Rice commended Medvedev, Russia’s first deputy prime minister, as a “very intelligent person” and a politician “of another generation.” For Putin and the Russian siloviki (secret police operatives) who have consolidated power and are maneuvering to ensure that the regime retains control via an undemocratic succession, Rice’s remarks could not have been better timed. Medvedev has not begun campaigning. In fact, Medvedev is not even an official candidate in the March presidential election — he has yet to give his nomination papers to the Central Electoral Commission.
So what prompted Rice to preempt the judgment of the Russian people? Why such a rush to endorse Putin’s man? Rice may well have formed a positive impression of Medvedev in recent years, but why express it now, right after Putin’s announcement? Other public praise has come from such esteemed men as the Chechen thug‐dictator Ramzan Kadyrov. Why is the U.S. secretary of state joining his company?
Rice’s endorsement is all the more breathtaking considering it comes in the wake of a parliamentary election that was full of heavy‐handed intimidation tactics and that European human rights observers called the dirtiest election yet in the post‐Soviet period. “The State Duma election in the Russian Federation on the 2nd December 2007 was not fair and failed to meet many [Organization for Security and Cooperation] and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections,” the joint observer mission declared after the polls closed.
Yes, Rice has said she hopes the time will come when Russia will have “a presidential election where there is a realistic chance for a really contested election.” But praising the Kremlin’s candidate won’t help bring such an election to fruition. And if she saw an appropriate occasion to express concern about the state of Russian democracy, why not talk about all candidates for the presidency?
Why not support instead a democratic presidential hopeful, such as the Other Russia coalition leader Garry Kasparov? Kasparov was recently jailed because he participated in a peaceful demonstration for democracy. Putin’s government has blocked Kasparov from running for president next year and opposition Web sites have been attacked, yet Rice complements Medvedev and cites his work “to wire the country with Internet.” Is Kasparov, the reigning world chess champion for 15 years, not intelligent enough for Rice?