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Final notes on Russia’s elections and what next?
Edward LOZANSKY, President, American University in Moscow
Usually elections in foreign countries do not attract too much public or media attention in the U.S., especially not in the middle of our own presidential campaign. This time it was different, though. Major American newspapers almost daily printed two or even three dispatches from Moscow, most of them featuring devastating criticism of Putin, praise of the opposition (despite communists and outright nazis being part of it) and anticipation of something like an “orange” revolution or Arab spring fast approaching.
To the great disappointment of many such observers, instead of joining the list of deposed dictators like Gaddafi or Mubarak, Putin won the election with what is generally known as a landslide. Everyone, with the notable exception of Senator McCain, had to admit, often reluctantly, that Putin’s victory was overwhelming and thus legitimate.
President Obama spent about a week thinking of what to do about it but then, observing that all the other world leaders have already congratulated Putin on his victory, he, too, placed the call, apparently fearing that America might be seen to be a teeny bit out of step with the world it professes to lead.
That was not the most curious reaction to Putin’s election, though. Not by far. For all their abstruse talk, philosophers sometimes come up with very apt dicta. Like, “Extremes meet.” I’d say this time they met with a resounding clang. Senator McCain and Comrade Zyuganov, leader of the Russian communists, sang in operatic unison: “Putin’s election was fraudulent, a sham, and thus illegitimate.”
Well, it is a more or less recognized fact that while McCain is living in a phantasmal world of his own comrade Zyu is a different matter altogether. During the election campaign he repeatedly stated that his goal is to bring Russia back to the Leninist-Stalinist model that is: a one-party political system, a single candidate per ballot, each getting no less than 99.99 percent of the 100 percent turnout.
One wonders why Mikhail Gorbachev should join McCain and Zyuganov, babbling something about the election’s “illegitimacy”. The man who is praised (at least in the West) for saving the world from a nuclear holocaust and who worked shoulder to shoulder with Ronald Reagan in throwing communism to the dustbin of history, could do better than act in this comical fashion.
Really, Gorby should have a more accurate idea of what the term legitimacy means. The only time he went to the electorate in a new Russia, he quite legitimately got all of 1.75 percent, or some such figure. One would have thought that Gorbachev could afford one or two professional advisors who would tutor him ahead of the interviews.
As for U.S. establishment it would be wise for them to take note that despite sometime strong anti-American rhetoric, Putin is willing – and able – to act pragmatically. His latest words: "If we had managed to achieve a breakthrough on missile defense, this would have opened the floodgates for building a qualitatively new model of cooperation, similar to an alliance" should be considered more seriously before flat rejection, unless, of course, we want to repeat all our mistakes in Russia policy in the last 20 years.