For many in the Russian political and business elites, the idea of backing Donald Trump as the next U.S. president is not only outlandish, it is also politically naïve.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a campaign event at Riverfront Sports in Scranton, Pa., Aug. 15, 2016. Photo: AP
With the presidential race in the U.S. drawing to a close, the balance seems to be swinging in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Russians are cautiously watching Clinton's surge in the polls, where she has overtaken Republican nominee Donald Trump.
In some national polls, Trump is seven percentage points behind Clinton, while in some key states where the outcome of the November election is going to be decided, the gap is larger still. Thus, in Pennsylvania, according to a survey conducted by Franklin & Marshall College and reported by the Bloomberg news agency, Clinton is 11 percentage points ahead.
Meanwhile, it is precisely in Pennsylvania and other “swing states” where Trump must win: the proportion of white voters in the state is 20 percent higher than the national average, a considerable part of the population being the “blue collar” workers who feel that they have been left behind by global trade deals.
These voters strongly supported, at least during the primaries, Trump’s calls for discontinuing America’s trade agreements with other countries. They blame these trade pacts for the loss of jobs by Americans.
Trump is not doing well in such states as Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina, either. “There has clearly been a significant movement toward Clinton in the last week,” said Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and polling analyst for Bloomberg Politics. “Some of it is a Clinton post-convention bounce, but more of it seems to be a Trump deflation or implosion.”
Of the G20 countries, only Russia supports a Trump presidency
Recently, the research company YouGov conducted a survey for the German publication Handelsblatt to find out the attitudes of the populations of the G20 countries to Trump. It turned out that nobody but the Russians wanted to see him as the next head of the United States.
Public opinion surveys conducted during the American primaries indicated that the Russians were more inclined toward the billionaire than Clinton, the former U.S. Secretary of State. A considerable proportion of the respondents (34 percent) expected that in the event of Trump’s victory, relations between Russia and the U.S. would improve. At the same time, over one-half of the respondents believed that Clinton’s victory would lead to a worsening in relations.
According to Valery Fedorov, the general director of the Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), Russians tend to favor Trump. “The eccentric and abrupt politician-billionaire is more attractive than Hillary Clinton, who is remembered for her tough anti-Russian policy during her time as U.S. Secretary of State,” he pointed out.
Such an attitude amongst Russian citizens is probably a direct consequence of the propaganda by the state-run TV channels, which create, day after day, an image of Hillary as the worst enemy of Russia. And Trump, with his shocking escapades, reminds many of well-known Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Russian Libeal Democratic Party (LDPR), who has retained his popularity for over a quarter of a century.
As for the theory, widely publicized in America, that Russian President Vladimir Putin has placed his bet on Trump, it seems to be a grave exaggeration. Putin is an extremely informed world leader. He most certainly has not been ignorant of the fact that, in spite of growing support among the U.S. electorate, Trump’s chances of becoming the next American president are not really great because of the fierce opposition from the Republican establishment, his rejection by the mainstream media, and his own inexplicable blunders.
As for the Russian political and business elites, there is a growing conviction among them that Trump is a tired horse incapable of making it to the finish line. As a result, they are thinking about placing their stakes on the former First Lady of America.
Russian oligarchs’ wives and children favor Clinton
In Russia, an article published on the Politico website by an American of Russian origin, Julia Ioffe, attracted a great deal of attention. She argues that, while the Russian authorities deny any interest in the race between Clinton and Trump, some rich Russians are still playing an important part in the election.
One of them is Maria Baybakova, a gallerist and the daughter of Russian billionaire Oleg Baybakov, who has been associated with the U.S. Democratic Party for the past four years. She scoffs at the suggestion that the hackers who stole emails from the Democratic National Committee acted in the interests of Trump.
Baybakova, who became an American citizen without forfeiting her Russian passport, started her cooperation with the Democrats in 2012 when she sponsored a culture event named Art for Obama. She auctioned off a few pieces of art to hand over the money to the election campaign fund of the Democratic Party. She was a guest of honor at U.S. President Barack Obama’s re-election ceremony that year. In September of this year, she plans to canvass for votes among Americans who live abroad. “I don’t know a single American abroad who would vote for Trump,” she says.
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The American Democrats also have the support of the well-known businesswoman Daria Zhukova. She is the 35-year-old partner of Roman Abramovich, one of the richest men in Russia, who happens to be quite close to Putin. She wrote out a check in favor of Clinton’s campaign for $2,700, which is the maximum sum that can be received by a candidate from an individual.
In December of last year, Zhukova who, like Baybakova, possesses a double Russian-American citizenship, made a donation in the amount of $33,400 dollars to the Democratic National Committee. The donation took place at a fundraising party that featured the singer Sting.
Some representatives in Russian academic circles, too, have started voicing their support for Clinton. “Candidate for Russia: How Hillary Clinton is better than Donald Trump” — that was the title of a column published in the influential publication RBC by Pavel Demidov, a senior instructor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO University).
“However appeasable Donald Trump may seem, there is no guarantee that he will be a president that is friendly to Russia,” Demidov argues, pointing out that Trump uses the Russian theme just to discredit Clinton. "It would be naïve to count on his promise to ‘look at the Crimean situation once again.’ One can count on that, under Trump, America will cease to be a vehicle of NATO, but it is highly improbable. But the odds of having a light-headed, irascible populist who changes his mind three times a day at the head of the world's most powerful country with nuclear weapons is a threat to the entire world and Russia in particular.”
Khrushchev’s great-granddaughter is also against Trump
Nina Khrushcheva, great-granddaughter of the former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, shares this opinion. She has lived many years in America and urges Russians to take a closer look at the electoral situation in the U.S. In her opinion, Trump will “quickly put the Russian president in his place.”
“Putin’s refusal to recognize U.S. supremacy will soon come into conflict with Trump’s dominant feature — the perception of himself as the leader of the free world,” she said. She adds that neither Putin nor Trump is in the habit of backing off, and therefore, any minor argument may turn their “solid, male friendship” into a situation similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
She is the one to know all about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which, through the fault of her great-grandfather, put the world on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. And according to the American TV channel MSNBC, Trump inquired of a foreign policy advisor during the electoral campaign why Washington could not use its nuclear arsenal if it’s available.
Such infantile logic of the Republican candidate may be another factor that will induce Americans to vote for Clinton on Election Day – and perhaps another factor that will encourage Russians to re-think their support of Trump.