Moscow's Kremlin and the Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge are seen in the late evening.

Moscow's Kremlin and the Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge are seen in the late evening.



Andrey Korzun/Wikimedia Commons

Like most of the world, Russians were surprised when Donald Trump won the US presidential race. But, across the political spectrum, they were largley united in welcoming the news.

"I was quite happy," says Anna Pogreevenkova, a 26-year-old English teacher in Moscow.

A supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pogreevenkova took little joy in watching relations between Moscow and Washington deteriorate during the Obama years. For her, a Hillary Clinton presidency meant four more years of acrimony.

She admits a Trump administration's course may be far less clear, but it will be something different. And that alone, she says, makes Trump the better choice for Russians.

"Maybe it will change for the better," says Pogreevenkova.  "Maybe Trump will stop these quarrels and we will do something together...hand in hand."

Such sentiments are shared by Russia's political elite.

Russia's Duma, the country's leglislative assembly, notoriously broke out into applause, with ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky even treating fellow lawmakers to champagne toasts, upon hearing of Trump's victory. Indeed, several lawmakers said they saw Trump's victory as partly their own.

Trump, after all, has pointedly called for improved relations with Russia. On the campaign trail, he's also voiced support for Kremlin positions on key issues of Russian national interest — such as Russia's alliance with Bashar al-Assad in Syria and questioning the role and need for the NATO alliance in Eastern Europe.

Such statements, say anaysts, have the Kremlin dreaming not only of an ally in the White House, but an end to Western sanctions that have deepened Russia's economic troubles amid a downturn in world oil prices.   

"If Americans are no longer insistent on sanctions, this will be the yearned for miracle for the Russian economy," says Maria Lipman, editor of the Counterpoint Journal. "If not to make the economy rise, then at least it will help stop the decline."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has also been among those cheering on the prospects for Russian-American detente. In statements carried on state television, Peskov has gone out of his way to praise similarities in Putin and Trump's approaches to foreign policy. "It is phenomenal, to what extent, it appears they are close in their conceptual approaches to foreign policy," said Peskov.
Polls here reflect the sudden change in tone. If anti-Americanism surged to levels not seen since the Cold War during the Obama years, a majority of  Russians — some 70 percent — now want better relations with the West.

"What the Kremlin is after is the reaffirmation of respect from the United States and the Trump Admininstration," says Vladimir Frolov, a foreign policy analyst and columnist with The Moscow Times. "They viewed the Obama adminstration as disrespectful."

Frolov notes that, more than any policy differences, President Obama poisoned relations beyond repair when the American president denigrated Russia as "a regional power." 

Such statements, says Frolov, counter the Kremlin's image of Russia as a nation assuming its rightful place as a global power under Putin. While such statements give a Trump administration nowhere to go but up, Frolov warns any budding Putin-Trump partnership comes with a shelflife given Russia's foreign policy ambitions.

"I give them a year or a year and half of relatively irrational exuberance in the relationship," says Frolov. "But in a year and a half when one of them invades some country, then the whole thing starts all over again."

Indeed, few doubt the importance of foreign policy to Russians' perceptions of their country at last "rising from its knees" following the collapse of the Soviet Union. As Russia's economy has struggled, Putin has turned to foreign military adventures — for example, the annexation of Crimea or Russia's military air campaign in Syria — to legitmize his rule and mask limited achievements at home.

Yet, in this, even Russia's beleagured opposition sees a silver lining in a Trump White House.

"Putin has already started his propaganda campaign that Trump is not enemy ... it's perfect," says Dmitry Stepanov, a member of what he describes as Russia's "new opposition."

Last month Stepanov huddled with other activists in a Moscow coffee shop to plan an "anti-crisis" protest against Kremlin policies that, they argue, have left Russia politically isolated and economically damaged. Stepanov notes that as the ruble has collapsed in value and social programs have shrunk, Kremlin propaganda have put blame for Russians' woes squarely on the United States.  But now with Trump and Putin appearing to search for common ground, Stepanov says the US as bogeyman conspiracy no longer holds.

"It will be good because the Russian people will understand that Putin and his team are responsible for all our problems."

Perhaps with that in mind, the Russian leader's state of the nation address on December 1 focused heavily on domestic issues and eschewed the combative anti-Western rhetoric of recent years past. Declaring that Russia sought friendships, not rivalries with the US and other Western partners, Putin made the case to Russians that they'd successfully weathered the worst of the sanctions storm.

Yet later that same day, Putin issued a new, muscular foreign policy doctrine that blamed the crisis in Russia-West relations on Washington. The move suggested the Russian leader was planning for any and all outcomes during Trump's years in the White House.

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