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Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

March 18, 2004

March 18, 2004





**  Russian dailies see elections as more a "referendum" on Putin than a real contest.


**  Media outside Russia call ballot "unfair," say Putin "ran over the opposition like a tractor."


**  Some fear a "drift towards autocracy," but others label Putin chiefly "a modernizer."




Putin 'had no worthy rivals'--  Reformist Russian dailies termed President Vladimir Putin's re-election an "administrative event" with "predetermined results."  Gazeta claimed the voting was designed only "to keep in power those who already have it limits to everybody else."  Other reformist journals were less critical; while bemoaning Russia's "totally manageable" democracy, they insisted that the "vote was no farce."  To say so would be "to insult the overwhelming majority" of citizens who cast their ballots for Putin "of their own free will."  Russian democracy had "defects" but it would be unfair to speak of a "total degradation of democratic institutions."  Business and official outlets asserted that the voting "was really a referendum" on extending Putin's mandate.  While Russian society is "indifferent and infantile politically," one official paper remarked, "normal, sober-minded people realize that the president is better than any of his predecessors."


The 'freest Russian elections' ever, but still 'unfair'--  Critical editorialists in Europe, Asia and Latin America labeled the triumph of the Kremlin's "increasingly authoritarian" incumbent a "forgone conclusion" because Russians value "stability and order."   After decades of Soviet dictatorship and "the wild years" following the USSR's collapse, "the longing for a state that creates very great," judged Germany's center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung.  Putin enjoys "unshakable" popularity "all over the country," analysts noted.  One interpretation of the vote was that "Russian voters have freely chosen authoritarian government."  Many also agreed, however, with a Thai commentator's observation that the elections "could not be called fair or even meaningful" because there was "no genuine political discourse."


'Czar Putin'--  Russian dailies concluded that voters opted for a typically "Russian path of reform" in which the country is forced "into 'progress' as seen by its leaders," with Putin in the role of a latter-day Peter the Great.  "Much will now depend on our president's sense of proportion and taste," concluded one editorial.  Government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta declared that Putin is "fairly enlightened and conservative" and without the "fantastic hunger for personal power" that characterized past Russian despots.  Many Western papers worried, though, that "democratic Russia is being threatened by crib death," suffering "one shock after another."  An Indian daily disagreed, arguing that the priority for Putin's "controlled democracy" should be creating "economic successes" that will lay the basis for "future political reform."  Skeptics stated that the Russian economy's dependence on oil earnings makes Putin's "reform program" vulnerable, however much power he consolidates in his own hands.  


EDITOR:  Steven Wangsness


EDITOR'S NOTE:  Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.  Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.  This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.  This analysis was based on 27 reports from 15 countries March 15-17, 2004.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from the most recent date.




RUSSIA:  "Russia Opts For Modernization"


Svetlana Babayeva and Georgiy Bovt said in reformist Izvestiya (3/15):  "No one is expecting surprises or bets his/her life on these elections.  Everything is predictable, with the risk of destabilization reduced to the minimum.  Democracy has become totally manageable.  People voted for Putin in the hope that his second term will at least not be worse than his first.  Of the decisions he made in his first term, the chief one is picking a characteristically Russian path of reform, forcing the country into 'progress' as seen by its rulers.  It is the path of modernization, not democratization."


"It Was No Farce"


Lev Bruni and Ivan Gordeyev wrote in reformist Vremya Novostey (3/15):  "The incumbent has won with a margin unheard of in modern Russian history.  But the lack of real competition is no cause for discrediting elections as an institution.  Our recently won freedom has been seriously discredited as it is, not exactly in the past four years.  To call the 1996 and 2000 elections fully democratic would be stretching the point.  Yet no one at the time urged people to shun voting because 'the elections were a farce.'  Yesterday's vote was no farce either.  To claim otherwise would be to insult the overwhelming majority of Russians who knowingly gave their votes to Vladimir Putin, doing that of their own free will.  It is not their fault that he had no worthy rivals.  But then, of course, the methods used to ensure the required turnout were quite Soviet.  Does that attest to defects in Russian democracy?  It certainly does. Can we speak of a total degradation of democratic institutions?  Hardly so."


"It Was A Referendum"


Leonid Radzikhovskiy commented in official government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta (3/15):  "It is common knowledge that the choice was made long before March 14.  March 14 merely legalized Putin.  While it is called an election, the vote was really a referendum to extend the incumbent's mandate....  Under the circumstances, normal, sober-minded people realize that this president is better than any of his predecessors, that the government is bad, unfair and unreliable, and that no demagogues on the right or left, with their passionate televised love of the electorate, will improve the situation.  That explains the people's choice.  The outcome of this more than quiet and very effective campaign is clear:  people don't feel confused over the disappearance of public politics.  To them, it is not a prime necessity.  Our society is managed only economically, indifferent and infantile politically, and confused and chaotic ideologically.  There is no civil society in this country, everything is drawn to the 'administrative' magnet, with the President as its core.  Putin is no Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great or Stalin.  He has none of their fantastic hunger for personal power.  What we  have is not the result of any single person's ill or good will.  It has happened so and it is in accord with the Russian spirit, the 'lines of force of the Russian field.'  Left to its own devices, the nation tends to be recumbent politically and subservient to its leader.  Luckily, today we have a leader who is reasonably authoritarian, fairly enlightened and conservative.  He is clear to the majority and offers an opening for the minority."


"It's All the Same To Western Businessmen"


Business-oriented Vedomosti editorialized (3/15):  "It is all the same to Western businessmen where to make money--in communist China, axis-of-evil countries or Saddam's Iraq.  Politically, Russia is the not the worst option.  Neither is Vladimir Putin as its leader.  Much will now depend on our President's sense of proportion and taste.  It is good that he read books, visited the Hermitage and Tretyakov art galleries and is well familiar with the Moscow Kremlin, the oldest of Russia's history and culture museums.  So, he may not want to follow [Turkmenistan's] Saparmurat Niyazov's footsteps and become the 'father to the Russian people' and lifelong president, with his statue of pure gold in Red Square turning around to follow the Sun."


"The Event"


Viktor Shenderovich argued in reformist Gazeta (3/15):  "We'd better stop playing the fool and call a spade a spade.  We had no elections.  We had an administrative event with clearly set goals and predetermined results.  Elections are meant to help find out what the people think of their government.  The 'administrative event' in question was supposed to keep in power those who already have it and make it off limits to everybody else. It worked, of course.  To understand what people think, they should have been left on their own, without a daily injection of cleansing stuff on federal (TV) channels."


BRITAIN:  "Four More Years:  Putin Must Prove He Understands Democratic Principles"


The conservative Times opined (3/15):  "Russia's presidential election was decided last December.  The overwhelming parliamentary victory of United Russia, the party formed to support Vladimir Putin's policies, made it clear to leading politicians that it was pointless to stand against the increasingly authoritarian Kremlin incumbent.  One by one, the best-known names who might have attracted support withdrew....  The mystery is why Mr. Putin felt the need to revert to such Soviet-style tactics....  He must also make real his vaunted military reforms, tackle the inertia of the bureaucracy and consolidate economic growth.  For this, he needs to trust the people more and understand that he should not take a one-sided election too personally."


"Putin's Power Dilemma"


Stephen Dalziel authored this analysis for the BBC (Internet version, 3/15):  " Western politicians may criticize the Russian way of running elections.  They may say--with justification--that the media was incredibly biased towards Mr. Putin in the run-up to the election.  But that doesn't explain Mr. Putin's undoubted popularity in Russia.   Mr. Putin has shown himself to be the kind of strong leader which, many people believe, Russian history has shown is the only way to rule the world's largest country....  Looking at Moscow, it's tempting to conclude that Russia has shaken off the worse elements of the Soviet past, which caused shortages of basic goods and political repression.  Moscow is a thriving, modern city....  Statistics may show that the Russian economy is growing at a healthy rate.  Statistics, though, can hide a multitude of social and economic problems....  A serious fall in the world oil price would have a damaging effect on that part of the Russian economy that is currently healthy.  The small business climate has improved during Mr. Putin's first term, but much needs to be done in terms of legislation to give entrepreneurs protection from the whims of bureaucrats.  Huge problems remain in agriculture....  There has been much talk of 'military reform' in recent years, but the Russian Army remains a brutalized and brutalizing force.  It is an area of society which Mr. Putin seems to have been almost too scared to take on.  Many see the military as a mirror of Russian society.  If that is the case, then Mr. Putin doesn't have to look far beneath the surface to find plenty of problems to tackle in his second term."


GERMANY:  "Ruler Putin"


Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger maintained in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (3/16):  "The international economic world welcomed Vladimir Putin's re-election to such a degree that the Council of Europe and the OSCE were hardly able to be heard with their list of deficiencies....  The justified and also gentle complaint by the U.S. secretary of state that the opposition did not have access to the media, was quickly rejected by Putin and was the great exception.  The world seems to expect great things from Putin and his authoritarian style that is destroying democracy, of his post-Soviet foreign policy of neo-imperial temptation and his allegedly liberal economic policy.  This may cause a number of surprises."


"Make-Up For The System"


Daniel Broessler judged in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (3/16):  "Putin's first four years in office showed that Russia is not on the long path to more, but hurrying up to establish even less democracy.  Stability was Putin's prime objective, authoritarian power his means to achieve this.  The people in Chechyna, critical journalists but also dissatisfied entrepreneurs felt this....  After decades of Soviet dictatorship and the wild years following Yeltsin, the longing for a state that creates order and that promotes private happiness of the people is very great.  But some day in the future, Russians will realize that an authoritarian state is a highly unreliable guarantor of this happiness, but then it could be too late....  The possibilities of the West to exert influence are limited.  It is hardly possible to democratize a state from the outside.  But the Europeans should not help strengthen this illusion.  Subdued congratulations are enough."


"Putin Superczar"


Business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg observed (3/15):  "Vladimir Putin is on the height of his power....  But the real challenge is still to come for Putin.  In the coming years, he must implement unpopular reforms.  Local services, energy supplies, public transportation are to be liberalized.  The increase in prices that goes along with it, will be very painful for many Russians like the planed restructuring of the social welfare system.  Another problem is the search for a successor to Putin, a development that will dominate Russia's policies at the latest in 2006....  All this will turn into an endurance test for Putin's idea of a 'controlled democracy.'  His election victories and his popularity had been the result of a brutal manipulation of public opinion, but the were based on the fact that life had really become easier for a majority of Russians.  The economy grows and the certainty of the law is on the rise.  Putin's share in this development is meager, he only had to back a positive trend, but now the question is whether the former intelligence officer can stand the test as a real reformer."


"Apparent Democracy"


Center-left Westfaelische Rundschau of Dortmund concluded (3/15):  "Apparent democracy:  we cannot speak of fair chances for the opposition, the justice authorities and the TV stations loyal to the Kremlin helped contribute to Putin's successful strategy.  Opponents who could have really jeopardized the regular course of the election did not run.  The reforms are shattered.  And the popularity that Putin enjoys all over the country is unshakable.  Controlled democracy:  with this whitewash term, Putin pursues his policy....  But the methods with which he stymied the opposition and the continuing violence in Chechnya, would allow more drastic descriptions.  But the criticism of the West has become mute."


ITALY:  "Russia’s Anomaly"


Sandro Viola commented in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (3/15):  “The anomaly in Russia today is not the one concerning the president who was imposed with intimidation and electoral rigs.  The anomaly concerns the political system as it has been taking shape and gaining strength in the last four years--the enormous amount of power in the president’s hands, the other institutions that have been deprived of their capacity to control, the wearing out of political pluralism.  In other words, Russia has restored its traditional model of power--the personality cult, secrecy, and irrevocable decisions.  As far as the elections are concerned, they are the freest the Russians have ever had.  But as we have seen, they are unfair....  The Russians often say that in this phase of reconstruction, in which order and stability are of fundamental importance, it is petty to nit-pick the forms of democracy in Russia.  The fact of the matter is that authoritative systems are never self-sustaining, especially when men who attended the KGB schools in the late 70s run them.  Having said that, we must add that Russia is on its way to modernization; its economic structures are becoming more efficient; an unprecedented strengthening of the market is under way....  So if everything goes well, economic development will slowly alleviate Russia’s great poverty.  This is not a small result for a political class that inherited a country that was devastated by 70 years of communism and by the chaos of Yeltsin’s ten-year rule....  Russia’s history is progressing slowly, its coming to democracy is still far away.”


"Democracy Gives Itself To A Prince"


Franco Venturini noted in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (3/15):  “Behind the façade there is a single man in command.  Freedom of press is a theory, as is the judiciary.  Parliament has become a ratifying body.  Bureaucracy protects the state’s omnipotence and it is not by chance that percentages of consensus for the Chief have reached quasi-Soviet levels.  It would be unfair to forget that Russia still bears the scars of 70 years of communism....  But on that Russia, just like it did on Boris Yeltsin’s post-Soviet Moscow, the West had made its greatest bet since the fall of the Berlin wall.  To turn the page of the Cold War, it was necessary to democratize the Russian colossus and to involve it in the international community, even if that meant shutting one eye, and sometimes two, on internal political battles....  While it remains excellent in many areas (just think of the transit on Russian territory of NATO’s German forces heading to Afghanistan), cooperation with its new Western friends is beginning to show signs of cracking....  In the end, Putin’s Moscow has rediscovered and has decided to pursue its national interests.  Is all this bad for the West?  It would be more correct to say that it is a return to normalcy after a period of illusions.”


DENMARK:  "No Alternative To Putin"


Center-left Politiken editorialized (3/15):  "Putin’s victory did not purely result from misuse of power.  Russia, did not have any alternative to him.  The Democrats turned their back on the election, and they were right to call it a farce, but they could have united around an alternative candidate.”


"Democracy In Russian Could Suffer Early Demise"


Former SDP leader Svend Auken held in center-right Jyllands-Posten (3/15):  “Democratic Russia is being threatened by cot death.  The fledgling democracy is suffering one shock after another as Putin becomes more and more authoritarian.  The KGB wing appears to have won over the oligarchs.” 


IRELAND:  "Putin's Victory"


The center-left Irish Times declared (3/16):  "Mr. Putin...succeeded Mr. Boris Yeltsin, who presided over a tempestuous decade of change which saw Russia make the transition from a communist dictatorship to a parliamentary system, from a centrally planned to a market economy and from an imperial power to a smaller but still very large federation....  These changes were massively disruptive for millions of Russian citizens even if they have transformed the country's future potential.  Mr. Putin's promises and program have widespread appeal in these circumstances, just as his record in office is seen to have restored stability and order.  The other side of that record--repression in Chechnya, consolidation of securocratic control over the levers of power, severe constraints on the media and a hankering for the return of imperial hegemony over Russia's near neighbors--have not tipped the balance against Mr. Putin.  To understand these factors underlying his victory is not to condone them.  To the extent that he succeeds in his objective of modernizing Russia from above he is likely to strengthen social forces which will be more critical of his authoritarianism.  How Mr. Putin responds to such criticism should be carefully monitored by his international partners.  Keeping Russia's new borders and the lines of communication open will help in that task.


POLAND:  "Putin For A Second Term"


Slawomir Popowski opined in centrist Rzeczpospolita (3/15):  “In the four years of his first term, Putin has managed to collect all political, economic, and judicial power in one hand.  Moscow experts agree that Russia is moving toward a totalitarian regime, the only alternative being a choice between pro-reform authoritarianism and an anti-market one.  Both scenarios are pessimistic.  They exclude democracy, without which Russia will never become a normal European country....  The Russians elected Putin for a second term, and we must respect their decision.  Nonetheless, we have to look at his actions all the more closely.  Putinism as a new political doctrine can be a danger to Russia and the world.  Being infatuated with Putin must not make anyone blind--the West in particular.”




AUSTRALIA:  "Putin Triumphs In A Flawed Poll"


The national conservative Australian editorialized (3/17):  “Russia’s drift towards autocracy is hardly likely to be slowed by President Vladimir Putin's massive election victory on Sunday....  On one reading, the Russian voters have freely chosen authoritarian government, with full-on totalitarianism their back-up option....  What must qualify any interpretation of the election are the serious voting irregularities identified by a team of European observers.  This was far from a democratic election, with many voters being bribed or threatened, and the state-owned media, fully in the control of Mr. Putin's network of old KGB and army cronies, devoting uncritical blanket coverage to the incumbent....  The question that remains, however, is how far any liberal reform program can proceed when there is no free media, no democratic checks and balances, and a completely supine parliament....  What the Russian people have really chosen is stability without all the democratic trimmings.  Given the violent transformations they have endured, this is an understandable choice, but it is a second-best solution to functioning democracy and the sustained prosperity it can bring.”


CHINA:  "Reelection Hands Putin Unprecedented Power"


Zhao Ying penned this analysis for Xinhua (New China News Agency) (3/15):  "Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday basked in a foregone outright reelection victory which gives him a supreme grip over the future path of national development....  Putin's efforts to restore Russia's weight on the world stage and foster political stability and economic growth in his first term have earned him popularity and trust of the majority of Russian people.  The outcome of the race reflects the desire of Russians for greater stability and a better life, which Putin had promised through tangible reforms in his second four-year tenure.  With his next term assured, Putin has the mandate to continue ruling the country with an omnipotent power with the almost unconditional support of the State Duma in which a pro-Putin party has a two-thirds parliamentary majority....  Having managed to nurture a strong mandate, Putin is likely to push forward his reform program in the years to come without facing major obstacles."


JAPAN:  "Putin's Overwhelming Victory"


Liberal Asahi editorialized (3/17):  "With the confusion of the post-Soviet switch to a market economy, the Russian economy has now shrunk to a level half that of during Soviet times.  Nationalist conflicts like the non-stop bloodshed in Chechenya continue, and the unstable political situation that began under former President Yeltsin continues to afflict the Russian people.  Making all these situations more stable was, perhaps, the success of Putins' first term.  Because of his 'strong-arm tactics' to recover order, it is not incorrect to say that the people showed him overwhelming support....  Although certain characteristics of Putin's rule cannot be defended, the tradition of democracy in Russia is basically poor, and it embraces a diverse group of nationalities in its extremely large land area.  We can understand the background, as it is, in which many people hope for a strong-armed leader.  But, if one ponders the many challenges Putin will face during this second term, it cannot be thought that reliance on strongman methods of governance will succeed in good governance.  Rather, it might block them.  An economy that relies on oil exports is extremely fragile, given changes in oil prices.  Even now, the warped privatization of assets is a drag on the economy.  The gap between rich and poor is also huge.  The imposition of taxes on the large oligopolies that are the center of natural gas and oil production are increasing, and this is of course necessary to raise the standards of living for the citizens.  There is also the need to implement reforms such as attacks on corruption and the simplification of regulations and the reduction of bureaucracy.  However, more important is the restoration of manufacturing firms and increasing the citizenry's desire to be creative and participate in order to advance reforms for a self-starting economy.  Without teaching these ideas, it will be impossible for Russia to achieve long-term prosperity.  Reducing the power of the people through control of the media, and making economic activities more confused through intervention towards the oligopolies will instead have the opposite effect."


SOUTH KOREA:  "Putin's Easy Victory"


The English-language Korea Herald had this to day (Internet version, 3/16):  "Few in and outside the Russian Federation doubted that Vladimir Putin would easily win a second term in Sunday's presidential election, but many are rather surprised at the unexpectedly high voter turnout....  If there is growing apprehension about Russia turning more authoritarian under Putin, it is this quality of the incumbent president, heralding a further consolidation of power, which rallied support for him.  The economy is also improving, recording a 7.3 percent growth in 2003, largely on rising oil and gas prices....  Yet, Russians themselves, while accepting a tougher rule for the time being, because they are weary of social disorder and the disastrous economy in the days of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, must not allow a return to the darkness of the Soviet era.  The best outcome would be the blending of Soviet ways with democratic reforms."


THAILAND:  "Poll Win Gives Putin Historic Opportunity"


The lead editorial in independent, English language The Nation read (3/17):  “While the election was indisputably a free affair it could not be called fair or even meaningful in a democratic sense.  There was no genuine political discourse or debate of the problems facing the country.  And Putin’s challengers, who had no real access to the mainstream media, were harassed by officials apparently eager to curry favor with the government.  So easy was it for Putin that he only made two speeches in the entire campaign.  In comments shortly after the result was confirmed, Putin promised to use his unprecedented popular mandate to make painful economic and political reforms.  The fear among many Russia watchers, however, is that instead of opening up the political stage to divergent voices and breaking up influential business monopolies, Putin will use his new powers to further suppress the opposition and consolidate control in his own hands.  Democracy is already in a perilous state in Russia.  The legislature and judiciary have been subjugated, the business community co-opted and the once-relatively free press brought to heel.  Russian voters have put their faith in Putin to continue to work to improve their livelihoods and defend the freedoms of the post-Soviet era.  It would be an epic betrayal of trust if he instead used his reinforced position to take Russia back down the path to its dark authoritarian past.”




INDIA:  "Putin's Victory"


The Guwahati English-language centrist Assam Tribune held (3/17):  "If Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the transition to democracy, it was the turn of Vladimir Putin in post-Soviet Russia to give a clear lead in political freedom, free economy and egalitarian democracy....  It is a different matter that monetary scandals and scams as well as the misguided youths involved in black marketing and transactions in U.S. dollars have brought Russia to disrepute.  Vladimir Putin faces an uphill task to tackle these but the people have the faith and the expectation that he will be able to steer his country to its cherished goal....  For India, Putin is a dependable friend and a trusted ally as he has been continuing the policy of friendship and strategic partnership....  Without prejudice to friendship and good relations with all other countries, Russia and India are friends and partners through thick and thin.  This relationship is destined to grow more vigorously with more deals in defense and joint ventures in the pipeline.  Vladimir Putin's contribution will always be remembered with gratitude."


"Putin's Second Term"


The Hindustan of New Delhi commented (Internet version, 3/17):  "Vladimir Putin's victory in the Russian presidential election with a huge margin is not entirely unexpected....  Putin may not have been able to establish Russia as a superpower in comparison to the United States during his first tenure, but he succeeded in controlling to some extent the difficult problems that he inherited from his predecessor Boris Yeltsin....  First and foremost, Putin will have to pay a lot of attention on the home front.  One main reason behind the economic growth in the last two years is the soaring oil prices in the international market.  If these prices remain stable, or escalate further as is being speculated, Russia's economic growth will get a further boost....  However, it is not easy to achieve the goal of a liberal democracy through multiparty system and free press.  The Russians have seen the consequences of the Glasnost and Perestroika policies adopted during Mikhail Gorbachev's regime.  Therefore, there is need to exercise caution while advancing on the path of a multiparty system.  In view of the present circumstances the biggest challenge and priority before Putin would be to improve the country's economy and the people's living standards.  These economic successes can only become the key to future political reforms."




ARGENTINA:  "Putin's Re-Election"


Daily-of-record La Nacion editorialized (3/17):  "Vladimir Putin's re-election as president of Russia was foreseeable.  In fact, the formality of the election only posed the question mark of the number of voters....  Putin faced the verdict of the ballot-boxes armed with an arsenal of objectionable resources....  One of them, perhaps the most obvious one...was the firm control of mass media, particularly TV stations...devoted to covering his failures and denying the opposition a means of expression....  The present scenario poses many questions.  The unclear manipulation of the election process--particularly the use of the media--that characterized Putin's victory led Secretary Powell to express his concern regarding this circumstance.  But, at the same time, the USG won't and cannot do without the negotiating disposition that Putin has displayed during his tenure.  For this reason, George W. Bush immediately picked up the phone and congratulated him on his victory.  Maybe, as a payback, the Russian president quickly declared that his country doesn't have 'imperial ambitions.'  So far and for the time being, these are the optimistic signals.  Further on, we will have to assess to what degree Putin is successful in achieving more reforms of his economy, solving the difficult Chechen issue and improving the level and life standards of the Russian people.  And, essentially, if he yields to exercising, in democracy and freedom, the licit exercise of power, instead of ruling via the reiteration of the most shameless totalitarian procedures."


BRAZIL:  "Putin's Autocracy"


Liberal Folha de S. Paulo commented (3/17):  "As predicted, Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected....  The material returns of the election are not to be contested....  The problem is that Putin, with his flagrant autocratic tendencies, solemnly ignored republican principles and ran over the opposition like a tractor.  If the re-election was practically guaranteed, why then did he act with such truculence, to the point of causing international protests?...  Russian experience with democracy is practically nil....  But the fact that Putin's authoritarianism involves a cultural component does not mean that the West should accept it quietly.  Nations and organizations that deal with the Russian government have an important role to play in demanding respect for democratic institutions and human rights."  


"Czar Putin"


Center-right O Globo observed (3/17):  "Having followed the ritual of elections, one would think Russia has finally demonstrated that it is a mature democracy, according to Western standards as in France, England, Germany and the U.S.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In the recent months Putin--undoubtedly an extraordinarily popular president--carefully prepared the ground to prevent any unpleasant surprises....  As expected, the vicious Russian habit-bound process has not convinced Europeans who were in Russia as observers.  They point out as especially harmful practices the bad use of public money, the absence of a national debate and biased news.  Not to mention fraud in ballot boxes:  in Chechnya--precisely there--Putin obtained 92% of the votes.  In short, it was a one-man show, so sure of his victory that he changed the Cabinet before being re-elected....  That doesn’t mean Putin would be incapable of winning an honest election; or that he shouldn’t continue in the Kremlin.  But, in his eagerness to give a democratic façade to his re-election, all Putin managed to do was to debase Russian democracy.”


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