Vladimir Putin's United Russia party was embarrassed in Sunday's parliamentary elections, claiming just under 50 percent of the vote for the State Duma, compared to 67 percent in 2007. And it might have been even worse if not for alleged electoral fraud that seems to have bolstered Putin's party. Now, as angry demonstrators gather in Moscow and other cities to decry the election results, Russia is dealing with some of its biggest protests in years. Already, hundreds have been arrested, and there's even talk of a Russian "Arab Spring." Is Putin the next Mubarak, or is that just wishful neocon thinking?
This may be the start of a "Russian awakening": "No less than Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Putin invited the backlash by choosing to retrench rather than reform his regime," says The Washington Post in an editorial. Russians are fed up with Putin, and he further infuriated the populace by "manipulating the election system to eliminate alternatives." Putin's regime intimidated the independent group monitoring the election, and prevented liberal, pro-Western parties from even registering. Let's hope these protests are only the beginning of a "Russian awakening."
"A clear message of Russian dissatisfaction with Mr. Putin"
It's not that simple: The Post's take is "sloppy and lazy," and demonstrates that its "editorial board has become something of a neocon doyen," says Mark Adomanis at Forbes. What's happening in Russia is quite different from what happened in Egypt. Russians aren't taking to the streets because pro-Western liberals are being repressed. They're simply angry about "the switch" from Dmitri Medvedev back to Putin, and the "clumsy, anachronistic, and heavy-handed" way the decision was handed down in September. So before we applaud a supposed Russian "awakening," let's be sure to understand what's actually happening.
"The Washington Post editorial board makes a hash of the Russian election"
If anything, Russians are mad about the lousy economy: It's clear that the Putin's slide has begun, says Daniel Treisman at CNN. This is a "regime that cannot even steal an election decisively." But Sunday's results didn't demonstrate a particular hunger for Western-style democracy in Russia. Remember, Putin's unique hybrid of "genuine popularity" and authoritarian "attempts to over-manage and eliminate all potential threats" served him quite well during Russia's boom years. It's only now that economic growth has slowed in the wake of the global recession that Putin's strongman style has become a major issue.
"Vote may mark beginning of the end for Putin"