Whenever I become depressed over the current state of this country’s election campaigns I know I can always count on Russia to remind me how worse it could be.
Today the Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, gave a speech to a stadium in Moscow as he bid for re-election as President, a post he held from 2000 to 2008. Standing below a banner proclaiming “Defend the Country” in front of a crowd of tens of thousands, Putin pledged to win the “battle for Russia,” while emphasizing Russia’s independence and appealing to the crowd’s patriotism.
The speech comes not long after large scale protests against corruption and fraud in December’s elections took place in Moscow’s Red Square. With public signs of dissent growing, it makes sense for Putin to put on a publicity stunt like today’s rally.
Putin is of the old guard, a politician molded by the Soviet political machine and the KGB. He understand the importance of Russian patriotism and a “strong man” image in Russian politics. Yet even among crowds of “supporters” there is evidence of fakery and deception, with some of the participants at today’s rally saying that they had been forced to attend by their employer, paid to attend, or that they thought it was going to be a folk festival, not a political rally. With people like this in the second-biggest rally for Putin thus far, it is easy to see why the opposition are so angry. How is it possible for Putin to have the support he claims when he cannot bring legitimate supporters to a rally in Moscow?
Of course political corruption, a lack of civil liberties, and authoritarianism are nothing new to Russia, and should not come as much of a surprise. However political events in Russia will become more important in the coming years, and Americans should prepare for the leverage Russia will begin to exercise.
In foreign affairs Russia will continue to block interventions into countries like Syria with their permanent veto in the UN Security Council. Whatever one’s opinions might be on humanitarian intervention it is clear what an absurdity it is for a country like Russia, whose actions in Chechnya are not far removed from Assad’s in Syria, to be able to influence international humanitarian work. Russia will continue to wield its influence over Eastern Europe, a part of the world where liberal values are struggling. Because of its natural resources the influence Russia will have over China and the rest of developing Asia will grow as energy demands increase.
It should worry Americans that Russia, straddling both Europe and Asia, will be able to dictate the pace of the twenty first century more and more. It looks like Russia’s influence will continue to be exerted under corrupt and illegitimate governments with a demonstrable disregard for civil liberties and expansionist mindset. Whoever is the President this time next year (probably Obama) should make more of an effort to establish good economic and diplomatic relations with countries still under Russia’s shadow, especially countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, in order to limit the amount of damage an presidency like Putin’s can inflict.