Russia Votes Symposium: Graham Allison on Russian Elections
Event Report, Dr. Stephen Cochran, Deputy Associate Director of the Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and International Security Directorate of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Author: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School
Some of you may remember Yevgenii Primakov’s last comment to the Duma before he was unceremoniously dismissed. This is a true statement. He said “Your lives will be bad, but not long.” I think you could make this comment about the election. It has not been good, but fortunately, it will not be long. Some of you are able to remember the 1980 campaign in the US. Ronald Reagan was running against the sitting President Jimmy Carter. He had a key ad in the campaign that said, “It is nice to be liked but it is essential to be respected. Vote for Ronald Reagan.” He decisively defeated Jimmy Carter. Where was America in 1980? It was in the wake of the Iranian radicals’ takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, the seizure of hostages, and Nightline’s steady beat every night on “Day x” of the hostage crisis. Reagan was therefore able to hit a very responsive chord in the US when he said, “America has become a pitiful giant. Our military has become hollow.” His other line was, “America needs leadership that will stand up for America.” Across the spectrum, people responded to that. Why is this relevant in the context of some comments on foreign policy and Russian elections? Imagine Russia today. Indeed, if you were to try to choose a single word for characterizing Russia and Russians’ psychological experience of the past decade, I would pick it from American black slang. “Dissed.” Russia has essentially been dissed by a decade. Dismantled, demoralized, dismissed, disrespected – just dissed. In terms of a Russian election, there is no better scenario than Chechen terrorists. Give me a better scenario for a Russian electoral season than Chechen terrorists attacking Russian territory in Dagestan, blowing up (or at least plausibly being the candidates for blowing up) apartment buildings. I think you would be hard-pressed. Let me quote Michael Wines to remind us. He says in a recent piece, “Just for a moment, imagine the corked up fury of life in a failed superpower, a place where the government seems impotent and scandal-scarred with an army demoralized by defeat and incompetence, where the economy seems to rock between inflation and depression. Then imagine that Islamic terrorists from magnifying-glass specks on the map are blowing up your citizens, seemingly with impunity. If you live there, it might feel good to hit back.” In looking at the impact of a foreign policy issue on elections, I would define Chechnya as a foreign policy issue since the majority of Russians were prepared to live with an independent Chechnya before these events as the polls show. The war in Chechnya has transformed the Russian electoral cycle, at least at this point.
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