– Mini-Cold War: Belarus and European Union Withdraw Their Ambassadors in Diplomatic Tussle over President Lukashenko’s Authoritarianism
In spite of allegations of widespread Kremlin-sponsored fraud, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won Sunday’s presidential election on the basis of a meagre 56 percent voter turnout. According to the Central Election Commission, which is widely viewed as pro-Putin, the “ex”-communist and former Soviet KGB officer scooped up 64 percent of the vote. Independent election watchdog Golos insisted the figure was around 50 percent, which is still enough to elect Putin without the need for a run-off vote later this month.
Vladimir (“There’s No Such Thing as a Former KGB Man”) Putin joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1975, while he attended Leningrad State University. In the 1980s, while working for Soviet state security, he was stationed in Dresden, East Germany, tasked with stealing Western computer technology. In 1990, just before the long-planned collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin wound up in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office.
In 1998, Russian President Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin prime minister, a post the ex-chief of the Federal Security Service (FSB/KGB) held until the following year, when Russians elected him president on the back of war fervour and anti-Chechen sentiment. In 2008, Putin relinquished the presidency to Soviet Komsomol grad Dmitry Medvedev, a political “poodle” who cheerfully declined to run in Sunday’s election so as to allow his mentor to re-assume the presidency.
Constitutionally, one man can hold the Russian presidency for two consecutive terms of six years each, meaning that Putin could be around until 2024. During Medvedev’s presidential stint, the term for the office was bumped up from four to six years.
For his part, Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov’s official result was 18 percent of the vote, a figure that suggests that post-Soviet Russia is still not ready for a peaceful restoration of open communism. In last December’s State Duma vote, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) attracted young Russians who have no personal recollection of the Soviet Union and, somewhat surprisingly, middle-class voters from Moscow and St. Petersburg who are fed up with United Russia’s cronyism. Zyuganov once again wooed these segments of society in the weeks before Sunday’s presidential election.
The other presidential candidates–neo-fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, social democrat Sergei Mironov, and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov–each scraped up single-digit results.
In past years, Putin’s critics accused both Zhirinovsky and Mironov of being compliant stooges of the Kremlin. For the most part, only Zyuganov has offered the most robust opposition to Putin’s policies.
Zyuganov believes his rivals were too hasty in accepting Putin’s win. “I, at least, have decided to refrain from comments for several days, till all the investigations are completed,” he huffed at a media conference in Moscow, referring to official promises to probe the election results. The CPRF chairman emphasized that the final results of “the battle for the Kremlin” have yet to be announced, and that no one should claim victory until then. Euronews quoted Zyuganov as saying: “For almost a month and a half they have been showing us web cams to steer people’s attention from another thievish, totally unfair and shameful election. As a candidate, I cannot recognise them as fair or unprejudiced, or respectable.”
The Russian government spent about US$440 million to install webcams at 91,000 polling stations across the country, supposedly to make the vote transparent and fair. Oppositionists plan to protest the election result on Monday evening in Moscow’s Pushkin Square. The Kremlin says about 12,000 Interior Ministry troops and Moscow city police will be on duty to “maintain order” (i.e., suppress dissent) in the capital.
As threatened, between 14,000 and 20,000 oppositionists gathered late on Monday for a sanctioned rally to protest Putin’s victory, which protesters allege was rigged. Riot police dispersed the protesters who tried to prolong the rally at Pushkin Square, detaining hundreds, including prominent whistleblower Alexei Navalny and Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov. The event was peaceful until some 2,000 people refused to leave the square, tried to block Tverskaya Street, and pledged to encircle the Kremlin.
US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul expressed concern over the crackdown. “Troubling to watch arrests of peaceful demonstrators at Pushkin square,” McFaul tweeted. “Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are universal values.” McFaul is wrong. Russia’s neo-Soviet leadership does not value freedom of assembly and speech.
In view of Zyuganov’s bellicose rhetoric and harsh demands for “retribution” against the “criminal” Putinist regime, the CPRF might still purge the “ex”-communists who openly run the country. Several things are certain, though. The Soviet strategic deception, Russian rearmament, and the strengthening of Russia’s alliances with Communist China and Latin America’s Red Axis will continue under President Putin’s obedient figurehead leadership.
Elsewhere in the Not-So-Former Soviet Union, more than 13,000 citizens of the Russian Federation living in Belarus voted at polling stations set up for expatriates, 67 percent casting their vote for Putin. This result was reported by the press secretary of the Russian Embassy in Minsk, Vladimir Marchuk.
In what amounts to a “mini-Cold War,” Belarus and the European Union, which has slapped travel bans on numerous Belarusian authorities, have withdrawn their ambassadors from Brussels and Minsk, respectively, isolating the former Soviet republic. On Monday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an “ex”-communist who is slavishly devoted to Moscow, lashed out at Germany’s openly homosexual foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. “Better a dictator than gay,” he ranted.