International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

December 9, 2003

December 9, 2003





**  While the Russian elections were free, media bias and state support made them unfair.


**  As a result of the election the Duma lacks an effective opposition.


**  The election proves the difficulty of reconciling Russia's autocratic tradition with democracy.


**  Putin has gained near-total control of the government and has been given "carte blanche."




A bias towards pro-Kremlin parties in state-controlled media ensured their victory--    Euro writers expressed concern over Russia's elections.  According to Hungary's leading Nepszabadsag:  "In normal democracies the rules of an election are clear, not the results.  In Russia the case is just the opposite."  Belgium's independent La Libre Belgique saw Putin "abusing the Russian State’s means to put down the opposition."


Euro and Japanese writers saw cause for concern in the lack of an effective opposition--  With no opposition capable of affecting policy, the Duma could become a rubber-stamp for the Kremlin.  Japan's business-oriented Nihon Keizai stated the results "signify a retreat from Russia's democratic reforms."  Likewise, Russia's Reformist Izvestiya editorialized, "In the next four years, there will be no coherent political opposition in the Duma to the executive power.


The election implied that Russians prefer an 'elected autocrat' to a democracy--   Analysts fear that Russia's autocratic past could harm its democratic future.  Russia's business-oriented Vedomosti asserted, "Russia, after fair and democratic elections in December of 2003, legitimately rejected democracy in favor of an updated authoritarian Soviet-type regime."  Munich's center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung added, “Russia voted--for Putin and his only barely democratic authoritarian state and against the weakly rooted western form of democracy."


Analysts see Putin as having a free hand, and foresee an attempt to stay in power longer--  With an outright majority in the Duma, Putin may attempt to modify the Constitution to serve more than two terms.  Austria's centrist Die Presse noted, "Putin will be able to perfect his 'managed democracy’ even further, for instance by amending the constitution in order to be able to run for office for the third time."  Putin also has more freedom of maneuver on other issues according to outlets such as Russia's reformist Vremya Novostey, which held:  "The Kremlin has gained practically boundless power in Parliament."  India's pro-BJP right-of-center Pioneer opined, "While the U.S. desperately searches for legitimacy for its war against terror...Russia does not have to look over its shoulder to take the war into the terror camps," and urged Putin to "crack down hard" on Chechen separatists.



EDITOR:  James Deacon


EDITOR'S NOTE:  This analysis is based on 46 reports from 17 countries, from 7-9 December.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from the most recent date.




RUSSIA:  "A New Monarchy"


Svetlana Babayeva said in reformist Izvestiya (12/9):  "What we got is a new type of monarchy.  The 'power vertical' is nearly complete, with docile regions, non-opposition media, tamed political parties, and an almost totally controlled Duma.  Western commentators say that now President Putin is free to carry out his reformist policy.  The question is how manageable is manageable democracy.  As far as the controlled Duma is concerned, the Kremlin 'founding fathers' achieved what they were after.  It took them three years to do it.  The aim was to secure a 'constitutional majority' in the Duma.  Mission accomplished, anything can be attempted, including amending the Constitution....  Basically, the resounding defeat of the Right has changed nothing--they were in a critical situation even before December 7.  But the vote outcome robbed them of an important forum in which to voice an opinion or take action....  Rodina (Motherland), reared by the Kremlin's 'political technologists,' has proved to be more than thought originally.  Within a few weeks it was on its own, stealing votes from parties it was not supposed to steal from, its Take Away and Divide slogan too damned popular in this country."


"Does Vote Give The Kremlin A Carte Blanche?"


Vladimir Shpak commented in reformist Vremya Novostey (12/9):  "The Kremlin has gained practically boundless power in parliament.  An absolute majority in the Duma enables it to engage actively in lawmaking, including amending the Constitution.  Making amendments, even reasonable ones, may well have an unexpected follow-up.  Once you start doing that you may not want to stop....  People from 'power structures' in the Putin administration, without a doubt, will tend to interpret the election outcome as a carte blanche to tighten screws and bring more pressure to bear on big capital and, coming under fire from liberals, they will invariably refer to the people's will.  They will argue that the people hate oligarchs, want their property divided, and support a more rigid policy toward the West and NIS countries.  In short, the people want the empire back....  It looks like the President, some members of his administration, and the current Cabinet are the only advocates of right-wing liberal ideas in the federal government and have no allies in parliament."


"Decline Of Democracy"


Olga Kryshtanovskaya contended in business-oriented Vedomosti (12/9):  "Democrats have left parliament and there is little chance that they will return in four years.  No political party in Russia has ever survived four years of being away from power.  There are no political parties in Russia other than those in parliament.   Once a political party fails in elections it falls apart....  In the time before the elections democratic leaders did not defend democracy in Russia.  Nor did they defend journalists, businesspeople and intellectuals.  Their electorate was waiting for resolute actions and clear assessments, but getting none, it felt betrayed and refused to vote....  The elections have dispelled a myth about the Communists as a growing party with a strong appeal to young people.  In fact, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is aging, and Gennadiy Zyuganov is possibly its last leader....  Rumors about a Frankenstein who may get out of the Kremlin's control don't have a leg to stand on.  Rogozin, Glazyev, and Semigin [the leaders of the Rodina bloc] are quite pragmatic and realize that in today's Russia, showing disloyalty to the Kremlin will ruin their careers....  The long and the short of it is that Russia, after fair and democratic elections in December of 2003, legitimately rejected democracy in favor of an updated authoritarian Soviet-type regime."


"The Khodorkovskiy Referendum"


Anatoliy Kostyukov stated in centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (12/9):  "What we had last Sunday was a national referendum on the Khodorkovskiy case disguised as elections to the Duma.  For correctness' sake, it might be called a referendum on Putin vs. the Oligarchs, which is virtually the same.  Obviously, the presidential administration, which was in control, was acting quite skillfully, having political parties speak of their attitude toward President Putin and the action against Yukos.  Attempts to draw attention to other problems like housing, army reform, poverty, and the threat of fascism failed.  No political party has enough administrative and information resources to refuse the scenario that was offered by the Kremlin.  In the upshot, the December 7 vote had the participants lined up strictly in conformity with the roles they played in the Kremlin-staged show."


"Democrats Left Ashore"


Vadim Poegli wrote in reformist youth-oriented Moskovskiy Komsomolets (12/9):  "Small wonder that the Right missed the Duma.  How would you explain to a medical doctor, high school teacher or engineer with an annual income of $1,500 why an oligarch takes just as long to make $1.5 billion?  Is it because an oligarch is a million times smarter, more educated, and works harder?  Ironically, the Kremlin-nurtured Rodina is more effective than the Right in upholding the interests of small and medium-size business.  To learn to distinguish between the interests of Khodorkovskiy and those of the owner of a small car repair shop is the task for the Right in the next four years.  A constitutional majority in parliament is something that is new in this country and therefore a little dangerous.  Feeling free to make good laws and even amend the Constitution is very tempting.  But the 'power party' must realize that it has to bear full responsibility for whatever it does in the next four years.  Another restraining factor for the Kremlin is last Sunday's turnout.  Less than 50% of eligible voters appeared at the polling stations and 5.5% voted against all candidates.  That attests to manageable democracy being manageable only to a certain extent."


"Power Party Wins Its First Elections"


Liliya Shevtsova commented in official government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta (12/8):  "Many Russians see Yedinaya Rossiya (United Russia) as part of a state machine designed to attach 'democratic legitimacy' to the powers that be.  They believe that Yedinaya Rossiya can quickly solve their problems with pensions, fresh water supply, and heating.  It sounds like voting for an effective building superintendent.  In the new Duma, Yedinaya Rossiya will become a hostage of its 'system role,' destined to rubber-stamp the government's decisions.  Now the Kremlin, its position fortified, won't have to waste time on cajolery--all it will have to do is give orders, with Yedinaya Rossiya now obliged to bear responsibility for whatever the government fails to do.  President Putin, bound to quit in 2008, will hardly want to change the Constitution.  This means that he will soon have to start looking for a successor.  That may split the political class, and Yedinaya Rossiya would have to take sides.  Its members will have to wrack their brains anyway, since the Kremlin will never be monolithic, even after Yeltsin's remaining loyalists are gone.  But that is not all.  Any new leader, even if he or she hails from the ruling team, will have to think of his/her own legitimacy and so will want to break with the past, including Putin's Yedinaya Rossiya.  This is the way things work in this country."


"President Wins Duma's Controlling Interest"


Reformist Izvestiya editorialized (12/8):  "Yedinaya Rossiya's is the most convincing victory of all won by 'power parties' in post-Soviet history.  The Communists suffered their worst defeat, having lost nearly half their votes since 1999.  The nationalists [Zhirinovskiy's Liberal Democratic Party] gained a lot of ground, and the just-formed Rodina came up to its architects' expectations, having robbed the Communists of a portion of their electorate.  The rightists' fiasco was predictable.  The chief result of the elections is that Yedinaya Rossiya with loyalists can hope to win two thirds of the seats in the State Duma and feel free to pursue any policy, as long as the Kremlin approves it.  In the next four years, there will be no coherent political opposition in the Duma to the executive power.  But with the Communists upstaged and the Kasyanov cabinet replaced with another one, the Kremlin will have no one to blame for its failures and errors.  The Duma will turn into an even more manageable law-making agency and may even attempt to adjust the Constitution, if instructed."


"What We Expect From The New Duma"


Business-oriented Vedomosti stated (12/8):  "It is essential that the Duma does not degrade Russia to an authoritarian regime a la Lukashenko or Niyazov.  Byelorussia and Turkmenistan have parliaments and presidents, too, but they only need those democratic attributes to camouflage their leaders' absolute power.  This is why we are expecting the Duma to work for the maintenance and development of democracy in Russia, including freedom of the press, independent courts, and control over government."


"Good Morning, Russia!"


Vladimir Fedorin said in business-oriented Vedomosti (12/8):  "The absence of the Union of Right Forces in the State Duma is a very serious blow to the myth of Anatoliy Chubais's superefficiency.  The problem with Chubais is that he is politically active only during elections but is kind of squeamish in between, according to Leonid Nevzlin, Yukos's co-owner in exile.  The same is true of all of big business.  Oligarchs slept through the past four years, thinking that dealing with the Kremlin individually would cost them less than investing in civil society.  Good morning, Russia!"


"Choosing Between Chavez And Milosevic"


Viktor Shenderovich charged in reformist Gazeta (12/8):  "Many of those who have all these months been fighting for power are criminals.  In a country where millions vote for Rogozin and Zhirinovskiy, you can't feel safe in the street.  In a country where tens of million--after what has been done to their fathers and grandfathers--vote for the Communists, you can do anything on a national scale.  Voting with humility for Gryzlov and Co. bespeaks total hopelessness and indifference.  Our Right-wingers cut the saddest figures....  This poll can roughly be compared to choosing between Chavez and Milosevic."


BRITAIN:  "Tougher Tomorrows"


The conservative Times editorialized (12/9):  "Russia likes the idea of being a puzzle within a riddle wrapped in an enigma, but the results of its weekend parliamentary elections were abundantly clear.  The winners were the three parties that pragmatically put loyalty to the Kremlin, and President Putin, above all else....  Yet most Russians apparently do not object to the outcome....  The authoritarian sentiment exposed by the elections may shock the West: but, unfortunately, it springs straight from Russia's grass roots."


"Russia Will Pay A High Price For Putin's Success"


An editorial in the conservative Daily Telegraph read (12/9):  "The result of Russia's parliamentary election is a vote for conservatism.  After the roller coaster years under Boris Yeltsin, which saw the collapse of the Soviet Union followed by wholesale privatisation of a command economy, Vladimir Putin's offer of a strong, united, stable country has paid handsome dividends....  In the president's eyes, Russia's route to great power status lies through managed democracy....  For the West, Mr. Putin's continued commitment to economic reform and further integration of Russia into international markets will be encouraging.  However, a country gaining strength with the aid of foreign trade and investment will not necessarily prove a more pliable partner....  The electorate, or at any rate the half of it that bothered to vote, has played safe.  But its conservatism comes at a cost, both at home and abroad."


FRANCE:  "An Imperialistic Trend"


Laure Mandeville declared in right-of-center Le Figaro (12/9):  "A historic page was turned in Russia as every form of opposition worthy of that name was erased....  In Moscow, the time has come for total loyalty to the Czar....  No one should forget that unlimited power almost always turns leaders into tyrants....  The return of coercive methods is back in Russia.  Opponents are squashed and bothersome businessmen are imprisoned....  The signs are sufficiently worrisome that analysts are seeing an imperialistic trend....  The trend is all the more dangerous that the West was as spineless as the Duma when it came to opposing Putin....  The OSCE and Washington have just barely woken up."


"The Russian Mystery"


Charles Lambroschini held in right-of-center Le Figaro (12/9):  "To his domestic successes Putin can add a series of international achievements.  He has become the West's ally in the war against terrorism.  He is a NATO partner as well as a partner of the EU.  President Bush has even forgiven him for his alliance with France in the Iraqi crisis.  The end result is that neither Washington nor Europe has made any comment about Sunday's results....  In Putin's defense there is the fact that traditional democracy may not be adaptable to Russia.  Hence this synthesis between West and East that Putin personifies:  an elected autocrat."




Jean-Michel Helvig opined in left-of-center Liberation (12/8):  “What the Duma possessed in terms of political openness will be drastically reduced in favor of Putin’s party, which has progressed thanks to a wave of national populism....  In Russia there was no election campaign, instead there was lots of propaganda from Putin’s Unified Russian party....  Since Brezhnev this is the first time so much power has been concentrated in the hands of a single person....  But in spite of this glacial political trend, a Russian civil society is emerging. What yesterday’s elections remind us of is that democratization is neither irreversible nor irresistible. Neither is it an affair of constitution or military invasion. Democratization is something that has to do with the evolution of mentalities....  In our contemporary societies (democracy) is something that keeps turning up like a tenacious virus.”


"Putin II"


Francoise Crouigneau wrote in economic-oriented right-of-center Les Echos (12/8):  “The Russian legislatives are a key step towards the next curtain call:  the Russian presidential election....  On the international scene Putin has managed to give Russia new international luster....  So much so that he has helped Russia forget the humiliation of having lost its position as a world power....  But the battles that will go on behind the scene until March will determine not only Putin’s future but the future of Russia and its credibility.”


GERMANY:  "Divide and Rule"


Christoph von Marshall commented in an editorial in Tagesspiegel (12/9):  "The sad picture is complemented by the failure of the democratic forces.  They missed moving into the Duma because their leaders care more about their vanity than about the common interests of a liberal society....  The reform movement never became a factor, which cannot be overlooked.  The West made its peace with supporting a development dictatorship.  The West preferred an enlightened autocracy, rather than have the Communists or the nationalist party win in truly free elections....  The West did not mind when the President became more and more powerful and the Duma became weaker and weaker.  How can this process be turned around?  How can a parliament completely dependent on the Kremlin become more independent?  It is about high time that Germany listened to the lessons learned during the Yeltsin period--helping Putin is not the issue--it is helping Russia become a democracy."


"The Majority is Practicing Humility"


Klaus-Helge Donath opined in an editorial in Tageszeitung (12/9):  “Russia is tired--that is the main message of the Duma elections.  Now what was built up in a painful process during the years of democratic upswing is endangered.  The overwhelming approval for the nationalistic parties proves that Russians do not care much for experimenting with freedom, self-determination and the rule of law.  Instead they prefer what they have called their 'special way' for the past two centuries.  The West calls it a different way--authoritarian state....  The passive part of Russian society left its mark at this election.  A thousand years of authoritarian rule cannot be overcome in a decade.  But Russia is not lost;  a lot is happening below the political and institutional level.  The failure of the reform parties will lead to a flow of experienced politicians into civil society outside parliament.”


"All Power For the Kremlin"


Tomas Avenarius of national daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung commented (12/9):  “Russia voted--for Putin and his only barely democratic authoritarian state and against the weakly rooted western form of democracy.  Only what the Kremlin allows will be allowed in the future.  And what about the economy?  Putin’s key project.  The pressure on the business community will increase if their deals disturb those of the government.  There will also be a step-by-step distancing from the West.  The new Russia wants to pursue its foreign policy interests independently.  Not right now though, because Putin is focusing first on internal reform.  As it looks right now, he will have time for the new foreign policy.  It can still be implemented after the 2004 Presidential election or the 2008 elections."


ITALY:  "The Democratic Czar And A Precariously Placed Country"


Franco Venturini stated in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (12/8):  “The elections for the Duma had become a referendum on his presidency and Vladimir Putin won it by a landslide....  The communists had to be drained of their blood by a satellite formation which was erected in a few months to attract the suffrages of national-nostalgics, and the PCFR got its first whipping since the USSR era....  But if the incomplete results [of the elections] leaves a margin of uncertainty, the fundamental verdict that came out of the polls leaves no room for doubt: after four years in office, Putin has succeeded in transforming his strong popularity into votes....  Now the road will be easy for him....  Seen in this light, yesterday’s elections give rise to an unavoidable question:  are we witnessing the progress of a young democracy or the progressive affirmation of a regime?....  The head of the Kremlin is an iron pragmatist, who puts to use the determination he learned from the KGB and a realistic and ambitious vision of Russia’s role in the world for his purposes....  In short, Putin’s Russia knows about politics.  And his re-found role will benefit everyone, especially since he is accompanied by a strong domestic economic growth....  Vladimir Putin will be put to the test by a reformism that will not be exhausted in authoritarianism.  And the West must have a clear word for this precarious Russia."


"Russia, The Strength Of The Nationalists"


Leading business-oriented Il Sole-24 Ore opined (12/9):  “The oddities of an imperfect democracy:  the new Duma, the Parliament which held its legislative elections on Sunday, is dominated by a party that has no agenda, no history, that has extras as leaders, that doesn’t demonstrate in the streets and doesn’t want journalists walking around on victory night.  [This is] a party that did not participate in televised debates during the electoral campaign, and yet the audience proclaimed it the winner.  No party...had ever obtained so much support from its constituents and so much influence among the deputies of this strange creature, ‘United Russia,’ of this shadow of Putin....  And yet these elections did not lack shadows:  the strengthening of the nationalists served as a counterweight to the apparent crisis of the communists;  the fall of the democrats was countered by the entry into the scene of the ‘Rodina’ (Homeland) Party....  What is alarming in Russia at the moment is the simultaneous presence of a nationalist Duma and a Kremlin in which there is a growing influence of statesman.  Until now Putin has had control over all of them, and as of today he is the most respected available face.  We cannot but count on him.”


"A Distorted Vote In Russia"


Leonardo Coen maintained in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (12/9):  “Free but distorted.  Free but incorrect.  Free but unfair.  The elections were far from the European and international criteria that characterize the elections in every democratic country....  The Russian elections were strongly criticized not only from a technical point of view but also from a substantial political point of view.  Even the White House of the friend Bush distanced itself [from the elections].”


"Washington Critical of Russian Election--'Unfair Vote'"


Maurizio Molinari noted in centrist, influential daily La Stampa (12/9):  “The OSCE defined the elections in Russia as ‘free but unfair’, giving way to a bitter sparring match between Bush and Putin....  To point its finger at the unfairness of the campaign on the part of Washington means accepting the protests that came from various humanitarian agencies and NGOs, pressing Moscow on the human rights front.  This is almost a warning in view of the presidential elections in March, which Putin will run in....  Behind the verbal match is the growing bilateral tension after the arrest of the Russian oil magnate...and which continued with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech in Maastricht last week before the OSCE ministers....  The Iraqi game is complicating bilateral relations which is now being played on the table for the debt shake-up....  Bush’s nomination of former Secretary of State James Baker as his ‘envoy for Iraqi debt’ makes it clear that Bush wants to come to a rapid agreement, but Putin is not in as much of a hurry, and objects that the lack of international legitimacy of the current Iraqi Council makes it impossible to begin a discussion on the debt."


AUSTRIA:  "The Parliament That Putin Wanted"


Burkhard Bischof noted in centrist Die Presse (12/9):  “It was probably a feeling of powerlessness towards this all-powerful Kremlin that caused 44 percent of the electorate to stay at home on Sunday.  6 percent of those that did bother to turn up for the election voted ‘against all candidates’ on their ballot.  This can only mean that half of the Russian electorate does not feel represented at all by those whose job it would be to represent them.  All this did not prevent President Vladimir Putin from praising the election as another step towards strengthening Russian democracy.  Did his enthusiasm stem from the fact that, with a two-third majority in Parliament, Putin will be able to perfect his ‘managed democracy’ even further, for instance by amending the constitution in order to be able to run for office for the third time in 2008?....  According to the will of the Russian power league, all negative phenomena in Putin’s Russia should be blocked out.  The picture of Putin, the great modernizer, must not be besmirched.  However, the long-suffering Russian people have had to put up with many ‘great modernizers’ in the course of their history.  Some might say, too many.”


BELGIUM:   "A Democratic President Or A New Cesar?"


Pol Mathil declared in left-of-center Le Soir (12/9):  "Where is Russia headed?  It is said that, on Monday, Russians woke up in another country.  Which country?  Actually, after this weekend, there are two good and one bad news.  The first good news is that, during the long electoral night, the female Labrador of the Putin family, Konni, gave birth to eight puppies and that the entire family is doing well.  Another good news is that the Communist Party suffered a severe defeat and that it can theoretically no longer be an obstacle to reforms.  The bad news is the composition of the new Duma itself.  For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, there is no democratic opposition in the Russian Parliament....  Should one give Putin the benefit of the doubt?  That would be a considerable risk.  At the beginning of the previous legislature, Putin had promised a 'dictatorship of the law.’  At the end, there is more dictatorship than law.  At the beginning of the second legislature, Putin promises more democracy.  But according to OSCE observers, Putin is reducing Boris Yeltsin’s meager democratic legacy.  Before the elections, Putin already had considerable power.  Now that the Duma is in support of him, that the Russian civil society has been politically neutralized, and that the oligarchs have been brought to heel or sent to jail, Mr. Putin can rule with no control whatsoever....  And he can now obtain the required two-third majority to change the Constitution and seek a third mandate in 2008--something that is currently prohibited.  Last Sunday’s elections were not a ballot but a plebiscite.  For a democratic President or for a new Cesar?”


"One More Step Toward Dictatorship In Russia"


Philippe Paquet held in independent La Libre Belgique (12/9):  “By abusing the Russian State’s means to put down the opposition, by quelling independent media, and by selectively enforcing law in business circles, Vladimir Putin is revealing his KGB origins.  Even if this very shrewd man has understood the Western world’s subtleties and is perfectly using them to obtain understanding and even complicity from it, it is legitimate for EU leaders to want to judge the new Russian power on actual evidence and not based on Putin’s supposed intentions.  But when the time has come, these EU leaders’ reaction will have to be unequivocal if they want to send the right signal, not only to Russia, but also to the young democracies from Central and Eastern Europe that will join the EU next spring as well as to the embryonic democracies that are knocking on the EU’s door.”


"Putin Superstar"


Francoise Delstanche editorialized in financial L’Echo (12/9):  “The unprecedented power that the Russian President received from the ballot offers him a decisive leverage to increase his grip on the country and to probably change the constitution to offer himself another Presidential mandate in 2008....  These last months, Putin has constantly reassured investors by repeating that it is out of the question to come back on privatizations.  He might very well be sincere....  The real danger comes from the forceful approach of Putin, who does not seem to have understood the nuances of a system that is based on the separation of powers and on public freedoms and who might be tempted by what some are calling ‘liberal authoritarianism."


"World Should not Be Lenient With Russia"


Diplomatic correspondent Mia Doornaert argued in independent Christian-Democrat De Standaard (12/9):  “The outside world is not enhancing democracy in Russia.  The democratic countries in North America and Europe tend to always bet on the strongman--rather than on Russian society.  First, the parole was that we should support Boris Yeltsin and remain silent about his undemocratic practices.  Today, we hear the same song about Vladimir Putin--as was demonstrated with the warm reception during his recent meeting with the EU leaders.  There is little that the outside world can do to exert genuine impact on that immense and enigmatic country that Russia remains....  However, Russia’s main partners can have some bearing on developments in Russia by linking minimal conditions regarding human rights and democracy to their relations and exchanges.  Lecturing small countries, but remaining ‘lenient’ with Russia--as was demonstrated by the Council of Europe as well--is extremely counterproductive.”


"Czar Vladimir Without Opposition"


Foreign editor Frank Schloemer opined in independent De Morgen (12/9):  “It is no secret that ambitious ‘Czar Vladimir’ is aiming for a third term and that he wants to go on with his current policy for years.  In a Duma--where the opposition has only 12 percent of the seats--that will be a simple undertaking for a shrewd politician like Putin.  In the meantime, however, the specter of the one-party state from the past is emerging again in Russia.  It will not be in the country’s interest that the parties in the Kremlin can evade democratic control."


DENMARK:  "Putin Bolstered By Election Result"


Center-left Politiken editorialized (12/8):  "It was Putin, rather than his party that the people voted for.  By giving Putin such a majority in the Duma, it appears even more unlikely that anyone will be able to challenge him at the presidential election in March.  For those who hope to see the development of democracy in Russia, there is little reason to be happy about this result." 


"Russia Risks Losing Out Again In The 21st Century"


Center-right Jyllands-Posten commented (12/7):  "Russia lost the "20th century because Russian society could not survive communism.  Russia risks losing out again in the 21st century unless the people can control the power of the state."


HUNGARY:  "The President’s Men"


Zoltan Szalay observed in leading Hungarian-language Nepszabadsag (12/8):  "In normal democracies the rules of an election are clear, not the results.  In Russia the case is just the opposite, a Russian political scientist said.  The bottom line in Russia is that the United Russia Party supports President Putin.  And President Putin supports the ‘Bears’ [as is called the United Russia Party in the Russian slang].   Yesterday’s voting was exactly like the Russian democracy itself: centrally managed and controlled.  And although President Putin is not a dictator-like character there have still been unfortunately many examples in Russia’s history when the state became too strong and spilled over into an autarchy, which meant the law of dictatorship instead of the dictatorship of law.”


"Putin Has A Good Chance to Win"


Liberal Hungarian-language Magyar Hirlap concluded (12/8):  “Will most of the Russians have a reason to be happy [about the election result], we don’t know yet.  But one thing is certain, most of them voted for the Putin line of Russian politics.  They are not bothered that press freedom is curbed and that the election was manipulated.  But they are enthusiastic with the strong, centralized power, with the special ‘restoration’ of the Soviet Union.  And above all they are enthusiastic with their President, Vladimir Putin.”


IRELAND:  "Russians Reject Liberals To Give Putin Almost Total Political Power"


A column by Dan McLoughlin reporting in the center-left daily Irish Times stated (12/09):  "Russians woke to a new political landscape yesterday after parliamentary elections all but erased the last vestiges of Mr. Boris Yeltsin's presidency, and removed lingering barriers to Mr. Vladimir Putin's assumption of almost total political control....  The liberal protegés of Mr. Yeltsin were squeezed out of the State Duma....  Some analysts are wondering if Mr. Putin will accept a 2008 limit on his presidency, or rather use his massive control to alter the fundamentals of a system constructed by Mr. Yeltsin, the man who ushered him into the Kremlin in 1999.  Mr. Putin's team will brush aside international observers' complaints that media bias corrupted the poll, as it did criticism of elections in rebel Chechnya this year.....  Mr. Putin's pledge to attract foreign capital and double Gross Domestic Product by 2010 suddenly seemed highly improbable:  he can simplify as many tax laws and slash as much stifling bureaucracy as he likes, but few investors will take a risk on Russia if they fear the Kremlin could seize their assets....  Politics, media and finance are the three 'verticals of power' that Mr. Putin's critics have long said he wants to control."


LITHUANIA:  "New Elections:  Old And Boring News"


Violeta Mickeviciute held in second-largest Lithuanian-language Respublika (12/8):  "Last weekend Russia had parliamentary elections.  Democratic, full-scale, free and recurrent.  Different from 1999, because Russia is different today.  More open to the west, run by a well-known President who fits well with young leaders of the planet.  But one cannot look at these elections with nostalgia, it was more a deja vu.  As if something happening for the second time.  Same promises, same symbols, same TV duels of political opponents.  Just like in 1999, no hope to see any different characters in the government, just the same old team of Vladimir Putin.  And number two--the communists.  A couple of weeks and we will see the new era of the old power.  Fellow comrades-in-arms who have their own opinion will fall, the rich will keep hiding their capital and children abroad, and Chechnya's painful problems will not be seen on TV news.  Television channels will keep broadcasting the same old feature films about the achievements of KGB intelligence officers.  Everything has been repeated, seen and heard."


POLAND:  "Russia’s Choice, Poland’s Choice"


Editor-in-chief Adam Michnik noted in liberal Gazeta Wyborcza (12/9):  “To Poles with their past experience, Sunday’s elections for the Russian Duma lead to three conclusions.  First, the Russians chose the parliament they wanted--their choice is their own business.  Second, the Russians took a step back on the road to building democracy....  Third, with Russia apparently turning toward an imperial ideology, Poles have reasons to fear--we should seek an even more decisive integration with the West and its structures, like NATO and the EU.  And the whole of Europe should rethink its policy toward Ukraine and other post-Soviet states.”


"The Duma For Putin"


Slawomir Popowski noted in centrist Rzeczpospolita (12/8):  “There was no surprise.  The victory of pro-Putin United Russia in the parliamentary election is also a manifestation of Putin’s popularity....  One thing is certain:  the new Russian parliament will be even more pro-Kremlin and more obedient than the previous one.  The question is what will happen to Russia now.  The answer is not very comforting....  All the parties running in the elections shared a number of items in their agendas.  First, there was the ‘empire’ as a slogan.  Second, they all had in common the slogan of ‘Russian revenge.’  The symbol of a Great Russia rising from its knees was repeated like a mantra, with accent pun on ‘great,’ not on ‘democratic,’ ‘modern,’ or ‘reforming.’  Finally, none of the parties running for parliament dared to attack or even strongly criticize the inhabitant of the Kremlin....  As Victor Yerofeyev, author of ‘The Encyclopedia of the Russian Soul’ says, Russia, irrespective of ideology, heads naturally for dictatorship.  The West should abandon any illusions and closely monitor the developments in the Kremlin.  Otherwise it may be too late.”


ROMANIA:  "Sunday Elections"


Dan Constantin observed in national Jurnalul National (12/9):  “The Sunday elections for the Duma--the Parliament of Russia, ensures a new term in office for President Putin, without surprises, in 2004.  The election process itself was democratic, but the future of democracy is not very certain in the continent-like country....  Russia’s elections, seen from abroad, are analyzed by taking western standards into account, and are seen as a slide toward a powerful nationalism....  Criticized or analyzed without strong conviction, elections in Russia are well appreciated by Putin’s homologues in the powerful industrialized countries.  Bush, Blair, Berlusconi, Schroeder, Chirac, Aznar wish to see in the Kremlin a leader able to maintain stability in Russia.  But democracy is not the main element of balance for stability in a country of great cultural and economical contrasts and ethnic diversity.”


"Practical Importance"


Adrian Cochino commented in independent Cotidianul (12/9):  “Participation in political life is not so important from the technical point of view, but elections in Russia have a huge practical stake--the way President Putin will present himself in the presidential elections next year, and the way he will choose to lead the country up until 2008, when he will have to choose between following Yeltsin’s path and withdrawing after a decade of being of power, or to keep power, by hard-to-imagine artificial means.”


"Elections In Russia"


Gabriela Anghel declared in Romania Libera (12/8):  “The parliamentary elections are a test for the Russian President, who will have his term in office at stake three months from now....  Far from being a democratic move, the December 7 elections are included, from a strategic point of view, in the Russian leader’s plan to consolidate his control.”


SPAIN:  "Putin Wins"


Left-of-center daily El País wrote (12/9):  "Everything was clear before the legislative elections in Russia, and everything is clear after that.  The President, Vladimir Putin, has grown stronger from the elections that are the final rehearsal of the presidential ones in March, in which the tenant of the Kremlin will renew his term of office.  But the democracy, contrary to what Putin proclaims, has came off badly after an elections slanted by the massive state support to the "United Russia" party....  So there is little to celebrate in this elections...that is on the White House and OSCE's objective.  An election in which the manipulated media are bending over backwards on a party and avoid the rest, and where the economical resources of the State are only at one political party's disposal, can't be a clean election for more than they take place at the same way as the rest of the democratic countries."


"Excessive Victory?"


Centrist daily La Vanguardia opined (12/9):  "Putin now has the political capital needed for undertaking almost any reform he is determined to make, including finding an agreed way out of the Chechen conflict.  On the economic front, he should make an effort to establish legal safeguards and clear rules of the game so Russia can become a reliable partner and the destination for new foreign investment."


SWEDEN:  "Division Of Power Is Nothing For Russia"


Stockholm-based conservative morning-published Svenska Dagbladet editorialized (12/9):  "President Putin welcomed the election results as great democratic progress for Russia.  From a technical point of view this is correct;  apart from a few cases of violation of the secrecy of the ballot and errors during the ballot count, the elections were free.  However, according to OSCE election observers, it was not fair.  The candidates of the ruling power were able to use the resources of the state apparatus.  State controlled media favored President Putin's supporting troops....  United Russia was able to fortify its position by promoting a nationalist campaign, including the basic elements of Putin's political message....  A weak central power in Russia, influenced by competing oligarchs, has now been replaced by a strong state authority with President Putin as its fixed star, without a clear-cut difference between the legislative, executive, and judicial powers.  And this is ominous."


"Elections With A Projected Result"


Independent, liberal Stockholm-based morning-published Dagens Nyheter declared (12/9):  "The (Russian) election results were as predicted.  The next Duma will be more faithful to the President than the previous one.  The liberal forces were unable to reach the (Duma) threshold.  The only opposition party, the Communists, is considerably weakened after being hit hard by an anti-Communist campaign in state-controlled media....  Although there is an apparent risk that Russia is moving in the wrong direction...there is little risk that Russia would return to dictatorship and oppression.  However, tomorrow's Russia might become considerably more authoritarian than democratic."




JAPAN:  "Putin Leadership To Be Strengthened"


Business-oriented Nihon Keizai stated (12/9):  "As expected, allies of Russian President Putin won a sweeping victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections.  United Russia and other pro-Putin parties made remarkable gains in the elections, winning two-thirds of the seats in the State Duma (Lower House) and strengthening the Putin leadership.  The advancement of political parties that call for patriotism, law and order signify a retreat from Russia's democratic reforms."




INDIA:  "Crack Down Hard" 


The pro-BJP right-of-center Pioneer maintained (12/8):  "Friday's suicide bombing on a train in Chechnya, which killed 40 people while injuring 160 others, is yet another attempt by Islamist terrorists to derail the peace process in Russia's breakaway province, the chief architect of which is the Russian President, Vladimir Putin....  The war against terror has entered a new phase with the latest bomb attack, particularly in light of Russian counter-intelligence agency FSB's report that Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev has despatched several suicide squads to different parts of Russia and Chechnya to destabilize the country on the eve of crucial parliamentary elections.  Indeed, every peace initiative by President Putin has so far been met with acts of mindless cruelty by the Islamist terrorists....  The growing menace of Islamist violence in Central Asia bodes ill for the future.  With the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the United States's faltering war against terror in Iraq, the situation in the region is getting increasingly fraught with danger....  While the US desperately searches for legitimacy for its war against terror in Iraq, Russia does not have to look over its shoulder to take the war into the terror camps....  Any success of Chechnya's Islamist radicals is bound to provide a fillip to the spiral of terrorism in the region, one which might prove increasingly difficult to contain.  The arch of terror will then spread from Iraq and Afghanistan right into the heart of Central Asia.  Since the Islamist zealots who are killing innocent civilians only understand the language of force and severity, Russia must crack down hard on the separatists who are holding peace in Chechnya and the rest of the country to ransom."


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