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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gore or Bush, U.S.-Russia Ties in Tough Spot

Back in 1992, a provincial southern governor was battling a longtime White House insider for the U.S. presidency. In Russia, there was a new Kremlin chief barely a year into the job.

Eight years after Bill Clinton was elected president and Boris Yeltsin started ill-starred economic reforms, a mood of cautious optimism has been replaced by one of disillusionment and disconcerting indifference in bilateral ties.

Whether Democrat Al Gore, vice president for eight years, or Republican George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, wins next Tuesday, Russia will face a tough job focusing U.S. attention on the Russian economy, regional problems and arms control.

"The 'forget Russia' school is in the ascendancy in Washington. The question now is whether there is much substance left in the relationship," said a former U.S. policy-maker on Russia.

"The relationship is going to be much more difficult than some expect. The gaping and growing asymmetry in power, fortune and attitude is changing the international order and structures to Russia's disfavor."

It is a sign of these changed times that Russia ? a former superpower with a troubled economy and an inexperienced leader ? figures as scarcely more than a transient blip on either candidate?s campaign radar screen.

In Moscow, there is inevitable shoulder-shrugging about which candidate better matches Russia?s interests.

"It would be naive on the part of the Kremlin or the powers that be to place bets entirely on one or the other," said Yury Kobaladze, a managing director at Renaissance Capital who was previously in Russian foreign intelligence.

Political analysts and Kremlin sources give cogent arguments why Russian leaders would rather see Gore in charge, above all because he knows the ropes and the folks. They provide equally rational explanations why Bush would be better, not least for Kremlin hawks and Russian arms exports.

Deputies of different hues in the State Duma give predictably varied views but agreed there was little to choose between Gore and Bush, seen from Moscow.

"I don?t think there is a unified approach to this here. This is because there is no concept of national interests," said political analyst Yevgenia Albats. "There are just the interests of various factions."

President Vladimir Putin is not even a year into his four-year term, he has not built a solid personal relationship with Clinton and his own administration is still finding its feet ? variously advised by an increasingly assertive Security Council and more cautious Foreign Ministry, Kremlin sources say.

"Europe, not the United States, is the top priority of Russian foreign policy after securing cooperation of 'close neighbors,'" said a senior Foreign Ministry official. By close neighbors the official meant ex-Soviet states. "Relations with the United States are less important to Putin than they were to Yeltsin," the official said.

Of course Putin, like other world leaders, will have to work with Washington whoever is in the White House.

But he is in a weaker position than Yeltsin in 1992, despite Russia?s recent oil revenue bonanza and his own high popularity ratings.

"It seems no matter who wins, Russia will have to deal with the United States trying to resolve three main groups of issues, while we have today growing tension between Russia and the West," said Sergei Rogov, head of Russia?s U.S.A. and Canada Institute.

He said those three baskets were the economy, regional problems and arms control. The most important was the economic basket and it contained Russian foreign debt restructuring, Russian admission to the World Trade Organization and quotas. "These issues are crucial for Russian economic recovery," Rogov said. The Clinton administration had had good intentions but did not succeed in transforming Russia, he said.

On regional problems, Russia has already felt the impact of its reduced world status. "The record of the Democratic administration is that it tends to ignore the Russian view and it quite often presents Russia with a fait accompli, whether it is the war in Kosovo or the Sharm-el-Sheikh [Middle East] summit a few days ago or the Korean negotiations," said Rogov.

He said Bush had suggested several times during the campaign that Russia should be included more, but the analyst noted the Republicans tended to be "more unilateralist" than Democrats.

Arms control further emphasizes Russia?s weakness, despite its nuclear capability. With its armed forces in self-injurious decline, Moscow needs more disarmament as well as troop cuts.

"It became very expensive for Russia to modernize and maintain its nuclear arsenal," said Ariel Cohen, a Russia expert at the Heritage Foundation. "Russia wants the United States to cut its arms down to Russia?s levels."

For the same reason, Moscow also wants to prevent the United States from deploying a national missile defense shield against rogue rockets.

Yevgeny Volk, a Moscow-based political analyst, said Gore would be less tough on NMD than Bush.

Rogov said NMD was more about ideology than military necessity for the Republicans and even prompted some in the party to say the age of arms control is over. That would spell trouble for bilateral ties, he said.

Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center saw another area where a Bush administration could cause jitters in Moscow. He noted the one time Russia had figured prominently in the campaign was when Bush accused former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin of stealing money provided by the International Monetary Fund. Chernomyrdin has threatened to sue Bush.

Paul Taylor contributed to this report from London.