So the Russian government controls the country's three main television channels, and at the end of 2013, Putin replaced the national news agency with a new and more compliant version. This undermines the free press, of course, but the ugly fact is there doesn't seem to be much anger about it. In recent years, the Kremlin has imposed limits on protests, criminalized libel and censored political material on the Internet. It has banned the work of nongovernmental organizations (typically aimed at fostering more transparency in government), frozen the assets of human rights groups that receive funding from U.S. citizens and jailed the political opposition. Occasionally, a dissident dies of poisoning.
But the reversal of once promising liberal reforms in Russia is not the result of an undermining of democracy. It happened with the full consent of the electorate. In Russia's first presidential election, in 2000, Putin, who had previously been made prime minister, won 53 percent of the vote. In 2004, he won 71 percent of the vote. In 2008, his lackey Dmitry Medvedev also won in a landslide. In 2012, Putin returned to the presidency in a landslide election with a Parliament dominated by members of his party, giving him virtually one-party rule.
Gloomier still, Putin may be a better choice. It's not as if democrats with widespread support are waiting in the wings. Remember that it was the Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, who came in second place in the most recent election, with 20 percent of the vote. In a 2009 poll, nearly 60 percent of Russians said they "deeply regret" the Soviet Union's demise. So forget the Middle East, where we've thankfully stopped pretending democracy is a panacea, and start accepting the fact that most people don't view the world as we do.