08MOSCOW682, RUSSIAN FASCINATION WITH U.S. ELECTIONS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MOSCOW682 2008-03-11 15:50 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXYZ0009
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMO #0682/01 0711550
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 111550Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7094
INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 000682 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/06/2018 
TAGS: PREL PGOV RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIAN FASCINATION WITH U.S. ELECTIONS 
 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns for reasons 1.4 (b,d). 
 
1.  (C) Summary: Compared to Russia's recent presidential 
elections, Russian interest in the U.S. presidential 
elections is hard to miss here.  Newspapers are filled with 
stories on the race and profiles of the leading candidates' 
views on U.S.-Russia relations.  Polling data suggests that 
63 percent of Russians know about the U.S. elections and the 
same percentage believe the elections "are important" for 
Russia.  However, analysts advised against misinterpreting 
fascination with the U.S. electoral process as a desire to 
apply a similar system in Russia, or as an indicator of high 
expectations for improved U.S.-Russia relations.  Despite 
comments from Putin and Medvedev that Russia is ready to work 
with any U.S. President, analysts tell us that the political 
elite is under no illusions of a breakthrough in the 
relationship, citing fundamental foreign policy differences 
and critical statements from all three candidates, 
particularly those from Senator McCain.  That said, Russian 
press, analysts, and even some GOR officials have been 
outspoken in their speculation about possibilities for 
bilateral relations with Medvedev and Obama at the helm.  End 
Summary. 
 
Russian Interests in U.S. Elections Unquestioned 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
2.  (SBU) In stark contrast with the unremittingly dull 
reporting on Dmitriy Medvedev's road to the presidency, most 
Russian newspapers provide lively and detailed coverage of 
the U.S. presidential race and the future of U.S.-Russian 
relations.  The following headlines in leading newspapers and 
news sites give a flavor of the depth and range of interests 
in the U.S. elections: 
 
-- "Russian Society Not in Need of (U.S.-style) Debates" 
(Kommersant) 
 
-- "What Should Russia Expect from the Presidential Elections 
in the U.S.?" (www.Lenti.ru) 
 
-- "Who is Better for Russia: A Democrat or Republican?" (RIA 
Novosti) 
 
-- "Thus Far Nobody Knows the Candidates' Views Toward 
Russia" (Vesti.Ru) 
 
-- "The Hangover Caused by the Yankees" (Moskovskiy 
Komsomolets) 
 
3.  (U) Several newspapers and websites regularly release 
lengthy profiles on each of the U.S. candidates.  Kommersant, 
for example, published the week of March 3 a series of 
analytical pieces on the likely foreign policy teams and 
directions (particularly vis-a-vis Russia) in an 
administration under "President" McCain, Clinton, or  Obama. 
 
 
4.  (U) Polling data also supports the view that Russians are 
focused on the U.S. elections.  According to recent data from 
the local Public Opinion Fund, 63 percent of Russians 
surveyed know or have heard about the election campaign in 
the U.S. and 67 percent believe that the U.S. elections "are 
important" for Russia. 
 
But Don't Confuse Our Interest with Envy... 
------------------------------------------- 
 
5.  (C) Russian analysts tell us that the significant level 
of interest in -- and even fascination with -- the U.S. 
electoral race among the Russian political elite and voters 
should not be interpreted as a desire to imitate the U.S. 
democratic system.  Moscow Carnegie Center Deputy Director 
Dmitriy Trenin acknowledged that the juxtaposition of the 
Russian and U.S. elections this year clearly revealed the 
"embarrassing differences" between the political systems  -- 
Western journalists in Moscow told us that Channel One was 
ordered to discontinue coverage of the U.S. primaries because 
it made Russia's presidential election look boring in 
comparison -- but insisted that Russians have yet to draw the 
conclusion that such robust democracy is badly needed in 
their own country.  (Note: We have noticed a significant 
reduction in coverage of the U.S. elections on Channel One, 
but RTR and NTV continue to provide regular coverage.) 
 
6.  (C) New Eurasia Foundation President Andrey Kortunov 
argued that, with the help of state controlled media, most 
Russians believe that the uneventful March 2 presidential 
elections in Russia were proof of the stability and success 
of Putin's course.  In contrast, political races in the U.S. 
are viewed as symptomatic of the "unprecedented" level of 
anxiety and "political and economic turmoil" gripping the 
country.  Kortunov noted that some Russian newspapers and TV 
news programs characterize the U.S. elections as an 
entertaining sporting event, minimizing the degree of 
applicability to Russia's own political course. 
 
...And Don't Mistake Our Interest for High Expectations 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
7.  (C) Russian experts also asserted that, despite 
widespread interest in the U.S. elections and candidates, the 
GOR has been effective in managing public expectations 
regarding the impact of the elections on bilateral relations. 
 During his annual marathon press conference on February 14, 
Putin said, "Whoever wins the (U.S.) elections, we, as they 
say in such circumstances, will respect the choice of the 
American people and will work with any President, if of 
co
urse, he wants that....Whatever was said during the 
election campaign, the fundamental interests of Russia and 
the U.S. will inevitably push the leadership of both 
countries to the development of a positive dialogue, as a 
minimum, a partnership dialogue."  Medvedev in a February 15 
press conference, said that, "I, like any person, have my own 
views about the U.S. candidates, but something else is more 
important -- it is necessary that the U.S. and Russia 
cooperate regardless of the set of leaders (in office); this 
is inevitable." 
 
8.  (C) Russia in Global Affairs Editor Fedor Lukyanov 
characterized such comments from Putin and Medvedev as a 
signal to Russians and to the U.S. that the Kremlin is under 
no illusions that a change in the U.S. administration 
necessarily means an improvement in bilateral ties.  Indeed, 
Lukyanov and others tell us that the prevailing view among 
the political elite is that bilateral relations will likely 
continue on their present course, or deteriorate further, 
regardless of the results of the U.S. elections.  They 
identify two contributing factors: 
 
-- Fundamental Differences: Russian analysts argued that much 
of the tension in the bilateral relationship is a result of 
diverging approaches to foreign policy.  Russians, even from 
the liberal camp, widely accept the GOR rhetoric that U.S. 
foreign policy -- from the eastward expansion of NATO, to 
U.S. MD plans in Central Europe and recognition of Kosovo's 
independence -- is directed against Russia.  We often hear 
that a permanent fixture of U.S. foreign policy is the 
"containment" of Russia. 
 
-- Undesirable or Unknown U.S. Candidates: Although Russian 
analysts regularly tell us that bilateral relations have been 
the most positive when a Republican administration is in 
office, unease about Senator McCain's possible electoral 
victory is almost palpable here.  Newspapers are filled with 
articles featuring McCain's sharpest criticisms of Putin's 
domestic and foreign policies, particularly his 2007 op-ed 
calling for Russia's expulsion from the G-8.  However, Trenin 
argued that at least Russia knows what to expect with a 
McCain administration, and Lukyanov added that while further 
confrontation with the U.S. is generally unwanted in Russia, 
at least the rules of the game will be clear.  Senator 
Clinton is also considered a known quantity here, mainly 
because her foreign policy team would likely include former 
Clinton Administration officials with whom Russia had 
"complicated dealings" during the 1990s.  Analysts and local 
press are less apprehensive about an Obama presidential win, 
but point out that very little is known about his position on 
Russia and note his critical statement on the March 2 Russian 
elections, 
 
Higher Hopes for Obama-Medvedev Duo 
----------------------------------- 
 
9.  (C) State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chair 
Konstantin Kosachev was recently quoted in the press as 
saying, "Obama appears to be the candidate from which we can 
expect the most serious steps forward toward Russia, since he 
is not connected with the phobias of the Cold War, as is 
McCain...and Clinton."   While noting the "structural 
weaknesses" in U.S.-Russia relations and the limitations of 
personal chemistry between leaders, analysts with whom we 
spoke argued that the prospects for deeper bilateral ties 
were greater with Medvedev and Obama at the helm. 
 
10.  (C) Russian experts cite the common features between 
Medvedev and Obama -- both are young, relatively new members 
of the political elite, and seem to harbor no deep resentment 
against the other's country -- as evidence of the potentially 
constructive relationship between the two.  Highlighting the 
Russian press' characterization of Obama as the "new JFK," 
Kortunov noted that Obama's campaign has generated some 
expectation in Russia that he is a visionary and would be the 
most likely candidate to approach U.S.-Russia relations with 
a fresh start.  Trenin added that although Russia remains a 
racist society, Russians deeply admire Obama's personal 
accomplishments and believe that the election of an 
African-American as president would send a powerful signal to 
all countries of the progress in America's "social 
development." 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
11.  (C) It is encouraging that Russians are caught up in the 
excitement of the U.S. primaries and recognize that the 
recently completed Russian presidential elections was 
embarrassing in comparison.  Although Russian analysts 
continue to claim that Russians generally prefer the 
predictability and stability of their elections, the 
continuous coverage in Russian media of the U.S. primaries 
and the policy views of each candidate may be one of the most 
effective forms of democracy promotion that we have. 
BURNS

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