburgers with him, and told you Medvedev was his partner in democracy.  That was a lie.

Medvedev never had real power in Russia, and he was never interested in democracy, and Barack Obama knew it.  Ever since the late 1990s, only one man has held real power in Russia, and that man is a proud KGB spy named Putin.

Putin used Medvedev as a figurehead so he could continue to rule Russia without violating the Russian Constitution. And Obama used him too, used him to claim he was “resetting” our relations with Russia, transforming an enemy into a friend. During this election, he’ll claim credit for doing that and ask for your votes because of it. That will be another  lie. And every single day he tells it, I’ll be there to tell you so.

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Michael McFaul Jumps the Shark

Over on the American Thinker, Kim Zigfeld delves into ever more pathetic performance of the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul.  The Ambassador goes on repeating the Obama reelection propaganda about “reset” even as he comes under brutal attack from the Russian nationalists, and he creeps around Moscow having secret meetings with opposition leaders when he should be meeting with and supporting them openly.  The only “policy” the U.S. has towards Russia is to get everybody to stop criticizing Russia and making the “reset” look like a pathetic fraud until Obama has his reelection in the bag. Yikes.