On the heels of the twentieth anniversary of the breakup of the Soviet Union, allegations of widespread fraud in the recent elections that gave Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party a parliamentary majority have galvanized massive street protests in opposition to the Russian political establishment. Stephen F. Cohen, professor of Russian studies at New York University and Nation contributing editor joined Democracy Now! on Friday to discuss the significance of the Russian protests and popular reaction to the parliamentary elections.

“The significance of the protests is obscured and skewed by the American media narrative,” says Cohen. “The reason that the people that control the financial oligarchy of Russia don’t want free elections is they know that … the people would vote for candidates pledging to confiscate their property,” which was privatized in the 1990s, he adds. He notes “these elections were not free and fair, but they were the freest and fairest in fifteen years,” and that members of the country’s middle class make up the bulk of the protesters. Cohen also argues the American media has failed to report on the resurgence of the Communist Party, supported mainly by working-class voters in Russia’s vast provinces, which could challenge Putin in the 2012 presidential race and force a run-off election.

His latest article, “The Soviet Union’s Afterlife,” appears in the January 9/16 issue of The Nation.