Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Report, If True, Spells Big Trouble

It's such an explosive topic that they call it "political dynamite," and yet they bury it in dead center of a 1,500-word article on page 4. The "they" in question is Izvestia, usually considered the most authoritative Russian newspaper, which on Wednesday saw fit to hide the startling conclusion of a panel of experts attached to President Boris Yeltsin's administration: that the constitutional referendum carried out in December was invalid. In another country, a claim as sensational as this would have been splashed across the front page -- unless there was reason to doubt its veracity. In this case, Izvestia does not give its readers enough information even to establish the seriousness of its report. It names only one of the "experts" in the panel and says nothing about when or why it was set up. What it does say is that, despite official reports to the contrary, less than 50 percent of the electorate cast ballots in the constitutional referendum on Dec. 12 -- a finding that, if correct, would invalidate the new Russian Constitution as well as all political actions that stemmed from its adoption. Leading up to this is a long prelude showing how members of various local electoral commissions cooked the books -- mainly adding votes for candidates they favored. But nothing prepares the reader for what comes next: that 9 million voters -- or nearly 10 percent of the electorate -- somehow got added to the turnout figures without ever actually going to the polls. Izvestia quotes Alexander Sobyanin, the head of the panel of experts, as saying that only 49 million of the 106.2 million registered voters, or 46.1 percent, took part in the referendum, and not the 58.2 million, or 54.8 percent, cited by the official Central Electoral Commission after the vote. "These figures are political dynamite," Izvestia comments, adding that if less than 50 percent of the electorate took part in the referendum, institutions like the State Du-ma and Federation Council -- Russia's legislature -- would have no legal foundation. In fact, if the referendum was indeed invalid, matters would be far worse: Russia would be on the rocks again. The modicum of stability the country has achieved following the wrenching political battles of last year would be thrown into jeopardy if the constitution was ruled to be null and void. What would come next is anybody's guess. Izvestia does interview Nikolai Ryabov, who headed the official election commission that ruled the referendum valid. But he has not a single word to say on the constitution. This is irresponsible journalism on the part of a respected newspaper. And as for Yeltsin's administration, which apparently empaneled the experts, it is more than political dynamite -- it is Russian roulette.