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RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly
Vol. 4, No. 44, 11 November 2004
By Robert Coalson
Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

Most Russian analysts agreed that the 2 November reelection of U.S. President George W. Bush was in the Russian leadership's best interests. Political leaders, business figures, and most of the commentators in the state-controlled media followed President Vladimir Putin's lead in declaring Bush's win a victory for stability and predictability in bilateral and international relations. A Renaissance Capital assessment in the run-up to the U.S. election reported that "a Bush victory promises major benefits for Russian metallurgists, power-industry players, alternative- and mobile-communications operators, airlines, and shipping lines," "Izvestiya" reported on 25 October.

Analysts also wagered that a second Bush administration would lead to continued instability in the Middle East, meaning more of the unprecedented global oil prices that have buoyed the Russian economy in recent years. Just three days before the U.S. election, in which record U.S. budget deficits were only a minor issue, the Russian government projected a higher-than-expected 2004 budget surplus of 505 billion rubles ($16.86 billion), "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 30 October. The Russian stabilization fund is expected to reach 500 billion rubles by the end of the year. Many observers, including presidential economy adviser Andrei Illarionov, have argued that such good times have allowed the government to pursue questionable economic policies and to avoid eliminating inefficiencies.

In large part, however, the perception that a Bush win would be better for Russia stemmed from the accepted wisdom that Democrats tend to be concerned with issues like human rights and democracy, while Republicans concentrate on realpolitik issues. RosBalt on 2 November disapprovingly quoted a Democratic Party platform plank that reads: "We reiterate that respect for human rights, the rule of law, and Russia's fledgling democratic institutions and independent media outlets are essential to Russia's continued integration into international institutions and the global economy." The news agency interpreted this as meaning that a Democratic administration would link Russia's domestic development to such issues as Russian membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The analysis also argued that the Democratic position advocating revitalized ties with the European Union would move the United States closer to the general European view condemning Russian policies in Chechnya.

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Issues, told "Kommersant-Daily" of 4 November: "The Republicans will continue to exert influence on Russia, but will not be interested in human rights in Chechnya or the absence of democratic reforms. The Democrats would have leaned harder on Russia. And in this sense, Bush is more advantageous for us."

Aleksei Bogaturov, a researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, wrote in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 October that the status of the United States as the world's unrivaled superpower inevitably creates the temptation for both U.S. parties to try to remake the world as they see fit. "The Republicans tend to uphold their projects based on the logic of 'the good hegemonist' and the 'democratic empire,' while the Democrats prefer to recall 'global civil society,'" Bogaturov wrote. "But both have the same thing in mind -- the consolidation of unconditional U.S. dominance."

An interview by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell with "USA Today" on 20 October was widely quoted in Russia and seemed to lend credence to the idea that a Bush win would be good for the Putin administration. Despite some concerns regarding domestic developments in Russia, Powell said: "President Putin took the situation [in Russia after the 1990s] under control, restored the sense of order in the country, and moved along the democratic path. And the Russian people enthusiastically support his efforts. I do not think Russia has slipped into the abyss of the Soviet Union." He concluded that Russia "continues to move in the right direction."

Russian liberals, however, disputed the notion that what is good for Putin is good for Russia. Writing in "The Moscow Times" on 9 November, commentator Yevgeniya Albats wrote that Bush's win signals the end of a U.S. willingness to check "domestic nationalism" and "authoritarianism" in other countries. "The United States has turned a blind eye to the unleashing of precisely these forces in Russia. No wonder the Kremlin hawks are celebrating the Republican victory in the United States as their own," Albats wrote.

Political scientist Bogaturov expressed similar sentiments in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 November in an article subtitled: "Republicans' Conservative Bias Stimulates Antidemocratic Trends In Russia." Bogaturov argued that the United States' new "anti-liberal fever" "will now increasingly spill beyond its borders and stimulate similar trends everywhere -- Russia included."

"Figuratively speaking, Russian liberals suffered just as heavy a defeat as American liberals on 2 November, and there is no particular reason to rejoice at this," Bogaturov wrote. He spoke of Russia's "psychological dependence" on the United States, saying the Bush win "will inevitably induce new antiliberal trends in our country." He argued that during his first term, Putin followed a policy of "moderate statism" that was moderate "partly because it was opposed by the liberals."

"Today the balance between the two groups [statists and liberals] has been destroyed and the liberals have lost their former influence," he concluded. "Accordingly, a danger has emerged of an excessive tilt toward statism, and statism has begun to sprout radical views rather swiftly. Each new blow to liberals is a fillip to this process. The news from America is the latest such blow."