The White House again offered a puzzling response to foreign policy regarding Russia on Tuesday, refusing to criticize the voting that reelected Vladimir Putin by a landslide on Sunday.
Asked whether the White House deemed the election “free and fair,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders offered this deflection:
In terms of the election, there we’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them how to operate. We can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our elections, something we 100 percent fully support, and something we’re going to continue to do everything we can to protect to make sure bad actors don’t have the opportunity to impact them in any way.
This statement is misleading where it isn’t simply beside the point, and confusing in both cases. The question is not whether the U.S. has the ability to dictate to other countries how to run their elections (though there is a certain irony in Sanders making this comment 15 years to the day after the U.S. invaded Iraq to install democracy, in a war the president supported). The question is whether the U.S. can and should label unfair and repressive government when it sees it.
There’s little question that the Russian election was not free and fair. The government barred Putin’s leading opponent from running. Putin’s margin of victory—nearly 77 percent—is practically unheard of in contested elections, and apparent ballot-stuffing was caught on video in multiple places. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe concluded that the election “took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices” and that “restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.”