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Analysis & Opinion
21.03.08 Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: Should Moscow Root For Obama?
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Stephen Blank, Ethan Burger, Eric Kraus, Nicolai Petro, Alexander Rahr, Vlad Sobell, Ira Straus, Andrei Tsygankov.

With Russia’s presidential transition all but complete and President-elect Dmitry Medvedev pledging little change in foreign policy after he officially takes over on May 7, it is time to take a look at the unfolding presidential race in the United States.

In less than nine months, the United States will have elected a new president from a list that now includes just three U.S. senators. This will be the first time since John F. Kennedy's election in 1960 that a U.S. senator wins the presidency.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona is now the official Republican nominee, having overcome his five rivals. On the Democratic side, however, a tough battle is still going on between Sen. Hillary Clinton from New York and Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois, although it looks increasingly like Obama will prevail.

So as of Jan. 20, 2009, President Medvedev will most likely have to deal with either John McCain or Barack Obama.

McCain is a known quantity. Over the past few years, he has made it clear that he is no fan of Russia’s sovereign democracy. He supports the enlargement of NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia and has been on record calling for Russia to be expelled from the G8. He is also the only U.S. presidential candidate who has publicly supported President Vladimir Putin’s critics, including Garry Kasparov and the Other Russia; he sent a taped address to the first Other Russia conference in 2006, on the eve of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. His off-the-cuff remark a few months ago that he would make a decision on whether or not to bomb Russia depending on how Russia behaved is downright scary.

Stephen Biegun, McCain's principal advisor on Russia, is a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer who served as Assistant Secretary of Defense in the first Bush Administration. He is a reasonable guy who has been quite careful and measured in his remarks on Russia. The fact that so much is known about McCain's feelings toward Russia makes for a level of predictability.

But what can be expected from Obama? Russians know little more about the man than Americans knew about Vladimir Putin in 1999. We know what Kenyan tribe his father came from; we know that he spent his childhood in Indonesia and Hawaii; we know that he is a graduate of Harvard Law School and had been a state legislator for a number of years before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002. And we know that he made a flowery speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, published two bestselling memoirs, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Some Russian pundits, including Duma members Sergei Markov and Konstantin Kosachev, have rushed to say that Obama might be the best candidate for Russia since he is of the same generation as President-elect Medvedev, and is not burdened by the Cold War mentality. Perhaps this is true, but Obama himself has not had much to say about Russia. He criticized Russia’s presidential election by stating that the vote was not fully free and fair, due to the absence of free media and a crackdown on political parties and the opposition. He seems to be less ideological than McCain and promises to work with Moscow on strategic issues. He is not averse to direct talks with Iran and Syria and does not appear to share the enthusiasm for the lavish use of U.S. military power. He opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and even introduced a bill to have all American troops withdraw from Iraq by March 31, 2008. This is pretty much the extent of his known foreign policy views.

Obama’s choice of foreign policy advisors is also troubling. He gets coaching from Zbigniew Brzezinski, a man not known for any kind feelings toward Russia. His principal Russia guy is Michael McFaul, one of the most vocal Putin critics in Washington. And he gets his lectures on democracy promotion from George Soros. None of this is a good sign for Obama's ability to “turn a page” in U.S.-Russia relations.

What is really in store for Russia after the transition in Washington? What will be the difference in Russia policy between John McCain and Barack Obama? Should Russia really fear McCain? Should Russia root for Obama?


Alexander Rahr, Director of the Russia program of the German Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin; professor of history, MGIMO University, Moscow:

Obama and Medvedev are indeed not deeply rooted in Cold War thinking. They will focus on a much more modern and realistic agenda. When they meet for the first time, approximately a year from now, Obama and Medvedev will at least make a historical attempt to set a non-confrontational agenda for cooperation. I guess that issues such as climate change, environment protection, energy supplies for the Third World, soft security issues (such as combating international criminality), Russia's demographic problem and joint space exploration will start playing a much more important role than missile defense, star wars, Iraq, energy, NATO or NATO expansion into the post-Soviet space.

This is not just wishful thinking. Obama and Medvedev will surround themselves less with Cold Warriors than with representatives of a younger generation of political pragmatists. At the same time, in the beginning of their presidencies, both Obama and Medvedev will still lack a concrete foreign political agenda. Both have promised to focus first on internal issues — Medvedev will devote all his efforts to the creation of a modern social infrastructure in Russia; Obama will move U.S. troops out of Iraq and ask his advisors to generate ideas on how to fight Islamic extremism with socio-economic means rather than military ones.

Both Obama and Medvedev are expected to follow a more humanistic, liberal agenda at home. Obama will dismantle Guantanamo, Medvedev will hopefully strengthen civil society in Russia. It will, of course, be interesting to watch how the American and Russian youngsters develop their relationship with the EU leaders, who mostly belong to an older generation. Political changes within the EU remain an increasingly important factor in the relations between the United States and Russia.

Medvedev's Russia will probably make a serious attempt to win the EU as a primary partner for Russia`s modernization, but a lot depends on the advisors. Who will be in charge of the foreign policy of these new presidents? Rumor has it that in Moscow some of the 1990s liberals, who favored the creation of a common world economic and security system between the United States, the EU and Russia, may return to the Kremlin. But they will surely not return to the Medvedev administration promoting their former agenda of Russia being a junior partner to the West. It will be up to the Obama administration to accept Russia as a country with much stronger national interests.


Eric Kraus, Nikitsky Russia/CIS Opportunities Growth Fund, Moscow:

It is perhaps a great misfortune that only U.S. nationals can vote in American elections. Given the importance of these elections to mankind, as well as the desperately poor quality of much of the domestic U.S. political discourse, there would be an argument for opening the U.S. electoral process to the 6 billion people currently residing abroad.

In terms of U.S. foreign policy, the best that these 6 billion disenfranchised humans can hope for is that the next U.S. president follows the Hippocratic Oath – do no harm.

The American empire is in gradual decline, at least in relative terms, and that is precisely the moment when empires are most likely to lash out dangerously. Bush’s successor will be saddled with an imploding financial sector and an economy deeply in recession, burgeoning twin deficits and the durable consequences of an insane attempt to impose Pax Americana in the Middle East. Although for rational men, this could be expected to curtail any natural bellicosity or appetite for foreign adventure, the American conservative political elite continues to subscribe to the “failure is not an option” view of human affairs, refusing to acknowledge the limitations on American power.

The comparison of Obama with Kennedy seems misguided. Kennedy was surely one of the most overrated presidents in American history – a triumph of style over substance. His charisma is remembered, but the invasion of Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, the CIA’s dirty wars in Latin America, and a world teetering on the brink of nuclear apocalypse during the Cuban Missile Crisis are all conveniently forgotten.

Obama belongs to the post-Vietnam generation — he is cognizant of the limitations of power and the inability of the United States to impose its views in a multipolar world. Far less macho than Hillary Clinton, he represents more modest aspirations and a tendency towards consensual policies — a return to the tradition of U.S. soft power. His stated willingness to talk to foreign leaders of whom he does not happen to approve represents a welcome return to sanity. His very election would do much to undo the enormous damage to America’s international standing seen in recent years.

His limited interest in Russia is a godsend. Russia solicits neither the love nor the assistance of the United States — the best that can be hoped for are cooperative, good-neighborly relations. Russia does not seek to disrupt the American sphere of influence in Latin America, to ring the U.S. with protective missile batteries, nor to build international alliances directly against American interests. It solicits very much the same in return.

Obama is thus welcome to surround himself with well-intentioned has-beens nostalgic for the Yeltsin era – they are most likely to produce non-bellicose policy prescriptions limited to the voicing of statements of concern and the occasional admonishment of the Russian government. These shall be politely ignored, precisely as would similar admonishments addressed by the Kremlin to Washington. A non-confrontational stance is clearly in America’s interests. As a single example, Russia could survive exclusion from the G8 much better than the West--Russia’s joining the radical faction of OPEC.

It is ironic that Russia should be criticized for the failure to apologize sufficiently for the Soviet past, while the leading candidate of a major American party should be proud of his role in the saturation bombing of Vietnam – a war crime contributing to the 3 million victims of what most Americans now view as no more than an unfortunate mistake. As president, McCain would almost certainly take the bellicose policy of the Bush administration to new extremes. Wounded empires make dangerous bedfellows.


Andrei Tsygankov, Associate Professor of International Relations, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA:

There are no good choices for Russia during these elections. McCain and Clinton are not inspiring, judging by some of their advisers and some of their statements and actions with regard to Russia. McCain, for instance, has prominently supported the pro-Khodorkovsky campaign, along with such known advocates of American hegemony as Richard Perle. He also subsequently made a number of anti-Russian statements and co-signed a number of anti-Russian letters. I am characterizing them as “anti-Russian” rather than “anti-Putin” because Putin’s policies have been widely supported by the Russian public. It was also following McCain’s statement in the Senate warning of "a creeping coup against the forces of democracy and market capitalism" in Russia that many others on Capitol Hill, including Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), Joseph Biden, Jr. (D-Delaware) and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), were soon calling on the administration to get tough with the Kremlin. It is enough to open the pages of the mainstream media, such as The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, to see that this campaign continues today.

Clinton is likely to continue the policies of her husband aimed at incorporating Russia into the U.S.-dominant part of the world as a junior partner, or a dependent and inward-looking post-Soviet nation. Unlike McCain, who represents military hawks in the American establishment, Hillary is bringing along liberals who have different values and priorities, but who are just as convinced of their superiority and just as eager to punish Russia for not following the White House policies. Liberal hawks have gotten comfortable with the Russia of the 1990s and have assumed that the weakened and submissive state it has become would be a normal (and convenient) state of affairs.

As for Barack Obama, what was said in the introduction about him is correct. A number of people who advise him on foreign policy are part of Bill Clinton’s support group and are known to be cheerleaders for Boris Yeltsin’s Russia. In this respect, they are no different from liberal hawks, and the Kremlin should be wary of what is now known as democracy promotion rhetoric used for advancing hegemonic interests of influential groups within the American establishment. The Kremlin can handle the fact that many Americans don’t understand the nature of Russia’s political transformation and insist on their own definition of democracy. What it cannot handle is how democracy is used to cover hegemonic objectives, such as the expansion of Western military infrastructure to Russia's borders and attempts to gain unilateral advantages in exploiting energy reserves in Eurasia. It remains to be seen what Obama’s intentions are vis-?-vis these issues. At this point, his advantage is that he is new in the game and has made encouraging promises to change the political culture in Washington. He therefore may be somewhat more open to developing a strategic dialogue with Russia, especially if the latter is judged as important for the United States. At this point, most candidates are worried about Iraq, not Russia — which is why most candidates couldn’t even pronounce Medvedev’s name.

A critical issue is which part of the establishment these presidential candidates represent. The reality is that many have strong roots in the Cold War and in the 1990s — an era of American prosperity — and they are not used to analyzing their own faults. More typically, they tend to blame outsiders, such as Russia or the Islamic world, and the U.S. political class needs to undergo psychological adjustment required for re-building relationships with the world. This healing of the U.S. imperial complex is going to take time — maybe a long time if the country’s leadership will continue to disregard new international realities and insist on remaining the governing center of the world. Winston Churchill once famously commented that American politicians “always do the right thing in the end – they just like to exhaust all the alternatives first.” Relationships with Russia are going to be rebuilt eventually – and Russia too needs to get rid of some psychological complexes of its own – but it may take more time than we expect.


Nicolai Petro, professor of political science, the University of Rhode Island:

When it comes to Russia, the differences among the U.S. presidential candidates are so slight that there is little reason for Russians to prefer one over another.

Sen. McCain's foreign policy advisory team mixes "realists" Robert McFarlane, Brent Scowcroft, Stephen E. Biegun, Lorne W. Craner, Richard Armitage, and Henry Kissinger with neo-con "hawks" Max Boot, R. James Woolsey, Niall Ferguson, Robert Kagan and William Kristol.

This combination is likely to produce the same sort of intellectual schizophrenia that it did at the outset of the Reagan administration. During its first two years, initiatives were generated opportunistically within the NSC and the CIA, culminating in the spectacular but ultimately pointless sabotage in June 1982 of the new trans-Siberian gas pipeline. Ronald Reagan eventually put a stop to these dangerous shenanigans in April 1983 and dramatically changed his thinking, thanks in no small part to Suzanne Massie, who helped him develop an appreciation for the culture and religion of the Russian people.

McCain, however, shows little sign of developing the intellectual flexibility or personal empathy that Ronald Reagan was famous for. His foreign policy toward Russia is therefore likely to drift listlessly between overt hostility and grudging tolerance.

On the Democratic side, I would not dismiss Sen. Clinton's chances of becoming president. Her senior foreign policy advisors, Madeleine K. Albright, Richard C. Holbrooke, Strobe Talbott, like those of Sen. McCain, are all from a generation that dealt either with a weak and rudderless Soviet Union or a weak and vulnerable Russia. It was largely under their leadership that Washington stopped paying any attention to Russia at all, so perhaps it is an indication of things to come that, with the exception of Steven Sestanovich, Senator Clinton's advisory team seems unusually light when it comes to expertise on Russia.

Sen. Obama says he represents "change," but there is very little of it to be seen among his Russia advisors--Zbigniew Brzezinski and his son Mark, W. Anthony Lake, Dennis B. Ross, and Michael McFaul.

In his latest interview on Echo Moskvy radio (March 8, 2008) Zbigniew Brzezinski calls president-elect Dmitry Medvedev a "nominal leader," compares Putin to Mussolini, dismisses Russian security concerns as "paranoia," and refers to NATO as "the dividing line between the Atlantic community and Russia." Later, in the same interview, Brzezinski draws a distinction between young Russians and "the dinosaurs" still in power. Bafflingly, he fails to see how appropriate this label would be to his own thinking.

For now, the dinosaurs are firmly in control of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, on both the Republican and the Democratic side. Senior advisors from all three campaigns took part in the March 2006 Council on Foreign Relations report, "Russia's Wrong Direction," co-chaired by Jack Kemp and John Edwards. Criticized by Russian commentators as hopelessly out of touch with today's Russia, it remains, nevertheless, the touchstone of U.S. thinking about Russia. So long as that is true, the only thing to expect from U.S. policy toward Russia is a further slide into irrelevancy. The initiative for change, it seems, will have to come from Russia.


Vlad Sobell, Daiwa Institute of Research, London:

Barack Obama certainly is an impressive candidate and his presidency would be a very welcome breath of fresh air in the increasingly stale and dynastic American democracy. It would be nice if we could expect the same effect in the realm of foreign policy, especially in U.S. policy towards Russia. Unfortunately, upon learning that he is the beneficiary of coaching by Zbigniew Brzezinski and that his principal advisor on Russia is Michael McFaul, one can hardly be confident of a positive outcome.

Judging by his record, Brzezinski will be advising Obama that Europe and the world would be better off without a well-integrated Russian Federation, and will certainly urge him to support NATO’s advance deep into former Soviet territory, encircling the “authoritarian” Russia. In 2004, Brzezinski infamously compared President Putin with Benito Mussolini, the leader of fascist Italy, after the president opted for direct appointments of regional governors. Taking advice from an old Cold Warrior has not been an auspicious start for Obama.

McFaul has distinguished himself primarily by propagating the nonsensical theory of “growing authoritarianism” under Putin. Yes, Putin’s regime has been marked by a raft of features that can be characterized as authoritarian, but to mistake such transient atmospherics as Russia’s irreversible slide to authoritarianism (virtually along the Soviet lines) and to suggest that this has been the regime’s ultimate objective amounts to a catastrophic misdiagnosing of reality. Putin has presided over the rehabilitation and restoration of the Russian federal state and economy, which came perilously close to disintegration in the 1990s. The risks Russia – and Europe – faced in the early 1990s were comparable with those of the Weimar Republic. And we all know what that led to.

Without the resolute steps taken by Putin, there would have been no democracy or autocracy. There would have been interminable chaos, Yugoslav-style ethnic conflicts and lethal wars among oligarchic empires competing for the spoils of Russia. At best, there would have been Ukrainian-style “genuine democracy,” which features permanent elections and government paralysis along with direct Western interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

Real democracy in Russia can only be gradually developed now that Putin has built a credible state, previously unknown (in Russia) market-based economic institutions such as the Central Bank of Russia, entrenched a prudent fiscal policy, piled up the world’s third-largest foreign currency reserves, pacified Chechnya and made a start in reforming the army.

To me, the ultimate proof that the essence of “Putin's Plan” has been the construction of genuine democracy is the selection of Dmitry Medvedev as Putin’s successor and his subsequent election as Russia’s president. If Putin were the authoritarian that the likes of Michael McFaul believe him to be, would he really opt for someone like the urbane, young and “liberal” Medvedev? Would he not wish to entrench his authoritarian legacy by going for a silovik? After all, he is supposed to be their godfather.

Putin has engineered a “soft landing” for democracy after the disastrous “crash landing” of the 1990s was aborted. This is the correct diagnosis of Russia during the Putin era. Obama should be advised to let his current advisers on Russia go and enlist people capable of fresh thinking.


Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Scholar-in-Residence, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C. :

As a preliminary observation, if members of the Russian leadership have preferences for any particular (and credible) U.S. presidential candidate, they would be best to keep their thoughts to themselves. It is a generally-accepted principle of international law that foreign states (and their officials) should not interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country, with the exception of violations of human rights, humanitarian law or international agreements.

The articulation of support for one of the candidates expressed by Russian officialdom would not be helpful to any of these candidates — although it could be part of a Machiavellian strategy. Furthermore, such comments would deprive Russia of the moral argument that foreigners should not interfere in its own affairs.

The question of which candidate would be best for Russia is complex. First, "Russia" is not a unitary actor. Like all states, its government consists of numerous bodies and millions of individuals having different interests and opinions. Similarly, the Russian people are diverse economically, ethnically, regionally and politically, so its members will have different views. In addition, any opinions on specific matters are unlikely to be consistent over time and will probably change in response to changing conditions.

Nonetheless, I can speculate (albeit preliminarily) as to the three candidate's possible Russian policies. Unlike John McCain, the two Democratic candidates do not have extensive foreign policy experience.

Barak Obama is being advised on Russian policy matters principally by Stanford University Professor Michael McFaul (and the Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, formerly with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), and on overall national security matters by Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski (a Colombia University Professor). There are probably others writing policy papers and offering advice as well. McFaul is a thoughtful observer of the Russian political scene. He is well regarded by most Western specialists on Russia. On a personal level, he has a history of friendships and good working relations with Russian nationals.

While he (rightly) has become increasingly critical of many Russian policies that he views as unnecessarily provocative or repressive, he is able to put its behavior in context. In the foreign policy arena, he distinguishes between rhetoric and actual policy. McFaul is not a rigid individual and is likely to urge a President Obama to respond favorably to responsible Russian actions at home and abroad.

It is not desirable for a president to rely on a single advisor, individuals sharing a common world outlook, or be driven by opinion polls. Personally, I have always been impressed by Brzezinski's insightful analysis of world politics. The extent to which he is rabidly anti-Russian (as opposed to anti-Soviet or against particular Russian policies) is a mischaracterization. Of course, his personal background colors his views, but such views are almost always thoughtful.

There is a common perception that Hillary Clinton will largely rely on foreign policy advisors such as Richard Hollbrooke and Madeline Albright. I think it is unlikely that a Clinton administration will consist of the same people (or people with identical views) as those who served in President Bill Clinton's administration. In addition, the issues she would face would be quite different from those encountered by her husband. If Hillary Clinton were to become president, she is likely to be able to attract a collection of informed capable people.

McCain tends to see foreign policy through a national security/military prism. While at first glance, this may be troubling to Moscow, I think he is far less bellicose than he is sometimes portrayed. He understands the limitations of American power and the importance of avoiding foreign "adventures." He is not a unilateralist. He has experienced war first-hand, as have his father and grandfather — both career naval officers. As a Republican, he will listen more to the views of the business community than might either Obama or Clinton, but he has a reputation for seeking allies among Democrats on particular issues so that he is unlikely to be captured by "special interests," as he relishes his reputation for having an independent streak. It should not be overlooked that McCain has a large number of supporters who worked at the International Republican Institute — an organization that employs very knowledgeable people who are supportive of human rights matters while not being overly dogmatic on foreign policy issues. That being said, they have demonstrated great concern about Russia's aggressiveness towards some of its neighbors.

Since there are so many intangibles and uncertainties in bilateral U.S.-Russian relations and domestic political factors cannot be overlooked, anyone who speaks with great certainty on this overall subject is almost certainly going to be wrong.


Ira Straus, U.S. Coordinator, Committee for Russia in NATO:

There is no Russian Candidate in America. Russia would do best to root for no one, but be aware of the difficult position it will be in with regard to any new American president.

I can only hope Russia will attend at least as much to what it can do on its side to repair the situation as to what it thinks America ought to do. The present negative feelings in America toward Russia, unlike those in the 1990s, are largely of Russia's own making.

Obama markets himself incessantly as the candidate of Hope, the Good Guy, the guy with Good Intentions. That in itself is already problematic. By implication, it imputes to the others the status of Bad Guy and malicious intentions.

There are, to be sure, a few actual bad guys -- people in whom the element of malice is greater than the element of good intentions. It is a small minority of the populace. As one who flouts his Christianity, Obama ought to appreciate this. McCain is far preferable on this score, although he gets somewhat self-righteous himself when it comes to the specific issue of corruption in Washington.

It is not the self-righteousness of Obama alone that is problematic. Questions have been raised about the racial hate speech from his minister -- a minister who converted him to Christianity as a faith of social activism -- and about Obama's associations with other activist ministers of an extremist and hateful bent.

Obama's main promise, "change," is a further problem. He uses it as a 1960s movement word, not specific change but change in general, based on generalized dissatisfaction with the world. He knows that what passes as "progressivism" can run contrary to the actual needs of progress or human development; that change and revolution can be bad as easily as good, and in themselves are disruptive, introducing new problems to manage and new unpredictable factors.

McCain's pronouncements on Russia have been worrisome, although it should not be forgotten that the Bush campaign of 2000 was even more anti-Russian, and demagogically so. McCain has spoken often of dropping Russia from the G-8. Would he act on this quickly? It is doubtful. Even if he wanted to, he is unlikely to be able to act very easily on this, as it would require the consent of the other G-8 countries. Plenty of Western leaders appreciate the need to keep Russia engaged with the West and avoid cutting off the links which help it retain its element of Western-orientation and through which it might revitalize that element.

McCain's line about bombing Russia should not be a cause of such worry. It is akin to Reagan's line about launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.

It would be sad if Russia were to repeat this mass hysteria in the case of a potential president McCain. And it would be dangerous: we don't need another war scare on the part of Russia; war scares always run a risk of bringing on a war. McCain is not a madman. He is a former military man, and like most military people he is fully appreciative of the dangers and costs of war. McCain can claim solid military experience and predictability. He can also claim integrity in standing by an unpopular position.

On the other hand, attacking Obama because of his connections with George Soros and Michael McFaul is doubly wrong. Soros verges on a saint in his efforts to do good for Russia and the other post-Communist countries. He sank -- and lost -- many millions of dollars into Russia in the attempt. McFaul, too, is decidedly pro-Russian; he invested much of his professional career into trying to help Russia. Soros and McFaul both invested considerable hope in Russia; neither has written it off completely or permanently; both would prefer to be able to resume a more hopeful spirit in relations.

The problem with the critical attitude toward Putin's authoritarianism is not that it is wrong, but that, in being right, it may leave America ill-prepared for the next turn in Russian politics. No matter who becomes President, he or she will inherit a distrust of Russia which has been assiduously rebuilt by the secretive and authoritarian methods of Putin, after Gorbachev and Yeltsin spent many years and enormous national diplomatic capital on overcoming it -- that is, on overcoming the massive reservoir of distrust which the Soviet regime had similarly built up.


Professor Stephen Blank, the US Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

The answer to this question is unknowable but certain things can already be discerned. Obama's stated agenda that concerns Russia encompasses only two issues--democracy and human rights and the idea of negotiating arms control. This tired approach leaves out dealing with Russia as an international energy and economic actor and has nothing to say about issues of regional security in Eurasia which are of utmost interest to Russia, America, and many other states.

Arguably this is not a recipe for success either for U.S. policy, for Russia or for the two states' mutual interaction. Secondly, Russian officials must understand that the issues raised by its authoritarian turn cannot and more importantly will not be overlooked either in America or Europe. These policies are at the root of the current antagonism largely because Russia thinks it can violate solemn agreements like the Helsinki Treaty and that it need not answer to anyone for its actions, which are regressing back to earlier times.

Regardless of who the U.S. president is, unless this trend is turned around relations will be impaired between Russia and the West as a whole, not just Washington. The nonsense of an ideology of sovereign democracy in a state which is not a democracy and which depends upon foreign economic connections for sustenance is palpable whether the state in question is Moscow or Bush's Washington. There is no doubt that whoever is elected will change U.S. policy, but Russia cannot go on as it is and expect blue skies. Indeed, its economic and foreign policy challenges are already gathering: inflation, looming energy shortages, and antagonism with America.

It is true that Obama has indicated that he might directly approach Iran, but given the zero-sum approach in Moscow that wants to use Iran against America, is an Irano-American rapprochement in the interest of the current ruling elite that sees matters in a zero-sum way? The answer to that question is no. Furthermore there is unlikely to be more tolerance for Russian efforts to dominate Ukraine, Georgia, and Central Asia in an Obama administration. And the fact that the Obama campaign seems oblivious to issues other than democracy or arms control regarding Russia, suggests that Americans will still not take Russia at the inflated value, which the Kremlin wants it to be taken at. Until Moscow learns what he Democrats have learned, that it, like America, exists in an international community to which it must be responsive, Russia's relations with the West as a whole, not just America, will remain troubled, problematic, and unsatisfying.
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