The Foreign Service Journal, October 2004

cial responded. “We are tired of signing documents that Russians are not willing to implement.” The Kremlin sees this situation from quite a different angle. “We would do almost anything to stop U.S. political and economic expansion within Russia and in the areas of our vital interests,” a Russian Foreign Ministry official told me last summer, before I left to take up a post as the Washington correspondent for a major Russian newspaper. Although definitely not willing to engage in a direct confrontation with the U.S., the Kremlin is trying hard to convince the Russian people that it can stand up to the imagined U.S. threat. In the Kremlin’s view, this “tough- ness” should serve as verification to the Russians that their nation’s strength, last experienced in the old Soviet Union, has been revived. Nationalist Revival The latest twist in Russian policy is the government’s notion that it should revitalize the idea of Russia as a great power, to convince its people that every nation in the world must take their motherland seriously. “Russian national- ism is agitated by concerns that America’s global might, both military and economic, threatens to erode a distinc- tively Russian identity,” Paul Starobin notes in the National Journal (“The Rise of Nationalism,” July 3). “Nationalism is emerging both as a political tool by which strongman ruler Vladimir Putin aims to unite disoriented society and as a grass-roots movement by chauvinists bent on remak- ing Russia along ethnic lines.” In my view, this is another example of what I call a “post-imperial phantom limb.” It is a substitute for a gen- uine national idea. Although the Kremlin claims the moves toward renewed authoritarianism and government monopoly have been necessary “to clean up the mess left by Yeltsin and the reformists,” these changes in Russian foreign and domestic policy seem to me to be a huge step backward, toward the old Soviet ideology. “Russia is not ready for real democracy,” a member of Putin’s team whispered into a Washington expert’s ear a few months ago, explaining the need for an “iron fist” pol- icy. The new policy is returning the Russian press and soci- ety to the never-really-forgotten, anti-American propagan- da disseminated for many years over the vast Soviet terri- tory. The major Russian TV channels, which are directly or indirectly government-owned, have uniform coverage of the U.S. It is blamed for almost every problem on the face of the planet. This was more true than ever when I visited Moscow in June. In short, those Russians who are interested in the U.S. elections, would likely “vote” against both candidates. If given a second chance, Russians would, I believe, punch their voting cards for John Kerry — thanks to the govern- ment-promulgated propaganda that portrays George Bush as a unilateral warmonger. Senator Kerry is viewed as somebody who has a poten- tial to stop the U.S. from implementing what Russians see as the new world order based on the current White House rules of the game. Slogans for health insurance and edu- cation for everybody and war as a last resort, combined with Kerry’s military background and his anti-Vietnam war views look appealing. Mr. Kerry’s inconsistent Senate vot- ing record as portrayed by the Bush-Cheney campaign does not bother the average Russian. He knows that, like a Duma member, an American legislator could have many reasons for changing his position on specific issues. Still, not without reason, Russians would tend to see the Kerry-Bush competition as a fight between two camps of wealthy people hungry for power. They have learned tough lessons during the short history of “free” election campaigns in Russia, where nobody and nothing could have stopped the buck from becoming a major player in the Kremlin’s hunt for power. Regrettably, no polls have been conducted to test my theory. If such polls were conducted, it would be more informative to take the pulse of people in rural Russia, rather than in big cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg or Novosibirsk, where better living conditions and higher educational levels allow at least some people to distinguish the political apples and oranges. Behind the Red Wall Strange as it may sound, the Kremlin’s choice in the U.S. presidential elections would be quite the opposite of the Russian people. I have a feeling that President Putin himself would vote for President Bush, if he could. Despite the fact that U.S.-Russian relations are going nowhere — or maybe because of that — the current occu- pants of the White House are acceptable to their counter- parts behind the Red Wall. The Kremlin is mildly irritat- ed by the U.S. government’s tepid complaints in regard to human rights issues, freedom of the press and religion, the war in Chechnya, and the suppression of the business community, but that is about the extent of its concern. Meanwhile, former Senator Bob Dole was perhaps the F O C U S O C T O B E R 2 0 0 4 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 27