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Leonid Bershidsky

Putin's Hawks Got the Confirmation They Wanted

The Russian president defeated his strongest opponent -- voter apathy.
The only game in town.

The only game in town.

Photographer: Mikhail Svetlov

The Russian presidential election that took place on Sunday was a fake one, but its outcome is real enough. It clearly demonstrated that a majority of Russians accept the rules imposed on them by President Vladimir Putin. That in itself is a kind of democratic choice, with clear implications for Putin's enemies inside and outside Russia.

The election was fake because Putin's most vocal and most politically talented rival, Alexei Navalny, wasn't allowed to run because of a trumped-up criminal conviction. It was fake because the "opposing candidates" were hand-picked by the Kremlin and because the majority of Russian media are under direct or indirect Kremlin control. It was also fake because of a fierce administrative pressure on Russia's millions of government-dependent voters -- public servants, students, workers at state-controlled enterprises -- to turn out, and because at many polling stations, especially those where the fragile Russian opposition had no observers, ballot boxes were stuffed