By Leonid Bershidsky
Whoever wins the U.S. presidential election will have a hard time dealing with Russia: The relationship between the two countries is in tatters. Donald Trump obviously doesn't have any answers. Yet, like most of my fellow Russians who follow the race, I also have misgivings about Hillary Clinton -- even though, unlike most of them, I am an active opponent of President Vladimir Putin.
The last time an independent polling organization -- the Levada Center -- polled Russians on the U.S. presidential candidates was in August. Only 12 percent said they were following the election closely, and 73 percent said they'd heard something about it. Among the news junkies, 39 percent said Donald Trump would be a better U.S. president for Russia, while 15 percent said Clinton would be better. The state-owned pollster, VTsIOM, did its latest poll in July, finding about the same proportion of curious Russians. That survey revealed that 34 percent of those who'd heard of Trump thought Russia-U.S. relations would improve under him; only 6 percent of those who'd heard about Clinton believed that of her.
In part, that can be explained by the effect of Putin's propaganda machine, which has been giving Trump more favorable coverage than Clinton for two reasons. First, Russian state TV always backs populist rebels in any Western country on the theory that whatever weakens the Western establishment is good for Russia. Second, Putin and Clinton openly dislike each other. She says she sees in him a cold-blooded, self-enriching KGB agent and a bully; he remembers how she appeared to encourage protests against him in 2011.
Those reasons matter little to me. I believe Russia's place is in an open, free-thinking Western world, and that nationalist populists, including Trump, are destroying that vision of the West. I took part in the 2011 protests and I agree with Clinton's assessment of Putin. And yet I, too, think a Clinton presidency would be bad for Russia -- and that would ultimately hurt the U.S. as well.
Clinton's positions on Russia are based on simplistic ideological lines. In a campaign speech in late August, she branded Putin "the grand godfather of this global brand of extreme nationalism" -- the brand espoused by anti-immigrant political parties in Europe. Indeed, if one took at face value Putin's recent efforts to build a "conservative" ideology as an intellectual basis for its rule and his propaganda's backing of European nationalists, such a description would be justified. Nothing in Russia can be taken at face value, however.
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