So Vladimir Putin was re-appointed by the Russian State as its President.
Let’s start with something Garry Kasparov Tweeted about Putin’s election.
“Every free world leader who congratulates Putin on his “election” is complicit in his global war on democracy. They undermine their own status as freely elected leaders.”
Now let’s see how our free world leaders did respond.
The re-appointment was carried out under the thin veil of an election. This was an election in which the only credible opposition candidate, Alex Navalny, was barred from standing after trumped-up, and deeply ironic, ‘embezzlement’ charges, by the Russian State.
So it was basically an election with only one real candidate. In case that wasn’t security enough, it was also an election in which voting slips were brazenly stuffed into ballot boxes by election officials, as seen in videos like this one. In something reminiscent of a Roman Emperor’s Bread and Circuses, the Russian State also organised entertainment, cheap food, and other treats at polling stations, to lure out voters.
There was never any doubt Putin would get most of the votes, but he needed a large turnout to give him legitimacy as he and his cronies continue to embezzle Russia’s resources into off-shore accounts, as was revealed in the Panama Papers leak.
Putin’s Russian State has been doing everything possible to damage the legitimacy of Western democracies and elections, as I outlined in my piece ‘Sleepwalking into War.’ Now the West has stepped up to support the legitimacy of his ‘managed’ democracy, in which opposition politicians are assassinated, imprisoned, or set up, and in which journalists who write about such things are murdered.
Obviously the world’s dictators and demagogues piled in to congratulate him, as well they would. But the West had a chance to demonstrate its anger with Russia, for disrupting elections, and for assassinating people in the UK. Western leaders could have simply said nothing, not reacted, not congratulated him. They could have robbed him of the chance to claim his fake victory was legitimised in the eyes of the world. Sadly three of the most powerful Western leaders totally failed to do this.
So here’s a summary of how some of our Western leaders stood up to the world’s biggest bully.
Donald Trump, President of America
Despite being warned explicitly in a briefing not to congratulate Putin, Trump went straight in and called him up to … congratulate him. He did not mention the recent attempted murder with nerve agent in London. He did not question Putin’s abuses of Russia’s election process, or of America’s.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission
Juncker summed up Europe’s disdain for Russia’s overt meddling with the French and German elections, stoking the fire of the troubles in Catalonia, and undermining European support in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and more, by Tweeting a letter to Putin saying, “congratulations on your re-election…”
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
Merkel’s last election was the subject of direct attacks by Putin’s Russia. Despite that, she wrote to him to ‘wish him well,’ according to British media, whilst Russian media quoted her writing to him, “with all my heart I congratulate you on your next reelection Russian president.”
The reference by the Russian news agency Tass demonstrates why it is important that our leaders are careful with their words, and how their polite and diplomatic response to his re-appointment is manipulated by Putin and his media to use genuinely elected leaders abroad to legitimise him at home.
It is disappointing that our media and our leaders are so bad at the game Putin is playing them at. They could choose not to refer to what happened as an ‘election,’ because it was clearly a coronation, or re-appointment, as Russian activists have chosen to call it. They could avoid congratulating him, or even just not recognise it happened, just saying nothing.
Putin thrives on playing Western media and Leaders, tricking them into legitimising him to his own people. We have played right into that, yet again, and it is pathetic.
For more on these topics, click the links, and check out:
New Yorker on Putin outwitting Megan Kelly in an interview