A Democratic Softening on the Eve of Clinton/Lavrov Meeting?

 As Secretary of State Clinton prepares to sit down with Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow in Geneva, hopefully someone on her staff will point out two largely unnoticed pieces of legislation introduced by Pres. Medvedev last week.  

The legislation reforms Russia’s current electoral law to allow for Duma representation for parties that do not reach the current 7% barrier.  The 7% barrier was raised from 5% as part of a package of post-Beslan reforms advocated by then Pres. Putin, and has been cited as evidence of Russia’s ‘retreat’ from democrati
zation.  The other major change of note in those reforms was replacing the direct election of governors with a presidential appointment process.     
The first law introduced last week would allocate two seats to every party obtaining from 6-7% of the vote and one seat to every party obtaining 5-6% of the vote.  The second law reduces the number of signatures necessary for a party to be put on the ballot from 200,000 to 120,000.
While Russia critics will be quick to dismiss these steps as insignificant and inconsequential, the measures should not be ignored.  First, if merely from the standpoint of trajectory, it is a movement in the ‘right’ direction from the West’s perspective.  Second, these reforms are being instituted not merely a few years after they were put in place by Pres. Putin, but also in the midst of Russia’s most serious crisis since 1998.  Most important, Western observers have been predicting that Russia will slide into a more hardline authoritarianism during this crisis, and these reforms appear to undermine that hypothesis.  
Sec. Clinton ought to recognize these steps to FM Lavrov in their private discussions tomorrow.  The U.S. should not, however, attempt to make political hay of the fact that Russia might be actually following our advice / heeding our criticism.  If anything, Clinton should promise that as Russia undertakes such reforms, we will tamp down our ‘authoritarian Russia’ rhetoric, so we can turn our attention to more pressing issues (i.e., START Treaty, Iran, terrorism, climate change…).  
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