Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 210

Russia’s top government officials, politicians, analysts and media reacted yesterday to the photo finish in the U.S. presidential vote and the likelihood of a George W. Bush presidency. President Vladimir Putin said that he and his team know in detail the programs of both Bush and his opponent, Vice President Albert Gore. “We respect the choice of the American people, and will work with any administration, but as regards final results and a congratulatory address to the victors, I think we’d better wait for the decision of the official American authorities,” Putin told reporters. He also joked that Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, was in the United States and could “tell his American colleague how best to act”–an apparent reference to the controversy over the vote count in Florida (Reuters, November 8). Earlier this year, it should be noted, the Moscow Times published the results of a six-month investigation into the March 2000 presidential elections in Russia, which included charges of widespread vote fraud. Lilia Shevtsova, a political scientist with Carnegie Foundation’s Moscow center, was quoted as saying that the as-yet unresolved dispute over the vote count in the U.S. presidential election could lead to “protracted crisis” in there, while Sergei Rogov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S.A. and Canada, said that the “strange situation” in the U.S. election was a result of the fact that the Republicans and Democrats had moved to the political center, “as a result of which the voters completely lost their bearings” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 9). On the other hand, Gennady Seleznev, speaker of the State Duma and a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, said the U.S. presidential elections were proof of “the stability of American politics.” “For Amercians, it makes no fundamental difference who comes to power, Republicans or Democrats,” Seleznev told the website (Russian agencies, November 8).

There was a considerable amount commentary on what a likely Bush presidency would mean for U.S.-Russian relations. Viktor Supyan, deputy director of Institute for the U.S.A. and Canada, said that the Bush and Gore programs were very close, but that the Republicans had played “the Russia card” during the campaign, criticizing the Clinton administration for having maintained relations with corrupt Russian officials and charging that U.S. taxpayers’ money had been stolen in Russia. Supyan predicted that financial aid to Russia would be reduced and that any aid to Moscow would be given “under very strict conditions” and kept under constant observation (Vedomosti, November 9). On the other hand, a newspaper noted that Bush’s team has “no small number of foreign policy specialists who are capable of assessing the consequences of the chief’s toughness and talk him out of rash decisions.” The paper quoted an unnamed official in the Kremlin administration as saying that Putin’s team was split over who would be “preferable” as U.S. president, but that a number of officials preferred Bush to Gore, given that the former, like Putin, is a “pragmatist.” The official was saying it remains unclear the degree to which Gore was responsible for formulating Russian policy in the Clinton team, and that many Kremlin officials think it will be easier to reach agreement with Bush (Vremya novostei, November 9). Saratov Governor Dmitri Ayatskov told that Bush’s policy toward Russia would not be the same as Clinton’s, which consisted of the United States “imposing democratic principles on Russia and a position of diktat on the whole world.” “Bush Jr. will carry out the policy of his father, who, while U.S. president, did everything to make relations between Russian and the United States better,” Ayatskov said. “During Bush Jr.’s presidency Russia will again gain the status pf superpower on a par with America.” Boris Gryzlov, who heads the State Duma faction of the pro-Putin Unity party, told that he hoped a Bush presidency would mean that a “pragmatic” approach to U.S.-Russian relations would predominate over an “ideological” one. “The U.S. Republic Party made a great contribution to normalizing relations between the two superpowers,” Gryzlov said. “It was precisely during the years of Republican rule that a pragmatic, as opposed to an ideological approach to relations with the Soviet Union, and later Russia, won out.” Likewise, Viktor Pokhmelkin, first deputy chairman of the Union of Right-Wing Forces faction in the State Duma, predicted that while a Bush administration would take a tougher line toward Moscow in areas where the two countries’ interests diverge, its more “detached, cold and pragmatic” policy would also be more “open,” and its diplomats easier to work with (Russian agencies, November 8).