It appears that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has found the secret to winning the hearts and minds of voters: invade their territory and install a corrupt pocket government. In the midst of widespread allegations of voting fraud by Putin’s United Russia and massive protests against the authoritarian Putin, the government has announced that United Russia secured a whopping 99.48 percent of the vote with 99.51 percent of the citizens voting. Of course, the chances of Putin discovering votes in Chechnya is about as likely as finding two ancient artifacts lying in the open on the ocean floor in his first scuba diva.
Political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov had a great response in observing “I haven’t heard about results like that since the Soviet times.” Precisely.
Despite the embarrassing campaign by the government to create a cult of personality around Putin, many Russians (including Gorbachev who accuses Putin of “castrating” democracy in Russia) have recognized him as an enemy to democracy and a tyrant — despite China’s selecting Putin as its Peace Prize winner. Military police are flooding into the Moscow after thousands protested the election results. Over 50,000 troops and helicopters have been brought in by the government, which says that unapproved protests (expected Wednesday) will be suppressed. Putin and his party barely held on to power despite widespread fraud and the shutting down of election monitors on the eve before the election.
Russia launched an investigation into the country’s chief independent election watchdog and, in his acceptance speech, Putin lashed out at these organizations are fronts for foreign governments — an ominous sign that suggests that he was already planning to steal the election. He accused foreigners of funding his political opponents — a repeated theme from 2000-08 presidency.
It was inspiring to see Russians of all ages take to the streets to chant “Russian Without Putin.” They have contradicted the view of some that Russians have an innate preference for strongmen leaders. This could be the last chance for civil libertarian and freedom-loving Russians to fend off the building dictatorship around Putin. Gorbachev has come out to call for a new vote, but Putin denies the allegations of fraud and has called in the military.
It is now clear that many Russians will refuse to go quietly into that night. While Putin is likely to crush the opposition, it would be wonderful to have him return to his career as an underwater archeologist.
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