Long before Americans go to the polls today, Russian political elites had made their choice: the Kremlin wants to see George W. Bush in the White House for another four years.
Of all the major world leaders, only the Russian president demonstrated such unambiguous support for his American counterpart. Just recently, Vladimir Putin bluntly stated that international terrorists are interested in George Bush’s defeat in the U.S. presidential election (see EDM, October 21). Most analysts note that Russia’s support for an American incumbent is unprecedented. “Never before have we backed any American president in such an explicit way right on the eve of the ballot,” points out Alexander Konovalov, head of the Moscow-based Institute of Strategic Analysis.
Russia’s leading foreign policy specialists argue that there is a certain strategic thinking behind the Kremlin’s open backing of Bush. First, the continuation of the current U.S. president’s tenure will ensure the stability that U.S.-Russian relations have enjoyed over the last three years, the experts say. “Bush’s victory would signify continuity in the Russian-U.S. partnership,” contends Sergei Rogov, director of the prestigious USA and Canada Institute.
Second, there is a prevailing assumption in Moscow that Republican administrations are easier to work with — an idea that likely dates back to the era of detente under U.S. President Richard Nixon. Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Foundation think tank, voiced a view common in conservative Moscow circles, namely that the Democratic establishment is “genetically anti-Russian.” He pointed to the prominent status of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, both of whom were born in Eastern Europe. Some Moscow analysts believe the Democrats are more actively lobbying for NATO enlargement. They were rattled by Richard Holbrooke’s visit to Ukraine last summer, saying the promise to speed up Ukraine’s invitation to join the Atlantic Alliance, made by a politician believed likely to become Secretary of State in a Kerry administration, runs contrary to Russia’s national interests.
Third, Democratic administrations are perceived as being more prone to interference in Russia’s internal affairs. John Kerry’s team is basically the Clinton crowd, Rogov points out. “And we remember all too well,” he, adds “how this team liked to appoint our vice-premiers and how it carried out the infamous privatization.” The Kremlin’s other concern is the U.S. attitude toward Russia’s brutal war in Chechnya. In Nikonov’s opinion, “The Bush administration showed understanding of our Chechen policy; under a Kerry presidency we’ll see nothing of the kind.”
There is also an economic dimension behind the Kremlin’s choice. In a study titled “John or George: Who Should Russia Bet On?” analysts from the Renaissance Capital investment bank argue that Bush’s victory would be more profitable for Moscow. Under Bush’s tenure, the experts contend, oil prices will continue growing, since the current U.S. president’s anti-terrorist policy will likely keep markets nervous. In contrast, Kerry’s efforts to achieve settlement in Iraq may send oil prices down. In addition, the Democratic contender supports energy-saving technology. “We jokingly call Bush ‘our president’ — he secured record oil prices for us,” says Alexei Kazakov, senior analyst at the UralSib financial company.
Significantly, there appear to be deeper affinities between the current Russian and American leaders, some liberal commentators argue. Both presidents tend to opt for simple solutions to complex problems: Putin did this in Chechnya, Bush in Iraq. Both are trying to consolidate their societies on the basis of a search for external enemies. Remarkably, Moscow and Washington even seem to be borrowing security doctrines from one another. Preventive strikes, some experts say, were invented by the Soviet generals; after 9/11 Bush dusted off this idea, which was later borrowed from the American leader by his Russian counterpart.
On a philosophical level, the ideas of American traditionalism are well received by Russian traditionalists, argues Lilia Shevtsova, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Not unlike their U.S. soul mates, Russian traditionalists have a proclivity toward heavy-handed foreign policy, support for monopoly markets, curtailing state social responsibilities, and making the church a component of the state machine.
But a number of Russian and American experts point out that, in fact, there was never a real partnership between Moscow and Washington during Bush’s first term, simply because “We’re not on the same wavelength,” as Toby Gati, a senior State Department and National Security Council official in the Clinton administration, put it. The Bush administration’s Russia policy is like a twist on the old Soviet joke, she said: “We pretend we’re partners. They pretend to cooperate.”
(Kreml.org, August 4; Moscow Times, August 13; Strana.ru, October, 18; Vedomosti, October 19, 28; Novaya gazeta, October 21; Moskovskie novosti, October 29).