‘Pro-Russian’ wins election

No, not Donald Trump, although I’ll mention him later. On Monday, Bulgaria held the first round of its presidential election. In an effort to scare voters into supporting the government’s preferred candidate, Tsetska Tsacheva, outgoing president Rosen Plevneliev warned that Russia is trying ‘to weaken Europe, to divide Europe, and to make us dependent’. Unsaid but implied in Plevneliev’s statement was the idea that a vote for the ‘pro-Russian’ Socialist Party candidate, and former air force general, Rumen Radev, would be a vote for Putin and a vote to turn Bulgaria into a Russian satrap. As Tsacheva has said, ‘There are two options – to allow Bulgaria slide back into its dark past of ideological lies and submission to foreign interests or … to make sure that Bulgaria stays where it belongs, among free European countries’.

Unfortunately for Plevneliev and Tsacheva, Bulgarian voters viewed things differently. Radev came out on top in Monday’s election, winning 25.7% of the vote, compared with 22% for Tsacheva. The two now go face to face in a run-off, which the ‘Red General’ is expected to win.

The dominoes are falling. On 31 October, ‘pro-Russian’ candidate Igor Dodon won 48.2% of the vote in the first round of the Moldovan presidential election, beating ‘pro-European’ Maia Sandu, who garnered only 38.4%. Next to fall was Bulgaria. Now America. Who’s next? France and Marine Le Pen six months from now? No doubt, they’re beginning to panic in the editorial offices of The Economist and The Interpreter. The ‘pro-Russians’ are on the march.

Or, maybe not. I don’t doubt that Dodon, Radev, and Trump are less hostile to Russia than their opponents, but the ‘pro-Russian’ label is misplaced. People who cast their vote on the basis of foreign policy are relatively rare. Most people’s concerns are thoroughly domestic. They don’t vote for Dodon, Radev, Trump, Le Pen, or anybody else because they are ‘pro-Russian.’ They vote for them because they think that their policies better suit their own personal interests as well as the interests of Moldova, Bulgaria, America, or wherever. Dividing the domestic politics of these countries into ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ Russian is not a useful way of framing events.

Moreover, when elected, the ‘pro-Russian’ candidate often turns out not to be so ‘pro-Russian’ after all. Take, for example, Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovich. The Russians didn’t regard him as ‘pro-Russian’ in the slightest, and actually preferred the ‘pro-European’ Yulia Timoshenko. There is no telling whether Trump, Dodon, and Radev will actually be ‘pro-Russian’ once in office. What they will be is pro-American, pro-Moldovan, and pro-Bulgarian. If their own country’s interests clash with those of Russia, they will pursue the former at the expense of the latter. They will also be constrained by their countries’ membership in multilateral institutions (most notably NATO and the EU in the case of the Bulgaria), by their countries’ economic and financial ties with other states, by the pro-NATO, pro-EU, anti-Russian attitudes of their bureaucracies, and so on.

Simply put, the media’s obsession with viewing other countries’ elections in terms of the candidates’ relationship to Russia does a disservice to those countries’ politics and to our understanding of the world.

9 thoughts on “‘Pro-Russian’ wins election”

  1. Folks are still digesting all of this………you stomp people around long enough with these globalist, neoliberal policies, and they get up and kick you right in the nuts….change won the day…


  2. >What they will be is pro-Moldovan and pro-Bulgarian

    Don’t bet on it.
    They are more likely to be pro-American and pro-European because their countries lack sovereignty and their leaders integrity to stand up to them.


  3. Well, the neoliberal politburo is trying to instill the notions that anti-globalist-neoliberal equals ‘pro-Russian’, and that ‘Russian’ means Evil.

    It doesn’t seem to be going well. They’ll need to overhaul their agitprop, and they need to do it fast. Kick out the most rabid hacks, and bring some common sense (or at least some appearance of common sense) into it…


  4. There is a problem for all sides in conflating Putin and Russia, the past actual relationships and the future possible relationships, campaign rhetoric and post-campaign governance. It’s not that there is no relationship or that people shouldn’t be taken at their word, but it does tend to oversimplify.


  5. Welcome sobering words, Paul, and this from someone who is surrounded by a thoroughly depressed crowd who believe Armageddon is now (since Tuesday night) around the corner. Putin far from calls the shots here, methinks.


    1. Thanks, Kees. Just remember when you wander around town that every second person you see voted Trump! Apart from approaching Armageddon, I hope all is well down there.


  6. Well, I made some decent money betting on a Trump victory. Nothing really big, but enough for a nice date.

    My actual impression of Russian preferences (on the high level) differs though.

    I believe they prefered a weakened as much as possible Clinton because:
    1: She is predictable (and thus can be lured into traps etc.)
    2: She is actually a pretty weak candidate, this is evidenced by needing a lot of “administrative resources” to prevail against Sanders. Trump also won mostly because he is not Hillary. While interactions in International relations are a pretty different thing from elections, I think the Kremlin would have prefered to “run against Clinton”.
    3: Kremlin is very conservative strategically, and prefers known bad things over unpredictable things.
    4: If Trump plays his hand with minmal competence, he can and likely will extract concessions from Russia in return for stopping things America shouldnt be doing anyway.


    1. Ha-ha, and I lost some money betting on a Trump victory. Because it turned out I was actually betting on the popular vote, as declared by NY Times, 11/9 @ 5pm.

      Damn. Even when I win I lose…


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