RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS -- (Senate - December 03, 2007)
Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I commend Russian citizens for turning out in large numbers to vote in yesterday's parliamentary elections. For 16 years, Russia's citizens have exercised their right to vote, which is so essential to democracy.
Unfortunately, Russia's leaders have been working to make that vote more and more meaningless by creating an imitation democracy instead of a real one.
Well before the campaign even began, several Russian political parties and politicians were banned from participating in the election. During the campaign, President Putin and his party, United Russia, enjoyed virtually unlimited positive television air-time on Kremlin-controlled networks, while opposition parties had their ads removed and their campaign materials confiscated. The Russian authorities have prevented opposition parties from campaigning fairly, imprisoning opposition leaders, intimidating activists, and preventing them from making their case to Russia's voters. Russian voters have reported that they have been pressured to vote for the Kremlin's party, United Russia, by employers and local officials. In Chechnya, 99.2 percent of voters allegedly turned out to vote and 99.3 percent of these voters allegedly cast their ballot for United Russia. Several other regions have reported similar results for Putin's party, making a mockery of this vote as a free and fair election. Yesterday's elections were the least free and fair in the 16 years of Russia's modern history as an independent country.
We have to work with the Russian leadership in the coming years to deal with vital foreign policy issues, including securing nuclear materials and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons security is a high priority, and the United States and Russia need to work together to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons or materials.
But in doing so, we do not have to turn a blind eye to the erosion of Russian democracy. We must be clear-eyed on Russia's political direction, which in the long run is not favorable for Russia's own political stability or economic prosperity. By engaging Russia honestly, we will remain friends of the Russian people as they continue to try to build for themselves a better country and future.