By Nina Bachkatov
The book of former American president Obama, “A promised land” is a publisher’s dream, selling millions of copies through the world, at a moment when the foreign policy of his former vice-president, now elected president Biden, is everyone guess. Notably about Washington’s future relation with Moscow.
Europeans tend to believe that the new president will undo the nonsense of president Trump. For them, the anticipated post-Trump return to multilateralism is a chance for the European Union to develop a higher degree of participation into world affairs as a “partner”.
Russians have all reasons to see the situation otherwise. They fear that the American return to multilateralism is just an attempt to reassess its leading position in world affairs, and, as Russia is concerned, a byword for returning to the period when the “winners of the Cold War” expected to enjoy the full returns of their victory.
The nomination of Anthony Blinken, the former deputy of the State Department in the Obama administration, as the new State Secretary, is vindicating Russian analysis.
They expect a return of American interferences in Russian political and social life, in a renewed effort to weaken Russia under the pretext of helping ‘democratic opposition’ groups to undermine “Putin’s Russia” – another key word implying that all what Russians have to do to restart good relations with the West is to elect another leader. The Kremlin also expects more sanctions, in which they continue to see an economic warfare against Russia.
Distributed at the right moment (too timely for many Russian analysts), the “Promised land” of Obama remind the Kremlin that its must decried win-win approach of foreign relations is in fact that of the West too, albeit better formulated.
They expect relations with Washington to deteriorate for internal reasons because, as it does in EU, the rallying cry “not letting Putin to divide us” is an easy screen to hide divisions. In this case it can help the new administration to claim they managed to restore a successful bipartisan policy, by uniting deeply divided Democrats on foreign policy matters and those Republicans who always believed that Trump was too soft with Moscow.
In the meantime, the low-key reception of Obama’s book reflects a specific Russian reality that the Biden’s administration might keep in mind. Ordinary Russians, and many intellectuals, never succumbed to the Obamania that stuck the West and a part of the world. They did not see why the color of his skin should be an asset, or send a political message. They found him a cold fish, arrogant, playing with his size to look down on people. During their meetings, Presidents Obama and Putin never tried to hidden their personal dislike for each other.
There was no Obama’s magic in Russia, and Russians found his appeals to young people to remake the world at best as a hypocrisy to reassert American model; at worst, as an American version of the old Soviet slogans about the youth and the future they found inept.
In short, most of the Russians were immune to those aspirational, sometimes quasi-religious, speeches. And today, officials and analysts who, contrary to the ordinary citizens, are reading Obama’s book, translate it as a reminder that Russia should refrain from excessive hopes.
It is certain that Biden’s relations with Russia will fall back into the hands of Democratic Cold warriors; and that it is not a question of generation, because the youngers are pushing further their agendas of human rights, mixing it with international trade relations, and even with discussions about the virtues of nuclear deterrence.
All the same, the Kremlin is left with the need to find the right message in direction of president elected Biden. It needs to state that Russia is not, as Obama said, a regional power deluding itself about its world importance, but full participant in world affairs ready for international cooperation on “mutually beneficial issues”.