A steady flow of well-wishes came from across the globe today to recognize the historic election of Barack Obama. “Liberal-minded Russians are welcoming Obama’s victory and see what’s happening in the United States as a definitive democratic revolution,” but Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, pointedly refrained from offering congratulations in his maiden state-of-the-nation speech today.
To the contrary. In a speech marked by anti-American rhetoric and interpreted as the much-anticipated ‘testing’ of the president-elect, he announced that Russia would deploy missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Medvedev claimed that the U.S. used the recent conflict in the Caucasus “as a pretext for bringing NATO warships to the Black Sea and then for the foisting on Europe of America’s missile-defense systems, which will in turn entail retaliatory measures by Russia.”
“The decision was made to take a tough stand with the United States, giving no concessions to the newly elected president,” said Dmitri Trenin, of the Moscow Carnegie Center.
RFE/RL reports that a recent opinion poll from the independent Levada Center found that nearly two-thirds of Russians paid no attention to the U.S. election. Part of the reason, says Andrei Piontkovsky, a Washington-based analyst, is the prevailing anti-Western and anti-American sentiment. “The propaganda coming from the Kremlin now identifies America as an enemy and any American president will be Russia’s enemy,” he says.
Barack Obama “could get off to a good start by making it clear he does not consider the people of Russia to be the enemy of the US,” writes Garry Kasparov, a leader of The Other Russia coalition and former world chess champion. “As in most authoritarian states, the Putin regime does not represent most of its citizens. Kremlin propaganda works hard to present the US as Russia’s adversary.”
Despite the tension between the two states, oppositionist and former premier Mikhail Kasianov opposes a policy of isolating Russia. “The West should continue a policy of engagement – with youth, NGOs, businesses, researchers, political activists,” he argues. “The more Russian people see how democracy works and how citizens are treated in the West by their states, the earlier they would demand the same at home.”