In fact, were Russian authorities left to their own devices, this country's "elections" wouldn't be any better than the recent performance in Belarus. And should that happen, Russia will lose its last chance for a peaceful return to the normal track of democratic development.
What can be done? We urge Western leaders to discontinue their kisses-and-hugs "Realpolitik," which has failed, and to stop flirting with Russian rulers - behavior that has not brought any benefits to the West and produces in Russia an impression that Putin's system is a decent one, like any other in the democratic world.
This is not just about choosing better keynote speakers for major international events. It means Western leaders must stop closing their eyes to Russian leaders' clear noncompliance with international obligations, especially concerning free and fair elections and basic human rights. It means the West should cease greeting Russian rulers as equals, providing them with legitimacy they clearly do not merit. It means the West should start exposing corrupt practices by the Russian establishment, whose ability to find havens for stolen funds and leave Russia for comfortable lives in Western nations is one of the regime's pillars of stability. It means Western nations should introduce targeted sanctions against the officials directly abusing the rights of their compatriots.
This won't be simple. Such measures would be vehemently opposed by Putin's team, by the growing clientele for the state-owned Gazprom-Rosneft, and by some businesses that prefer smooth, if murky, dealings with Russian authorities. But the stakes require nothing less.
As leaders of the united Russian democratic opposition, we urge the West to stop undermining our cause and compromising the very principles Western society is based upon. We are sure that we can achieve our goals through freedom and normal democratic process - provided we get these restored in our country.
The writers are co-chairs of the People's Freedom Party in Russia.