The Russian Federation has done plenty of wing-flapping and squawking in the last several years. Desperate attempts to assert Russian dominance in the form of flying military planes over U.S. military bases and highly publicized orders are nothing but empty gestures with no legitimate backing. President Vladimir Putin only hinders the development of any future relationships with the United States through unnecessary – and failed – assertions of power in an illegitimate political regime. And just when I start to get mad at Russia’s feeble attempts to challenge American dominance, I remember who exactly it is we’re dealing with.

As a democracy, Russia is still an infant. It’s easy to forget the country abandoned communism only 16 years ago, after a failed coup attempt against President Mikhail Gorbachev. As such, it still requires guidance in order to attain its ultimate goal of democracy and legitimacy. The U.S. should enhance its efforts to encourage the Russian Federation and Putin to attain this end.

With the recent increase in tension between the United States and Russia, many are beginning to wonder if the Cold War ever really ended. Putin is extremely vocal about his opposition to the missile defense shield the U.S. would like to place in Eastern Europe. According to President Bush, the purpose of the missiles is to protect Europe from possible attacks from Middle Eastern nations. However, Putin feels the defense system is an encroachment on Russian influence and power. Putin’s statements have attempted to transform what should be a safeguard for Europeans into a politically charged debate. The Russian government has no business making military maneuvers in Europe, thus the missile defense should not be seen as a threat to Russian security or influence.

What’s more, the government is in no position to make challenges to the United States, coming from a crippled remnant of a once-powerful state. Russia may be trying to preserve what little respect it has in the international realm. However, the nation has more significant issues it should focus on in order to accomplish this goal. Trying to butt heads with the U.S. will only hinder progress toward a more respected and integrated society.

Russia faces significant corruption within its borders. Since the creation of its constitution, elections have become a point of major criticism. Stuffed ballot boxes, rigged elections and voters returning from the dead on Election Day are only the beginning of problems plaguing the Russian electoral system. Just this week, world chess champion Garry Kasparov and fellow protestors were arrested for their involvement in political protests. Kasparov and his cohorts were imprisoned after delivering a letter to the Russian Central Electorate committee demanding free elections. Because Kasparov is a widely known public figure, it comes as no surprise that the government wants to silence him as quickly as possible. It is difficult to believe President Putin is a legitimate leader when his government came to power through fraud and corruption.

What’s more, unprofessional candidates head Russia’s political parties. Many parties only exist for a single election and often dissolve or are absorbed into another party after losing. This makes it difficult for voters to determine which parties are legitimate. In the early ’90s, one debate ended with candidates throwing juice at one another. At another debate a few years later, fistfights broke out after cameras were turned off. After all this, the Russian political system still feels it has enough clout to order the U.S. to remove its missile security system.

These issues continue to hold Russia back from holding any influence within the international realm, and every time Putin opens his mouth I have to fight back frustration and annoyance. If Putin was smart, he would fix corruption issues at home before embarrassing himself on the international stage. The Russian state will be taken seriously only after it becomes a stable, corruption-free democracy. The United States can help cure Russia of this corruption. A close relationship would help bring about reform, restoring the prestige Russia once experienced. Putin can continue spouting off his grievances, but until his nation adopts a legitimate political system, his thoughts and desires will never hold any power.