New Democratic Coalition to Test the Kremlin

At last, some good news has emerged from Russia. Despite escalating political repression, war in Ukraine, and the February 27th murder of Boris Nemtsov, the democratic opposition has united on a joint platform to contest regional elections in 2015 and national parliamentary polls in 2016. The coalition includes Nemtsov’s party, RPR-Parnas, co-chaired by Mikhail Kasyanov, Alexei Navalny’s Party of Progress, and four other parties. Open Russia, a civic organization headed by the exiled former businessman and political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has endorsed the grouping. (Kasyanov, a former Russian prime minister, is currently on a visit to the US. His remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, Thursday April 23rd, can be viewed live here.)

It’s not that the prospects for a free campaign and honest polling are so good. The opposition faces barriers to ballot access and to free media. Then, there are pressures that citizens of established democracies can only imagine. While the parties were agreeing on their coalition, the authorities interrogated Natalia Pelevine, a rising opposition politician, and raided her apartment.

On the other hand, the risks involved in the upcoming campaigns do not all fall only on the opposition. According to Leonid Volkov of the Party of Progress, elections make President Vladimir Putin vulnerable as well. Blatant rigging could trigger new protests like those of 2011–12, while fair elections could give the opposition a toehold in government, including a role in nominating a presidential candidate.

Ultimately, the significance of the opposition transcends elections. Speaking at the Legatum Institute in London on April 21st, Volkov said the new grouping is “not only a political coalition, but a coalition of ideas” that offers Russians a pro-European course, in stark contrast to the authoritarian, anti-Western one Putin has charted. All of the new democratic coalition parties oppose the war in Ukraine.

The West also needs an alternative to Putin. The US and Europe’s policies of “reset” and “partnership” have been based on a faulty premise, that Putin could be a responsible partner in world affairs, despite the character of his regime. The number of examples disproving this theory continues to mount. Moscow’s sale of a missile defense system to Iran is just the most recent one.

The weeks and months ahead will be difficult for the newly united democratic opposition. For their sake, and ours, we should take seriously their alternative vision for Russia and what it could mean for America and the world.

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