VILNIUS - Russian PM Vladimir Putin thought he could win the Russian parliamentary elections of Dec. 4, 2011, and the upcoming presidential elections of March 4, 2012, by not registering the real opposition in the election process, as well as by mass fraud during the balloting and using Soviet-era rhetoric afterwards. The echo of this policy was obvious in statements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
On Dec. 6, during the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Vilnius, Lavrov and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis met for mutual talks. On Dec. 6-7, Azubalis met for mutual talks with many foreign ministers representing countries stretching from Canada to Australia, including foreign ministers from the post-Soviet area, but it was only this meeting with Lavrov that provoked the exchange of not-so-polite remarks from both sides the next day.
During his meeting with Lavrov, Azubalis expressed his surprise that Lavrov, in his speech at the OSCE Ministerial Council, quoted an organization led by Algirdas Paleckis about attempts to make heroes out of the Nazis. Azubalis said that such statements are ungrounded. In 2008, during the last Lithuanian parliamentary elections, the Paleckis-led Front Party, which was the only almost openly pro-Moscow and a quite communism-nostalgic party in Lithuania, received 1.75 percent of the vote. In 2011, during the municipal elections in Lithuania, the Paleckis-led party, already under the name of the People’s Socialist Front, received 0.13 percent of the vote throughout Lithuania.
Other topics were discussed as well. “Azubalis reiterated the importance of the issue of a common understanding of history on the bilateral agenda, emphasized the necessity of dialogue on historical justice and a wish to see the results of the joint commission of historians more quickly,” reads the press release of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry about the meeting of both foreign ministers.
“The question of occupation is, was and will remain on our agenda,” Azubalis said in his briefing after the meeting.
The next day, Lavrov gave a press conference in the Russian embassy in Vilnius. No Lithuanian TV stations were invited. “He makes public statements usually having nothing to do with what we really talk about. I heard he said he’d demanded an apology from me for the occupation,” Lavrov said about Azubalis.
Renata Lazdin, spokeswoman of Azubalis, immediately reacted with a statement that Lavrov is badly informed by the Russian embassy in Vilnius about Azubalis’ comments which were made after their mutual meeting. “The minister does not wonder about such disinformation because, as the practice of Lithuanian diplomats shows, a direct dialogue with our Russian colleagues in Moscow is usually more constructive than work with the country’s embassy in Vilnius,” reads the statement by Lazdin on Azubalis’ opinion.
On Dec. 7, Lavrov, during his press conference, also expressed his concern about the increase of NATO forces at the Russian borders. Azubalis reacted on the same day: he said that he did not notice such an increase but he would welcome “more of the NATO presence in the Baltic States.”
However, the main topic of Lavrov’s press conference was the speech of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “When authorities fail to prosecute those who attack people for exercising their rights or exposing abuses, they subvert justice and undermine the people’s confidence in their governments. And as we have seen in many places, and most recently in the Duma elections in Russia, elections that are neither free nor fair have the same effect. We have serious concerns about the conduct of those elections. Independent political parties, such as PARNAS, were denied the right to register. And the preliminary report by the OSCE cites election day attempts to stuff ballot boxes, manipulate voter lists, and other troubling practices. We’re also concerned by reports that independent Russian election observers, including the nationwide Golos network, were harassed and had cyber attacks on their Web sites, which is completely contrary to what should be the protected rights of people to observe elections, participate in them, and disseminate information,” Clinton said in her speech at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Vilnius on Dec. 6.
“Some of my colleagues prefer to come and use this rostrum to utter criticisms which are completely out of line with the agenda, as was the case with my colleague Hillary Clinton, who seems to have arrived only to impress her voters in the U.S. Democratic Party and to show how cool the Americans are,” Lavrov said.
Russia blocked the declaration, which intended to defend Internet freedom from the interference of governments, during the OSCE Ministerial Council, although a majority of the 56 member countries of the OSCE were ready to adopt the declaration. On Dec. 8, in Moscow, Russian PM Vladimir Putin, during his meeting with the All-Russian People’s Front, which was established to support him during the coming presidential elections in Russia, quoted the Vilnius speech by Clinton about the “neither free nor fair” Russian parliamentary elections and stated that Clinton’s speech sends a signal to the opposition in Russia to start anti-governmental activities.
The first demonstrations (they are organized mostly via the Internet) in Moscow started on Dec. 5 on the eve of Clinton’s speech. On Dec. 6, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, also issued a statement criticizing a “lack of media impartiality, lack of separation between party and state, and the harassment of independent monitoring attempts” during the Russian parliamentary elections. “Putin is the main revolutionary because he provokes this unrest,” Alexey Navalny, a popular Russian blogger, told the BBC Russian service during the demonstration. It was Navalny who urged Russia to vote for any other political party, except United Russia, during the Duma elections. This is why many liberals voted for the Communist Party, because it was sure that the Kremlin will allow communists to be represented in the Duma. On Dec. 5, Navalny was arrested and sentenced to 15 days in prison.
“What a powerful old woman,” Leonid Radzikhovsky, a famous independent Russian political observer, said ironically to the Moscow-based radio Ekho Moskvy on Dec. 9 about Putin’s remarks on Clinton’s speech when tens of thousands of mostly young middle-class Moscovites registered on Facebook for the anti-Putin rally of Dec. 10 in Moscow’s center.
Authorities issued a permit allowing 30,000 protesters in Moscow, but some 60,000 with white ribbons and white flowers showed up, according to the BBC Russian service. The rally started with the song “Our nuthouse votes for Putin,” by the band Rabfaq which, thanks to Youtube, became popular in Russia recently. Interestingly, United Russia got the biggest number of votes in Chechnya, ruled by local strongman Ramzan Kadyrov (99.4 percent), and Moscow constituency No. 3295, which covers only the patients at a big, local psychiatric hospital (93.14 percent). The rally of Dec. 10 demanded a re-run of the elections, the registration of all political parties, as it chanted “Russia without Putin!” and promised further rallies. According to Radzikhovsky, the seemingly powerful regimes in Russia disappear in a few seconds, as was the case with the czarist and Soviet regimes, but he would prefer evolution, not revolution.