Russia’s un-Election

Dmitri Medvedev refuses to debate, is conducting a low key campaign, and has no identifiable platform. Yet, he leads the polls with an overwhelming 71 percent. The Russian Presidential Election officially kicked off on Saturday and Tsarevich Dmitri might as well start picking out his office furniture. Thank god the Russian electoral season is only a month long. Could you imagine having to follow Medvedev around as he meets with Cossacks, bows his head in honor of the fallen in the Battle of Stalingrad, and urges Russian businessmen to start scooping up firms abroad? It’s no wonder that 65 percent of Russians have no idea what he stands for. I guess that doesn’t matter in the world of Russian politics. No one knew what Putin stood for in 1999. Come to think of it, I would be hard pressed to explain what Putin stands for now.

The Western press rightly calls Russia’s election is a farce. Well, duh? It doesn’t take much political acumen to point that out. Since we are all in agreement on this, perhaps its time for all the Kremlinologists, Transitologists, pundits, and other so-called Russia experts to concentrate on what this election does mean for Russia? Inquiring minds want to know.

Western journalists might dismiss Russia’s election as a caricature of democracy, but the fact remains that the Kremlin is taking it seriously. So seriously that it appears everything has been done to prevent any surprises. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has been removed from contention thanks to the Electoral Commission’s assertion that 13 percent of his signatures were “faked or unverifiable.” All of Medvedev’s meetings with journalists are carefully orchestrated. Putin has ordered the FSB to be on notice to prevent “any attempts to interfere in [Russia’s] domestic affairs.” In fact, the entire Russian state should keep its ear to the street. “The task of all state structures is to make sure that [the polls] are democratic, that there is social and political stability,” Putin ordered citing “terrorism” as a possible threat.

Medvedev may be a shoe in for Prez, but I think the real winner in all this is Viktor Zubkov. According to unnamed top Kremlin adviser, Zubkov will most likely replace Medvedev as Gazprom chairman. Zubkov’s pupils must be radiating dollar signs.

Indeed, the Russian presidential elections look to be shaping up as expected. Putin’s successor is a shoe in. The revolving door between the state and capital continues to spin. After some initial infighting, the siloviki seem to be adjusting to the new reality. Real or imagined political challengers and threats have been sidelined, if not outright eliminated. The Russian public is tagging along lock step. If “democracy” is “social and political stability” as Putin seems to suggest, then things are humming right along. All that needs to answered is what the future holds.