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Tom Zirpoli: Putin election no victory for Russia

Two weeks ago Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared "We've had a victory" after he won a third term as President of Russia. But the outcome was a victory for Putin, not for Russia.

Putin has slowly and methodically dissolved most remnants of democracy in Russia. Presidential elections there are a fraud now as Putin has manipulated the electoral process so as to make it impossible for credible opponents to win a fair election. In addition, he has forcefully gained control of the media in Russia; Russians are now fed a steady stream of pro-Putin propaganda.

While once there were at least local elections in Russia, Putin has replaced democratically elected governors and other representatives with hand-picked cronies.

Nothing gets done in Russia without Putin's approval. And those who get in his way or challenge him are frequently jailed.

It was not an "open and honest fight" as Putin described his most recent presidential victory. You cannot have an open and honest fight when the president is allowed to screen opposition candidates who might be difficult to beat. It is not an open fight when opponents are not allowed to advertise on the government controlled media.

But even with all of these advantages, international observers still observed significant ballot stuffing and other irregularities in one out of three polling stations monitored. One observer noted that some polling stations reported more extra Putin ballots added to the voting box than there were registered voters.

One might think that if you have the power to screen your own opponents and control the media, that you would not need to resort to ballot stuffing. But Putin takes no chances.

In Moscow, where Putin is unpopular and where he was expected to receive less than 25 percent of the vote, observers noted that thousands of Putin supporters were bused into the city by the government from the countryside and from other cities to vote a second time for Putin in the capital.

Putin, a 59-year-old former KGB officer, said that he would appoint Dmitry Medvedev to serve as his prime minister. Of course, this is not a surprise. Medvedev kept Putin's presidential seat warm while Putin served a term as Medvedev's Prime Minister. But let there be no doubt. While Medvedev was president, Putin was in firm control of Russia.

Putin stated during his acceptance speech that "Our people are ready for renewal." But one has to wonder how much renewal is possible with Putin and Medvedev playing musical chairs as President and Prime Minister.

As stated by Fareed Zakaria of CNN News, "Now that Vladimir Putin has been re-elected, Russia is going to look remarkably similar to before he was elected. Why? Because Putin, in a sense, never left. While he ceded the presidency to Medvedev for a short time," Zakaria said, "it was really a charade."

As one protester stated after the election results were announced: "We have no legitimate government. We have no legitimate president. He who has declared himself president tonight is a usurper."

Putin does have some fans in Russia. He is charismatic. He certainly charmed former President George W. Bush, who said that he could look into Putin's soul and see a man he could trust. Bush was not the only world leader fooled by Putin's charm. But Putin has been a disappointment for those who had hoped that democracy could flourish in Russia.

After Putin's first election, many Russians believed that he was the man who would both bring back the good old days of Russia's position as a world power and guide them toward a democratic society. But as Putin accepts a third term as president, few Russians now view his "election" as a victory for their homeland.

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