RUSSIA’S HERMETIC political system — a parody of democracy that begrudges dissent and bristles at independent voices — is growing even less tolerant.
Faced with the likelihood that the governing party’s overwhelming majority in the Duma, Russia’s parliament, may be diminished in legislative elections Sunday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has turned from glowering at the country’s only independent election watchdog to outright intimidation. In the process, he has reverted to Cold War rhetoric and cemented the Kremlin’s reputation for thuggery in high places.
With the elections approaching, officials have been turning up the heat on Golos (Russian for “voice,”), an independent group of election monitors largely funded by U.S. and other Western groups. Last weekend, as reported by The Post’s Kathy Lally, Mr. Putin likened the group to “Judas” (though without naming it explicitly); there have also been attacks on the group in pro-government media.
On Thursday, the government intensified its campaign by launching an official investigation of Golos at the behest of pro-Putin lawmakers, who object to its monitoring the parliamentary campaign and see its foreign funding as evidence of Western meddling.
Golos says that the funding, from the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as from the National Endowment for Democracy and the National Democratic Institute, allows it to be impartial. It has established a highly effective online collection center for thousands of complaints about campaign and electoral irregularities — including evidence of payments from officials in return for votes. The group fears, quite reasonably, that the authorities will try to impede its poll monitoring activities Sunday.
Mr. Putin’s own reascension to the presidency in elections in March seems assured, even if a growing number of Russians chafe at a system that takes his commands and uses the niceties of democracy, including elections, as window dressing.
But he has never been one to settle for simple victory when unchallenged supremacy can be gained by use of threats, political manipulation and bullying.
To that end, Mr. Putin, with assists from his loyal lieutenant, President Dmitri Medvedev, has also fallen back on the anti-Western, Soviet-style rhetoric that marked his presidency from 2000 to 2008. In an unusually strident statement last month, Mr. Medvedev warned that Russia may aim missiles at U.S. anti-missile installations in Europe, which are intended mainly as a shield against Iran, unless the Obama administration agrees to a set of Russian demands. He also threatened a Russian withdrawal from the new nuclear arms reduction treaty, known as START, which went into effect this year.
In Washington, Russian saber-rattling sounds like a throwback to Soviet times, even if it’s primarily intended to rally a domestic audience on the eve of elections. When the elections themselves are manipulated and hidden from independent monitors, the Soviet parallels become all too real.