“Most Russians do not love Putin per se, but they love Putin’s Russia.”

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Russian Election Day has come and gone. Finally. Nevertheless, the mandarins of the American media are dutifully filling column inches with reports about Russia. Sadly, like most reporting on the Slavic nation, one you read one, you’ve pretty much read them all. The Washington Post is a typical example of how little American newspapers editors understand about Russia. Here are a few examples:

The Kremlin has rounded up a collection of three losers for Mr. Medvedev to run against, including the head of the Communist Party and a buffoonish ultranationalist, while disqualifying the most serious opposition candidate, a liberal former prime minister.

By “liberal former prime minister,” they mean Mikhail Kasyanov, or as they call him in Russia “Misha 2%.” The editors from the Washington Post can’t get it through their thick skulls that the “head of the Communist Party” and the “buffoonish ultranationalist” are the only serious opposition simply because they actually have political constituencies. To suggest otherwise would be like saying Ralph Nader is the only serious opposition in the American election. The real sad part is that instead of allowing Kasyanov to run openly and uninhibited to show the world that Russians don’t care about him, the Kremlin’s minion in the Central Election Commission disqualified him for allegedly faking signatures. I believe this claim. But the election is all bullshit anyway so the way I see it you might as well let all bullshitters play. At least that way the whole process won’t be so goddamn boring.

So the benighted slag and drag is piling up highthis Russian Presidential election day. It’s no wonder that when Tim Russert asked Hillary Clinton “Who the next Russian President will be?”, she garbled her answer with “Med . . . um . . . Medeveda . . . Mededevda . . . whatever.” No matter Bush didn’t know who Pervez Musharaf was when he was running the first time. Hopefully for her, if she wins, which looks unlikely, she won’t discover Medvedev’s name in a similar context in which Bush had to learn Musharaf’s. You can see a clip of of Hillary’s verbal stumbling on Siberian Light. (Btw, Andy has also be doing some live blogging on the election.)

Luckily, there is one diamond amid the pundit zirconia, and even more surprisingly it’s from the chief mandarin of them all, the New York Times. Rather than turning to their editorial board to make yet another dull comment, the Times has enlisted Princeton historian Stephen Kotkin to give his assessment of Russia via a book review of Anders Aslund’s Russia’s Capitalist Revolution. More important than what Kotkin thinks of Aslund’s book is what he says about the election. “Dmitri A. Medvedev will be anointed president of Russia today thanks to the political handiwork of Vladimir V. Putin. But maybe the real winner is economic globalization.” Agreed. And this is what many Russopundits should understand. Putin may not be a liberal in the political sense, but he’s certainly one in the economic sense. This is the secret of the success of Putin’s Plan. Russia’s increasing integration into the global economy has produced enough trickle to enough Russians to build a middle class. Once you have that class as your political back pocket, how the poor live doesn’t matter. Especially since the uppity middle class despises them anyway. As Kotkin writes,

Most Russians do not love Mr. Putin per se, but they love Mr. Putin’s Russia. They love being middle class. They love planning for the future. It is no comfort to the politically persecuted, but average wages in Russia are leaping 10 percent a year, in real terms.

The growing millions of Russian homeowners, vacationers and investors may seem inclined to authoritarianism or just apolitical. But they certainly value a strong ruble, moderate inflation, affordable mortgages, access to higher education, satellite television, Internet connections, passports, foreign visas and — above all else — no economic shocks.

So as much as people like Aslund want to argue that Putin had nothing to do with Russia’s economic resurgence, the truth is that he and his circle are reaping the political benefits. Enough Russians see that things are good now and the man in office is Putin. This makes Medvedev’s win a no brainer even if the election was a shining example of the democratic process. Given this, perhaps the real farce would be holding an actual democratic election. That would certainly be the worst thing for Russia’s “liberals” because it would expose them for the politically bankrupt “opposition” that they are. Putin has unwittingly done the liberals a great favor. His Plan has all but buttressed their their self deluded right to exist.

Plus why pretend there is a contest when there actually isn’t one in real political terms? Dima is Putin’s man, so by that simple fact he’s also most Russians’ man. So instead of harping again and again on the obvious–Russia is not the democratic, liberal nation we all pray for–we need concentrate on why Russians may not love Putin, but they love Putin’s Russia. As Kotkin rightly says, quoting Dmitri Trenin, “There is a Russia beyond Putin’s.” True enough, though Mr. Trenin does not detail that Russia. Almost no one does.” True that.