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Russia hopes for new US approach

It’s not quite Obamamania, but many Russians say they’re upbeat about Barack Obama’s decisive conquest of the White House in last Tuesday’s US election. It did come as a stunning surprise, however, writes Fred Weir.

world Updated: Nov 08, 2008 01:11 IST
Fred Weir

It’s not quite Obamamania, but many Russians say they’re upbeat about Barack Obama’s decisive conquest of the White House in last Tuesday’s US election. It did come as a stunning surprise, however.

Most Russians implicitly believed in the myth that an African-American could never be elected president of the United States. I have personally collected several hundred roubles from a couple of Russian friends who bet me, in full confidence, that the White Republican John McCain was definitely going to win.

Viktor Kremeniuk, a veteran analyst who’s deputy head of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow, explains that as the legacy of decades of Soviet propaganda upon Russian minds. “Too many Russians are still under the influence of Cold War images of the US as a racist society, where Blacks were oppressed and segregated from the White population,” Kremeniuk says.

“Now, suddenly, we see that things have changed radically in America, a Black man can actually get elected. This is a huge event that will force everyone in this country to reassess their old anti-American prejudices,” he says.

The display of democracy-in-action, in which someone from a group of historical outsiders can actually win, is a very radical example that might have a profound impact among younger Russians, he adds.

“I think this will trigger a new wave of interest in the United States, because Americans have shown us a degree of flexibility that’s really not possible under Russia’s prevailing system,” he says.

Both Obama and McCain expressed strong “Russia-bashing” positions during the election campaign, according to Russian experts, including advocacy of NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union and passionate backing for Georgia in its August war with Russia.

“During the US presidential campaign both candidates said some harsh things about Russia,” says Elina Kirichenko, head of North American studies at the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.

“But campaigns often showcase very tough rhetoric; once elected, the president gets down to practical work and becomes more realistic. There’s a big agenda of issues between Russia and the US that needs to be dealt with, and I have high hopes for Obama,” she says.