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Who Needs Friends . . .

On RFE/RL, Irina Severin ponders the reasons why politicians in ex-Soviet states are so willing to solicit Russian friendliness, when there may be little to thank the Kremlin for in the long-run.  Severin examines Moldova, where ex-President Vladimir Voronin was lavished with attention prior to the elections, to be unceremoniously ignored after losing, and poses an apposite question: does new front runner Marian Lupu really want to waltz with Medvedev – knowing that the President is always seeking more flexible partners?  And is backing from the Kremlin the kiss of life, or the kiss of death? 

Why are politicians in the former Soviet countries so eager to have their picture taken with the president of Russia? For the most part, Russia’s neighbors associate Russia with unexpected gas cuts, gas-price increases, and painful embargoes that produce misery throughout society. So there is a certain part of the electorate that seeks to avoid these punishments at any cost and wants a leader who can appease this uncontrollable force of nature.

The size of this segment of the electorate is hard to estimate. The Kremlin has agencies in its neighboring countries, such as Eurasian Monitor (a project of the Kremlin-controlled All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion), that are working to improve Russia’s image and its standings in the polls. Of course, such polls are primarily intended not to reflect public opinion, but to shape it.

The Kremlin uses the same technique at home — controlling the media inorder to frame issues in the “correct” way and then producing polls,studies, and “expert” opinions that bolster this impression. Judgingfrom some of the comments coming from Russian leaders, it would appearthat often the rulers themselves begin to believe the storylines theycraft.

Marian Lupu, it seems, fell victim to a desire to sharein the Russian leader’s apparent popularity. But by doing so, he hasplaced his presidential ambitions in grave danger. By comparison, itseems Ukraine’s Yushchenko made a rare appearance at the CIS summitprecisely in order to be snubbed by Medvedev and to give his abysmalpopularity rating at home a little bounce — not exactly the resultRussia was seeking.

Read all here.