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What Will Super Tuesday Mean for Russia?

hillaryobama020508.jpgToday is very important day in U.S. politics, which could prove to be definitive in shaping the foreign policies of the next presidency. You can be sure that the Russia is watching very closely – as it is arguably a much more interesting campaign season to observe that the local performance. Most agree there is a lack of clarity on the candidates’ Russia views. A few weeks ago, Robert Amsterdam published an opinion article in the Washington Times about the U.S. elections and Russia which argued that “So far, this wide field of candidates remarkably has been disappointing and unspecific on Russia policy with advisors cautioning to speak only about foreign policy issues like Iraq and Iran. But while we’re asleep at the wheel, Russia quietly is becoming more volatile, especially in terms of the global security and economic stability.” But is it really possible to predict how these candidates will handle Russia?

We really only have a few kernels of commentary to work from. Today Siberian Light is featuring a great post collecting a number of Russia-related quotes from the candidates. We’re all pretty well aware of Sen. John McCain’s general tough talk on Russia (as well as his relationship with Oleg Deripaska), but it is Sen. Hillary Clinton that seems to be the biggest enigma on how she would handle Russia. Andy writes that Clinton “seems to have pretty much given up on the idea of promoting democracy in Russia” while the young Barack Obama, who is most frequently attacked for lack of experience, “is dull, and manages to slightly contradict himself.“For what Barack Obama may lack in experience, he has quietly recruited a heavy hitter on Russia policy as an advisor – none other than the Cold War titan Zbigniew Brzezinski. Last summer when President Bush invited Putin to the useless “Lobster Summit” at Kennebunkport after months of acrimonious exchanges, Brzezinski saidI think there must have been peals of delirious laughter echoing around the ornate chambers of the Kremlin when the invitation to go to Kennebunkport arrived. Putin has been spitting at the United States for the last year, and what is the reaction? An invitation to a family gathering.” Barring radical changes, I suppose we can assume that Brzezinski wouldn’t bring the Russian president home for the holidays any time soon.However, the question no one seems to be asking is which candidate or which party the Kremlin would rather see in power. While the siloviki have enjoyed an eight year vacation from oversight under the incompetent Bush presidency, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Moscow would prefer another Republican candidate. But Boris Gryzlov did once tell the Washington Post that “there are fears that the Democrats are more prone to apply double standards in human rights,” which is another way of saying that the Republicans have shown a pattern of overlooking internal political issues in exchange for cooperation on business and security.I tend to agree with Bob’s long-held view: partisanship only distorts the Russia policy debate.