What else could explain the latest ugly twist in Russia’s rigged presidential election: the forced withdrawal of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov for invalid signatures on his nominating petitions?

Most people who manipulate elections usually try to pretend otherwise. Putin does not even bother. Even though he, or a chosen proxy, could easily have won a fair election, he was not about to take the chance. The results were evident in last month’s parliamentary elections, judged to be far from free and fair by European monitors. There has never been any doubt that Putin’s designated successor, Dmitri Medvedev, would win the March 2 presidential election. And the loyal Medvedev has already promised to name Putin as his prime minister.

A more pragmatic autocrat might have stopped there. The unthreatening candidacy of Kasyanov, like that of the three other remaining candidates, served only to add a little democratic gloss to this electoral travesty. Western leaders have long been tempted to make excuses for Putin. Washington needs Moscow’s help on Iran and other issues. But very little remains of the democracy that struggled to be born in Russia. The least Western democrats can do for their thwarted Russian counterparts is to frankly acknowledge this painful truth. — The New York Times