The Foreign Service Journal, October 2004

26 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / O C T O B E R 2 0 0 4 T HE K REMLIN ’ S PICK IN THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WOULD BE QUITE THE OPPOSITE OF THE R USSIAN PEOPLE ’ S CHOICE . B Y D MITRY S IDOROV F O C U S O N T H E 2 0 0 4 E L E C T I O N S f Russians could vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, the consensus would be a strong condemnation of both candidates but, if pushed to choose, a stronger rejection of George Bush. This choice, in my view, represents a rejection of the Kremlin and its pro- Bush political preferences and, at the same time, an affir- mation of its anti-American propaganda operation, which dominates domestic TV and the major print media. The majority of Russians are not actually interested in the U.S. election results; they view the contest, at best, as an amusing distraction from their constant struggle for sur- vival, not as an example of how free and democratic choic- es should be made. Russia is not like other countries, such as India, where the middle class eagerly awaits the results of the November election, trying to figure out what the new or re-elected U.S. president would do in regard to the job-outsourcing issue. It is more like Brazil, in that the majority of its resi- dents are more concerned with making ends meet than with faraway elections that have no immediate or discern- able influence on their daily struggles. The growing anti-American sentiment in Russia is a reflection of current U.S.-Russian relations, the decline of the Russian role in the international arena, and the Kremlin’s successful and widely popular nationalistic rhetoric about Russian superiority. A U.S.-Russian Partnership? Official pronouncements notwithstanding, in terms of economic ties America and Russia could be described as distant relatives, at most. The United States’ declared interest in Russia’s vast energy resources is not proportion- al to the actual penetration of American business in this field, and merely confirms the Kremlin’s assessment that the U.S. needs Russia more than Russia needs America. It is clear that Russia is leaning toward Europe, as demon- strated by its trade balance. Major European states like France, Germany and Italy are at the top of the list of Russia’s trading partners, while the U.S. is at the bottom. Maybe this context explains why the two countries call each other partners without bothering to explain to their citizens what this partnership is about. Is there really any- thing to explain? Right after Vladimir Putin’s March 2004 re-election and the subsequent substantial changes in the Russian govern- ment — which are still in progress at this writing in mid- August — I asked a high-ranking U.S. official about his expectations for the Russian government. “We do not knowwho we should be talking to in the Kremlin,” this offi- I I N R USSIA : T HE K REMLIN VS . THE P EOPLE Dmitry Sidorov is a special correspondent for Kommersant Publishing, based in Washington, D.C.