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The Importance of Legitimacy

There’s an interesting letter to the editor in today’s Wall Street Journal, responding to a recent Garry Kasparov column. The reader argues that it would be extremely unwise for the West to question the legitimacy of Dmitry Medvedev’s election, as this would cause panic among the elite, and result in a further clampdown on domestic rights and freedom. I remain unconvinced by the principle that Moscow needs to be treated any differently from any other government, and I believe that engendering authoritarian trends out of fear won’t succeed in advancing East-West relations. Also, with regard to the Iran issues raised in this letter, the reader fails to consider the fact that the last thing Russia wants is a solution to the problem – yet neither will they stand for a nuclear-armed Tehran.

Garry Kasparov’s op-ed (“Election Season in Russia,” March 4) was well-taken, but misses the subtle difference about what the West can and should do. Is it more important to see a country governed democratically, or to conduct the practice of international relations democratically? With Russia, these currently stand in opposition. While the case of Hillary Clinton’s slip-up in the Cleveland debate concerning the Russian president-elect may show that Russian domestic politics have fallen off the American radar (as Mr. Kasparov states), it would be a mistake to say that Russia’s importance internationally has declined.

With a new sanctions package against Iran barely clearing the United Nations, it may be that the West has decided to let Russia’s election proceed without much ballyhoo in order to proceed democratically on the international stage. The West has to pick its battles, especially when faced with two undesirable possibilities: an undemocratic Russia or a nuclear Iran. It has chosen wisely. At least the world knows what the former looks like. While global democracy is a noble and laudable goal, global peace and stability ought to rank as higher priorities. The West has more than once shown its tolerance for lack of democracy in favor of stability.It would be dangerous and insulting to try to undercut Russia’s new president, Dmitry Medvedev, in a high profile position among G-7 members. Mr. Kasparov insists that a perceived lack of credibility would throw the ruling elite into panic, but such saber-rattling would either paralyze the country domestically or be met with more repressive domestic measures in order to regain political legitimacy. Elite panic and a lack of domestic stability are the last things the West should want in a country prone to curtailing civil liberties at the slightest insinuation of a threat.Julia LeikinNew York