Letter From the Editors

Never forget the truism that politics is an expectations game. It isn’t enough for leaders to merely have raw power; to exercise it, they must show they are getting more of it, or at least losing it more slowly than expected. This is because it’s hard for politicians to stand in the way of success, but harder still for them not to exploit failure. At a certain point of decline, it becomes impossible to govern.

Such was the perception of Joe Biden’s Democratic Party going into the evening of Nov. 8. Andrei Kortunov sums it up as follows: “On the eve of the US congressional midterm elections on Nov. 8, many experts and politicians predicted a ‘red flood’ or ‘red tsunami’ . . . There seemed to be every reason for this outcome . . . from high inflation to street crime, from uncontrolled migration to the fall of financial markets. [Another reason is] a not very charismatic and not very popular president with a low level of public support, who has failed to unite the country during his two years in power. [A third reason is] a deep internal and almost insoluble conflict in the Democratic camp between the moderate centrists from the respectable Clinton and Obama clans and the radical progressives . . . . And all the political experience in the US over the past decades shows that in the midterm elections, the opposition has a significant advantage over the party whose leader is currently in the White House.”

With these dire expectations, keeping the Senate and losing the House by a relatively small margin was seen as a win for Democrats.

As Russian experts waited to hear the results, they too moderated public expectations for what the anticipated Republican victory would mean for sanctions and Ukraine war funding. Igor Dunayevsky comments that while polls have shown a decline in concern and enthusiasm for the war effort among US voters, among national lawmakers calls to limit military aid are only coming from a minority of Republicans in the House of Representatives. US studies expert Yury Rogulyov points out that “foreign policy is determined by the president according to the Constitution.”

Former SVR Colonel Andrei Bezrukov observes: “Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are ready to help Ukraine – however, not because of Ukraine as such, but because they are tying us up. . . . Ukraine is just a tool for [achieving] this.” In similar fashion, the possible advantage of having a Republican Congress is not due to any affection for Russia as such, but because “the Democrats have a stronger motivation to provide military aid,” since the Democratic president has made the Ukraine conflict a key part of his foreign policy.

Bezrukov ties these themes together: “If the Ukrainian Army suddenly collapses on the battlefield and it becomes clear who has won the war, then it would make no sense for Washington to continue it. The Republicans would chalk everything up to Biden and seek agreement with Russia. However, if we do not win, the Republicans, just like the Democrats, will continue to weaken Russia.”

Therein lies Russia’s current predicament. If the war had gone according to Russian commentators’ glowing predictions in the first week, then neither the Republicans nor Biden himself would have been able to do much about it. But it’s hard not to back a winning Ukraine, and harder still not to pile on a losing Russia. The further the contact line rolls back to the east, the easier it gets for Western governments to send arms and advisers to Ukraine. And the harder it gets for young men to stay in Russia waiting for their draft notices. A recent poll by the Ancor recruitment agency showed that 76% of Russian companies are facing worker shortages as men flee the country. Russia is losing the expectations game at both the domestic and geopolitical levels.