WASHINGTON -- In the movie "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy's little terrier, Toto, pulls aside a curtain to reveal that the awesome wizard is really a little man frantically pulling levers to create an illusion of power. Moscow is not quite the Emerald City, but Vladimir Putin certainly is acting like the wizard, and he seems intent on trying to recreate the Iron Curtain. Worse still, leaders here in the United States and in Europe appear to be as fearful as Dorothy's craven lion in looking at what really is going on behind the curtain.
In December, the editors of Time magazine glossed over Putin's repression of political dissidents, interference in the affairs of other nations, and willingness to support Iranian nuclear ambitions to choose the Russian strongman as their "Person of the Year." Since then, the former KGB officer has made it clear to anyone who cares to look that he intends to remain in power once his term as president expires in May. The old Soviet leaders of yesteryear would be proud to see the political machinations taking place in Moscow.
Putin is barred by the Russian constitution from seeking a third consecutive term as president. Undaunted by such a statutory trifle, he has decided to run as a United Russia party candidate for a seat in the Russian Duma. Once elected to the parliament, it is foregone that he then will become prime minister, a post from which he can continue to exercise control over international and domestic affairs of state. To ensure success in this venture, he has hand-picked as his presidential successor Dmitri Medvedev, currently Russia's deputy prime minister and head of the country's state-run natural gas monopoly, Gazprom. If all goes as planned, Putin would be able to reclaim the Russian presidency in 2012.
Apparently not satisfied that this outcome is all but guaranteed, Putin also has had Russia's Central Electoral Commission jump into the fray. The commission, headed by Vladimir Churov, a Putin crony, is supposed to ensure that multiparty and multi-candidate elections in post-Soviet Russia are carried out fairly. But if the commission ever did, it doesn't now.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.