Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced today that he will not participate in upcoming presidential debates. Instead, the Russian leader will send representatives to debate on his behalf. Putin, who pledged to develop democracy in Russia, is still expected to win the March 4 presidential election but Kremlin watchers are questioning how the government will handle the aftermath of one of the most intensely contested elections in recent Russian history.
The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison reports that the Kremlin is falling back on anti-Americanism as a useful tool to both smear opponents as “puppets of the U.S.’s CIA and State Department” and bolster Putin’s images as a fierce nationalist. A degree of hostility to the U.S. has always been a staple of Putin’s leadership but the new campaign has gone further, branding his political opponents as American puppets.
A documentary titled “Foreigners Will Help Them,” aired on Russian television last week. The film features supposed secret tapes of opposition leaders accepting instructions from U.S. officials in Moscow and Washington.
On Saturday, Russia’s veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at ending the 11-month Syrian uprising drew harsh words from Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized that veto as “a travesty” during a visit to Bulgaria this weekend — but Russian obstinance at the U.N. may serve Putin domestically as evidence that he is unafraid to stand up to the U.S. and the West.
News this morning that Putin will send proxies to represent him in upcoming presidential election debates came as a surprise since he had explicitly told journalists on December 28 that he would debate his challengers. Putin, speaking to the journalists, slammed his political opponents, telling them that “the point is that the opposition doesn’t carry out practical work and it always demands the impossible, and then usually nothing is implemented.” He continued, “[Dialogue is required,] and I will decide what form it will take exactly.”