'The Celebration Of Democracy Is Over': In Russia, Gloating, Shock, Laments As Mayhem Mars End Of U.S. Electoral Process
By Mike Eckel January 07, 2021
For some in Russia, the mayhem in Washington, D.C. and the chaotic end of the U.S. election cycle was cause for gloating: "America no longer charts the course, and therefore has lost all right to set it."
For others, it was a lament that the United States saw its democratic tradition marred by violence as supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump refused to let him go: "It's no small propaganda benefit for this rotten regime."
The U.S. political turmoil that briefly disrupted the final certification process of Joe Biden's electoral victory is only beginning to reverberate. A day after, as Moscow and the entire country remain in semi-hibernation for a two-week holiday period, Russian critics, pundits, and admirers of American politics began to process the fallout.
For Kremlin allies, it was a net benefit for President Vladimir Putin, who has championed stability and prosperity for Russians -- and continuity for himself as Russia's preeminent leader.
"The celebration of democracy is over," said Konstantin Kosachyov, a veteran lawmaker who chairs the foreign affairs committee in the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament.
"This, alas, is actually the bottom, I say this without a shadow of gloating. America no longer charts the course, and therefore has lost all right to set it. And even more so to impose on others," he wrote on Facebook.
"The United States certainly cannot now impose its electoral standards on other countries and claim to be the world's 'beacon of democracy'," Leonid Slutsky, Kosachyov's counterpart in the State Duma, the lower chamber, was quoted as telling the state RIA-Novosti news agency.
Duma Deputy Chairman Andrei Klimov voiced a longstanding Russian allegation that the popular uprisings over the past two decades that toppled governments in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan -- known as "color revolutions" -- were all instigated by the United States.
"The boomerang of the color revolutions is turning back on the United States," Klimov was quoted as saying. "All this threatens to turn into a crisis in the American system of power."
Russia's sharp-tongued Foreign Ministry spokeswoman used the opportunity to assert that the United States political system was "archaic."
"This is an internal matter for the United States," Maria Zakharova said in a statement to the state news agency TASS.
"At the same time, we draw attention to the fact that the electoral system in the United States is archaic, it does not meet modern democratic standards, creating opportunities for numerous violations, and the American media have become an instrument for political struggle," she said.
The head of the state-controlled news channel RT responded with biting mockery to a lament that the United States would never be able claim itself as a model of democracy.
It never was, Margarita Simonyan said in a post to Twitter. "It was just a matter of time for you to actually see it."
A Gift For The Kremlin?
Grigory Golosov, chairman of the department of political science at the European University at St. Petersburg, said the chaos was a gift for the Kremlin, which has often tried to paint Russia's political system -- once described by a Kremlin aide as "managed democracy" -- as no different than Western democracies.
Still, he told RFE/RL, Russian opposition groups who are gearing up for the national parliamentary elections scheduled for September would likely still be able to draw lessons from how competitive the overall electoral process was -- with one political party successfully and transparently competing against another one -- and that there was no widescale ballot-rigging or vote stuffing of the sort that Russia sees routinely.
And Golosov argued that while there were casualties in the U.S. chaos -- four people died, including one from a gunshot wound, and dozens injured -- a similar scenario would have been far worse in Russia.
"Ask any Russian citizen: what would happen if this had occurred" in Russia, Golosov said. "Any Russian would respond: there would be bloodshed, massive bloodshed."
"Trump's departure in hot pursuit of unrest in the capital of the 'citadel of democracy' will allow Russia's lifelong ruler to ask his subjects a new version of what has been his favorite demagogic question for some time now," wrote Georgy Kunadze, who served as deputy foreign minister in the early 1990s: "Do you want what happened in Washington to happen here?"
"And that's no small propaganda benefit for this rotten regime," he said on Facebook.
In a later interview with RFE/RL, Kunadze said that question was one Putin and his advisers asked publicly in 2014 amid the mass demonstrations in Ukraine that culminated in violent street clashes and the ouster of the country's pro-Russian president. The Kremlin has called the ouster a "putsch" and alleged the clashes were fomented by the United States and the West.
He also said that any benefit Russian opposition groups could draw from the American political process was minimal.
"In general, the Russian view is whoever is president, prime minister, the number one man in the government -- whoever he is, he may do whatever he wants, whatever he pleases," Kunadze said.
Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor who is now a political commentator, offered a darkly humorous parallel to the attempted coup d' etat in Moscow in August 1991, when hard-line communist officials tried to overthrow then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The very same country whose military was unable to crush the anti-coup protesters in 1991 "is now rushing to teach good manners to the Americans," he wrote on Facebook.
Even before the November election, some leading Russian politicians were openly voicing disdain for Biden, given that U.S. president-elect was, and is, expected to take a harder line toward the Kremlin.
And just days before the final congressional certification, when Biden's victory was already a given, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a veteran political leader who nearly always sides with Kremlin initiatives, made the outlandish proposal that Trump find a way to stay in office.
"Russia can support him, agree on financial support, for example, from Arab sheikhs. And in return, we do not need anything, because Trump is already sick and disgusted with the current situation. Now the main thing that an American president needs is to show willpower to stay in the presidency," he wrote.
Other observers found glimmers of hope in the fact that, in the end, the political process more or less worked. The election occurred, the vote tallies were counted and were certified by the states, the Electoral College cast its formal ballots, and Congress ultimately approved that vote -- and now there is a transition of power from one political group to a rival group.
"This drama was neither a crisis of American democracy, nor a delegitimization of elections, nor an attempted coup d'état," Aleksei Makarkin, a political analyst with the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, said in a commentary on Ekho Moskvy radio. "This is a drama of people who considered themselves the majority and did not want to admit the terrible truth for themselves: they became a minority."
Dmitry Gudkov, who was all but hounded out of Russia's parliament for his opposition to some Kremlin policies, said the confusion in Washington was heartening for what it showed about the U.S. political system.
U.S. law enforcement and other security departments and agencies "know that there is a president, but there is also a parliament. And then there are the courts. And all these institutions…hold each other by the throats," he said in a post to Facebook. "And this is very good."
But he said, this type of arrangement is just a "Christmas fairy tale" for Russia, where there is only one center of authority, Gudkov said. "Appeals to conscience and respect for the law will not help here" in Russia.
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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