The US elections are a high-risk political struggle in Russia


Seven hours into the YouTube marathon on Leonid Volkov’s election night, viewers waking up in Russia were asking who had won.

“We don’t know,” said bleary-eyed Volkov. “This is what you call an unpredictable election.”

Volkov is one of the best assistants to Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, and his nightly live stream on the US presidential election deviated from the typical online Navalny team fare on corrupt oligarchs and local officials trampling democratic principles. .

In Russia, the grueling aftermath of US Election Day has become the focus of a full-fledged domestic political struggle, fueling a debate over whether Russia’s tightly planned political landscape has unique advantages over US democracy.

For President Vladimir Putin’s defenders, President Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud in his contest against former Vice President Joe Biden have emerged as perhaps the best proof that democracy is a recipe for disaster.

Follow the latest news on the US elections here

Putin’s opponents are responding with their own narrative: the sheer unpredictability and tinge of chaos surrounding the world’s most significant elections underscore the greatness of a free system.

“Compare this with the most shameful ‘elections’ that Putin and his clique have organized for us,” another opposition politician, Gennadi Gudkov, wrote on Twitter Thursday, “with a result worked out in advance by swindlers from the Central Election Commission. the orders from the Kremlin! “

The stakes in how the Russians interpret the American election process this year are high, and Putin’s allies know it. Pro-democracy activists in Russia and around the world have long been concerned that unrest in the West – and Trump’s weakening of American institutions – could discredit liberal ideals in their countries.

“All this stuff, Trump’s criticisms, works de facto to justify Russian authoritarianism,” said Alexander Kynev, a Russian political scientist. “Everything finds very fertile ground in Russia because we harbor mass mistrust in our elections.”

Russia is a democracy on paper, but Putin largely eliminated democratic freedoms at the start of his 20 years of rule. The country still holds elections, with opposition candidates generally selected by the authorities to provide a facade of choice. Only in very rare cases do they win.

But many Russians are interested in how democracy can work and what a political battle really looks like, Volkov said, explaining why he embarked on his YouTube broadcast marathon. “For us”, he said, on the contrary, “it is a huge triumph when we manage to register a candidate”.

Made with Flourish

Kremlin allies, however, saw this week’s elections as an opportunity to make Western democracy prone to chaos, as opposed to the stability offered by Putin.

Margarita Simonyan, the director of state-owned television network RT, tweeted Wednesday evening that the US elections “were neither free nor fair.” Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent talk show host, said the United States had “managed to strike a crushing blow against the confidence that remained in the election process itself.”

Trump’s claims of voter fraud have allowed Kremlin allies, who are used to hearing allegations of rigged elections by pro-Western opponents, to fundamentally reverse the situation.

On Russian state television, conductors and analysts commenting on the American elections used the same terms that the Russian opposition routinely uses to describe falsified elections at home. There was talk of “vbrosy”, or ballot filling, and the use of “administrative resources”, the common practice of rulers throughout the post-Soviet space to use the tools of government to win elections and obstruct opponents.

“Even if Biden is declared the winner, Trump will have all the reasons and skills, including his infamous administrative resources, to soak the Democrats in the mud in the most incredible way,” said pro-Kremlin expert Alexei Mukhin of Rossiya – 24 state-controlled news channel Thursday.

The voting pattern in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – with Trump in the lead, followed by Biden’s quick gains from absent votes – has led Putin’s allies to echo the ballot-filling allegations the opposition often makes in Russia and Belarus.

Trump’s interrogation of the integrity of the vote count, an MP from the ruling party named Oleg Morozov thundered on Thursday on a state TV talk show, evoked the recent upheaval in another post-Soviet country: Kyrgyzstan. .

“We are witnessing the Kyrgyzstan of the American electoral system,” Morozov said. “The main pillar that America has always relied on has been questioned.”

The Kremlin said it would wait for “some sort of clarity” in the election results before commenting, but the Foreign Office jumped at the opportunity to criticize the United States with the same kind of language that some Russians believe Washington have long, and mistakenly, lectured with.

“With opponents to the office of president roughly equal to each other, the obvious flaws in the American electoral system become evident,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “This is partially explained by the archaic legal code and its ambiguity on fundamental issues, as we have said more than once.”

But the images on Russian television of polls across America diligently counting ballots may have told their own story of how democracy works.

Critics of the Kremlin have almost no ability to use TV airwaves, so some have tried to use social media to dismiss the narrative of election fraud in America. Vladimir Milov, a Navalny adviser, wrote on Facebook that American ballot counting could be trusted, unlike Russia, where remote voting is particularly prone to forgery.

“This is not Russia, where they hide ballot papers at night in a safe that the chairman of the election committee has a key to,” Milov wrote.

Putin, for his part, won the right to run for two more six-year terms in a constitutional referendum this summer that was carefully orchestrated to secure a victory for him.

But if Putin decides not to run again, he would lead a privileged existence unavailable even to a post-presidential Trump, whose company faces a civil investigation by the New York Attorney General.

A bill presented to the Russian parliament on Thursday would give former presidents lifetime immunity from prosecution.


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