NYT: Kicking Democracy’s Corpse in Russia

The editorial board of the New York Times just wishes that Vladimir Putin would at least pretend that he isn’t manipulating the elections. They writes that Western politicians need to start resisting the natural temptation to defend Putin out of a variety of reasons, and that “the least Western democrats can do for their thwarted Russian counterparts is to frankly acknowledge this painful truth.

From the New York Times:

January 30, 2008EditorialKicking Democracy’s Corpse in RussiaLook into the eyes of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and what you see is a K.G.B.-trained mind that apparently cannot tolerate leaving any detail of an election to chance.What else could explain the latest ugly twist in Russia’s rigged presidential election: the forced withdrawal of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov for allegedly invalid signatures on his nominating petitions?Most people who manipulate elections usually try to pretend otherwise. Mr. Putin does not even bother. Even though he, or a chosen proxy, could easily have won a fair election, he was not about to take the chance.Critics and potential rivals now understand that if they challenge him they face legal harassment and perhaps even physical danger. Independent news outlets have been systematically stifled.The results were evident in last month’s parliamentary elections, judged to be far from free and fair by European monitors. Mr. Putin’s party claimed it won nearly two-thirds of the vote.There has never been any doubt that Mr. Putin’s designated successor, Dmitri Medvedev, would win the March 2 presidential election. And the loyal Mr. Medvedev has already promised to name Mr. Putin as his prime minister. As further insurance, a campaign of official harassment drove the leading democratic challenger, Garry Kasparov, out of the presidential race.A more pragmatic autocrat might have stopped there. The unthreatening candidacy of Mr. Kasyanov, like that of the three other remaining candidates, served only to add a little democratic gloss to this electoral travesty.Western leaders have long been tempted to make excuses for Mr. Putin. Washington needs Moscow’s help on Iran and other issues. Europe needs oil and gas. But very little remains of the democracy that struggled to be born in Russia after Communism’s fall. The least Western democrats can do for their thwarted Russian counterparts is to frankly acknowledge this painful truth.