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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Too Great Expectations?

Before the arrival of President George W. Bush, Russian politicians and the press were obsessed with one question: What would the U.S. leader bring to reward our support of his anti-terrorism campaign? It was reminiscent of a child's excitement as he awaits the arrival of an adult who has promised to reward him or her for good behavior. The desire for gifts was accompanied by anxiety. What if he comes empty-handed, or brings the wrong gift?

As always, everyone wanted something different. Some hoped that Bush would express support for Russian troops in Chechnya -- something like a license to kill stamped by the U.S. State Department and signed by Big Brother: "We certify that from this day forward human rights in the Caucasus are hereby abolished."

Others were waiting for Bush to stand up for the oppressed by stamping his foot and declaring to a terrified Vladimir Putin: "I forbid you to insult the little man! You must desist from violating freedom of the press, and you must return the falsely accused oligarch Boris Berezovsky from exile!"

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The editor of one opposition newspaper even halted the publication of articles critical of the U.S. administration until Bush's departure -- as if he might take offense and decide not to defend freedom of speech. My American friends simply sighed as they recalled the time when a U.S. president took an interest in the fate of Vladimir Gusinsky's media empire. The empire no longer exists, and Gusinsky is sunning himself on some distant shore. But people still pin their hopes on the nice American man.

A well-informed government official suggested to me in confidence that such issues are totally insignificant. "Serious people are not going to discuss such trifles! Putin will ask Bush for permission to change the government!"

This set me to thinking: "Does our president really need Washington's permission to replace his own prime minister?" "Oh, come on," said the official with astonishment. "A change in the government will lead to destabilization of the situation in Russia. And the Americans won't like that. That's why we have to ask for their approval in advance." It all sounded very much like a banana republic.

I don't believe that the Russian president requires the sanction of foreigners to saw through the branch he's sitting on. This is the national sport of our bureaucrats, and it's not something that foreigners can comprehend. But the official's train of thought was indicative. A banana republic is defined not by the climate or even the economic situation of the country, but rather by the morale of its bureaucrats.

For the nationalists Bush's visit was simply another occasion to voice their hatred of the West. Europeans hold anti-Bush demonstrations whenever and wherever he comes to town. Long before Bush arrived in Berlin this month the city was covered in posters urging people to take to the streets to let Bush know that Germany isn't Texas or Florida, and that he is not loved there.

Anti-American demonstrations in Moscow attract an entirely different breed. The Russian radical left knows this well.

That's why the anti-globalism demonstration in Moscow was timed to coincide not with Bush's arrival, but with the Russian leadership's meeting with officials from the European Union.

Law enforcement also looked forward to Bush's visit. This sort of event is a real holiday for the police, because they get to shut down, clamp down and check out absolutely everything. On the eve of Bush's arrival, one Moscow newspaper published a special section informing readers of all the places in the city that were to be off-limits during the summit.

The main result of the visit was the much-anticipated agreement on nuclear warhead reduction, whose provisions still have to be worked out. To this could be added the U.S. president's many promises: to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which limits trade; to recognize Russia as a country with a market economy; to simplify the process of issuing visas, etc.

The question is whether or not these promises will be carried out, and when. Most likely all of these things will be done, at least in part.

Russian politicians' expectations went largely unfulfilled for the simple reason that they were unrealistic.

The Russian public also seemed disappointed, and Putin will have to answer for that. Although in this case he's not to blame.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.