Russia has been downgraded by Freedom House from “partially free” to “unfree” with good reason: regional and municipal officials are no longer elected, but appointed by the Kremlin. Opposition candidates are excluded from election lists, denied access to the media, beaten and harassed. Journalists are intimidated or killed with no repercussions. There is no rule of law.
The loss of Russian democracy is the work of Vladimir Putin and his “KGB state.” His partner, President Dimitry Medvedev, in the “tandem” that rules Russia is on public record as being opposed to these developments and promises to do better. If Medvedev is sincere, he has the constitutional authority as the duly elected president of the Russian Federation to restore Russian democracy, which he can do by issuing the following four orders:
First, fire his Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.
The average tenure of Russian prime ministers is about a year and a half, and it is the prime minister who takes the fall when things go wrong. Medvedev can cite two reasons for firing Putin: First, Putin’s criticism of his Libyan foreign policy was an act of insubordination. Second, the Russian economy under Putin’s tutelage has suffered a crisis more severe than its neighbors and is still as dependent on oil as it was a decade ago.
Second, issue an amnesty for Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
It is clear to all that Khodorkovsky has been twice sentenced on sham charges under Putin’s direction for daring to challenge him. The Khodorkovsky case clearly reveals Russia’s lack of rule of law and discourages foreign and domestic investment. Khodorkovsky’s release signals that Russia intends to abide by the rule of law.
Third, order the Central Election Commission to allow opposition candidates on election lists and access to the media.
In previous national, regional, and municipal elections, opposition candidates have been arbitrarily excluded from election lists by illegal or arbitrary means and they have been denied access to the media. Such an order would tell the world that Russia intends on having free elections.
Fourth, order the police, militia and security forces to honor the constitutional guarantee of freedom of assembly.
Attempts to organize political demonstrations have been violently suppressed by the police and paramilitary thugs despite the explicit guarantee of freedom of assembly in the Russian constitution. A key safeguard of democracy is the freedom of assembly.
It is time to call Medvedev’s bluff. Does he only like to talk about lofty principles such as free elections and rule of law or is he willing to actually do something, even if the course is risky, to say the least. If Medvedev is brave enough to issue these four orders, he would go down as a significant figure in history.