United Russia capitalized on three major
- Putin's popularity--up to 78 percent
according to an International Republican Institute poll.
- The crackdown on corruption undertaken by
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov--the party leader and rumored next
speaker of the Duma or prime minister--and the jailing of
billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which appealed to the vast
majority of Russians who view oligarchs as corrupt and detached
from the impoverished masses and the struggling middle class.
- The use of "administrative resources,"
including government-controlled television and provincial
governors' guidance, to boost United Russia candidates.
Putin's judgment in using his new
parliamentary support and popularity will define both his
relationship with the West and his place in history. His resistance
to the virulent nationalism and populist socialism of his party's
hangers-on will make the difference between Russia's progress and
Winners. The second and third winners were, respectively,
the socialist/nationalist newcomer Rodina (Motherland) and Vladimir
Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats. Led by former Communist Party
economic guru Sergey Glazyev and former Duma Foreign Affairs
Committee Chairman Dmi-try Rogozin, Motherland won 9 percent of the
vote. Its message of nationalization at home and nationalism
abroad, high taxes, and foreign adventures is a prescription for
derailing Putin's goal of doubling GDP by 2010.
Motherland was a creation of Kremlin
consultants who were tasked with stealing votes from the
ultra-nationalist communists. They succeeded--too well. Senior
government officials recognize that they do not control Glazyev and
that the younger, feistier Motherland Duma team will be more of a
nuisance than the predictable communists, who have not learned the
game of competitive politics.
Zhirinovsky, the third winner, doubled his
vote to 11.6 percent. Before the elections, he got into yet another
fistfight in a television studio and declared that Chechnya should
not be discussed in the media. Instead, he suggested leaving it to
the secret police and using death squads to kill off entire Chechen
villages. He called for establishing a monarchy but would settle
for an elected czar--President Putin. Today, when suicide bombers
tear apart Moscow civilians almost weekly, the tough guys finish
Losers. The big losers are the communists (whose 12.7
percent was half of the vote they received in 1999), democratic
forces, and the business community. The center-right Union of Right
Forces (URF) and liberal-left Yabloko (apple) failed to launch
viable party structures in Russia's 89 regions. Without new ideas
to address the electorate's needs, they lost votes to Putin's
United Russia, Motherland, and voter apathy. Turnout was 54
percent--8 percent lower than in 1999 Duma elections.
Putin embraced United Russia and, to some degree, Motherland and
the government-controlled television followed suit, the bottom
dropped out from under the democrats. Yabloko and URF were painted
as too pro-Western. Center-right politicians appeared rich,
spoiled, and detached from the ordinary Russian's everyday
problems. The emergence of Anatoly Chubais, the highly unpopular
former privatization czar, as a de facto leader of the center-right
did not help; nor did the extensive support of the hated
the statist and pro-Putin forces became stronger, the business
community weakened. According to a cabinet insider, big business
should forget about dictating the legislative agenda in the Duma as
it did throughout the 1990s. Two days after the elections, Putin
signed a new law imposing additional energy export tariffs. Raising
taxes on energy exports is being discussed even as cheap Russian
oil and gas for domestic consumption provide a multibillion-dollar
subsidy for the Russian economy, imperiling Russian membership in
the World Trade Organization.
U.S. Response. The Bush Administration has a strategic
interest in dialogue with Russia's president, government, and
people. However, the U.S. needs to strike a balance between
fighting the war on terrorism and defending Russian democracy,
supporting Russian integration with the West, developing Russian
energy resources, and encouraging foreign investment in Russia. To
achieve these goals, the Administration should:
support for Russia's democratic forces. The White House has
endorsed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's
statement, which called the elections "unfair" and criticized the
government's control of the country's television channels. More
needs to be done, including expanding exchanges with Russia and
providing support to democratic non-governmental organizations,
independent media, and nascent forces of freedom through the
National Endowment for Democracy, International Re-publican
Institute, and National Democratic Institute.
- Communicate directly to Putin that
continued integration into Western frameworks such as the G-8 and
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development depends
on Russia's following Western political models and boosting the
rule of law.
that further executive branch abuse of Russia's legal system,
leading to the destruction of major economic players, could
discourage foreign investment, thus jeopardizing Putin's stated
goal of doubling GDP by 2010.
Conclusion. Russia now has a Duma that
is more nationalist and less democratic. While emerging democracy
is often a two-steps-forward, one-step-back proposition, it is in
everyone's interest that Russia pursue civic society, free markets,
and political liberty. The U.S. and the West should not hesitate to
remind Moscow of this.
Ph.D., is Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies
in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
The tectonic political shift that occurred in Sunday's
parliamentary elections will make Russia more difficult
diplomatically and less hospitable to foreign investment. The
biggest winner was President Vladimir Putin, whose United Russia
party won 37 percent of the vote and, together with its allies, has
close to the two-thirds majority necessary to change the
constitution, including extending the president's term in office