The consequences of Barack Obama’s miserably failed “reset” policy with Russia became horrifyingly clear last weekend. The Russian people did their part in fighting for American values, but America itself did not meet them halfway, and so an iron curtain came clanging down across Russia.Probably didn't raise an eyebrow in Lake County, either.
Last Sunday, Russians went to the polls in a parliamentary election that former parliament member Vladimir Ryzhkov predicted would be “the dirtiest in post-Soviet history.” As if to prove him right, in the days leading up to the vote Lilya Shibanova — leader of the country’s only independent polling place monitor, Golos — was arrested and her laptop confiscated. State-owned media also aired a vicious (and false) attack on her organization’s integrity. Also, one of Russia’s most independent and outspoken foreign correspondents, John Helmer, was summarily booted out of the country, and a full-scale crackdown was launched everywhere against Russian media.
Clearly, the Kremlin planned unprecedented ballot box stuffing and wanted to minimize the blowback.
The campaign tactics of United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s party of power, were truly shameless. They posted billboards which were exact copies of government efforts to encourage voter turnout, making it seem the party was state-endorsed. They infiltrated schools from first grade to colleges with ominous propaganda agents. They deluged the Internet with racist and sexist videos meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
When opposition activists tried to stage a concert in Ekaterinburg, the power went suddenly, mysteriously dead.
Election fraud is so commonplace in Russia that a leading Russian paper, Vedemosti, produced a lengthy analysis of all the ways it is carried out. The article scarcely raised an eyebrow.
Exit polls showed United Russia losing its majority, having collected 45 to 48% of the votes. And they were accurate. The party did not win a majority of the popular vote, although because of the gap between itself and the second-place party, Russia’s Byzantine electoral system will allocate it just enough seats to hold sway with a bare majority. But the party will end up with a shocking one-third fewer seats than it had in the last parliament.That seems to happen in a lot of places. Russia, Iran, Colombia, Syria, Egypt.
The Communist Party’s presence in parliament will nearly double. The Communists won a fifth of the total votes cast. There won’t be another legislative election in Russia until 2016, since members serve five-year terms.
Both international and Russian poll observers proclaimed the election dirty and illegitimate. If United Russia did so badly despite overwhelming fraud in its favor, what would have happened if American pressure had forced Russia to allow real opposition parties onto the ballot and had guaranteed those parties access to media and an honest vote count? In that case, we might have seen a whole new chapter in Russian history being written.
Instead, what happened was that America failed to lead. Instead of confronting Putin, Obama gave him aid and comfort, helped him pretend that Dmitri Medvedev was a real president rather than a sham, and helped him sweep his anti-democratic crackdown under the carpet. When the people of Russia looked to America for a beacon light of democracy, they got the cold shoulder.
Sounds like Putin's policy here failed. Not even tyranny can give you a well-oiled machine, like Robert Pastrick had in East Chicago.
But Obama can take no credit for this. He continues to abandon freedom-loving people across the globe to tyrants, whether the those tyrants are Islamist (Iran), oligarchic (Russia) or Marxist (Venezuela).
These governments seek to hurt us at every turn. Obama's refusal to do the same to them is an abdication of his responsibility as POTUS to protect the American people.