U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is fresh off a primary victory in New Hampshire
The presidential race in the United States is gaining momentum. Both parties now have their crop of leaders and outsiders. Not surprisingly, these developments are being closely watched and analyzed in Russia with a view to identifying the contender with whom it would be preferable to do business in the future. This is no simple task, as the candidates' election rhetoric is not always consistent with what they will actually do on settling in the White House. Nevertheless, some conclusions can already be drawn.
The least welcome candidate, from Moscow's standpoint, is apparently Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who won the important New Hampshire primary. He is the fiercest critic of Russia and its President. McCain branded Russia "revanchist" and Putin "a dangerous person." He keeps calling for a new tough line on Russia and repeatedly said that Russia should be expelled from the G8. The West, tells McCain, should send Russia a clear signal that NATO doors remained open to all democracies, referring, no doubt, to Ukraine and Georgia.
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) narrowly defeated her main rival, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), in
the New Hampshire primary
As for the Democratic Party, its list of Kremlin undesirables is apparently topped by Hillary Clinton who likewise won the New Hampshire primary. Recently Ms. Clinton, forgetting the ABCs of diplomatic etiquette, went so far as to fling a personal insult at the Russian president, saying that he, as a former KGB agent, did not have a soul, and she was unable to understand how George Bush had managed to discern one. This looks very much like plagiarizing McCain's ideas, for he beat her to it by saying a few days earlier that when he looked into Putin's eyes all he could see there were three letters: a K, a G, and a B. At the same time, though, Hillary told earlier that what interested her most was what Russia did outside its borders and that she did not think she could, as the president of the United States, "wave my hand and tell the Russian people they should have a different government." Typical Clinton doubletalk.
The other candidates do not stoop to personal insults and are more circumspect in criticizing Russia, also calling for cooperation with this country, first and foremost in the matter of nuclear arms reduction and nonproliferation.
Thus Barack Obama (D-IL) said that Russia was "neither our enemy nor close ally," and if elected, he would make it his priority to take US and Russian ballistic missiles "off high-trigger alert and to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material."
Possibly the only candidate who is optimistic about US-Russian relations is Republican ex governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee. "Things will be better than during the Cold War because, much as we do not want another 9/11, Putin does not want another terrorist attack like the 2004 school siege in Beslan," he wrote in a January 2008 Foreign Affairs essay.
U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) (left) speaking with President Bush. The Senator from Nebraska has been a frequent critic of the Bush Administration's foreign policy.
A close look at the standpoints of other active and influential US politicians suggests that the most acceptable option for the Kremlin would be Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb). In his program speeches he emphasizes that America is currently plagued with a lot of foreign policy problems, and the most important of them, above all in Iran, cannot be addressed except in close cooperation with Russia. Moreover, Hagel says relationships with Russia are critical to U.S. security. As for Russia's domestic affairs, he avoids mentioning them at all, thus implying that they are of little interest to him.
However, to Moscow's regret, Hagel is not in the running, though his chances would be reasonably good. This year he also decided not to seek re-election to the Senate, though at 62 he is relatively young for a politician. McCain, incidentally, is 71. This week Hagel is coming to Moscow where he will give several talks and meet with Russian scholars, businessmen and officials.
At the recent meeting with the senator at the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies, which I attended, Hagel, responding to calls for him to join in the race for the White House, hinted broadly that he did not rule this out at all. If so, he must have meant the 2012 election.