Many pundits believe that the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency, Donald Trump, is a better option for Russia than his Democratic counterpart Hillary Clinton. However, that’s simply not the case – here’s why.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a rally at Osceola Heritage Park, in Kissimmee, Fla., Monday, August 8, 2016. Photo: AP
The perception of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as a pro-Russian candidate or even one handpicked and recruited by the Kremlin has become conventional wisdom in many political circles. Many observers – both in Russia and abroad – agree that Trump is objectively better for Russia as the head of the White House.
As a result, some pundits also argue that the Russian authorities are doing their utmost to prevent Trump’s political opponent - Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - from winning the presidential bid. The recent news about a potential Russian hack of the Democratic Party’s e-mail servers has only reinforced these ideas.
At the same time, it would be worthwhile to understand what is behind the Kremlin’s sympathies toward Trump and its distrust toward Clinton. It is not as easy an answer as it seems to be at first glance.
Of course, the election of Clinton as president would be a clear signal for the Kremlin that Washington’s hard line policy toward Russia will persist and, probably, be reinvigorated in the future. No wonder the Russian authorities would like to avoid such a scenario.
In contrast, Trump’s statements on U.S. foreign policy, NATO and the Ukrainian crisis give hope to the Kremlin that the would-be Republican president might improve U.S.-Russia relations and resolve the key problems in bilateral relations in a way that is beneficial for Moscow. In this regard, the Kremlin’s position seems very natural and rational. However, logic does not hold up under closer inspection, taking into account Trump’s eccentric behavior and unpredictability.
Few doubt that, if elected as the next U.S. president, Trump’s real policy will be different from his pre-election political promises and statements. And the worst-case scenario of a new and dangerous confrontation between Moscow and Washington under a Trump presidency doesn’t seem unimaginable.
So, what’s going on? Doesn’t the Kremlin see such a threat emanating from the Trump campaign? Do the Russian authorities really believe in the words of the demagogue and seriously hope that he, if elected, will dismantle NATO and recognize the annexation of Crimea?
Of course not - no reasonable politician in Russia would dare play such a dangerous game of high-stakes poker with Trump instead of playing a chess game with Clinton, especially if Russia’s national interests and the improvement of U.S.-Russia relations were at stake. But there is something else at stake, and Trump’s casino seems to be much more attractive than Clinton’s chess club.
Without any embarrassment, the Kremlin makes no bones about its sympathies toward Trump, who is seen within the United States as projecting a dark and gloomy scenario for the future of America. So, the Russian authorities seem to seek only one thing by endorsing Trump - they want to humiliate and weaken their major opponent, the United States.
At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t see any prospects for improving U.S.-Russia relations no matter who will be elected — Trump or Clinton. The Kremlin’s head is well aware that none of them will be ready to make any concessions to Russia on the issues that matter the most. As a result, nothing prevents the Russian leader from preparing to communicate with Clinton, while creating the impression that he welcomes Trump’s victory.
In addition, Moscow cannot help but understand that Trump’s alleged connections with Putin erode the image of the Republican Party in the U.S. After all, the Democratic campaign headquarters is extensively using the image of Trump as a KGB agent to discredit him, win votes and promote their agenda.
However, the Russia authorities are not concerned with this fact. On the country, they seem to find it beneficial and see it as a great victory because it bolsters the image of Putin and presents him as almighty and omnipresent. Using such logic, it looks like the Russian president succeeded in manipulating the election process in the world’s only superpower in the direction that is convenient for Moscow.
In fact, the Kremlin’s position toward the 2016 U.S. presidential election reflects Russia’s foreign policy trends of recent years. During an economic crisis that has led to a glaring lack of resources for maintaining the status of a great power, the Russian authorities are turning to the methods, which bring immediate results and require minimal effort.
In this regard, using modern information technologies in framing foreign policy is not a good sign. In such a situation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is easily overshadowed by his spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, who is performing Russian national dances at the Russia-ASEAN summit or angrily lambasting the flaws and the vices of the West.
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Amidst this background, it is becoming popular in Russia to popularize the thesis that a sanctioned country, which decisively traded barbs with the West, can influence the events in Europe and America. However, Moscow doesn’t care about the fact that such influence is destructive in its nature and aggravates crises in the world, at least as seen by the West.
It seems that Russia understands soft power in a new and different way: It has transformed from a tool for creating a favorable image of the country into an instrument of information attacks against “the hostile West.”
In this case, the result of the U.S. presidential elections is important not only from the point of view of the future of U.S.-Russia relations, but also in the context of Russia’s future information policy. If Trump wins, it could be difficult for the Kremlin to deal with the temptation to ascribe his victory to the Russian propagandists, hackers and all those involved in the “destructive” information campaign against the West.
In contrast, Clinton’s victory will sober up the Russian authorities. This what they need now, because the belief that Russia doesn’t need to root out technological backwardness, that it doesn’t need economic and legal reforms, that it needs just to fuel crises in the West to achieve success in the international arena — such belief is very dangerous. It is one of the big mistakes that might be fatal for Russia in the future.
Clinton’s victory will make the Russian authorities change their minds and understand that small victories in the information wars won’t be a game-changer at all. Creating a counterbalance to the U.S. is only possible if Russia becomes as strong and influential as the U.S. in the world.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.