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The Gazprom Invasion of Alaska

bruins.jpgThe press and blogosphere are of course having a field day with the news that executives from Gazprom are enjoying a road show in Alaska this week to woo local representatives and meet with ConocoPhillips, possibly discussing participation in natural gas pipeline down to the lower 48 states. Given that Gov. Sarah Palin, the eminent “Kremlinologist,” has placed so much emphasis on her foreign policy expertise with Russia, the Gazprom invasion is embarrassing to say the least. Some think that the timing of the Alaska visit carries a message:

“The timing is as interesting as the visit itself,” said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib Financial in Moscow. “Gazprom’s entire senior management goes into Sarah Palin’s backyard during a contentious election. There’s a message there.”

He might be right. The New York Times reports that the Alaskans were expecting a two-person delegation, then were surprised to receive about a dozen, including CEO Alexei Miller and silovik-in-chief Alexandr Golubyev. However let’s not lose the plot completely. Gazprom has had a business presence in the United States for years now, with a sales and marketing office in Houston, delegations send to conferences such as the CERA, and various agreements with American firms. They even once spent a month touring the USA with a Gazprom-sponsored ice hockey team to promote the brand … I don’t recall anybody assailing Mitt Romney of rolling over to the Russian invasion when the Boston Bruins re-enacted the miracle on ice with the Gazprom team.

But we agree with Weafer on the significance of timing here, as I can only see the return of the Russia threat as enormously helpful to the McCain campaign. Most opinion polls show that McCain has slipped steeply over the past month, and there are even reports showing that his attacks against Obama have an adverse effect on voters.And when was the last time that McCain appeared to be a contender in the polls? Immediately following the August 8th invasion of Georgia by Russia, and the ensuing aftermath of panic over a Soviet-like resurgence of a belligerent power. According to a report at the time in US News and World Report, McCain succeeded in significantly closing the gap in the polls thanks to the crisis in Georgia, and for a while it seemed like this war could be his vehicle to victory. Too bad a crisis of a different kind took over the news, and Americans went back to forgetting that Georgia isn’t just a state in the south.So is the timing of Gazprom’s high-profile trip to Palin’s backyard a move to help the McCain campaign? RA has previously argued that the Kremlin would much prefer for McCain to win the election – and even more directly, the SPD in Germany is heavily dependent on this outcome. Or was it a misdirected attempt by the Russians to sabotage the Republican campaign by making a mockery out of Palin’s bellicose statements about the country? It wouldn’t be the first time Moscow has demonstrated a woeful grasp U.S. politics.Really it will all depend on how the McCain campaign responds to the Gazprom stunt. Our prediction is that they will ignore it, stay the course in the debate tonight, and that we will hear nary a peep about Russia between now and election day that we haven’t already heard before. It would be very interesting, however, to imagine what things would be like if the U.S. public had a large enough attention span to devote to Russia during this election, and how this would affect the fortunes of each respective candidate.