The US Factor in Russia's Election
Edward LOZANSKY, President, American University in Moscow
If statements by numerous US politicians and media are anything to go by, the United States is much concerned about the presidential election in Russia. Just as indubitably quite a few people in Washington are loath to see Putin return to the Kremlin. Still, for a variety of moral and practical reasons, America would do well to steer clear of this election.
I am aware that the word moral in the election context sounds all too like an oxymoron. A look at the past and current election campaigns in America, particularly presidential, should suffice to discourage any talk of their high standards or of them setting a shining example for other countries. A grandiose and fascinating show they certainly are, but -- an example to follow? From all accounts central to these campaigns is the amount of money invested, most of which goes to pay for smearing the opponent.
Is this what we would like to teach the Russians through 'promotion of democracy' programs paid for by the US taxpayer? Ironically, too, the money to pay for this we borrow from communist China, which is way behind Russia in terms of democracy.
As for the practical results of our efforts, more often than not our interference is notoriously counterproductive.
Putin's popularity ratings went slightly down in the wake of the recent protest rallies. However, after the huge embarrassment over the US Embassy reception of opposition members, and also the Brits' admission that their 'human rights spy stone' was not a myth after all, his popularity has bounced right back and is on the up.
Shall I remind the reader the words of Thomas Jefferson, one of the country's greatest presidents, "We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country."
I might disagree with Jefferson on that score, though, as there are exceptions to this rule. Say, when a state is posing a threat to the security and vital interests of America, such interference is not only permissible but positively necessary.
Undeniably, the Soviet Union once was a case in point, and so interference in its internal affairs was perfectly justified. The Voice of America, the BBC, Radio Liberty, clandestine shipments of banned literature to the Soviet Union, and other similar acts were part of the ideological struggle against communism. Then again it ought to be remembered that the Soviet Union, too, its people's far poorer living standards notwithstanding, spent even more money on the futile backing of the international communist movement, including the US Communist Party, the Peace movement, and other leftist forces in the country.
Today, however, Russia and the United States are no longer antagonists. Moreover, we are partners in many areas, including the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, countering international terrorism, space exploration, and a great deal else.
As far as I know, a new Russia does not interfere in US internal affairs, and America would do well to follow suit. Especially as this kind of meddling goes against our own interests, for it antagonizes Russia's people and leadership alike and pushes them into the willing arms of China.
The memory is still fresh of the 1990s reforms that caused tremendous economic disruptions in Russia, roughly on the scale or even larger of the country's ruination in WWII. Those reforms are firmly linked in the Russian mind with the active involvement of vast numbers of US consultants. This may seem a bit of an overstatement, but there is the official document dating from 2000, which made public the results of a survey by a large group of US congressmen on instructions from the then Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.
The document entitled 'Russia's Road to Corruption' provides ample direct proof that bad advice from the Clinton-Gore Administration caused the 1998 financial meltdown and nurtured mammoth corruption in Russia. (read more)
In a word, let the Russians themselves take care of their country's future. The United States and other Western countries should focus on developing positive and fruitful cooperation with Russia in economics, security, science, technology, and cultural exchange, and on working efficiently with Russian leaders elected by the Russian people without outside interference.