05 December 2011


No country suffered more than Russia during the 20th century, with millions upon millions killed in war and through Communist oppression. That alone would leave one to think they would want to throw off the yoke of tyranny, but their parliamentary elections lead one to think otherwise. Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia, got just under 50% of the vote, and even that required ballot stuffing, cheating, and suppression of the opposition. But the opposition parties that did compete are hardly reassuring. The Communists came in second with 20% of the vote. That’s the same party that was responsible for the deaths of millions of Russians and totalitarian repression. The best spin that can be put on this is that some of it was a protest vote for a party that otherwise represents older pensioners. Next in line was A Just Russia, a left-wing socialist party with 13% followed by the Liberal Democrats, who are anything but, with 12%. The latter are even more nationalistic and xenophobic than Putin’s party. Real liberal democrats didn’t even get enough votes to be represented in parliament.

This outcome indicates that Russians may be tiring of Putin, but nevertheless clearly have a penchant for “strong” leadership. The electorate seems to be fertile ground for xenophobic demagogues and nutty nationalists. Genuinely democratic forces hardly register. None of this would matter if they didn’t possess a huge nuclear arsenal, but that is their trump card in international relations. This is otherwise a country of 140 million with a declining population, a huge chunk of the earth’s territory, and vast natural resources, which are still mismanaged. The leadership continually postures with aggressive anti-western rhetoric, creating enemies where there are none, essentially running a gangster regime. Putin, a former KGB man, is clearly nostalgic for the Soviet Union and his party organization emulates the Communists. None of this bodes well for the future, that is, the future of the Russians themselves. 
The reality is that the long term threat to Russia comes not from the west, but from the Muslim population along the central Asian border, and a rising China along the eastern border. Posturing against the west does nothing to advance the real geopolitical interests of the country. In fact Russia only has a future if it is firmly anchored in the west. This could eventually include membership in the EU, but at present they aren’t even able to join the WTO. Unfortunately, given these electoral preferences, Russia is likely to have repressive governments for the forseeable future and thus will remain a thorn in the side of the west, as it continues to align itself with other tyrannical regimes. But as they continue to make mischief with countries like Iran it may eventually come back to haunt them.  

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