The natural reaction to Vladimir Putin’s recent election as president of Russia would be, “He’s back” — but for the fact that he never actually gave up the presidency, even though he deeded the position four years ago to Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin, who had served as president for two four-year terms and then was appointed prime minister in 2008 by Medvedev, has always held the reins of power. Indeed, he handpicked his successor and made sure that the policies he had put in place were maintained. While Medvedev won the post in an election, Putin retained ultimate power.
Thus, his return March 4 through an election that independent observers, including western monitors, have said was fraught with irregularities puts an end to the farce. Indeed, Putin could be president for the next 12 years.
The citizens of the Russian Federation, along with the United States and other nations committed to the spread of democracy have reason to be concerned.
It will not be long before there is a nationwide crackdown on opposition activists and others who have been demonstrating since the March 4 election.
Today, in the capital Moscow, a rally was expected to draw up to 50,000. Earlier in the week, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty reported that authorities had grated permission to those unhappy with Putin’s election to a third term to gather this weekend in the city’s central Arbat Square.
It would not come as a surprise if the government gave the demonstrators a false sense of security, only to swarm down on them with heavily armed police and riot troops.
During the week, police and riot troops used clubs and physical force to detain and intimidate thousands of anti-Putin protesters gathered Monday in two central locations in Moscow, RadioFreeEurope reported.
Putin’s return to the presidency means a major step backwards for Russia, because the former spy agency official has never been an advocate of true democracy. He has the mentality of former Soviet Union leaders who kept citizens under foot and deprived them of basic freedoms.
But with the advent of social media, young Russians are not only aware of what has been going on around the world with regard to freedom movements, especially in North Africa and the Middle East, but are no longer intimidated by the security forces.
However, it’s just a matter of time before Putin decides that they are undermining the stability of the country and launches a violent counterattack.
One of the reasons the president isn’t shy about using force against his own people is that the West, led by the United States, has been reluctant to publicly criticize him.
When former President George W. Bush said he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his soul, he was touting his friendship with the Russian leader. Bush’s successor, President Barack Obama, has also been willing to turn a blind eye to the atrocities in Russia because of the country’s importance in the global economy. In addition, Russia has relationships with countries such as Syria and Iran that threaten the stability of the Middle East.
Nonetheless, Russians need to hear from the White House that they will not be abandoned if they are once again forced to live under the dictatorial regime in the Kremlin.
As a start, the United States and other Western countries should urge the United Nations to investigate the complaints of voting irregularities and of physical force and intimidation against Putin’s critics.