No Major Changes Expected
Shirtless Putin and Obama (Compilation by Publius Pundit)
Reality is catching up fast for the Russian Federation, which begun to slowly orient its expectations towards Barack Obama's win about two weeks prior to November 4. As the Russian government and its policy analysts expected, Obama's nascent presidency will have mixed results for US-Russia relations, though cautious optimism is starting to take hold. One issue that is already grabbing headlines in Russia is the American attitude towards anti-missile shield in Europe.
As reported by the Daily Vzglyad, Obama reiterated his commitment to the Patriot missile batteries in Poland, signed earlier in August by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The paper commented on Western Europe's desire for a "new beginning in relations between Russia and the US," but remained convinced that President-elect's desire not to deviate form the previous administration's plans signaled that major changes in US-Russia relations are not expected to take place anytime soon.
This attitude is highlighted by another analysis in Vzglyad, in which Russian foreign policy specialists are openly saying that they do not hope, at present, for any warming in US-Russia relations. Mikhail Margelov, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Duma Senate (upper chamber of the Russian Parliament) is quoted as saying that major changes will not take place because "too many disagreements have piled up between our countries. ... We are expecting that the US will continue the policy of selective cooperation with Russia, particularly in the area of nuclear non-proliferation and anti-terrorism initiatives." He also called on his colleagues not to "take [Obama's] election promises seriously, since they were only declarations, which are primitive in context - while the reality is always more complex."
An even more direct opinion was voiced in the same article by Alexander Hramchikhin, director of analysis at the Center of Political and Military Studies: "Obama is inexperienced in foreign policy, and will have to heavily rely on his advisors, like Senator Biden, who is more of a hawk than McCain. ... Obama himself is a "black box" - we are not talking about the color of his skin, but about the lack of knowledge on what he will be like as President, since he has absolutely no relevant experience."
Still, there was some cautious optimism voiced by the Russian political establishment. In the same article, Konsantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Duma (and counterpart to Congressman Berman of the House Foreign Relations Committee) stated that "Obama's victory gives hope for a new reality in US-Russia relations, but it's premature to predict when that would actually take place. Obama will be under pressure from his team of advisors, whose approaches to Russia do not differ significantly from that of the Bush Administration." On the other hand, Mr. Kosachev highlighted Obama's biggest advantage in foreign policy: "Obama's thinking is not influenced too much by the Cold War. Senator Obama did not engage in openly hostile rhetoric towards Russia, which gives hope for the strengthening of our cooperation on key issues." More cautious optimism was also voiced by Sergey Markov, Duma Deputy, who stated that he "could actually imagine a personal friendship between Presidents Obama and Medvedev, since they belong to the same generation. ... They are both Internet users, and probably listened to similar music and watched similar films."
Daily Izvestia reminded its readers that Barack Obama was more popular in Russia than John McCain, citing the polling numbers by the official Levada Center. The polls were conducted in late October in eight largest cities across the Russian Federation, and 27% of Russians were favorable towards Senator Obama, while 15% were favorable towards Senator McCain. More than half of the Russian respondents could not say with which American political party can Russian government better deal with; 39% stated they prefer the Democratic party, while only 11% named Republicans.
Daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta attempted to predict that Obama's policy towards Russia will be constructive and will revolve around issues such as nuclear non-proliferation. Assistant Director of Russian Academy of Sciences Viktor Kremenyuk stated that the "starting point in US-Russia relations is now very low, and its up to the leadership of America and Russia to raise our relations to a new level. With Obama as President, both sides can continue working on issues laid out by President G. W. Bush."
Kremenyuk stated that Obama will pay attention to Russia' internal processes, but will not seek to interfere in them. On the other hand, Sergey Karaganov, Chairman of Foreign and Defense Policy at the Duma Senate stated that real changes in US-Russia relations could take place no earlier than in half a year from now. He also stated that "there will be positive changes, but Russia too will have to work hard to escape this "confrontational spiral."
This article was originally published at RealClearPolitics
Yevgeny Bendersky specializes in research and analysis of Eurasian affairs. His previous work includes position as the Senior Strategic Advisor at Jenkins Hill International, LLC. Prior to working at Jenkins Hill, Mr. Bendersky was the Foreign Affairs Legislative Assistant for Congressman Curt Weldon (Member of Congress 1987-2007). His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Real Russia Project or Discovery Institute.