Elections in Russia: how many ballots can you fill out?

There’s a saying in Russia: “You don’t get to choose your political leaders anymore than you get to choose your parents.” Or something like that.

Red Square in Moscow

So it’s not surprising that Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party took home a plurality of votes in Russia’s parliamentary elections last week. What is surprising is that with all the ways politicians (especially Russian politicians) can tamper with elections these days, United Russia still couldn’t take home 50% of the vote.

Here’s some pretty blatant ballot stuffing going on at a voting precinct in Russia. The guy doing the stuffing (to be precise, in the video he’s only filling out or falsifying ballots) is totally nonchalant about it all. When he realizes he’s being filmed, he just hides the falsified documents under a different pile of papers in his desk.

According to a Russian friend of mine, who interpreted some of the dialogue for me, the guy recording the video announces that he and everyone else in the room are witnessing a crime – that the man in the suit is filling out ballots. The guy in the white shirt who comes along later is an observer from the Communist Party. He asks the suit to show him the ballots, but the suit shows him only some other ballots, not the ones he was filling in. Towards the end of the clip, the suit repeatedly tells the guy recording the video to go to his room.

I don’t think telling someone who’s accusing you of a crime to “go to your room” is really the most effective way to respond to such a situation, but then I’m not Russian.

In any event, protesters are continuing to contest the election results in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and throughout the country – though, as far as gather, most anti-Putin sentiment lies in these two major cities. I wouldn’t bet on Putin putting up with these protests much longer than it’s necessary for him to at least pretend that some semblance of democratic norms, like the right to speak freely, exists.

What’s sad is that a corrupt autocrat like Putin can travel the world freely, while similarly corrupt autocrats like Belarus’ Lukashenko are barred from entering the EU. My guess is that while the US is talking up the fraudulent Russian elections, the EU will mostly leave its accusations behind closed doors. After all, the EU and Russia recently opened the Nord Stream pipeline, which allows gas to flow directly from Russia to the EU, bypassing those pesky eastern European states. And there’s a southern pipeline set to open next year.

It’s generally considered neither good diplomacy nor good politics to question the activities of leaders who control resources you rely on. And while the EU relies on Russian oil and gas; the US looks to Canada, Mexico and OPEC. While the US surly won’t overplay their hand here, they also don’t really have to worry about the gas being cut off.

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