Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said that protestors have “every right to protest as long as they do so within the law” and seemed to affirm the right of the opposition to air their political views. He also offered to meet with opposition leaders to hear their concerns about last Sunday’s Duma elections.
We can only assume that this means he will meet with opposition leaders after they are released from jail as several were arrested in the days right after the election. The Prime Minister affirmed the right of citizens to protest but failed to disclose that protest laws in Russia are restrictive and oddly, when groups do file applications for a protest only rarely are such permits approved, effectively making any protest an illegal activity.
Mr. Putin also lashed at at Washington, specifically blaming US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the unrest by saying that she had spoken too soon after the election about election violations instead of waiting to hear from international observers on how the elections were conducted. Secretary Clinton did indeed speak swiftly on the election results and perhaps should have waited a day or so, but at the same time Mr. Putin conveniently failed to mention that many of those international observers were hampered in getting to the election stations and several key observers were detained when attempting to gain entry into Russia.
What is clear is that the “reset” between Washington and Moscow is history. In fact, it was never reset in Mr. Putin’s view anyway and as he approaches re-election to Russia’s top post in March of 2012, he is free to express his true feelings about Obama’s attempts at a “reset” between the two powers. Putin has never liked Obama and we use the expression “never liked” very lightly. Even without a flawed election the return of Mr. Putin to the Presidency was destined to end the “reset” anyway.
Over the coming months you can expect Mr. Putin to privately express his desire to the US administration that Secretary Clinton be replaced. With his own re-election in question, US President Obama will not likely act on that request and so relations between Moscow and Washington will continue to sour. Obama will instead act on the planned change of Ambassador to Russia, pulling current Ambassador John Beyrle in favour of Michael McFaul, a senior adviser to Obama on Russia. McFaul’s approval is hung up in the US Senate.
Frankly, McFaul is no match for Ambassador Beyrle, and the Obama move will be a serious mistake long-term. Three years into the Obama administration is a little late for rewarding first term election supporters and Obama would be wise to withdraw the McFaul nomination.