The 2012 U.S. presidential election presents a contrast to the 2008 election in terms of their perceptions by the Russian elite.
In 2008, then-President Dmitry Medvedev expressed a desire to work with a “modern” U.S. leader rather than one “whose eyes are turned back to the past.” He was referring to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. But influential Russian elites voiced their support for the Republican candidate, John McCain, despite McCain calling President Vladimir Putin a KGB spy who has no soul and calling to expel Russia from the Group of Eight leading industrial nations.
Even though McCain was more critical of the Kremlin, some members of Putin’s entourage favored McCain because they believed he was more predictable than Obama. They insisted that Russia was doing well economically, whereas the United States was losing one position in the world after another. Therefore, when confronted with the U.S. threat, Russia might only get stronger and consolidate its status as a great sovereign power. The elite’s main concern is with rebuilding power and geopolitical influence. If McCain were in the White House, the thinking went, Putin would have a convenient anti-Russian bogeyman whom the Kremlin could exploit for domestic political reasons, giving it another pretext to ratchet up its anti-Americanism, increase defense expenditures and crack down on the opposition.