Sunday, October 14, 2007

Keep Your Eyes on Russia

Vladimir Putin is gathering awesome power!
by Charlie Leck

Just when we finally thought Russia might be a friendly companion nation in the struggle for world peace and justice, there are signs of trouble that threaten the development of democracy in that nation. These developments are worth keeping our eyes on.

An election for parliamentary representatives is coming up in December and it will not be a fair one. The balloting procedure is too closely controlled by Vladimir Putin, the nation's incredibly powerful and unchecked President. Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the hopeful members of Parliament who was elected soon after the fall of the old Soviet Union, calls the process happening now "Selection Before the Election." Putin has the power to select which political parties are legitimate and which are not. It is not like a difficult chess game for him to figure out how to make the proper moves; rather it's less complex than Chinese checkers.

The ballot is so rigged this time that major players in Russia's democracy movement, including Ryzhkov, will lose. Sergei Mironov, a former staunch support of Putin, is now suggesting that the nation is looking like a certain forerunner well-know to all elderly Russians.

Anatoly Yermolin, who has been a significant opponent of Putin's ever expanding power, will lose. So will Viktor Pokhmelkin, who has been a consistent voice against corruption in law enforcement. Putin is about to sweep away the last vestiges of opposition. The election rules he developed are too favorable to the person in control. He has a firm grip on the Russian news media and over all the agencies of government.

United Russia, the party created by Putin will sweep into victory and sweep out nearly all significant opposition.

Mironov is quoted by the NY Times as saying: "I think the television broadcasts from the United Russia convention remind a lot of people of long-forgotten pictures from the era of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union."

Now, here's what may be happening. Constitutionally, Putin cannot run again next year. He's already served two consecutive terms. If the base of power gets transferred to his political party, however, Putin could become its powerful chairman and still essentially run the country. In such a position, and possibly combining it with the Prime Minister's position, Putin would become far more powerful than the next President of Russia.

Make no mistake! Russia's economy is relatively strong right now. Russia is freer than it was under communism. Many Russians credit Putin for this and his approval rating is very high. Yet, the incredible height and force of power that he is creating in one office of government is frighteningly reminiscent of past Soviet history.

What has all this to do with America and with you and me? Good question. I'm proud of you for asking. For almost seven years we have had an administration manipulating the strings of government that has essentially divorced itself from foreign policy issues. It has had no influence over Russian government and has not even been able to suggest more favorable and democratic policy. We have had no allies that we could rally as a counter-point to Putin's policy.

America loves to call itself the most powerful nation on the globe. What makes for power? History has shown us that it is far more than the single element of military dominance. Our problem is a current occupant of the White House who does not read and does not understand history.

One can only hope that Americans are learning just how incredibly powerful the individual vote is in determining the future history of our nation and that of many others. Our next President must be capable in matters of foreign policy. We must never again elect a dummy to that great office.

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