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Outside View: The U.S. factor in Russia's election

By EDWARD LOZANSKY, UPI Outside View Commentator
Outside View: The U.S. factor in Russia's election
Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with his supporters from All Russian People's Front party in Moscow on February 29, 2012. The Russian presidential election is Sunday, March 4th. UPI/Yuri Gripas | License Photo

MOSCOW, March 2 (UPI) -- Judging by the statements of not a few U.S. politicians and journalists, the United States has a keen interest in the presidential election now under way in Russia.

Moreover, many in Washington are loath to see Vladimir Putin return to the Kremlin.

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Nevertheless, for a variety of moral and practical reasons, the United States would be well-advised to avoid getting overly involved in this election.

The word "moral" sounds like an oxymoron in connection with electoral politics. A look at past and current election campaigns in the United States, particularly presidential ones, should stifle any temptation to set up U.S. elections as a shining example for other countries to follow.

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Central to these campaigns is the amount of money raised and spent, much of it on smearing one's opponent.

Is this what we would like to teach the Russians through "democracy promotion" programs paid for by the U.S. taxpayer?

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Ironically, we pay for these programs by borrowing money from China, which lags way behind Russia in its democratic development.

As for the practical results of our efforts, more often than not our interference is notoriously counterproductive. When it comes to Washington's relations with Moscow, we too often forget the words of President Thomas Jefferson, "We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country."

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There are, of course, exceptions to Jefferson's sage advice. For example, when a state poses a threat to the security and vital interests of the United States, such interference is not only permissible but positively necessary.

Undeniably, the Soviet Union constituted such a threat 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 and parcel of the ideological struggle against communism.

By the same token, the Soviet Union, despite its much lower standard of living, spent even more money interfering in U.S. internal affairs than the United States did in the Soviet Union's, including the bankrolling of the U.S. Communist Party, much of the peace movement and other leftist initiatives.

Today, however, Russia and the United States are no longer enemies. Moreover, we are partners in many areas, including the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, countering international terrorism, space exploration, and much more.

Russia today does not interfere in U.S. internal affairs and America would do well to show Russia the same consideration. Such interference only undermines our own interests as it antagonizes Russians -- the people as well as the leadership -- and pushes them into the outstretched arms of China.

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New York University Professor Stephen Cohen, a foremost expert on U.S.-Russia relations, recently stated at a Washington roundtable discussion that Washington has squandered numerous opportunities to improve relations with Moscow since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Specifically, while Russia extended cooperation to the U.S. military for operations in Afghanistan following the al-Qaida-led attacks against America, Washington thumbed its nose at Moscow by interfering in political matters in former Soviet republics in Central Asia, insisting on expanding NATO to Russia's borders, canceling the AMB treaty and ramping up plans for missile defense in Eastern Europe.

While Russia respected and recognized America's security concerns post-9/11, the same courtesy has not been extended by the White House to the Kremlin.

It is time for America to stop wasting any further opportunities for building a strong, lasting relationship with Moscow and embrace Russia as a worthy and reliable strategic partner in meeting the challenge posed by a rising China and resurgent Islamic extremism.

But, in order to have a relationship built on mutual trust and respect, let's let Russians take care of Russia's future.

The United States and other Western countries should focus on developing positive and fruitful cooperation with Russia in a variety of fields -- economics, security, science, technology, and cultural exchange -- and on working effectively with the leaders Russians choose without outside interference.

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(Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow and professor in the department of world politics at Moscow State University.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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