| OXFORD, England - The most important aspect of this month's
Duma elections was not the trouncing of the Russian Communist Party or
the Liberal Democratic Party but the virtual elimination of the Yabloko
group, led by Grigori Yavlinsky.
Yabloko has been far and away the most consistent supporter of democratic
values in Russian politics. Yavlinsky had stood up for universal human
rights, for incorrupt politics and administration, for the rule of law
and social justice. Although he never came close to winning the presidential
races against either Boris Yeltsin or Vladimir Putin, his participation
at least meant that decent values were conserved in the country's discourse.
In putting an end to the roller-coaster uncertainties of the Yeltsin
Putin has introduced an authoritarianism that bodes ill for Russia's future.
United Russia, the big winner in the elections, will not challenge it.
encouraged the party's formation without actually joining it. On television,
he was visibly delighted with the election results, though his words were
scarcely emotional. With the icy calculation of a martial-arts champion,
Putin looked forward to a more orderly future for Russia. He contends
period of political stability is needed for the current phase of economic
growth to be made permanent. He has earned golden opinions from President
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. On foreign trips, Putin never
fails to assert his credentials as a practitioner of democratic values.
The case for Putin is built on the fact that United Russia defeated
threat posed by extremist forces. The second-biggest party in the Duma
the Russian Communist Party, but it has lost voters since the last election,
and its leader, Gennadi Zyuganov, has the charisma of a stiff-shirt
schoolmaster. Its electoral appeal is heavily tilted toward the older
generation, and as pensioners die off or get disappointed by successive
defeats at the polls, the Communists look like a spent force.
It is true that Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist leader of the
Democratic Party, has seen a resurgence of support. But he is more clown
than serious contender for supreme office. No one seriously expects Putin,
who remains popular in the polls, to have trouble in securing a second
Undoubtedly, Putin has reason to assert that the mega-rich businessmen
he has been pursuing through Russian and foreign courts took unfair
advantage of the privatization scheme introduced by Yeltsin in the 1990s.
The Russian Federation is immensely rich in natural resources. Oil, gas
timber exist in superabundance. Ostensibly, every Russian citizen was
to have an equal pack of shares. In reality, those with political influence
or with a sharp eye for opportunity elbowed the rest of society out of
feast of assets undergoing redistribution. Privatization was accompanied
massive fraud and vicious violence. Yeltsin condoned this, especially
he came to need the businessmen's funds to win reelection in 1996.