Russians Divided Over How Election Outcome Could Affect Bilateral Ties

By Sergei Blagov | October 31, 2008 | 10:52 AM EDT

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, seen here with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Moscow on Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008, has postponed his state of the nation address until the day after the U.S. presidential election (AP Photo)

Moscow ( – While many Russians make no secret of supporting Sen. Barack Obama, opinion polls here suggest that Russians do not in general expect any immediate warming of relations with the United States following next week’s presidential election.
Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council – the upper house of parliament – is among several senior politicians who have voiced hopes that the election may bring positive changes in the strained relationship.
Mironov, who expects an Obama win, said the world expects “change” from the U.S., especially in its foreign policy.
Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international relations committee of the State Duma – the lower house – said Obama was free of outdated stereotypes and would be a better partner for Moscow.
Republican candidate Sen. John McCain came to prominence as a politician during the Cold War and sees no difference between the former Soviet Union and modern Russia, Kosachev argued.
But Ivan Melnikov, deputy head of Russia’s Communist Party, said Russia would be able to interact better with a President McCain as he appeared to be “less cunning” than his Democratic rival.
President Dmitry Medvedev appears to be reserving judgment, for now.
Medvedev’s state of the nation address has been postponed several times – first expected on Oct. 23, and then on Oct. 30, it is now scheduled for Nov. 5. Media commentators here are speculating that he is waiting to see who wins, and will alter the text accordingly.
In a recent poll of Russian citizens by the VTSIOM research center, 60 percent of respondents predicted an Obama victory while only 22 percent viewed that likelihood as “impossible.”
In the same poll, 37 percent of respondents described Russia-U.S. relations as “tense” and 29 percent as “chilly.” Almost 40 percent of participants said bilateral ties would not change after the election.
Valery Garbuzov, deputy head of the U.S. and Canada Institute in Moscow, said the campaign had raised intense interest.
Whatever the case in Russia itself, Americans of Russian descent appear to favor McCain by a sizeable margin. An opinion poll of Russian-speakers in the U.S., conducted for the Moscow-based Human Rights Bureau, found that about 60 percent planned to vote for McCain, while only 10 percent would support Obama.
Some officials here have used the opportunity to criticize the U.S. election campaign.
Alexander Ivanchenko, head of Election Research Center – a subsidiary of Russia’s Central Election Committee – said the U.S. trailed behind Europe, including Russia, when it came to election campaigning and regulations.
For instance, he said, major U.S. television networks appear to determine the timing of election debates, rather than legally binding regulations.
The research center has been assessing the U.S. campaign and the networks’ coverage of it, and in a preliminary report obtained by the Kommersant business newspaper, it concluded that Obama had a “hidden advantage” in the coverage.
It also said Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin had come under more criticism than Sen. Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate.
Six State Duma lawmakers will be monitoring the American election as a part of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission.
The mission will have a core team of 13 international experts in Washington, D.C., and 47 observers deployed in teams of two around the country, drawn from 20 OSCE member countries.
“The mission will assess the upcoming elections in the context of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, as well as national legislation,” the OSCE said in a statement. The group monitored previous U.S. polls in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
The outside world has frequently criticized Russian elections, most recently last March when Medvedev, former President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor, took about 70 percent of the vote.
The OSCE, which is Europe’s main election-monitoring body, declined to observe that election, citing restrictions imposed by Moscow
( International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)