By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
When it comes to democracy, the United States has a bit of a God complex: It wants to remake the rest of the world in its own image.
And while there is no denying that democracy – with all its faults and shortcomings – is still the best and most just form of governance, trying to superimpose one particular brand of the democratic process (in this case, the U.S. variety) onto the political landscape of another nation can be both obtuse and counterproductive.
That is the case of Washington’s obstinate obsession with trying to “democratize” Russia, which, by the way, has been practicing its own form of democracy (albeit a severely flawed one) since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
And while, thanks to glasnost and perestroika, there has been an on-again-off-again warming of bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington since the thawing of the so-called Cold War, it is the United States’ adamant preoccupation with the evangelization of its homebrewed concoction of democracy that has been at the core of most of the political tensions between the two countries over the last two decades.
With a zealous fervor that rivals the likes of Billy Graham, the United States has repeatedly tried to export of ideology of democratic values onto Russia and its people, leading to growing alienation and resentment, as well as the worst two-way relations in decades.
And it is not just Vladimir Putin who resents the United States’ insistence in ideological intervention in Russia.
Many Russian people – including some that oppose Putin – also take offense at what they perceive as the United States’ holier-than-thou campaign to disparage their motherland’s democracy, and, by implication, their national identity.
They likewise resent what many of them see as an ongoing effort by Washington to diminish Russia’s regional influence and political manifest destiny, beginning with an expansion of NATO and the bombing of Serbia in 1999 and continuing with U.S. intervention in the overthrow of pre-Russian governments in Georgia and Ukraine in 2003 and 2004, respectively, countries that Moscow once laid claim to and which it still considers as part of its political backyard.
Regardless of the fact that Russia has violated international law by invading Georgia and Ukraine, most Russians feel that the United States is trying to curtail their country’s natural sphere of influence and keep Russia from becoming the powerful global player it was meant to be.
The ongoing Russia investigation by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which alleges that Moscow tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections through social networking and media trolling, is viewed as preposterous and hypocritical by most Russians, who remember far too well how Washington unabashedly channeled $5 billion-plus to pro-democracy forces in Kiev during the Barack Obama administration and how Republican Senator John McCain showed up in Ukraine to coax demonstrators to demand the expulsion of Kiev’s elected government in 2016.
In their eyes, a little Russian cyber meddling into the U.S. electoral process pales in comparison.
There also see a blatant hypocrisy on the part of the United States in that it so outwardly extolls its commitment to democracy when it comes to condemning countries such as Russia and Iran for their flawed interpretations of the process, while flagrantly ignoring the lack of democratic processes and violations of basic human rights in countries that currently scratch its back, such as Saudi Arabia. (So much for “good for the goose, good for the gander.”)
Russia, like many countries around the world, is in a state of political flux.
Eventually, Putin and his cronies may face a dramatic reversal of political fortune, and that is something that will be determined by the Russian people, not a foreign power.
For now, Putin is Russia’s president – an elected president who last March won a fourth term with a staggering 76 percent of the vote –and he is not likely to be going away anytime soon.
Instead of assuming a high-horse stance of democratic superiority and wheeling an ax of political denunciation, the United States has to come to terms with the reality that Russia is a major global player and learn to play nice with Moscow.
This does not mean that Washington should kowtow to Moscow, nor stand idly by as Russia tries to meddle in the outcome of U.S. elections.
But the United States needs to work with Russia on countless international issues such as global terrorism and Middle East political stability, and we all know that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
The Cold War is ended and, for better or worse, Russia is today an ally of the United States, not an enemy.
As in the case of all allies, there are and will always be differences between the two countries.
But rather than trying to conquer Russia on the moral high ground of what constitutes democracy and how democratic Putin is or is not, Washington has to stop demonizing Moscow and approach Russia as the political peer and necessary partner.
Slinging insults and encouraging distrust and animosity for Russia will only backfire for the United States in the long run.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.