Leading article: Mr Putin has been given far too easy a ride

Share

The people of Chechnya voted yesterday for a regional parliament - at least some of them did. The official turnout was just short of 60 per cent; but Western reporters and opposition figures dispute this. The OSCE was not on hand to authenticate the process or otherwise. It had declined to send observers, partly on security grounds; partly, perhaps, so as not to lend credibility to a process that was so thoroughly flawed.

Whatever the real turnout, and whatever the results, the greater dishonesty will have been perpetrated not in this cruelly devastated region, but in the Kremlin. Even before the voting, Moscow presented this election as the last stage in the "normalisation" of political life in Chechnya. Over the past two years, Chechens have voted for a president and in two referendums. Now, with the election of a two-chamber legislature, Chechnya is deemed to have the mechanisms of a functioning democracy in place. If President Putin truly believes this, he is sadly deluded.

There has been no political process worthy of the name in Chechnya for a decade. The elections that have been held have been restricted to candidates, parties and issues that presume Russia's continued suzerainty. The exclusion of all real opposition only ensures that the armed conflict continues. This opposition may be weak and lacking in leadership at present, but the forces that drive it remain. Its exclusion is not in the interests of democracy in Chechnya, but nor is it in the long-term interests of Russia. Forcing opposition underground, allows all sides to distort its strength. Any real talking is postponed.

The US and Britain, it has to be said, have given Mr Putin far too easy a ride over Chechnya. After 11 September 2001, they allowed Russia to shelter from censure over Chechnya by claiming that Russia, like the US, was under threat from international terrorism. Nor did Chechen separatists further their cause with the siege and killing at Beslan, which only supported Russia's case against Chechen terrorism. Thereafter, neither President Bush nor Tony Blair has publicly taken Mr Putin to task over Chechnya.

There are nonetheless home truths about his stated aspiration to make Russia "a normal country" that Western leaders have every right, indeed, a responsibility, to raise with Mr Putin. The unacceptable conduct of Russian troops and the effort to impose a sham democracy in Chechnya head the list. But there are others. The former head of the Yukos oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, may not be the most appealing of characters, but he had the right to fair treatment under the law. He is now in a Siberian prison, after a judicial process that would have raised very loud and public Western protests had it taken place in the Soviet Union.

Ordinary Russians may be free to speak their minds in a way they were not able to even 15 years ago, but under Mr Putin their access to alternative views in the national media has been sharply curtailed. The Kremlin insists that non-state broadcasters must be able to pay their way; but the few that do still feel under pressure to trim their reporting. The dismissal of one of the country's most best-known independent presenters, apparently over a report involving a minister's relative, is only the latest evidence of Russia's media anticipating the descent of the Kremlin's heavy hand.

All this might matter less if Britain could demonstratively distance itself from Russia. But the very opposite is true. Russia will increasingly wield the upper hand, as it stands to become a major provider of our energy needs into the future. We need to speak out in forthright terms about Mr Putin's failings now, rather than wait until even more leverage resides in Moscow.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back