Russia’s parliamentary elections, held December 7, produced a wave of alarmed reactions in the Western press that betray the ignorance and hypocrisy of Western elite thinking regarding Russia and the West’s—particularly Washington’s—relations with Moscow.

The Kremlin-backed United Russia party carried the day, winning nearly 38 percent of the vote, while other Kremlin-backed—or created—parties (the Liberal Democratic Party of “ultranationalist” Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the “left nationalist” Rodina bloc) took another 20 percent.  The Communists (KPRF), who had made the grave error of accepting financing from imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the two pro-Western “liberal” parties—Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (SPS), which had also defended “Khodor” (whose Yukos oil firm is under attack by the general prosecutor’s office)—were undermined by their own incompetent campaigns as well as the authorities’ skillful use of “administrative resources” (including, probably, election fraud) to ensure the desired election results.  The KPRF received about 13 percent of the vote, while neither Yabloko nor SPS crossed the five-percent threshold for representation in the Russian parliament.

The Washington Post whined that Vlad-imir Putin’s Kremlin was undermining the progress Boris Yeltsin had supposedly made in moving Russia toward “Western norms and human rights.”  Putin, it seems, was intent on “suppressing” a “more liberal and democratic” Russia that the Post thinks existed under Yeltsin.  The United States, according to the Post, should support programs designed to “foster . . . an independent civil society and free media” in Russia.  Others claimed the election results showed the triumph of authoritarian “Putinism” in the Land of the Firebird: Pentagon advisor Richard Perle and Republican Sen. John McCain, among others, have called for Russia to be kicked out of the Group of Eight in view of what McCain called a “creeping coup” against democracy and “market capitalism” in Russia (a reference to Khodorkovsky’s arrest).  Most critics were also alarmed by the successful exploitation of nationalist themes during the campaign.

The election results were, indeed, a triumph for what Russians have called “managed democracy.”  It is also true, however, that Kremlin “political technologists” began cooking up a plan for managing what passed for democracy under Yeltsin, a period that saw a legally elected parliament shelled into submission by “Czar Boris” in 1993.  As Yeltsin’s retirement approached in the late 90’s, the “family,” Yeltsin’s entourage, began testing plans for staging a “controlled reaction” that would harness and channel the country’s yearning for order as well as the growing nationalist mood in ways that would stabilize the postcommunist system (“the oligarchy”) and guarantee the safety of key family members.  Following the success of populist retired Gen. Aleksandr Lebed in the 1996 elections (he won 15 percent of the vote, siphoning voters away from Yeltsin’s KPRF rival), the family began a search for a reliable Yeltsin successor in the military and security agencies; Yeltsin stressed “patriotic” themes, especially in foreign policy; and the Kremlin made plans to manipulate the anti-oligarch mood.

These plans were fulfilled when ex-KGB officer Putin, whom Yeltsin appointed prime minister in 1999, was elected president in 2000.  Thereafter, the Kremlin backed legislation protecting Yeltsin and his relatives.  Eventually, particularly obnoxious oligarchs Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, who had fallen out with the family, were driven from Russia, and their assets were largely redistributed to more reliable Kremlin partners.  Both moves proved wildly popular with the Russian public and helped bolster Putin’s poll numbers.  The “controlled reaction” scenario had worked like a charm—which is why the Kremlin made use of it again during the recent campaign, with Khodorkovsky serving as the oligarch victim and the Kremlin-backed parties adopting an anti-oligarch campaign line.

Thus, it is more correct to say that the recent elections signal the triumph of Yeltsinism rather than that of Putinism.  And the West has again shown its penchant for hypocrisy and utter ignorance of foreign cultures.  While Yeltsin was making the right “democratic” noises and literally blasting the “red-brown” coalition of Communists and nationalists who opposed his “shock therapy” economic program—even as Western, especially U.S., “consultants” and Yeltsin’s cronies lined their pockets—the usual Western media suspects were singing his praises.  Sensible alternatives to Yeltsinism offered by patriotic Russians were ignored.  Had those alternative programs—more gradualist in nature and more in keeping with Russian sensibilities—been implemented, Russia may not have been a democracy or a model of free-market economics in the West’s eyes, but she might have been a better place.

In a note appearing recently on Johnson’s Russia List (, Sharon Tennison, who has conducted research on Russian voter preferences, had some commonsense advice for Western elites: “It’s both arrogant and dangerous for the West to stand back and continually cast stones . . . at Russia . . . We can’t change them.  Our taunts can only belittle, irritate and distance them . . . It’s too dangerous to go there again.  We need to stop it now, in the early stages, and find more constructive ways to deal with the reality that exists.”  If such advice had been heeded in the 1990’s, Russia, and Russia-U.S. relations, might be better off.