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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Heart Pierced by Putin Consolidation

Ever since I announced that I was the democratic opposition candidate in Russia's presidential elections, my friends in the West have asked me why I'm bothering to run when everyone says that President Vladimir Putin is certain to be re-elected. Russia and the West, I reply, need a legitimate independent candidate who is not afraid to challenge Putin.

I am against Putin because he does not keep his word. Where is the quick victory in the Chechen war? -- it was on the crest of this promise that Putin sailed into the Kremlin. The quick victory is impossible because ethnic problems cannot be solved by force. Instead, there are thousands of dead Russians and Chechens, thousands of lives ruined by the war.

Where is our restored superpower dominance and national dignity? Are we to find it in hysterical utterances of Kremlin jesters or in the ravings of swashbuckling nationalists? These notions have become cheap currency for improving Putin's image.

Where are our renewed armed forces? Where is the economic prosperity we've been promised? Why is it that while oil dollars flow in, the number of poor people rises sharply? Why is the level of education falling so catastrophically? And where is the "supremacy of the law" that Putin is so fond of discussing? We have two groups of oligarchs: those in favor and those out of favor.

Freedom of speech, so recently acquired by our nation, is being destroyed, as well as the freedom to elect people to positions of authority and the freedom of political and economic competition. Those in opposition are branded criminals and are persecuted by those in power. Blackmail, murder and exile have become the principal methods used by the Kremlin to oppose independent people.

Television, now the state's puppet, drones on about the fight against corruption and crime, while the country is swept by extortionate officials and by terror.

Where is the revival of Russian statehood? Its heart has been pierced by Putin's consolidation of power. The Federation Council is no longer an institution capable of defending key political and economic interests of the regions. Our State Duma has ceased to express the people's will. The courts have become auxiliaries to the omnipotent executive. The independent media have been destroyed. The FSB, the Prosecutor's Office and the Interior Ministry are free to do as they like, unchecked and unrestrained.

If our fundamental rights as citizens of a great country are not respected by its ruling leaders, what hope can there be for human development if Putin remains in office for four more years -- or longer?

Ivan Rybkin is a presidential candidate. This comment is reprinted from Tuesday's edition of The Wall Street Journal.