March 18, 2004
PUTIN'S ELECTORAL VICTORY IS 'NO SURPRISE'
** 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
** Some fear a "drift
towards autocracy," but others label Putin chiefly "a
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
and...off 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
order...is 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
'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
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
RUSSIA: "Russia Opts
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?
"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."
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
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
"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."
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."
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
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
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
"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.”
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
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.
"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.”
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
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.”
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."
"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
"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."
"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.”
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
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."
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."
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."
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.”