Russian Perspective: What accompanies Obama’s victory?
What’s the reaction there?
For me, it’s a bit of relief, because it was not Obama who during the election campaign referred to Russia as to “enemy #1”. Historically, for Russia it’s easier to deal with Republicans who are more pragmatic than with Democrats who are considered to be more ideological, but not this time.
Do you think Obama in the second term has a political stamina to breach gaps between Moscow and Washington that have been created over so many years?
I think Obama did pretty well during the first term by starting the reset with Russia. That was one of the reasons he got his Nobel Peace Prize. But there’re certain things you cannot change overnight. I don’t think, for example, that President Putin or President Obama will change their mind on Syria. But, at the same time, there is quite a promising agenda. I’m in cooperation on Afghanistan. Russia provides transit for American armed forces and ammunition to Afghanistan. In the years to come it’ll turn into a useful channel for leaving Afghanistan. Without Russia it’d be hard. We can cooperate on non-proliferation. We can cooperate on arms control. We can work together on scientific projects, like joint space stations. Surely, there’re also problems. For example, I expect the U.S. Congress to elaborate on Jackson-Vanik Amendment. Maybe it’ll be substituted by the so-called Magnitsky Law which won’t be a good development for Russian-American relations. I can assure you that there’ll be symmetrical response on Russia’s side regarding Guantanamo list or whatever. It’s already in the pipeline. So maybe we’ll have not a very promising beginning of this second term. Nevertheless, I’m still optimistic.
Can you talk a little bit about Jackson-Vanik Amendment and Magnitsky Law?
It’s both an old story and a new story. The old story is Jackson-Vanik Amendment which dates back 1974 when this amendment was introduced to link the most favored nation status in trade with Russia to freedom of the Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. It is outdated. Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore and each year the President of the U.S. has to postpone the introduction of that amendment. It’s not actually enforced. Now this amendment runs against interests of American businesses in Russia which also don’t receive the status when all the WTO members should be in most favored nation status. And that’s why the American businesses are lobbying the U.S. Congress to abolish this stupid amendment. On the other hand, the mood in the Congress is such that they cannot do it without presenting something in exchange. And that’s the Magnitsky Law. The Magnitsky List is list of Russia authorities, mostly in the prosecution office, in the prison system who had something to do with the case of Magnitsky who was a tax lawyer accused of financial violations and tax evasion. This lawyer was arrested and died in jail which arose a big campaign in the West to prosecute everybody who had something to do with this case. So, actually, introducing a list of people who cannot get American visas is something unprecedented. It was not used even in Soviet epoch against Soviet officials. That may bring back some ghost of the Cold War which we really don’t like to happen.
Let’s get away from that and get back to the two candidates and their prospective on the Middle East. What are the differences in their views?
I didn’t see much of a difference on Syria. There was much difference on the general Middle East solution on relations between Israel and the Arab States. I think it’s not by chance that this time Israel was firmly on the Republican side which is very unusual for the Israeli politics. Maybe for them it’s psychologically hard to support someone whose name is Barack Hussein. Obama is considered there to be an Arab-oriented politician which, I think, is not the case. And there was a big difference on Iran. I think Romney was much more for using force against Iran. And I think if he got elected, there could be a much bigger chance for military conflict over Iran, though I don’t think there’s a military solution to that crisis.
What do you think in regard of OSCE monitors being declined access to some U.S. states?
It sounds ridiculous when American observers are coming to monitor elections all over the world and when OSCE is about to do the same – bearing in mind that America belongs to OSCE and is to uphold its standards, – their monitors are said that they’ll be arrested in case that they come closer than a hundred yards to polling stations. It’s funny, on the one hand. On the other hand, it’s something to do with double standards. But I don’t think that Russians are idealists and that they believe that the alternative to double standards is just normal standards. Usually the alternative is triple standards or quadruple standards and so on.
So it does sound like, Vyacheslav, you’re looking forward to what are the possibilities in the next four years with Barack Obama on the second term.
We’ll try to work on positive agenda. We’ll try to reestablish contacts with the U.S. Congress. Actually, they used to have a yearly meeting of the International Affairs Committees of the Russian Duma and the U.S. Congress, but not with the Republican majority! We couldn’t do it. Probably, we’ll try to reset the inter-parliamentary Congress-to-Duma relations which would be useful. I think there should also be intellectual brainstorming with new foreign policy team. Hillary Clinton is out! Someone will be in. So we’ll probably have to deal with the new team in the State Department.
There’s a lot of talk about John Kerry who ran for president in 2004 taking over the Department of State. What do we know about his perspective on U.S.-Russia relations?
Kerry is quite well-known in Russia. He’s an expert in foreign relations, as well as in many other issues. I think he’s quite positive about Russia. I wouldn’t say that Hillary Clinton was negative, maybe sometimes. But, anyway, I think this would be not the worst choice from the point of view of Russian-American relations. So I’m looking forward more or less optimistically.
As long as President Obama doesn’t choose Mitt Romney, I suppose.