Live-streaming now: Kremlin paranoia

Rigged elections are nothing new in Russia, but this is the first time that smartphones have broadcast the brazen ballot stuffing live on the Internet.

What is the official reaction? Instead of heeding calls from such people as former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, who is demanding a fresh election, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed Hillary Clinton personally for instigating the street protests that followed the election. He criticized her for her outspoken remarks in which she rightly talked about the Russian people’s right to a free election.

Putin’s reaction on state TV, while laughable, highlights once again the paranoia in the Kremlin, which has long feared a “Velvet Revolution” of the kind that brought down governments all over the former Soviet empire after flawed elections. While the United States sees Russia as only a part of its foreign-policy strategy, Moscow remains obsessed by the U.S.

A Russian friend just told me an anecdote about a Russian woman who spent a week in the United States recently, and watched the networks and cable news obsessively during her time here. Before she left for home she expressed surprise that there had been nothing about Russia — having expected that in this country we would be obsessed with the Russians, as they are with us.

In Egypt, electoral fraud in the last general election was one of the factors that led to the revolution in Tahrir Square. But as we now know after the first round of the freest Egyptian elections in living memory, in which secular liberals scored poorly, Tahrir Square was not Egypt. And Moscow does not represent the whole of Russia.

Still, these protests by thousands of young people — which have not been covered on Russian TV — inspire hope that a new generation of Russians are prepared to stand up for their rights. Putin is showing signs of panic by ordering in riot police reinforcements to Moscow to deal with the unrest. Again the clashes between protesters and police have been streamed live on the Internet, escaping the Kremlin’s control. In Egypt, they actually shut down the Internet during the revolution, but that cannot be an option for a country like Russia.

More big protests are planned for Saturday — significantly, not only in the Russian capital, but in 90 other cities. It may be too late to affect the parliamentary polls, with the results to be declared tomorrow. But the U.S. should brush aside Putin’s Cold War accusations of “foreign interference” and insist that he get his house in order to allow a free vote in the presidential elections next March.