And it doesn’t look good so far, the FT noting that
Europeâ€™s main election monitoring group said on Friday it was scrapping plans to deploy observers to Russiaâ€™s forthcoming parliamentary elections in a decision that could cast doubt on the integrity of the poll.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe claimed Moscow had imposed â€œunprecedented restrictionsâ€ on its activities. Russia had slashed the number of observers it would admit to the December 2 election and then repeatedly delayed issuing visas for OSCE monitors.
…It will highlight concerns over a poll that has already been marred by changes to electoral laws that look likely to ensure no opposition party will pass the 7 per cent barrier required to win a parliamentary seat, especially as opposition parties have faced a clampdown on campaigning.
But the thing is, as Henry points out at Crooked Timber, there isn’t really any need for Putin’s lot to falsify results, stuff ballots or bribe and intimidate voters – because pretty much everyone is likely to vote for the current government anyway. The implications of the move, however, could be major. Back to Henry:
“how are autocrats in other states (e.g. those in Central Asia) going to respond? My best guess is that those countries that see benefits from closer integration with the West (e.g. Georgia, the Ukraine) will continue to invite external election monitors, while those that donâ€™t will follow Russiaâ€™s lead. If this prediction bears out, we will see a little bit of Cold War politics beginning to seep back, with an increase in hostility between Russia and its satellites in Central Asia and elsewhere (anomalies such as Belarus and Moldova) on the one hand, and West and Central European democracies on the other, with both sides contending for influence over shaky democracies in between (such as Georgia and the Ukraine). All of which would intersect in complicated ways with energy politics in the region.”
It’s also worth noting that Putin’s already announced post-election intentions:
“President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that an overwhelming victory for United Russia in Dec. 2 elections would give him the “moral right” to maintain a strong influence in the country… ‘If the people vote for United Russia, whose list I lead, it means that they trust me and, in turn, means that I will have the moral right to hold those in the Duma and the Cabinet responsible for the implementation of the objectives that have been identified so far,’ Putin said in televised remarks from Krasnoyarsk.”
So make no mistake – Putin may be leaving the presidency come March, but the next few weeks, especially after the parliamentary elections two weeks today, are going to be when he starts consolidating his position. (Indeed, he may already have started.) What his next move will be is anyone’s guess – but it will be Putin who decides Russia’s direction, of that you can be sure…
For a bit of background on why this is all so important when the election results and Putin’s continued hold on power are pretty much foregone conclusions, check out the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Power Audit of EU-Russia Relations (PDF) and/or Siberian Light’s quick summary, have a listen to the recent National Public Radio debate Is Russia Becoming Our Enemy Again? (or read the transcript – PDF), moderated by blogging Economist journo Edward Lucas (who has a book coming out in February, just in time for the Presidential elections, entitled The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West)