Election in Georgia


The possibility of the end of Georgia’s post-Soviet nightmare of wars, coups and poverty may be distantly glimpsed with Georgian Dream’s victory. But many questions remain to be resolved before Georgia can get out of the hole. The last of the three famous post-USSR “Coloured Revolutions” has come to its end: like the others, it has ended in disappointment.

The big question is the interaction between the new Parliament and Saakashvili during the remainder of his term. Saakashvili is prone to accuse any opponent of being a stooge of Moscow and has done so with Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili, while he has repeatedly said that he wants a Western orientation, including NATO membership, for Georgia has also repeatedly said that better relations with Moscow are essential. How will Saakashvili behave when the first steps are made?

The constitutional situation is another point of concern. Saakashvili is still President, the President is still more powerful than the Prime Minister: indeed the former appoints the latter. (And whom will Saakashvili appoint?) But, when Saakashvili leaves office in a year, the power relationship will reverse. These year-old constitutional changes, which some saw as an effort by Saakashvili to remain in power will, instead, send Ivanishvili or his nominee into power and Saakashvili into retirement. But, at the moment, it’s dual power and history shows few happy endings to that situation. Saakashvili is unlikely to be a good loser and there are already fears of what he could do to make things hard for Ivanishvili.

Will the new Parliament ask the big unasked question? And that is the disparity between the claimed high economic growth rate and the staggeringly high unemployment rate: 69% in a recent US/Swedish survey consider themselves unemployed. (See page 13). How can both of these be true? I can think of only two ways high growth can be consistent with spectacular unemployment rates: either that the growth is a façade of luxury hotels and other fripperies for visitors or that corruption and cronyism have kept the money locked in a tiny group of connected people. A potentially explosive question.

Another potentially explosive question relates to allegations that Saakashvili has extended support to jihadists fighting in the North Caucasus. Will we hear anything of this?

Is Ivanishvili’s coalition anything more than an ephemeral anti-Saakashvili grouping? Can the coalition hold against likely attempts by Saakashvili to detach members?

The Abkhazia and South Ossetia problems will continue. Ivanishvili’s spokesman reiterates that Tbilisi expects them back and, more convincingly than Saakashvili ever could, insists it will be done through negotiations. That is not going to happen in any future that he or Ivanishvili will see. Conceivably, after years of effort, reconstruction, prosperity, peaceful relations and a serious investigation into Tbilisi’s crimes against these areas (starting in the 1990s, if not in the 1920s) something might be possible. But Abkhazians and Ossetians will take a very long time and a high degree of proof before they will trust Tbilisi. They are not serfs to be passively transferred from one owner to another.

In short, this is a good start, but there is a long way to go before Georgia becomes a peaceful and prosperous land.


Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.

As that great Russianologist, Sherlock Holmes, observed: “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.”

I’ve never had much use for Kremlinology, either in The Day or now. It is founded on two fatally weak conjectures. The first is the reductionist notion that Russia (or, in The Day, the USSR) can be explained by the relationship between a small group of individuals. Where is the evidence for that? But most absurdly, it imagines that we outsiders can understand what those relationships are. Do we, after all this time, understand the relationship between Lenin and Stalin? Or Stalin and Voroshilov? Or Stalin and Beria? Why should anyone think we understand the relationship between Putin and Medvedev and how they make decisions? We don’t even know what goes on inside our own governments’ offices. Kremlinology’s predictive record is negligible.

A decade or so ago, Neo-Kremlinologists spent their time categorising people into groups: the Family, the Siloviki and I can’t now remember the third; but, for some reason, these airy constructions always had three groups. Then I recall a period of speculation that Putin had created a “politburo” in the Security Council to sideline the government. I’m sure I’ve forgotten many other weighty thinkpieces that came and went scrying the future through imagined personal relationships. None of these efforts ever produced much that was either predictive or explanatory.

Furthermore, it ought to be pretty clear, after more than a decade’s observation, that Russia has a remarkably collegial, discreet and effective management team. While a few former insiders have gone over the opposition (Kasyanov, Illarionov and presumably Kudrin) it is striking how well the Team has held together. The second thing a decade’s worth of observation tells us is that Putin is loathe to kick someone into the darkness and so we see today that old ministers have been “kicked upstairs” to advisory positions in order to preserve their dignity and make way for new people in the government. (Perhaps Putin has learned from Lyndon Johnson: “It’s better to have some one inside the tent…”).

Thus, there is no second or parallel government: there is a Team. The same team that has been running the place for 12 years. Any disagreements are kept inside the box.

It is much better to regard Russia’s governing structure as a “black box”: observe what is said and what happens rather than speculate about the unseen gears inside the box.

“Hot Spots” in the Former USSR


Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.

Let’s start with a little chronology. Abkhazia and South Ossetia won their wars against Georgia in the early 1990s and each declared independence. Moscow did not recognise them. The clock turned over: new decade, new century; Moscow still didn’t recognise them. Georgia attacked again in 2008; Moscow recognised them.

Moscow has its own potential territorial problems: Kaliningrad, parts of Karelia, the “Northern Territories”; the border with China; North Caucasus independentists. It is a status quo power that prefers that everything stay the way it is because it has other things to worry about. It has little sympathy with irredentist claims.

So why did Medvedev decide to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008? Let’s ask him: “We restored peace, but we could not extinguish fears and hopes of the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in a situation when Saakashvili continued (with participation of and encouraged by the US and a number of other NATO members) to speak of re-arming his military and re-establishing control over ‘the Georgian territory’…. Russia was left no choice” (Regnum News, 28 August 2008). In short: recognition was the only way Moscow could think of to stop Tbilisi attacking again.

But why does Moscow care whether Tbilisi attacks again? My personal conviction is that its real fear is blowback. The last time Tbilisi went adventuring in South Ossetia and (especially) Abkhazia, North Caucasian militias (particularly Shamil Basayev’s Chechen Brigade) intervened. In those days, there was a desire to recreate the short-lived “Mountaineer Republic” of 1918. Basayev and his fighters, having defeated Tbilisi and established the western end of the “Mountaineer Republic”, returned to Chechnya to create the eastern end. Thus we can connect the Georgian attack on Abkhazia with the first war in Chechnya, the second war and Moscow’s troubles in the North Caucasus today. Ergo, Moscow does not want that to happen again; ergo it must ensure that Tbilisi will not attack Abkhazia and South Ossetia again; ergo recognition means that Tbilisi will know that another attack means it faces Russia; ergo that should stop it from attacking again. QED.

The other ex-Soviet “hotspots” are still negotiable. Transdnestr needs a guarantee that should Chisinau join Romania, this former piece of the Ukrainian SSR does not have to follow it and Karabakhians need a guarantee that they won’t be massacred by “Turks”. These are still imaginable. These borders are Stalin-Jughashvili’s creations and there’s no reason the rest of us should take them as sacred and unchangeable.

Few Western capitals have figured this out. In the meantime the status quo is endurable from Moscow’s point of view. Therefore, as things stand today with fragile ceasefires holding, Moscow has no reason to recognise either Transdnestr or Karabakh.

Everyone should have followed Kiev’s wise and just treatment of Crimea or Chisinau’s wise and just response to Gagauz wishes.

But who in the West has ever heard of either?

McFaul’s Influence

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them. Can’t find a link for this. Question was presumably something about what influence McFaul had as US Ambassador to Russia.

Having been a diplomat, all I can say is that diplomats should be seen and not heard. It rarely works out well, for either side, when an individual diplomat becomes a personality rather than a quiet go-between passing information from one capital to the other. The ideal diplomat explains each to the other quietly and discreetly: diplomatically indeed.

That having been said, I don’t think that the real problem is with McFaul. Consider the famous “reset”. It was announced to the world with the reset button gift: a cute symbol, but nothing wrong with that. But the Russian word used was not the correct one and, even worse, it was written in Latin characters. Surely someone in the State Department knows what the correct Russian word for “reset” is and, even if no one does, Microsoft certainly knows. The Russians have their own alphabet – does no one in the State Department know that? Of course there are people in there who know these things. So why weren’t they asked?

A frivolity. A stunt. Not serious. Patronising. Amateur night.

What is the Obama Administration’s policy on Russia? Has there been any follow up to this bizarre beginning? Some say the rhetoric has been turned down. But has it? Clinton condemned the Duma elections almost before the results were out. As to substance, European missile defence is still a neuralgic issue for Moscow as if nothing had changed since 2008. Yes there is a nuclear weapons agreement in which each side retains a preposterous number. And Russia is finally in the WTO after a mere two decades of waiting. Not trivial, but are they really a “reset”?

Is there an actual, real, worked-out, consistent, pursued policy that is properly explained and defended? Or is it just evanescent rhetoric, gestures and the Europeans bullying Tbilisi out of its (strangely-acquired) WTO veto? The NATO Secretary General still says on one day that Georgia should and will be in NATO eventually and on another tries to importune a transit supply base in Russia. And we still await the repeal of the outrageously out-of-date Jackson-Vanik Amendment.

McFaul can hardly be blamed for not knowing whether the program is cooperation with Russia in a reasonable and mutually beneficial way or to attempt to denigrate and weaken Putin.

Romney: Russia, the “Number One Geopolitical Foe”

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them. Can’t find a link for this. Question presumably was to comment on Romney’s statement.

Is Russia really the “number one geopolitical foe” of the United States? Of course it isn’t and it is quite absurd that anyone should be saying so after 911. Indeed, if we look at Romney’s charge sheet against Russia – “Russia continues to support Syria, supports Iran, has fought us with [by?] crippling sanctions we wanted to have the world put in place against Iran” – obviously he doesn’t believe it either: he thinks Iran and Syria are greater “foes” and that Russia is only an obstacle on the road to the happy future that beckons when unpleasant “foes” are overthrown. And, when challenged by the CNN interviewer, he backed down: “The greatest threat the US faces is a nuclear Iran”.

We are left in confusion: which is the “number one foe”? Or is there some mystical hierarchy in which Iran is a “threat” and Russia merely a “foe”? Ridiculous.

In other remarks it is apparent that Romney has absorbed all the memes about Russia that have been pounded in by incompetent reporting and lobbyists. At the Citadel in October he said “Russia is at a historic crossroads. Vladimir Putin has called the breakup of the Soviet empire the great tragedy of the 20th Century. Will he try to reverse that tragedy and bludgeon the countries of the former Soviet Union into submission, and intimidate Europe with the levers of its energy resources?” Well, Putin didn’t say it was the great tragedy; the Russian is very clear: not the superlative form at all. But the misquotation has been re-typed by innumerable lazy media outlets and has become the foundation factoid of the Russia-as-Eternal-Enemy stance. In a Washington Post interview in March we hear that: “He [Romney] is convinced that Putin dreams of ‘rebuilding the Russian empire’ [the misquotation again]. He says, ‘That includes annexing populations as they did in Georgia [what a peculiar way to put it] and using gas and oil resources’ to throw their weight around in Europe. He maintains that the START treaty was tilted toward Russia. ‘It has to end’, he says emphatically about ‘reset’. ‘We have to show strength’, I ask him about WTO, which has been much in the news as Putin blusters and demands entry into the trade organization. Romney is again definitive. ‘Letting people into WTO who intend to cheat is obviously a mistake.’” In the Foreign Policy piece he says one of Obama’s “gifts” to Russia (which has “rewarded these gifts with nothing but obstructionism”): “Without extracting meaningful concessions from Russia, he abandoned our missile defense sites in Poland”. (But isn’t the missile defence scheme supposed to be about “rogue states”? Apparently not: Romney seems to support Moscow’s suspicion that it’s really all about Russia.)

So they’re all there – Georgia, gas prices and a despotic, cheating, revanchist Putin – welded together by a misquotation and a string of casual assertions. All that’s missing is that Putin used to be in the KGB.

But it is clear that to Romney, Moscow’s original sin is not snapping to attention and saying Так точно! to every whim that comes out of Washington (except, of course, these days, those from President Obama).

One has to assume that Romney actually believes all this stuff and, if he does become President, this does not bode well for future US-Russia relations.

The End of USAID in Russia Exacerbates US-Russia Tensions


Patrick Armstrong
Patrick Armstrong Analysis,
Ottawa, Canada
USAID is an NGO, NGOs are good. USAID promotes democracy, democracy is good. Putin is kicking it out of Russia, Putin is bad. Throw in something about Syria or Georgia (well, perhaps not Georgia, after the prison revelations) and you’re done. Simple story, writes itself. Journalism 101.
But let’s go a little deeper than the surface browsing practised by the Western MSM. USAID is funded by the US State Department and as the proverb has it: “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. (Russians have the exact equivalent of this English proverb “Кто платит, тот и заказывает музыку”). What tune might that be?
Item. Two days after the Duma election – before the results were fully in, US Secretary of State Clinton called for a “full investigation” of accusations of irregularities and expressed ”our serious concerns about the conduct of the election”.
Item. The “irregularities” had been helpfully pointed out by Golos, the so-called independent Russian election monitor. It receives much of its funding from USAID. Maybe it had some interesting communications with US officials with the suggestion of payment for the “correct” results.
Item. BelayaLenta.com, the supposed home-grown Russian protest group, appears to have come into existence last October and gives its address as Bellevue, WA 98007 USA. 
Item. Pussy Riot has been declared “prisoners of conscience, sentenced solely for the peaceful expression of their views” by Amnesty International. The new Executive Director of the US branch (appointed in January) is Suzanne Nossel. She worked at the US State Department and in the Clinton Administration. She proudly states that she is “the author of a 2004 article in Foreign Affairs magazine entitled ‘Smart Power’ and coined the term that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made a defining feature of U.S. foreign policy”. In the article she opined “Unlike conservatives, who rely on military power as the main tool of statecraft, liberal internationalists see trade, diplomacy, foreign aid, and the spread of American values as equally important.” Apparently Pussy Riot fits into this grand design of “the spread of American values”.
So, the tune that is being paid for seems rather obvious: Putin’s election and that of his supporting party is illegitimate; he is creating new “prisoners of conscience”; honest Russians, on their own initiative, are protesting this.
But United Russia’s electoral results were those predicted by many opinion polls over some time, actually a whisker worse: (William of Ockham would suggest that if you are fixing election results, you do not fix them so that your support party does worse). Putin’s victory accorded with numerous opinion polls. Which is very strong prima facie evidence of their legitimacy. (Unless one throws out all opinion polling in Russia in which case the perennial Number Two – the Communists – with a backup from Zhirinovskiy’s party – actually won. Which would be less to Washington’s taste. But who’s being logical here?)
So, what then is the “democracy” that USAID, this not very non-governmental organisation, is pushing? It appears to be one without Putin. Whether Washington likes it or not, Putin is supported by many more Russians than practically any Western leader is by his population. Washington evidently does not like it; but it’s not really “democracy” to try and undermine him, is it? It’s more “the spread of American values” or, perhaps, American interests, isn’t it?
It will be interesting to watch what happens to the Russian opposition. I expect the Communists and super-nationalists to continue – I believe them to be Russian-rooted and Russian-funded. But what will become of Navalniy, Kasparov, Kasyanov and all the other oppositionists so beloved of Western capitals? Will they actually prove to have any Russian funding and support?
I believe the Russians are right on their imitation of the US FARA Act. I believe that, in a “democratic” country (that word again), citizens have a right to know whose money is trying to influence their opinions. The absence of USAID’s money may clarify the situation in Russia.

Western Interference in Russian Election

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.

Can’t find a reference.

The Western Kommentariat finds in Putin’s remarks about Western (ie Washington’s) influence on the protests to be an “extraordinary attack” showing that he may be taking “a harder line against Russia’s opposition”. As usual there is no attempt to consider his perspective. Let’s try: here are some of the things Putin sees.

BelayaLenta.com, the supposed Russian protest group, (White Ribbon – you can’t have a coloured revolution without a colour) appears to have come into existence in October and gives its address as Bellevue, WA 98007 USA. By the way, white armbands were worn by collaborators in Nazi-Occupied USSR – not the most felicitous choice of colour.

Golos, the so-called “independent” Russian election monitor, seems to have some interesting communications with US officials with the suggestion of payment for the “correct” results. It receives funding from the USA. Independent? Only if you think Washington’s motives are the disinterested pursuit of democratic virtue.

Hillary Clinton was very quick off the mark to condemn the results, far more so many international observers who saw nothing untoward and much stronger than the official OSCE report. Almost, a cynic would say, as if she had been handed, by accident, as it were, the briefing note prepared in case United Russia claimed much more than opinion polls predicted.

The Western MSM is in full cry about how the elections were fraudulent, making up numbers where necessary to justify the preconception (“United Russia’s real vote in Moscow was 23.5%”).

What else does he see?

An election outcome, long predicted in opinion polls, in which his party lost a lot of support.

Even those who are looking for fraud aren’t finding it. Vedomosti’s recount in Moscow has turned up what it claims are 7456 votes for United Russia stolen from other parties in 294 voting stations (totalling about 440,000 votes). Given that it is finding fewer examples as it looks at more stations (it started with what it considered to be the worst cases), it is running into diminishing returns. Indeed the effort seems to have stopped – nothing has been added to the website since 14 December. Even if Vedomosti’s accusations are correct, 7500, or 15,000 or even 30,000 votes in Moscow City’s seven million voters amounts to a few tenths of one percent. Hardly the fraud the Western media is talking about.

The popular non-Gaussian argument is declared here to be bad mathematics and the author proves his point by showing similar non-Gaussian statistical effects from the latest UK election.

The North Caucasus results are suspicious but minorities are very good at maximising their presence at the centre (I commend a study of Quebec which, for more than a century, has managed to do this – even abandoning normal preferences when necessary. See the 2011 results for an especially dramatic example of a landslide of support switching).

Perhaps all this reminds Putin of other campaigns involving exit polls (very easily faked), press campaigns (easily started) and foreign funding (always present). True, the “White Revolution” is still missing a new leadership team. Could it be Zyuganov and Zhirinovskiy? After all, they took two-thirds of the seats United Russia lost and if the election was stolen, it was stolen from them.

So, his conclusion is not the wild fantasy of a diehard enemy. I see these things and wonder too.

Duma Election Results

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.



The preliminary results show United Russia down about 14 points, the Communists and Zhirinovskiy (who, to some degree, share an electorate) up about 10 points (to their combined level of the 1999 election, thereby reversing a gentle decline in their total since the high in 1993 when they totalled 35%). Just Russia is up about 6 points and the other three parties remain in the weeds, failing to cross the 7% entry barrier (or the coming 5% for that matter). Turnout is down about three and a half points. Given the way the calculations work, therefore, United Russia will have about 225 seats, well down from its 315 the last time around. It would seem therefore, that of the now-disgruntled former United Russia voters, some stayed home, some voted Communist or Zhirinovskiy and some voted for Just Russia. In any case, Yabloko and Right Cause – the “liberal” parties – did not profit.

Putin & Co are victims of their own success. Yeltsin’s team tried to create “pedestal parties” to support him in the Duma – Russia’s Choice, Our Home Russia – but they were feeble attempts: hurriedly assembled, indifferent performers and soon forgotten. United Russia has proved to be more enduring and more successful. But it has the weakness of being only a pedestal for the Boss to stand on: its ideas are the Boss’; its members are the powerful and their hangers-on; its notion of creativity is waiting for the phone to ring. All deficiencies that Putin and Medvedev have complained about many times. This is not inspiring and it is clear that the population is tiring of it. Although it is worth pointing out that in any parliamentary system, 50% would be regarded as a major victory. But nonetheless a fall from two-thirds to one-half is not a vote of confidence.

Putin and Medvedev are taking it calmly. Indeed, since the result accords well with opinion polls from many sources over some months, they must have known it was coming.

Which raises, to my mind, the principal lesson that should be clear to everybody: Russian elections do, reasonably accurately, represent the state of feeling in the country. Of course there is fiddling at the edges, pressure is brought to bear and all the rest. But no country can afford to preach because no country runs a stainless system. But, as I and others have maintained for years, Russian elections do give, grosso modo, the state of the nation. In short, they are sufficiently free and fair.

The anti-Russia league, for whom it is and always has been an unshakeable article of faith that Russian elections are phoney, will have great difficulty in continuing to claim that Russian elections are manipulated, decided-in-advance, shams created by the Kremlin to fool the simple-minded. Efficient dictatorships run efficient elections; even if they have to throw out the ballots and replace them with the “correct ones”. It is inconceivable that the cunning and evil master manipulator that they believe Putin to be would have manipulated the results so that his party lost 90 seats and its command of parliament.

But I’m sure that they will try to save their theory, no matter how they have to twist reality. I look forward with amusement to watch them.

I’m Not Happy Putin Decided to Run Again

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.

This one made Wikileaks

To my mind the shock and disappointment was not that Putin would run for President but Medvedev’s admission that such had always been the plan. Was Medvedev ever truly President? Or was he only a seat-warmer? At the least Putin and Medvedev could have run against each other giving Russians a more serious choice than they have had between the Establishment choice and Zyuganov/Zhirinovskiy. But instead we have this hole-in-the-corner decision that makes a mockery of Medvedev’s oath of office. Will any President of Russia be taken seriously by anyone while Putin lives?

The next shock is the damage Putin has done to his own cause. Remember his famous statement that Russia should be a “dictatorship of the law”? I read this at the time to be an intention to build a rule-of-law state. Or at least a rule-of-rules state: clear rules for all to understand and clear and fair punishment for those who break them. But hasn’t he just shown that while there may be a written set of rules, they aren’t the real rules? His return shows that not even he believes that the political structure he erected on the ruins of the Soviet period and the 1990s can work without his hand on the tiller. To say nothing of making Russia look like another President-for-Life-istan; I thought Putin was more patriotic. It’s almost an admission of failure.

I know that many Russians welcome the decision and that some argue that, in possibly difficult times coming, both in Russia and outside Russia, it is better that Putin’s proven hand be at the tiller. Others argue that this will allow a new and more effective stab at the modernisation that Russia needs. Maybe. History does show a very few examples of leaders who never lost their creativity and authority and it seems that Putin thinks he’s one of them. But most Presidents-for-Life are a drag on their country: eventually they clog up with sycophants and complacency.

He will be elected, there’s little doubt of that. And it will be a popular choice requiring no fixing by the Kremlin. He is still extremely popular and for good reason. There will be no rioting in the streets and only protests from the people who protest anyway. Stories of mass emigration are fantasies. But what about six years later? Or twelve?

And the outside world will do business with him – some even relieved that they know who the real boss is. But the anti-Russia crowd, already weirdly obsessed with Putin, will be given a fresh wind and will go on shouting that Russia is just a dictatorship: always was and always will be. Will we see more NATO expansion? More “coloured” “revolutions”? More hysteria over the “energy weapon”? Missiles in the neighbourhood?

Putin could truly have been the George Washington of his country. Establishing it, settling it, guiding it and then setting the precedent that two terms are enough for any mortal. That would have been a true service to a country that has seen too much one-man rule. His successors, like Washington’s, would have respected the example for decades. Instead we have the rule that the Vozhd is the Vozhd until death carries him off.

It’s a disappointing and shabby decision.

Reset Reset

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.



Because I was not very impressed with Obama in the first place, I expected little from “the reset” and little there has been. The problem with any initiative of the Obama Administration is brutally this: is there any follow-up after the speech?

The “reset” did change the rhetoric, although there have been no real trials. The nuclear agreement was made. But Russians would complain that they still see geriatric obsolescences like Captive Nations and Jackson-Vanik, assurances on WTO admission that come and go, periodic resolutions on “the Russian occupation” of Georgia and moralistic finger-wagging. They would ask “where’s the beef?”. I leave it to Americans to make their own list of Russian sins (Anna Chapman, Magnitskiy; any day’s indictment from the Washington Post or Ariel Cohen).

But the bottom line is that the US-USSR relationship was much more important to the two –and to the rest of us – than the US-Russia relationship is. The important thing is that each stop thinking of the other as the Main Enemy; each must rid itself of superseded habits of thought. Getting there will take some time: the USA is still the most important country on the planet and Moscow obsesses about it (perhaps too much: Saakashvili is not Washington’s creation and neither was Yushchenko). From Washington’s perspective, Russia does not turn up very often in the daily White House crisis briefings and is only important to the still vocal Russia-the-eternal-enemy faction.

What interests do they have in common? Not very many, in truth. They share a common enemy in jihadism, although the anti-Russia lobby still hasn’t figured that out. Nuclear weapons are a factor, but less and less important. There are trade interests – although not big. Occasionally Russia’s influence in some forlorn place is potentially significant. They are not large on either’s radar.

What opposing interests do they have? Again, not many. For years the anti-Russia lobby has warned us that Moscow wants to take over Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltics or whatever but it still hasn’t happened. And, if Moscow truly had some existential desire to conquer Georgia, the anti-Russia lobby still hasn’t explained what stopped it three years ago: the Russia that they fantasise about would have gone to Tbilisi, seized Saakashvili and still be there. Moscow is nervously concerned about the ultimate use of US missiles in Europe. What Moscow actually wants is a quiet life so that it can modernise itself. But it doesn’t want to be played for a sucker as it believes it was in the 1990s. This is the root of the missile problem: Moscow does not trust Washington’s mere word after, to take one example, NATO’s expansion.

There is no advantage in closing off every entrance, rejecting every overture, suspecting everything and pretending that Russia is still the USSR and gradually working to turn Russia into a real enemy.

But, what frightens me about US-Russia relations is that many on the right side of the US political spectrum still reflexively believe that Russia is the Eternal Enemy and, the way things are going, as well as the House of Representatives, they will soon control the Senate and the Presidency.

But, what keeps me (faintly) optimistic is that the inheritors of the Obama Administration will have bigger, and more urgent, problems than Russia to deal with.