Letter From the Editors

The State Duma elections are now just a few weeks out. Few commentators expect big surprises from the event, and unsurprising news is already hitting the broadsheets. Authorities have barred leading Communist Party figure Pavel Grudinin, who came in a distant second in the 2018 presidential election, from running for a Duma seat, citing alleged improprieties. Grudinin joins a growing list of excluded opposition candidates.

Who is still running, then? Ivan Rodin writes that Vladimir Putin is turning to a network of Kremlin-aligned nonprofits “to form a modern managerial and political class.” The fruits of one such project, the competitive program called “Leaders of Russia: Politics,” Rodin assesses thus: “Of the 49 winners, 26 have already been registered as candidates for the State Duma. They are listed under a number of different parties, but most of them are part of United Russia.”

With all of these Kremlin efforts to cultivate some candidacies while culling others, the Russian government is also taking steps to reassure the international community that the Duma elections will be legitimate. Yekaterina Postnikova reports in Izvestia that State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin invited experts from national parliaments, PACE, the OSCE, PABSEC [Parliamentary Assembly of Black Sea Economic Cooperation], the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, the CSTO, the CIS, and the Union State of Russia and Belarus to observe the elections, with Moscow providing 300 spots for foreign observers.

Amid this alphabet soup of organizations, Russian officials assigned the OSCE the largest delegation at 50 members. The OSCE refused to participate, however, because it had requested a delegation of 500. A series of recriminations followed in which many Russian organizations claimed the number of observers had to be limited due to the epidemic, that the OSCE’s request was disproportionate in comparison to its presence during the US presidential election (“A significant number of American voters do not believe that this election was fair,” Vladimir Dzhabarov, one of Russia’s delegates to PACE, pointed out), and that the whole dispute was merely a pretext for the organization to walk away rather than submit to the shame of admitting the elections were sterling. As one leading member of the Russian Public Chamber put it, “Their main task is to demonstrate Russia’s problems with the election process, but they simply would not have been able to achieve it.” Oh, well. At least the OSCE’s departure will leave more room for other observers to ensure the integrity and public confidence in the Duma elections. From the Union State, perhaps.

Speaking of which, Aleksandr Lukashenko recently made headlines by publicly suggesting that Russian troops may be deployed to Belarussian territory if it is necessary to save the two countries’ joint project. Aleksandr Golts of Republic.ru looks past the Belarussian president’s characteristically tendentious framing to offer a history of (the lack of) military cooperation between Minsk and Moscow – and the general lessons one might draw from it to better understand the power vertical.

“[Lukashenko] understands very well that in the event of real military integration, Belarussian generals would be doomed to take orders from Russian generals,” Golts writes. “It is inconceivable for an authoritarian leader, for whom the army is the linchpin of his power, to place his own generals under the command of somebody else’s generals. Integrate your armed forces into some joint system, and tomorrow a Russian general will be issuing orders to your troops, and the day after tomorrow it will turn out that you are not even president.”

It’s an almost relatable sentiment, really. Who doesn’t value autonomy and freedom of action? It’s a cruel world that imposes power from the top down while enforcing accountability from the bottom up. If only it were possible to ensure that power and accountability went both ways.