Vlad in charge

Posted: February 5, 2018 at 1 a.m.

On March 18, Russia will hold a presidential election. It will not be a cliffhanger.

Rather, Vladimir Putin will be re-elected to his fourth presidential term (with a break after his first two terms during which he served as prime minister, because of term limits). If he finishes his next term in 2024, Putin would be his nation’s longest-lasting leader since Josef Stalin.

Stalin didn’t bother to feign democracy. The most legitimate opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, is ineligible to run because of a conviction that he and most Western experts believe was the result of trumped-up charges.

So instead of running, Navalny is urging Russians to sit this election out. But even calls for a boycott are too much for Putin’s paranoid rule, so Navalny was brusquely arrested (not for the first time) before reaching his fellow protesters in Moscow last Sunday. Authorities (thugs, really) moved in similar fashion in other Russian cities, harassing anyone opposing Putin’s Potemkin democracy.

In July, Congress rightly responded by voting to impose sanctions on large purchasers of Russian military materiel. Unique for these deeply divisive times, the vote was overwhelming: 98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House. And yet last week the Trump administration announced that at this time it didn’t plan on imposing any new sanctions.

The administration did comply with a requirement that it produce a list of “senior political figures and oligarchs” in Russia. Critics pointed out that it mostly mirrored a Forbes list of Russian billionaires, suggesting a lack of seriousness; just a slate, without any action taken. Still, in his own act of disgraceful gall, Putin called it “an unfriendly move.”

So is attacking democracies, including the ostensible one in Russia.

The West must respond vigorously to Moscow meddling in elections abroad and smothering democracy at

home.