Letter From the Editors

Okay, let’s get the show-stopping news out of the way first: The United Russia party came out victorious in the State Duma elections, retaining its constitutional majority with at least 324 seats out of 450. Not so surprising? Well, there actually were a few eye-catching bits of news from the three days of voting. Two establishment opposition parties that had come out almost even in 2016, at 13% each, saw markedly different outcomes this time: Gennady Zyuganov’s Communists took almost 19% of the nationwide vote (but held a protest nevertheless, accusing the authorities of falsifying the results), while Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democrats garnered only 7.5% (about the same as the A Just Russia/For the Truth coalition).

And, for the first time since 1999, the Russian parliament has representatives from more than four parties: A novice player, appropriately named Noviye lyudi [New People], cleared the threshold with 5.33% of the vote. Natalya Galimova writes: “Now, for the first time in a long time, there will be a party in the Duma that positions itself as a prodemocracy force.” But is it? The party got its start in 2020 with help from the Putin administration’s domestic politics division, so one could call it a “Kremlin project.” On the other hand, party leader Andrei Nechayev is a political veteran who helped lead market-oriented reforms as minister of economic development in the early 1990s.

Political forces are roiling more loudly just outside Russia’s borders, as Mikhail Saakashvili has been posting on social media that he wants to come back from Ukraine to his native Georgia on the eve of local elections (slated for Oct. 2). If so, writes Yury Roks, he might have a large entourage ready to greet him: “An organization called the General People’s Movement . . . has appeared in Georgia. According to its creator, leader of the Law and Justice party Tako Charkviani, the organization’s goal is to gather all 40,000 of its members at the airport on the day of Saakashvili’s arrival and prevent the authorities from arresting him.” That would be quite the dramatic entrance – but, as Roks points out, Georgia’s controversial ex-president has promised (threatened?) to return several times now, always as elections draw near.

Whether or not Saakashvili takes the political stage, history is definitely in the making as Angela Merkel prepares to step down as chancellor in Germany. Vladislav Belov writes: “For the first time in Germany’s postwar political history, three parties – the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) faction, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and Alliance 90/The Greens – have nominated their candidates for the office of federal chancellor and are competing for the right to lead the government.” One factor that unites all three is their attitude toward Russia, which Belov sums up in this list of gripes: “annexation, defiance of democratic values, cyberattacks, hybrid methods, chemical weapons, disinformation, propaganda.”

The entire West may share these complaints against Moscow, but there may be trouble in paradise. French President Emmanuel Macron was so rankled by the creation of a new US-UK-Australia defensive alliance that he made the unprecedented move of recalling the French ambassador from Washington. On the other hand, writes Viktor Taki, this démarche hardly indicates that Macron and the French political class are distancing themselves from the US long-term. Instead, Paris’s sharp response may be explained by shifting sands in domestic politics. Right-wing journalist Eric Zemmour last week “shifted from political pundit to potential presidential candidate and may become the main plot twist of this election campaign. . . . According to the latest poll, 10% of voters are already willing to vote for the emphatically non-PC journalist. Zemmour, a vocal critic of the current president, will definitely take the opportunity to score additional points from the president’s foreign policy fiasco.”

This firebrand may be gaining a slice of popularity, but could he hope to win a national election by hogging the media spotlight and publicly trashing his opponent? Nah, couldn’t happen in our enlightened part of the world.