We don't often write about international stories because our priority is to opine on events that affect western Colorado.
But occasionally, a news story will rise to a level of historical significance that bears acknowledging. Such a story is unfolding in Moscow.
Since July, residents of Russia's capital have been demonstrating in large numbers. The protests started because independent candidates for Moscow's municipal parliament weren't allowed to run for public office.
Election authorities cited irregularities in the signature-gathering process as the justification to bar candidates from being placed on the ballot. But the candidates say it's just another example of a repressive regime using underhanded tactics to limit choice and personal freedom in Russia.
The Mueller investigation included iron-clad proof of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and America's intelligence community is warning election officials to expect more of the same in 2020.
Russia manipulates elections on two fronts — internationally and domestically. Muscovites are the first wave of Russians protesting the farce of fair elections in their country, but that movement has quickly become a platform for a wider range of criticism.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the state's overdependence on oil and gas revenue, coupled with institutional corruption, is causing serious economic stagnation. Some grocery stores have introduced consumer loans so Russians can put food on the table. So, some of the angst in Moscow is directed toward the Kremlin's inability to boost the standard of living, leading to Russian President Vladmir Putin's lowest approval ratings (64%) during his tenure.
This isn't the first time political protests have occurred under Putin. Between 2011 and 2013, Russians in major cities poured into the streets to protest Putin's return to the presidency after four years as prime minister. But Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 incited a rising patriotism that quelled an air of dissension — until now.
Making things worse is the use of violence by authorities in response to the generally peaceful protests. Thousands of protesters have been detained, fueling a narrative that innocent people are being thrown into prison for simply supporting the concept of choice in elections.
As the Wall Street Journal noted, Putin crushed most political opposition in the early years of his rule. But his term ends in 2024. The unrest in Moscow may signal that Russian voters are already pushing back against the possibility of a strongman successor in favor of a candidate who would advocate for a free press, judicial reform and a crackdown on corruption.
But it appears that the official response to continued protests will be repression. Protesters will have to decide if the risk of a lengthy jail sentence is worth the faraway dream of free and fair elections.
Something for Americans to consider as they ponder whether to bother voting in their next election.
Russia is interested in undermining democracy worldwide. When Congress returns to work next month, we urge our elected representatives to stop the partisan bantering and take swift action to better secure our election system against continued Russian interference. Let's not be a victim again.