There are several issues about democracy under discussion in Russia. One is corruption and the stories of major public officials, including V. Putin, enjoying lavish palaces--and owning them?--on a government salary. Powerful elected officials after a few years in any country often come to chafe under the limits to personal wealth that coexist with their much less limited public power. That resentment is the seedbed of public pilf in any country, and that seedbed is apparently well-watered in Russia now. The official typically thinks, "Why is it that I can make others rich, but get nothing for myself?" The public thinks, "If you don't like your job, quit!"
But Putin isn't quitting.
In America, presidents are limited to two four year terms, after which they get a reasonably large annual pension and office staff, plus a presidential library named after them. They also can cash in, or not, in the private sector, based on their friendships and name. That seems to suffice. Almost no US presidents are accused of personal enrichment while in office.)
A second issue is whether freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are truly honored in Russia today, or are they offered only as window dressing? In the past, protests were small and could be ridiculed and criticized officially for not following proper procedures for permits, etc. The size of the recent protests make such ridicule ridiculous itself, and thanks, perhaps to calmer voices in the Kremlin, the approach of mockery has been muted.
Let us pause in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas to remember, and (if so inclined), to say a prayer for political prisoners around the world. One of them, Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, has published a letter in The Moscow Times from her prison cell that reminds us of the personal risks leaders assume even in supposedly democratic regimes. Some regard Tymoshenko as corrupt, but it's hard to judge. The state in such countries has most of the instruments of publicity, as well as law, on its side.
What one can say is that politics should not be criminalized (to use Mark Helprin's useful phrase). There may be some corrupt politicians in jail, but there are surely many more in prison on trumped-up charges, guilty mainly of threatening the political prospects of their opponents. In the popular view, courts treat elected officials more leniently than ordinary people. But the opposite is often the case if the official or former official is a dissident.
Ronald Reagan made brilliant use of a weapon that did not exist -- his Strategic Defense Initiative -- to hasten the end of a war that was never fought: the cold one.
Thus, at its inception, missile defense had a fruitful purpose-to bring to a close the Cold War, i.e., the division of Europe into mutually antagonistic blocs. Reagan was so concerned that his plans for missile defense not destabilize the nuclear balance and thus deepen and prolong pan-European discord that he offered to share the technology with Moscow that was still the capital of the Soviet Union.
The Obama Administration, having launched its wise and admirable reset by canceling President Bush's plans to deploy a missile system on Russia's borders, has since revived that very bad idea, and thereby torpedoed one of its few solid foreign policy achievements. It plans to park elements of a missile defense system in Poland and Romania, prompting Russia's once and presumably future president Vladimir Putin to ask publicly: "So where is this reset?"
Sadly, Obama has shown himself unable to withstand the pressures of powerful lobbies and factions within his own party for empire-that is to say for the maintenance and expansion of our globe-girdling hive of compliant states.
Many protesters in Moscow came out into the streets for the first time in their lives on December 10, 2011
No country's history proceeds on its own anymore, uninfluenced by events elsewhere. Thus, there was a great deal of interest in Russia in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, just as there were with the Arab Spring. Yet, in the aftermath of the demonstrations against Vladimir Putin and United Russia that followed the parliamentary elections, Putin is blaming the public displays on--Hillary Clinton.
This is like politicians in the American South during the civil rights movement who blamed the demands for change on "outside agitators." If Putin merely expressed annoyance with the tone of U.S. scolding, it would be hard to disagree. Whether it is Clinton or her predecessor, Condolezza Rice, moralizing U.S. Secretaries of State seem to think that they should be constantly announcing what other governments "must" do. It's hard to know what such near-daily lectures accomplish, other than infuriating heads of state with whom we must deal. Once in a while? Sure. All the time; it is a little hard to take.
Nonetheless, Putin cannot imagine that his problems with the Russian people are the result of comments made by Hillary Clinton and the United States government. There was too much Internet evidence of fraud in the elections. One blogger became famous for the beatings he endured in government hands. These protests hardly look like the work of Ms. Clinton or the CIA.
President Medvedev's stern warning to the United States and NATO on the eve of parliamentary elections seems to be directed at domestic audiences, to rally nationalist votes. However, if his intension was to influence U.S. or NATO policies on missile defense, it most likely misfired. Obama is in no position to yield to the Kremlin's demands, and the only thing that Medvedev has achieved with this outburst is to supply ammunition for the White House critics who keep crying foul of the 'reset' policy. Additionally, Medvedev's threat to quit START sounds pretty irrational since this treaty was praised by Moscow itself as one of its most successful diplomatic efforts in recent years.
This is not to say that U.S. missile defense policy is justified. Russia has many valid reasons to complain, but if it wants its voice to be heard, it should use a different approach. Issuing threats and saber rattling did not work even in the Soviet era, and it definitely will not work now. One should add that Moscow's proposal for 'sectoral' defense responsibilities is not very serious, either. Justifiably, NATO says that it cannot delegate its members' defense to a third party.
However, the Kremlin's strong card is its offer to the West to develop and deploy a joint missile defense system. This offer has fundamental meaning since it proves that Russia is absolutely serious about its wish to be part of the global security infrastructure.
RT (Russia Today TV News Network) has covered the Occupy Wall Street movement so extensively and boldly that it begs the question: What does the Kremlin have to do with the OWS movement? From what I have observed in both Russia and the USA, the answer is: Very little or nothing at all, to my regret, which I'll explain later. More than a month-- from September 17 when the OWS started in New York to October 21 when I returned from Moscow to Washington--I watched OWS the way Russians see it, through government-controlled TV channels.
I was struck by how little attention Russian media paid to this massive explosion of discontent that was clearly embarrassing to US government and media pundits who would much rather talk about "lack of democracy" in Russia than American about 1% "plutocrats." After checking online reports from Truthout, I realized that in OWS did not receive a coverage it deserved. So I had remained unaware of the movement's huge scale until I came back to my Alexandria home--and to a new TV set supplied with dozen channels, including RT. Now I'm glued to RT every morning. And what do I see?