Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

If The Kremlin Could Vote, It Would Vote For McCain

From one of our friends in Europe, Ivan Krastev. comes this intriguing story.

Being someone who lives in Europe and who writes professionally on Russia’s politics and foreign policy I cannot stop being amazed how Russia plays in this presidential campaign.

Reading America’s mainstream press one gets the impression that both Republicans and security-minded Democrats agree that Senator McCain is the candidate who can stand up against Russia’s revisionism and who is better prepared to handle Putin’s challenge. McCain was the one who unconditionally supported Georgia in the first hours of Russian aggression; McCain asked for expelling Russia from G-8; McCain advocated the creation of a League of Democracies that should “give hell” to all the autocrats around the world.

In short, reading the American press you would be inclined to believe that Moscow is terrified by the idea that McCain can be elected and that it prays for Obama’s victory.

“Obama is soft, he’s inexperienced and he’s… ready to talk to any and all autocrats in the world.”  


The reality is quite different.  

In May this year, British conservative paper Daily Telegraph did an opinion poll in seven European countries. The question was “For whom you would vote in the American elections?” Surprisingly, the survey showed that John McCain enjoyed more support in Russia than in any of the major European country. (And support for McCain does not correlate with the opposition to Putin or the support for America).

But while Russian public opinion, if invited to vote on American elections still favors Obama by a small margin, the Kremlin’s elite with whom I have been discussing the coming American election are hard-core McCain supporters.

The well-known fact that Soviets have always preferred Republicans to the Democrats is not enough to explain “McCainmania” in the Kremlin. Russia’s elite preference for McCain has different sources but four of them are worth mentioning: namely, race, class, strategic calculation and a love for lobbyists.

In the spring during a visit to Moscow I had an opportunity to discuss at length the American elections with a senior Russian official. He was knowledgeable, well-educated and in his own words he starts his working day by checking RealClearPolitics. At the end of the conversation he asked me if I “really believed that Obama could be elected”. When I said yes, his reaction was hysterical.

“You should understand – this is not serious, we cannot negotiate nukes with a Black”.

Pure and simple racism explains to great extent Russia’s sympathy for McCain.

But race is not everything; there is also a class issue. Post-communist Russian elites who made their money mainly through corruption are extremely sensitive towards any criticism of the existing status quo. And for them any appeal to more egalitarian policies is nothing else than an expression of dangerous populism that, they fear, can spread all over the world. What the Kremlin does not like about Obama is his egalitarian rhetoric and the fact that he makes an issue about the rising inequalities of income.

But beyond race and class, the Kremlin has two more pragmatic reasons to prefer McCain over Obama. McCain has famously stated that when he looks in Putin’s soul he sees just three letters, KGB. There is no doubt that McCain hates what he saw. But Putin is not in the business of looking in his adversary’s soul: being a former KGB officer he looked in McCain’s entourage and he liked what he saw. He saw a lot of lobbyists and even better, lobbyists linked to some of his in-house oligarchs.

The strategic reason that makes the Kremlin pro-McCain is the fact that the policies that McCain advocates suit Putin’s Russia.

Russia’s strategy is to re-gain its status as world power through rhetorical confrontation with the West. In this sense,  McCain’s tough rhetoric plays into the Kremlin’s hands, both domestically and internationally.

Domestically it helps Putin to convince the public that Russia is under siege, and internationally McCain’s toughness helps Russia to position itself as the challenger to America’s global hegemony. At the same time Moscow does not need to pay a price for its anti-Americanism, first, because America is overstretched and second, because in the current financial turmoil McCain’s toughness is nothing but rhetoric. There is no enthusiasm for a call economic sanctions and McCain’s uncritical support for Georgian President Michail Saakashvili does not go well in Europe.

In short, there is a lack of enthusiasm for McCain in Europe and there is a lack of realism in some of his policies. This creates the danger that if McCain were elected, Europe and America would split on how to deal with Russia –  and this will be the Kremlin’s strategic victory.

So, the belief that McCain is the right President for dealing with Russia is not as widespread as many Americans believe. So, at least in my view, if Americans are really worried about Russia’s revisionism they had better vote for Obama, not McCain.

Of course, you also have the option of hanging your hopes on Sarah Palin.  She is a hockey mom, plus, in her own words, a born expert on Russia.

Ivan Krastev is a political scientist and Chair of Board of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. Since 2004 Mr. Krastev has been the executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans chaired by the former Italian Premier Minister Giuliano Amato. He is the Director of the Open Century Project of the Central European University in Budapest.


  1. fogiv

    rfahey22 and I were wondering if, given the current turmoil/infighting in the Republican Party the RNC would actually stop bankrolling McCain to focus on other races if (and when) Obama pulls far enough ahead.  Maybe around 360+ EVs?


  2. GrassrootsOrganizer

    I got this email day before yesterday

    “I wanna get back to Michigan and I want to try!”


    That was Governor Sarah Palin’s response to the McCain campaign’s decision to divert resources from Michigan.  I’ve agreed with Governor Palin many times in the past, but I can honestly say, I’ve never agreed with her more!

    Governor Palin said she immediately fired off an email to the campaign when she heard the news, and friends, I am now firing off an email to you to ask for your immediate help.  Stand with me, and help me help Governor Palin by sending your most generous contribution to the Michigan Republican Party.

    {um. note how no one is talking about helping that son of a bitch John McCain.}

    We’re fighters, just like Governor Palin. {um, I guess John McCain isn’t much of a fighter. oops!} We know this election isn’t over.  We won’t give up on our candidates.  We won’t give up on Michigan. {um. like John McCain?} Stand with me.  Stand with Governor Palin. {um. ah…but not with, um, what was that old guy’s name again?} Make an online contribution to the Michigan Republican Party today.

    Just yesterday, I emailed and asked for your help after we learned of the McCain campaign’s decision. I let you know that we were left in a very undesirable position and that we as a party would now have to fund the entire effort ourselves.  {sounds like you’ve been kinda screwed, eh Saul?}You answered the call, and in less than 24 hours, we’ve raised more than $16,000 from that email.  THANK YOU. {from six donors, all named DeVos?}

    But friends, if we’re to remain {um, remain?} competitive, if we’re to put the programs in place that Joe Knollenberg, Tim Walberg, Cliff Taylor and our other candidates need for victory, if we’re to show the nation that you can’t count Michigan out, your Michigan Republican Party needs to fill a significant hole. {ouch.  a significant hole? um, sucks to be, um, you.}

    I need to raise $100,000 over the next week from our best grassroots activists like you.  That’s a huge number-I know.  But I also know what we need for victory, and I also know the dedication and generosity of the greatest Republican grassroots in the nation.  We’re off to a good start.  That’s why I need you to join with me by clicking here and making an online donation to the Michigan Republican Party.

    I cannot understate the absolute critical nature of my request. {um, but, ah, not critical enough for your candidate, Whatshisname, to give a damn} If you’ve ever considered donating to the Party in the past but haven’t for whatever reason, now is the time to follow-through.  If you donated yesterday or in the past, first and foremost-THANK YOU.  But our work is not done.

    If you can make another contribution, please do so today.  And please forward this message to your entire address book.  I wouldn’t ask you to do so much if it wasn’t absolutely critical to our efforts.

    Click here, make your most generous contribution and stand with us.  Together, we’ll show the nation Michigan is worth the fight! {and, um, John McCain?}

    With sincere appreciation, {and utter desperation}

    Saulius “Saul” Anuzis


    P.S.  We’ll be sending daily updates {um, did I miss my daily update?} on our progress toward our $100,000 goal.  We need all hands on deck if we’re going to be successful.  Please, click here to make your donation now.  

Comments are closed.