Russian President Boris Yeltsin, left, welcomes U.S. President Bill Clinton in St. George’s Hall at the Kremlin Palace, Jan. 13, 1994. This is the first meeting of the three-day summit and the two will discuss a wide variety of issues of mutual interests. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)

FOR ONE OF THE world’s major powers to interfere systematically in the presidential politics of another country is an act of brazen aggression. Yet it happened. Sitting in a distant capital, political leaders set out to assure that their favored candidate won an election against rivals who scared them. They succeeded. Voters were maneuvered into electing a president who served the interest of the intervening power. This was a well-coordinated, government-sponsored project to subvert the will of voters in another country — a supremely successful piece of political vandalism on a global scale.

The year was 1996. Russia was electing a president to succeed Boris Yeltsin, whose disastrous presidency, marked by the post-Soviet social collapse and a savage war in Chechnya, had brought his approval rating down to the single digits. President Bill Clinton decided that American interests would be best served by finding a way to re-elect Yeltsin despite his deep unpopularity. Yeltsin was ill, chronically alcoholic, and seen in Washington as easy to control. Clinton bonded with him. He was our “Manchurian Candidate.”

“I guess we’ve just got to pull up our socks and back ol’ Boris again,” Clinton told an aide. “I know the Russian people have to pick a president, and I know that means we’ve got to stop short of giving a nominating speech for the guy. But we’ve got to go all the way in helping in every other respect.” Later Clinton was even more categorical: “I want this guy to win so bad it hurts.” With that, the public and private resources of the United States were thrown behind a Russian presidential candidate.

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