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POLITICS OF PARANOIA

  • 2007-12-05

cartoon by Jevgenijs CHeKSTERS

No one who has paid the slightest attention to events in Russia over the past several years was the least bit surprised by the results of the Dec. 2 election, which was determined well in advance. Previous elections, of course, were also manipulated and marred by abuse of state funds (let's not forget Boris Yeltin's shenanigans in 1996, or the violations witnessed in 2000 when Vladimir Putin was first elected), but this year the scope of fraud and use of methods in contradiction with the spirit of democracy clearly demonstrate that, at best, neither Putin nor any other Russian official has the right to use the word "democracy" in reference to the country's system of governance. At worst, Russia's electoral sham has shown that the mentality of Russia's leadership is driven by a more sinister psychosis 's paranoia.

Analysts agree unanimously that Putin and his party, United Russia, would have won the election had it conducted it freely and fairly, and without prior manipulation of the laws to make it more difficult for parties to participate and break the higher, 7 percent barrier. Russia has prospered under Putin. GDP is up almost 70 percent, wages and pensions are paid regularly, a middle class has formed, and Russian corporations are now buying Western businesses. Then why the heavy-handedness and gross abuse of power?

Here opinions diverge, but while there are undoubtedly several reasons, the dominant one harks back three years to Ukraine, when foreign money and influence played a key role in helping reverse what appeared to be an electoral victory by pro-Russian forces. That one event 's the so-called Orange Revolution 's forever changed the Kremlin's opinion of the West. Ever since then Putin and his administration have planned methodically, leaving no (spy)stone unturned, to prevent foreigners and NGOs from meddling in the parliamentary election.
The Kremlin's fear of outside interference, in fact, has been irrational to the point of becoming paranoid. Two examples come to mind. First, cells of pro-Kremlin youth activists were positioned at various locations in Moscow on election day in order to prevent any impromptu anti-Putin rallies from materializing. There was even one outside the BBC's office in Moscow to discourage opposition politicians from venting on the international airwaves. Second, in a major pre-election speech on Nov. 22 Putin referred to opposition politicians as "jackals," which in Russian is an extremely strong word. "Now they're going to take to the streets," he ranted. "They've learned from Western experts and have received some training in neighboring republics." Hence, the youth scare-squads on Dec. 2.

Putin is woefully intolerant. He has shown that he is not only unwilling to accept criticism of Russia but that he considers Russia's internal critics to be traitors (This frame of mind 's those who aren't with us are traitors 's is a devious twist to another familiar strain of intolerance first uttered six years ago by someone else: "those who aren't with us are against us."). His derogatory eulogy for Anna Politkovskaya, a renowned journalist and Putin-critic who was shot to death outside her Moscow home, is a self-indictment. Politkovskaya, he said, did more damage to Russia by dying that she did while alive. Clearly such words could only come from a demented mind.

For the Baltics, none of this is news. It should, however, be a useful confirmation of what is already known. We should be mindful of the fact that the Kremlin is now fueled on paranoia and will in the future be increasingly pro-active in meddling in affairs of countries in the near abroad now that it is utterly convinced that Western powers do the same. The Kremlin has recently scored important victories in Ukraine and Georgia, facilitating major setbacks in the democratic transformations of those countries, and when possible it will try to influence events in the Baltics as well. The Bronze Soldier riots in Tallinn were just the first instance of what is likely to become a regular phenomenon.