A revolution is brewing in Vladimir Putin's Russia. The chickens of his incompetence and shameless artifice are finally coming home to roost. Now, he has only neo-Soviet brutality to fall back upon. How long that will maintain him, only the likes of Barack Obama can say.
The Bruce Springsteen of Russia, Yuri Shevchuk of the seminal rock band DDT, recently launched into an unprecedented, lengthy, and biting critique of the Putin regime from the stage of one of Russia's most prestigious arenas. A video of the speech went viral and has already been viewed nearly 200,000 times and received over 500 comments. Then an online petition surfaced, attracting the support of virtually every significant opposition leader, and it too went viral. The call: Putin must go, now and permanently. The websites hosting the petitions were soon under furious attack from Putin's army of hackers.
Russians have good reasons to despise the increasingly neo-Soviet regime that Putin, a proud KGB spy, has created. And despite the shameful lack of support from Barack Obama and other craven Western leaders, they have good reason to be brave enough to challenge him.
When he came to power two years ago, Russia's so-called "president" Dmitri Medvedev (in reality nothing more than Putin's puppet) promised that he would bring a new level of fairness to Russia's infamously corrupt electoral process. But exactly the opposite has happened. A Russian court has totally banned Russia's most salient opposition party, Yabloko, from taking part in the next round of elections in the Russian regions. The court upheld the actions of local political leaders who rejected electoral petitions simply because they "just looked false." Grigori Melkonyants, deputy director of Russia's only independent election monitoring-organization, puts it bluntly: "The most important thing for officials is to get the necessary results."
Fairer elections are not the only campaign promise on which Medvedev has failed to deliver.
According to the international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, in 2007, when Medvedev took power, 59% of Russian companies experienced economic crime. In response, Medvedev announced a major new initiative cracking down on corruption. Yet two years later, PWC reported that 71% of Russian companies were now being victimized by economic crime. In other words, as a result of Mededev's initiative to reduce economic crime, it increased by a shocking 20%. Transparency International also releases a global survey of corruption, a broader index that surveys more countries across a wider spectrum of economic and political ills. In 2007, Russia ranked a shocking #143 out of 180 countries surveyed. One would not have thought that the country could get any worse. But two years later, Medvedev's Russia ranked #146. Don't take my word for it; listen instead to former Russian parliamentarian Vladimir Ryzhkov, who calls Medvedev's performance dismal." Ryzhkov points to a survey by the World Economic Forum which shows that Russia significantly deteriorated in global competitiveness during Medvedev's first two years in office, ranking a woeful 63rd out of 133 nations surveyed, including a massive drop in the quality of the justice system (another pet project of Medvedev's). A study by the World Bank, Ryzhkov says, confirmed that domestic business conditions have significantly worsened, with Russia ranking 120 out of 180 countries surveyed. In a brutal and lengthy article, veteran Russia correspondents Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova of Newsweek concluded that Medvedev is a "phony liberal" both because his promised reforms were only skin-deep façades and because he continues to serve not as the genuine ruler of Russia, but as a front for KGB strongman Vladimir Putin. Putin refers to Medvedev, the reporters say, with the pronoun "ty" that is used for children and underlings, while Medvedev refers to Putin with the respectful pronoun "vy." Last week, the Russian newspaper Trud reported that Medvedev planned to create his own political party, to "rival" the United Russia party created by Putin, who now serves as "prime minister" after term limits forced him out. Given that it's Medvedev who supposedly rules the nation after being elected on the United Russia ticket as Putin's handpicked successor, it seems odd that it is Medvedev, not Putin, who is forming the new party. If the two run against each other in 2012, when Putin is allowed back into office, Medvedev will be at a clear disadvantage.
But it's not the least bit odd if you understand that Medvedev's "presidency" is a sham. As the head of a new "party" that represents freedom and democracy, Medvedev can be presented as an entirely viable candidate to the West. Then, when Putin crushes him, he not only proves that Russia has a real democracy, but that Russians don't want democracy. Instead, they'll appear to want the Soviet-style dictatorship that Putin has long been forming.
It's actually quite a brilliant scheme on Putin's part. Putin is likely delighted to see that Russia's performance has become even worse under Medvedev because it gives him the chance to further justify a return to power. Never mind that under Putin's two terms, Russia's scores dropped enough to lag behind some of the most lawless African states. Putin can claim that he is once again riding to Russia's rescue.
The scheme can work only because of the poor excuse for leadership being provided by the Obama administration, which has driven France into Putin's waiting arms and which has remained silent despite the opportunity to speak out for freedom that the Kremlin's ongoing failure has presented. Obama's State Department recently released a human rights report that scathingly condemned Russia for state-sponsored kidnapping, torture, and murder in the Caucasus region, and of liquidating reporters who try to tell the tale. Yet Obama himself has remained silent and chosen to ignore the fraudulent nature of Russia's government. Instead of seeking to reset Russia's neo-Soviet decline, Obama has suggested resetting only U.S. attitudes towards Russia, in other words appeasement.
That means it's up to others, especially the leaders of the Republican Party, to show solidarity with the brave Russians who now seek to stop their country's slide into neo-Soviet oblivion.