Russia and its president are dominating elections not only in the USA, but across Europe
On October 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the United States not to use Russia as a "bargaining chip" in their domestic political struggle. However, in addition to the US, candidates in France, Germany and Italy have been exploiting Russia-related rhetoric in their electoral campaigns.
"No, no one should use Russia as a bargaining chip in the domestic political struggle at the expense of bilateral relations. At least, this is irresponsible," President Putin said Wednesday during the VTB forum "Russia is calling." The president noted that Russia has become the main topic in the US electoral campaign. Putin added that all members of the US presidential campaign were abusing anti-Russia rhetoric.
The United States
American political analysts say that presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have discussed Russia and Vladimir Putin more often than such domestic issues as national debt, taxes or healthcare.
Republican candidate Trump have repeatedly said he would normalize ties with Russia if elected.
"I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin and I think I would have a good relationship with Russia," he said at an event in September.
At the same time, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has accused Moscow of war crimes in Syria, involvement into the Ukrainian crisis and hack attacks on Washington.
"Hillary’s campaign is built on allegations that Trump is linked to Russia. These claims are behind the negative attitude of many Americans toward Trump. In turn, Trump calls for a radical shift in relations with Russia and supports Putin’s campaign in Syria," American political expert Mark Sleboda told RT.
In particular, relations with Russia have been one of the key topics in the debates between Clinton and Trump. During the first round of debates in September, Hillary Clinton claimed that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). She also reproached Trump for supporting Putin.
"I was so shocked when Donald publicly invited Putin to hack into Americans. That is just unacceptable," she said. "I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. It could be Russia. It could also be China. It could also be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds," Trump responded. The issue was again brought on during the second round of debates last weekend. Answering a question about the emails compromising her, Hillary Clinton launched an attack on Russia, accusing Moscow of aggression.
"The Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks — the hacking on American accounts to influence our election. […] And WikiLeaks is part of that, as are other sites where the Russians hack information — we don't even know if it's accurate information — and then they put it out," she said.
She also accused Russia of an attempting to destroy Aleppo, aggression and airstrikes against civilians in Syria.
"I've stood up to Russia, I've taken on Putin and others, and I would do that as President," she said. In turn, Trump denied allegations about his links with Russia. "I don't know Putin. I think it would be great to get along with Russia. They think they are going to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia," he said.
Parliament elections will be held in Germany in 2017. Germany is now divided over relations with Russia. Some are concerned over the "Russian aggression" while others wants access to the Russian market. Russia is also an important issue in the electoral campaign of all German leading parties.
"One part of the German population is living with Cold War stereotypes. They see Russia as an enemy and fear Russian aggression. They support Merkel’s Christian-Democratic Union party. The party wants sanctions against Russia to remain in place," German journalist Alexander Rahr pointed out.
The other part of the German population wants productive relations with Moscow, especially in economy and trade. "First of all, they are businessmen. They support the Social-Democratic Party," he added. In September, leader of the Social-Democrats Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss the possibility of lifting sanctions.
In 2017, France will hold its presidential election. There are several candidates, including incumbent Francois Hollande, former president Nicolas Sarkozy and leader of the far-right National Front movement Marine Le Pen.
Holland is conducting an anti-Russia political course, acting in favor of Washington, French political analyst Emmanuel Leroy said. "For the majority of French politicians, including Hollande, the Anglo-Saxon ideology and money are more important than the national interests," he said. He noted that due to anti-Russia sanctions, the French economy has lost many lucrative contracts. Meanwhile, Hollande’s approval rating has reached a record low of 13 percent.
Unlike Hollande, Sarkozy, leader of The Republicans party, wants to normalize ties with Moscow and cooperate. In 2015, at a party event, he underscored that France should discuss all issues with Russia.
In September, during a TV appearance, Sarkozy said that Moscow and Paris should cooperate on the Syrian crisis.
"I would never carry out a policy of sanctions against Russia. […] We need Russia in order to resolve the crisis and end the Syrian drama. It would be a mistake to create conditions for a new cold war with Russia," he said during an interview for the France 2 TV channel.
"I think that the destinies of Europe and Russia are connected. We need to cooperate. Once again, in order to resolve the crisis in Syria, we need a coalition and we need Russia," Sarkozy added. However, Leroy believes that the former French president is playing a double game.
"He wants to make friends with the Kremlin in an attempt to receive financial support for his presidential campaign," the analyst said.
According to Leroy, Marine Le Pen is the only presidential candidate who is acting honestly towards Russia. She has repeatedly said that sanctions are absurd and said France would recognize Crimea’s reunification with Russia if she is elected.
"European sanctions […] are not only contrary to the interests of France, but are also violation of centuries-old tradition of our country, which never followed the will of the others," Le Pen said in an interview with RT France in September.
She added that relations between Russia and France are very important, especially in terms of resolution of international crises. Sleboda argued that currently the world is seeing a new round of the standoff between Russia and the West.
"Parties that are traditionally strong in Europe support this standoff. At the same time, far-right and far-left parties are getting more popular. They are for friendly relations with Moscow," he said.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has turned to Moscow, in a bid to gain support from his voters. The majority of Italians do not support anti-Russian sanctions. On December 4, Italy will hold a referendum on making changes to the national constitution. If the people vote against them the prime minister will have to resign.
"Renzi doesn’t want to ruin his relations with people, especially with business elites. For Italian companies, sanctions and Russian responsive measures are counterproductive. Pro-Russian statements can help Renzi to have more supporters," Russian political analyst Alexander Shatilov said.