Was the Russian election any less free than American?

Medvedev, Hillary, and 'Media Bias'

The self-appointed election "monitors" of the Council of Europe have delivered their official verdict on the procedures and results of the recent Russian election, in which Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's designated heir, skated to victory. "We think there is not freedom in this election," said Andreas Gross, a Socialist member of the Swiss parliament, to the Washington Post.

"Gross, heading a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights organization, cited media bias and Russia's failure to register some candidates, among other shortcomings. In a statement, the group said the result reflected the 'will of an electorate whose democratic potential was unfortunately not tapped.'"

If Hillary Clinton is right about being a victim of "media bias," will the Council denounce the Democratic primary elections? As for the failure to register "some candidates" ? does the Council know how hard it is to get on the ballot when you're a so-called third party candidate in the United States? I doubt it. There are more choices on the ballot in Russia than there are in the U.S., which restricts the parties, for all practical purposes, to just two. Russia's recent tightening up of ballot requirements brings it closer to the U.S., in practice, as even liberal critics of Putin admit ? although they still have more choices than we do. If Russia's democratic potential has yet to be tapped, then ? by the Council's standards ? America's is buried even deeper.

It is supposedly a sign of creeping totalitarianism that Putin is staying on in the office of the prime minister while his successor officially takes the reins ? although we all know who's really holding them. How is this really all that different from the prospect of having Bill Clinton's designated heir in the White House, with Bill effectively sharing power with his wife? At least the dynastic element is ? so far ? entirely missing from Russian politics, while in America, the land of the free, we practically have royal families.

We are bombarded on an almost daily basis with anti-Russian, anti-Putin propaganda in the mainstream media, falsely claiming that the "independent" media is being curtailed by the Kremlin. Yet there is no government censorship in Russia; no newspapers or television stations have been closed down by the authorities. Putin's critics are exercised over the alleged lack of "freedom of the press" because the Russian owners of privately owned media outlets exercise the same editorial control that private owners exercise in the West.

For the American media to complain that their Russian counterparts are too subservient to the government is a classic case of pot-kettle-black. It wasn't the Russian media that wore flag lapel buttons while reporting the start of a major military assault and shamelessly transmitted government propaganda disguised as "news reporting" to a frightened and shamelessly manipulated public. It wasn't the Russian media that put Judy Miller's tall tales of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" on the front page of the New York Times as the rest of our "free" and "independent" journalists followed dutifully along. If Russia's reporters are government lackeys, then their Western brothers and sisters are cut from pretty much the same cloth.

The new Cold Warriors are on the warpath, intent on restarting a conflict that ended in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The propaganda offensive against Putin's Russia ? launched, as per usual, by the neocons, and since taken up by left-liberals ? is in full swing. Putin is routinely compared to Stalin, and the tiny groups that oppose him ? led by Gary Kasparov, the former chess champion turned neocon tool, and Eduard Limonov, the National Bolshevik leader whose party symbol tells us all we need to know about him and his followers ? are characterized as the new "dissidents." Together, Kasparov and Limonov started a front group known as "the Other Russia, " which has grabbed the Western media spotlight. In Russia, however, where Kasparov and his red-white-and-blue (and brown) coalition are considered fringe parties with no electoral significance whatsoever, they are ignored.

It isn't just the old Project for a New American Century crowd, made up primarily of Republican types, that has been raising the alarm over the alleged Russian "threat" ? all factions of the Democratic Party are eagerly jumping on board the New Cold War Express. Hillary Clinton's deliberate flubbing of Medvedev's name during the last Democratic debate ? oh, come on: everything she does is calculated ? and Obama's tailing after her on the Russian Question indicate just how widespread is the new Russophobia.

I'm particularly worried about the baneful influence of Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of Obama's foreign policy mavens, whose antipathy for the Kremlin ? no matter who's inhabiting it ? is well known. As for John McCain, he practically froths at the mouth when the subject of Russia comes up, so we'll get no relief there. Those of us who don't want to see a new Cold War with Russia, and a new arms race to go along with it, are effectively disenfranchised. We might as well stay home.

Somehow I doubt Andreas Gross and the assembled grandees of the Council of Europe will take up my proposal to have the American election invalidated, on the grounds that both parties are merely "Left" and "Right" wings of the same party ? the War Party. Oh well, it doesn't hurt to try?

Getting past the propagandistic bluster and down to the bare facts, it looks like Medvedev is a liberal, much more easygoing version of Putin. After pulling the country up from the brink of complete chaos and smashing the oligarchs ? the last remnants of the old nomenklatura, who looted "privatized" state industries and shipped the cash overseas ? Putin is clearly transitioning the country into a less rough-edged, more expansive phase in its political development.

The Russophobes often have valid criticisms of the Putin regime, but they miss the big picture because of their ideological bias. From 1917 to 1991, Russia was in the grip of a system that made any sort of democracy or freedom of thought impossible. The Communist elite killed millions ? more than Hitler ? and led a worldwide crusade to spread their nightmarish ideology to the four corners of the earth. Today, the Russian people want only to be left alone to shake off the effects of their long imprisonment and rebuild their society. They could do without the meddling of foreign governments and the self-righteous lectures of professional hypocrites.

Western pressure and tiresome moralizing will only have the opposite of its intended effect. Attempts by foreigners, such as the presumptuous election monitors of the Council of Europe, to interfere in Russia's internal politics are bound to backfire and stoke nationalist, anti-Western sentiment. If the Council of Europe is so concerned about the state of democracy in the world, then let them look into the practices of the European Union, which seem to involve repeating an election until one gets the "right" result.

By Justin Raimondo

[The original essay has numerous embedded hyperlinks]