The recent presidential “election” in Russia creates some interesting moral conundrums for the rest of the democratic world. One could be forgiven for wondering whether things have really improved for those living in the largest country within the former Soviet Union since the heady days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika. It is indeed true that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is by and large a friend of the broader West, at least, much more so than was the case when the Communist Party controlled the Soviet Union. And yet, he is, in a not dissimilar way to Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, a dictator. He personally wields a truly disgusting amount of power for a single individual, ruling over such a large country.
The latest, blatantly obvious manifestation of Putin’s near-monarchical control of his power base is the Russian presidential election, won convincingly (numerically speaking) and yet unconvincingly (transparent process-wise) by the President’s chosen candidate, Dmitry Medvedev. Putin, of course, is continuing on in true dictatorial style as Prime Minister, where one would think he will likely continue to pull the nation’s strings. As David Hearst comments in the Guardian, Medvedev is somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place in his new role:
But even greater danger lies in Medvedev being too successful and becoming his own man. For then, he will be sucking both limelight and power away from his political master and that is a dangerous thing to do, unless Putin agrees to it first and is planning his early retirement. There is no indication that he is. In the short term at least, Medvedev has to steer a middle course between failure and success. He has to be competently mediocre.
It will be interesting indeed to observe how the international community works with Medvedev (and Putin, his putative puppet-master) moving forwards. Gordon Brown has already extended something of a fig leaf, in the hope that relations between Russia and the United Kingdom might stand to improve as a result of this change in leadership at the top. True to form, President Bush admitted, a couple of days ago, not knowing much about Medvedev. As far as I can tell, neither Foreign Minister Stephen Smith nor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd have been asked about their thoughts on developments. One hopes that the international community takes a constructive approach, but also attempts in the most diplomatic way possible to remind Putin and Medvedev that they are not painting a particularly rosy picture of the state of Russia’s democracy with their tag-team approach to the government of the nation.