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My objective is to see Russia advancing as a modern civilized country.

EVENTS

24 November 2011 

Mikhail Kasyanov: Russia's Non-Elections and European Policy Dilemma

Well in advance of the December 2011 elections of the Duma and the March 2012 Presidential election in Russia, the results look amazingly preset. The country is heading towards the "United Russia" party dominance in the lower chamber of the Parliament and Putin's comeback to the presidential position - now, thanks to a constitutional change by President Medvedev - for a six-year term.

But this certainty conceals a deep dissatisfaction by the people and growing signs of fragility. Putin's investiture will be a Pyrrhic victory rather than a long-lasting success.

The fruits of his regime's performance are evident: increased dependence of the economy on oil and gas; war in Georgia and open pressure on neighbours; degradation of the social sphere and infrastructure; Magnitsky's torture and death in custody as a striking example of lawlessness and corruption of the bureaucrats and the police; growing deficit of the pension system; systemic oppression of dissent including the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev case; repeated energy cut-offs for European consumers; blatant hooliganism of pro-Kremlin youth organizations; small and medium businesses' expropriations; tolerated and even stimulated nationalistic unrest; endless terror attacks and not only in the Northern Caucuses.

Putin's popularity, based on a mediainflated bubble and oil bonanza, is falling. Morally this regime is already dead being scorned by the elites. Businessmen and talented people leave the country and this process looks set to accelerate. It is just a matter of time until this regime destroys its material and political base and collapses.

Putin's third presidency will be an administrative making, not a political triumph. A lot has been done by Putin and his team to keep power and to exclude any real competition, including legislative change, through pressure on the opposition and civil society by the police and secret services and media manipulations. No redress is available as servile courts always agree with the government's position. All registered parties cannot behave independently and continue to keep a low profile on the key political issues.

In this environment the People's Democratic Union united with other Russian liberal groups to form a new political party and fight with this regime. But contrary to the Constitution and the international obligations of the country our People's Freedom Party (along with other eight organizations, representing different parts of the political spectrum) wasn't registered to participate in the elections because of allegedly incorrectly arranged papers.

Manipulated and falsified elections became a norm. Public sector workers are collectively brought to the polling stations to vote under their bosses' guidance. Massive evidence of electoral fraud in different regions of Russia was never investigated. OSCE election monitors face an uphill struggle to undertake their activities. Noncoincidentally, according to the national polls the majority of Russians are sure that the forthcoming elections will be dishonest.

It's not an issue how to treat the future results of these non-elections to any person for whom European values mean something. The whole new administration in Russia will be illegitimate.

Thus, Russia faces an entirely different political setting. We always considered democratic ballot as the only normal possibility to change the detrimental political course of our country and tried to get access to the elections. The by now wholly demolished institute of elections cannot be used anymore to restore constitutional order and the violent "Arab Spring" scenario appears much more likely. We must prevent it from happening.

This regime is at odds with the logics of modern development and cannot resolve the problems of the country. Rather sooner than later Putin and his team will have to start negotiating their exit. To provide for peaceful change of power we are to formulate conditions for such a dialogue which should be coordinated through the nation-wide round-table with the real opposition and civil society. At the same time we will continue to exert political pressure on the regime and its architects to bring their departure closer.

It will be a difficult dilemma for the European politicians how to deal with a reinvigorated Putin regime. They could, as previously, acknowledge nonelections as something real. They could tolerate negative developments in Russia to secure lucrative deals. They could even engage in another "modernization partnership" with Putin's Russia. But experience proved that myopic "reset" tactic leads nowhere.

On the contrary, Russian liberals would like Europe to stand to its values. It means that forthcoming elections should not be treated as normal and their results as truly legitimate. It means that the Russian authorities' behaviour will not get an exclusive treatment in the Council of Europe and OSCE any longer. It means that cooperation with the Russian leaders will be conditional on their compliance with the international conventions Russia is a part of. It means that Russian officials involved in corruption and violence against people will start to be exposed to sanctions.

It's not a simple choice but it is the only way to help us to halt dangerous developments in our country.

by Mikhail Kasyanov

Leader of the Russian political

party People's Democratic Union

for ELDR Newspaper №10 

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