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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Takes Us Back to the Future

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Vladimir Putin's victory in Sunday's presidential election was as predictable as it was overwhelming, although early returns showed the result falling well short of the Kremlin's reported goal of securing the support of 50 percent plus of the entire electorate. However, the farcical nature of this predetermined ballot ("vybory bez vybora") casts a long shadow over the legitimacy of Putin's second term.

The president's appeal to the country to get out and vote, broadcast just days before the election -- and repeated ad nauseam on state-controlled television -- was a particularly rich spectacle. Having done his level best to produce an election devoid of any competition or substance, Putin called on voters to exercise their constitutional right, saying: "The vote of each and everyone one of us has enormous importance. ... Only citizens' support will make it possible to determine the country's course for years to come. ... Participation in elections is a unique opportunity to influence the course of events in the country."

This sounded particularly cynical following an election campaign in which the president did not condescend to campaign, refused to participate in televised debates and did not even present a proper election manifesto. The Kremlin kept tight control of media coverage and just about every other aspect of the election.

Even though Putin is extremely popular and would surely have won anyway in a relatively free and fair election, the Kremlin felt the need for heavy-handed intervention in the electoral process, which was mitigated only by an effort to provide a few rival candidates, such as Irina Khakamada and Nikolai Kharitonov, with token television coverage.

The Kremlin's behavior not only reveals the degree of its occupants' insecurity, it also provides a clear indication that Putin and his entourage are playing for keeps in a game that stretches to 2008 and well beyond. The system of "managed democracy" in place has a natural tendency towards heavy-handedness because nothing can be left to chance -- and that means keeping a tight lid on any rival candidate, such as Sergei Glazyev, who could conceivably become a threat to Putin installing his chosen successor in 2008.

However, for all of those who cling to the myth that Boris Yeltsin was a great democrat, let's not forget that wholesale corruption of the election process dates back to 1996 (if not 1993), and that most of the tools and techniques used today were developed back then.

So where do we go from here? How long will it be before Russia breaks with tsarist and Soviet traditions that leave the country's fate hanging on the whims of one man?