PutinAfter Vladimir Putin won Russia’s presidential election earlier this month, ripples of disappointment spread throughout Russia and the rest of the world.

Given the rockiness of the relationship between the U.S. and Russia in recent months, many were surprised to hear that President Barack Obama is maintaining his current policy towards the Kremlin despite the fact that Putin based his election campaign on anti-Americanism and has pursued policies that are against vital U.S. interests, such as his military support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

An editorial in the Washington Post lambasted Obama for playing nice with Putin.

It didn't help that just this week, President Obama was caught on a microphone telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have more “flexibility” on nuclear defence missile negotiations once the election year is over - a sign some see as Obama putting his own political future ahead of democratic change in Russia.

Not to mention that, after Putin’s election - one that was by all accounts not free or fair - the White House released a statement saying that Obama telephoned Putin “to congratulate him on his recent victory in the Russian presidential election.”  Again, there was no talk of the protests, the fraudulent election or, more generally, democracy in Russia. Or discussions about Syria, which ought to be at the top of the administration’s mind since only last month Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Moscow’s obstruction of action by the U.N. Security Council on Syria was “just despicable.”

Nonetheless, Putin seems to realize he is on shaky ground with his own constituents. Hundreds of thousands of Russians took to the streets earlier this year to protest against what they see as fraud in the presidential and parliamentary elections, and to demand political reform. Many experts believe Russia’s economic and political policies are unsustainable, and that Putin will not finish his six-year term unless he makes changes to his regime.

Meanwhile, in a move to fend off more protests, on Wednesday the Russian parliament approved legislation intended to simplify the registration of political parties.

The aim is that the legislation should help divide power instead of all of the power being in the hands of Putin and the governing United Russia party. But others are concerned that the new rules could result in such a profusion of political parties that elections will be confusing.

Officials said 85 new parties are already on the waiting list for registration, among them at least four pro-monarchy parties, several socialist parties, several nationalist parties, one religious party, a pirates' party, a beer lovers' party, a party against everything, a party of love and a party “without a name.”

  (Photo © DR)