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Russian Public Leans Toward Trump In U.S. Presidential Election

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The most straightforward way to explain the way the U.S. election is playing in Russia, at least on state media - Donald Trump is better than Hillary Clinton. And we're talking to journalists around the world about the view of the American election in their home countries, and today we have Pavel Felgenhauer. He's a columnist for Novaya Gazeta and joins us on Skype from Moscow. Welcome to the program.

PAVEL FELGENHAUER: Hello.

CORNISH: Now, after Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party's nomination last week, Russian state TV said she shouldn't be trusted and that she sees Russia as an enemy. Can you talk about her reputation in Russia? What does she represent?

FELGENHAUER: Clinton represents the Democrats, which are never really much liked in the Kremlin. We always traditionally had a better working relationship with, you know, Republicans who do not speak about human rights much but actually go down to the real business as it seems from here.

Now, Clinton was of course part of the reset program, the attempt by the Obama administration in '09 to mend relations with Russia. Something was achieved, but then the relations began to sour, and when Russia took over Crimea, this was of course a total almost breakdown of relationship, and sanctions have been imposed. And large parts of the population believe that that's American fault and personal fault of Obama. Clinton is seen as basically a continuation of Obama and as such is not seen in a very favorable way.

CORNISH: So once that reset fell apart, she came to be seen as an extension of Obama policies which are unpopular in Russia.

FELGENHAUER: Yes, it's seen that the United States is punishing Russia for taking Crimea, which is seen as a Russian land. And the Americans imposed sanctions, and of course at the same time, the oil price collapse and that Russia is in a recession, and household incomes are falling and the state propaganda saying it's all the fault of the United States.

CORNISH: Meanwhile on the Republican side, Donald Trump has said that the U.S. should examine whether Crimea should be recognized as part of Russia. This is an opposition to the Obama administration. He's also talked about perhaps not honoring the U.S. commitments to NATO. And are these the kinds of things that make Trump popular with the Kremlin?

FELGENHAUER: Well, surely. That's what Russia basically wants. President Putin has been saying that we need a new world security order without any military blocs. It means there is no future for NATO. Trump is basically saying the same thing. And maybe it's also because Trump and Putin are both billionaires, so maybe Putin sees him as birds of the same feather, unlike Obama and Clinton, which of course compared to the billionaires are paupers.

CORNISH: The narrative of these two candidates are also being shaped as Russia has become a story line in the campaign after the suspicions raised of Russia being involved in the hack of several Democratic Party organizations. What are you hearing from Russians about this?

FELGENHAUER: Well, this of course the Kremlin denies, but somewhat maybe believe if we did it, well, that's good.

CORNISH: The U.S.-Russia relationship is a perennial issue in American elections. Do you see any difference in how it's being talked about this time around?

FELGENHAUER: Well, since the end of the Cold War, Russia had more or less faded away from American electoral politics. And maybe it makes some Russians really proud, meaning that we are again a kind of semi-super power since in the United States we're so much a talking point.

CORNISH: Pavel Felgenhauer is a columnist with the Russian paper Novaya Gazeta. Thank you for speaking with us.

FELGENHAUER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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