What Would the Jenningses Think

The FX spy drama The Americans’ final season has a Reagan-Gorbachev summit as a backdrop. The one where the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed in 1987. According to the series plot, there were two factions within the Soviet high powers: Gorbachev and his aides were ready to free the world from nuclear weapons even at a cost of some concessions, while the old KGB core was preparing a coup against Gorbachev so that the nukes would continue to protect the communist values. The main characters, a couple of Russian illegals living and acting in the D.C. area, are split – Elizabeth although without knowing is on a killing spree on the KGB side, while Philip is forced to go back to his past vocation, from which he has retired, in order to stop his wife and the conspiracy.

They manage everything — apparently stop the plot from its fruition, leave almost unscathed, and stay together. After all, they have been fighting for the supposedly better cause of stopping the real Americans from destroying their Motherland (as we know, in reality, Motherlands are usually happy to destroy themselves). They believed in it almost to the end, though with a varying degree of conviction, even though they had to kill people, some innocent, along the way. Elizabeth is hardcore and cold-blooded, but even she realizes that it is not always worth it, that no Motherland is worthy of killing everyone in their way. Sometimes, as they learn, you might have to kill your own people. Philip is sort of disillusioned almost from the beginning but stays loyal both to his country and his family, keeping it together and ultimately saving it from the unhappy ending.

The American television series about the Soviet undercover spies is surprisingly good at picturing both sides almost equally human. The Americans are not always innocent and righteous, the Russians are not simply the bad ones. Despite the fact that the vast majority of deaths are on the Soviet hands, you do feel how the creators are sympathizing with them, explaining the rational reasons. There are greater causes behind both sides and that nearly justifies the cruelty, or at least that is how it is all shown. After all, it was the FBI agent who let the Jenningses go in the end.

Back to the INF Treaty. It is rather dreadful that just a few months after the series ended and a few days before I finished watching it, our two countries mutually withdrew from the treaty. What those spies were fighting for on some level, what our country sacrificed back in the 1980s, what all those lives were lost for even if just in an action-driven television series — all those things were for nothing, or so it seems from 2019. Thirty-one years have passed, and we are practically back to square one or even worse.

So, I wonder what would the Jenningses think of us hypothetically? They put everything, their lives and happiness, their marriage, and trust at stake on the great cause of peace. They left their kids behind and barely escaped. Now it turns out that all that risk was for nothing. Yes, they stayed alive. No, the great cause of peace is cast away. Then the two leaders came to the understanding that mutual disagreements should be set aside for the peaceful future that modern leaders see no more. Would Elizabeth be happy to see the quasi-return of the Soviet Union and the old guard? Would Philip be disgusted with it?

We will never know what the Jenningses would think of us. But although they are fictional characters we should still be asking ourselves these questions. If we don’t, we might just pave the way to the times from which even the real-life Jenningses would not be able to pull us out.


Russia Did Not Invent California and Texas Secession

The BBC reported last week that the Twitter campaigns for the so-called #Calexit and #Texit were orchestrated from Russia. Mashable joined in the coverage.

The claim is that a Russian troll-factory either initiated or supported and boosted Twitter campaigns for California and Texas secession from the United States in the wake of the 2016 presidential elections. The case is based on analysis of who drove the corresponding hashtags to the top, and on the story behind some pro-independence leaders. It is revealed that most Twitter accounts that used the hashtags, liked certain tweets, or republished them no longer exist, and, therefore, must be automated bots and fake accounts. At the same time, it is known that Louis Marinelli, who was the leader of the California independence movement, attended a conference in Russia and currently resides there.

The use of bots, fake accounts, and whole organizations that support someone’s agenda on social networks is no news. The Russian troll-factory just happens to be the most well-known one, while others may still remain undiscovered. There is absolutely no guarantee that some other governments do not use such tactics either domestically or internationally. Popular opinion is a very powerful weapon, and controlling the people’s mindset becomes unavoidable in the era of information wars.

But the reports that are published now cannot be taken independently of two key factors. One, Russia was not the founder of the secession movements around the world. Two, Russia does not care about secession as long as it does not happen on its own soil, and foreign secessions are used merely as a propaganda tool for domestic policing. Consequently, it is a bit far-fetched to assume that Russia is the real perpetrator of breaking other countries apart, as long as these countries are not former Soviet republics.

Besides, when media like The Atlantic write that “following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the organization [Yes California] has gone from an unknown fringe group to one discussed seriously in mainstream media”, they forget to add that this mainstream American media help transform fringe movements into anything bigger by pushing them towards the front pages and using those fringe groups in the same pile of the alleged Russian involvement in any shit that happens in the USA. Honestly, it looks the same as when the Russians joked about Obama peeing in their apartment buildings, mocking the popular Russian TV picture of America held responsible for all sorts of troubles. But when the Russians are joking, the Americans are serious — and that is somewhat awkward.

Yet, even those who are most loud in voicing their concerns about the Russian support for the US separatists have to admit that “these scattered American movements are not necessarily proactive agents working on behalf of Moscow’s direct interests”. After all, Moscow may have created secession-backing accounts on social networks, but secession movements were created in the USA and by American citizens.

Secession movements are homegrown

Louis Marinelli did spend a lot of time teaching English and studying in Russia, he does currently reside in Russia, he did attend the Dialogue of Nations conference in Russia. But Louis Marinelli is neither a Russian, nor did he start the whole Yes California campaign alone and from Russia — he did it while being in the United States, and he did it with many other supporters. Moreover, they were not the first in history to suggest California should either be confederated or independent, just like there had been several proposals for alternatively splitting the state into several states.

The California National Party was established in 2015, a year before the 2016 presidential elections. It is not alone, with the Alaskan Independence Party (founded in 1984), and the Hawaii Independence Party (founded in 2015) to name just a few. Even Puerto Rico has its own independence movement, which you would easily understand with Trump’s inability to take Puerto Rico and its post-hurricane state seriously.

The Russian troll-factory might have been the force behind driving the #Texit into the hearts of at least some people and the Twitter tops. But #Texit was born in Texas by a Texan and entered the hearts of some Texans, not just anonymous Russian bots. Moreover, it was the Western media that first covered this whole idea — first, The Guardian, and then The New York Times. Plus, Texas was always known for its favorable stance on independence, long before Russia and Twitter — modern secession organizations in Texas appeared in the 1990s.

Therefore, when the secession story in the USA is pictured in the Russian terms, it falls well within the whole Russian hacking narrative but falls short of in-depth objective journalism.

Foreign secession as propaganda pill against domestic protest

When it comes to secession and the right of nations for independence, one must clearly understand that any or most government’s position would be that of “kind of OK as long as it is not on our soil”. One thing is to voice any sentiments about the breaking of a far-away country, another — to see your own country break up. Russia is still licking the wounds left from the collapse of the USSR and is desperately trying to forget the Yeltsin’s policy of giving autonomous republics as much independence as they asked for to keep them within some control and national borders. So, the Russian government position is that of criminalizing even the open discussion of any sort of territorial independence — people can go to prison for just speaking about Siberian or Far Eastern republics.

At the same time, there’s the Ukraine where Russia has been the catalyst of separatism as a way to undermine any potential success of people’s overthrowing the pro-Russian regime in 2014. Putin not only stole the Crimea but did nothing to stop Russian oligarchs and militant groups from keeping Donbas and Lugansk regions in their quasi-independent state. This could be explained by the Russian elite’s and general public’s sentiments towards the loss of the Soviet land. Ukraine was unfortunate enough to pay a dear price for its push away from Russia, but regimes in Kazakhstan or some other former Soviet republics do not feel immune from the rise of imperial aspirations no matter how hard they try to pretend they are pro-Putin (they don’t try hard enough, though).

As for secession movements elsewhere — Spain, the UK, the USA — Russia does not really care. Well, maybe just a little — hoping that break-ups might undermine the stability and prosperity of those countries allowing Russia to act more freely in the international arena. After all, one of the key principles of politics is to divide and conquer. Surely, Russia does not have any plans to physically conquer the United States (Russian politicians and oligarchs are not mad enough to even think of losing their safe haven). But dividing the American public alongside any political rifts might serve some purpose. It would be hard not to agree with POLITICO Magazine here: “people who know the Russian political playbook say winking at these fringe movements — and even giving them a boost — is a part of a very real strategy. Not only is this a way of puffing Russia’s domestic claims at the turmoil in the U.S., but it fits firmly within the Kremlin’s modus operandi of cultivating fringe groups in the West”.

However, all these secessionists in other countries serve as a good instrument in domestic Russian propaganda. Russian TV can always point to foreign examples saying things that range from “the USA have their own troubles to meddle with our affairs” to “look, California and Texas are fed up with the USA” to “Calexit and Texit prove that the USA is a failed state, not Russia”.

This brings us back to showcasing the downsides of territorial independence to the domestic population. Some might be jailed but this may lead to tensions with international civil rights organizations and bad publicity. Making people believe that secession is a nasty business not worthy of even remotely considering is a good way to avoid that.

Plus, you should never underestimate the Russian (media) policy of screaming about other countries’ woes to silence a public discussion of domestic issues. And that might be the ultimate current goal of supporting all those #exits on Twitter.

Let me be absolutely clear here. Russia is proven to have government-supported organizations that are engaged in spreading the Kremlin agenda both internally and internationally via popular social networks and blogging platforms. Russia has backed up conferences and provided financing to numerous alt-right, conservative, and secessionist movements in Europe and the Americas, while simultaneously criminalizing any secessionist discussion on its own territory.

Secessionist movements, parties, and sentiments are homegrown no matter how small or big their fanbase is. They originate as either some fringe groups (as in California) or rather universally supported at least on the level of public sentiments and discourse (as in Texas, or, say, Catalonia). They can grow thanks to foreign investment but only to a certain point, as they would still have to secure voters’ backup in any elections or even proper registration as political players.

Russia may have played a big role in the secessionist resurrection or mainstreaming their agenda, but it did so via the Western media too, and largely to use it for domestic Russian propaganda. Wreaking havoc on American soil, and dividing people along some internal political rifts is just the added bonus that would also be used to advantage in (mostly) domestic Russian propaganda.

Overestimating the Russian role in internal American politics means looking for an easy scapegoat in the US’s own political turmoil, and shifting the focus of attention from local players to outside ones.


Remember, Remember the 7th of November

I was born in the Soviet Union with the Seventh of November in my blood as one of the brightest dates in the calendar. Not even Victory Day was so widely observed back then. We had New Year’s for the kids in us, Women’s Day for the ceremonial bow towards women, First of May for the spring holiday, and Victory Day for the battle memories. But Seventh of November reigned above them all with its military parade (same as Victory Day), demonstrations (same as First of May) and something extra that other holidays lacked.

I am not feeling nostalgic now, or am I? In some sense I am, I guess. We were young and naïve, we believed that our forefathers overturned tsarism and exploitation by the landlords, we knew that the Soviet rule gave us all equal access to education, healthcare, and social welfare. We were kids after all and kids are fascinated with flags, tanks, crowds, and parades. I even once took part in a demonstration, but in a small town where participant passes were not required.

Soviet flags on the 7th of November

Then, we saw The Cold Summer of 1953 and learnt more about millions killed in the 1930s-1940s. Not that it wasn’t known before, just not highlighted. Then, everything tumbled down and the Soviet Union was no more. I was still a child to notice acutely and sympathize or celebrate. What followed were the years when we somewhat struggled with poverty (comparatively and relatively speaking), lived through tumultuous times and found ourselves in the 2000s. Years of relative stability and prosperity. Now, we are back to the brink of struggling with poverty, just on a somewhat different level.

It is the Cold Autumn of 2017 and the Soviet Union is back in some sense. We are made to believe that our forefathers overturned tsarism and exploitation by the landlords with a new (maybe not so righteous) twist, we recall that the Soviet rule gave us all equal access to education, health care and social welfare (with the new realisation — this was not always equal access to the best we could have had). We are no longer kids but we all get fascinated with flags, tanks, crowds, and parades (or, shall I say, their reenactments). There is even a slightly wider access to those reenactments provided you have a participant pass.

We are living through the times of reenactment of something from our past but on a slightly different level and with many new twists. The market economy is what makes those with participant passes become rich and feel part of the world. Nostalgic reminiscing about the planned economy is what makes the majority feel deceived but on the way to improvement (by way of going back). No need to be part of the world for this majority, as the world is hostile again.

The feeling is that by alienating ourselves from the rest of the planet (since they alienate themselves from us) and going back to our righteous Soviet rules we might just survive and prosper, albeit through some initial hardships. These sentiments are freely planted through the media into the television-led collective consciousness and find fertile ground there.

The problem is that these sentiments are good for the masses but not intended for the few who have participant passes. Hence, all those propaganda warriors who preach death and hardships here but for themselves choose life abroad. Hence, this ambiguity and doublethinking about the events that exploded and spread with the gunpowder, treason, and plot of the seventh of November. Hence, the fact that we are given back parades, tanks, and flags but not the holiday. That is unless you count those reenactments that serve as the Victory Day repeat to fill the Seventh of November void.

Sailor, soldier and red flags

I come from the generation of kids who were fortunate enough to be born too late for the Soviet sentiments to cement inside our brains. We find bits and pieces but have other experiences from later periods. Not all of us — some are lost to the preaching. We are also from the generation of kids who were too fascinated with flags, tanks, and parades, and those who are disillusioned with the present might gladly embrace the past. I can treat the whole thing as a children’s rhyme now and look into the future (or at least hope for it), while many others only think that they are looking into the future and in fact are facing the past all over again.

Yet there is something obviously different about the attitude towards this date now that we mark its 100th anniversary. The propaganda is such a tricky thing that it makes the people nostalgic about the Soviet past but at the same time denounces the roots of the Soviet rule. Revolution is bad they say. You should not think of repeating the experience as it will bring all sorts of damage to yourself and the country. The Great October Socialist Revolution (as it was called in the past) was more like a coup d’état in the modern interpretation — one political party overthrew another with the help of foreign money. The revolution then provoked years of civil war and destitution.

At the same time, you should be proud of all those things that came into our lives thanks to that revolution back in 1917 — declaratively classless system, universal education, nuclear weapons, space exploration, Soviet ballet, superpower status, and declaratively free healthcare and housing. To somehow reconcile the two the propaganda tells us that industrial growth, space exploration, and nuclear weapons would have come into our lives even without the revolution, just like the Russian Empire already had its internationally acclaimed ballet, as well as kind of a superpower status, or at least that on par with other great empires of that time.

The current internal Russian policy is that of the cautious negation of those history pages that are strongly rebellious, like autumn of 1917. When the modern population may feel the same sentiments of tiredness, betrayal, stagnation, and injustice as crowds of Russians 100 years ago even the slightest verbal nod towards unsanctioned criticism is treated like the call to unconstitutional overthrowing of the government. Any remotely rebellious actions are destined to be nipped in the bud unlike those in 1917. The authorities have learned the history lesson. Putin can claim the supremacy of the Soviet Union but will curse its beginnings because otherwise, he would have to admit that 1) his beloved former country appeared as a result of an illegal act, and 2) his own position can be overthrown with substantial justification and historical parallels. After all, it is rather inconsistent to consider a revolution a good thing for others but bad for you.


Trump vs Clinton vs Johnson

November 8 will be just another busy Tuesday in the USA. Except that this will be the day Americans are going to vote for their future president. At least those Americans who have decided to take part in the elections and haven’t voted in advance. Though they are not casting their votes directly for one of the candidates for the sake of simplicity we can assume they do. And they do, as they are choosing between those faces that have become ubiquitous thanks to TV and the Internet. One of those faces is sure to be the face of the whole country for the next four or eight years.

Russia pays close attention to the US presidential elections for many reasons. To begin with, it’s a great way to distract people here from the domestic agenda and our own flaws. I should probably stop it here as this is the major reason, but there are others. The USA is the superpower sans any doubt. No matter how large their national debt is or how much people in some corners of the world hate it, America is leading the world on so many levels that even haters inadvertently admit.

For Russia, it is vitally important to keep a balance with the USA in such an unstable world. Both countries have the potential to destroy the planet if their leaders choose so or if someone’s hand slips onto the wrong button. But all Russian propaganda frenzy aside, we are two large countries with huge ambitions and we are bound to have to find some common ground or some sort of status quo. Even if this status quo is prone to interpretations on both sides. The scale of interpretations might well depend on who sits in the White House, among other factors. Therefore, our interest in the election’s outcome is rather practical, albeit one of an observer.

According to Russian mainstream media, Donald Trump is probably the better choice for US-Russian relations. Republican administrations being usually more friendly with Russian ones is the historical reason. Trump voicing his friendliness towards Putin is the rhetorical reason. Clinton having a strong position on Crimea annexation is the political reason. Trump being a dark and, obviously, a temperamental horse that could potentially be led in the right direction is the practical reason. When I speak about reasons and potential leading I am not in the least implying that foreign leaders should be led by their colleagues, or that Russia has indeed tried to interfere in the election process. After all, both countries are sure to have interfered with each other’s policies and will continue to do so.

Despite the fact that some changes in Putin’s presidential administration are suspected to be the backfire of too much involvement with Trump and the necessity to get ready for a feminine touch in negotiations, Russian media continue to paint Hillary black and to kind of still bet on Trump. The general public always likes bright figures and prefers them to gray ones no matter how sophisticated, well-versed, or experienced the latter are. It is the same reason why hundreds of thousands continue voting for Vladimir Zhirinovsky who is nothing but a political clown here. They’d actually be a sweet couple with Trump if fate brought both into power.

But whatever politicians do it is common folks that have to deal with consequences. And, all facts and allegations to the contrary aside, it is the common folks that are entitled to choose their presidents on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances in the USA. So I asked them about their views and expectations regarding these elections. Not all agreed to participate in this little survey, so I really appreciate the fact that some did send me their answers. Not surprisingly most of the respondents (though not all) are going to vote for Hillary Clinton – I mostly made friends with people with college degrees from cities. None supports Trump as president, though some people expressed either their agreement with some of his proposals and disagreement with some of Clinton’s.

I asked people to say if they would take part in the elections and had decided whom to support; why they support their candidate and whether they disagree with anything on their program; whether they agree with anything in the program of opposing candidate; if they think the outcome of the elections is crucial for America, and, finally, I asked them about the future of US-Russian relations. Here are the answers I’ve received.

The Double Play bar, 439 Dauphine St, New Orleans

David, 42, North Carolina

I almost always vote Democratic and will continue to do so. I have already voted for Hillary Clinton and all the Democrats running for state and local elections with one exception – I voted to re-elect the NC Commissioner of Agriculture, who is a Republican and has done a good job, according to my Dad.

Donald Trump is a sleazy, slimy, Egomaniac mafioso with no experience in a public office. I cannot believe he has made it this far in the nomination process, but I despised all the other republican candidates even more. I’m just thankful the nomination did not go to a Jesus-freak like Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush – they were even scarier.

If Donald Trump were to win the election, it would be a frightening thing for the US and the entire world. We are all still safe with Hillary (and Bill), but she still annoys the shit out of me every time she opens her mouth with her Chicago accent.

The NC state election is equally contentious, and arguably more important to the people of Asheville than the national election. Currently, the NC government is controlled by a right-wing fuck head and the Republican religious bigots running the state legislature. They have been a national embarrassment the past year.

My opinion of the Russian people has always been strong. All the Russians I have known over the years make me want to come visit your huge country some day! In fact, I feel Americans are closer culturally to Russians than we are to either Canadians, Brits, or Aussies, due to our shared love of revolution, guns, war, and gangster-style violence. No matter who wins the elections, my opinion of the Russian people will not change.

Ezell, 45, Louisiana

Yes, I am going to take part in the US presidential elections in 2016. I am going to vote for the usual party I support because she, Hillary Clinton, is the most qualified candidate in my assessment. I do not support any single party. In fact, I believe we need several legitimate and viable parties.

As I watched the three national debates I saw Hillary Clinton wanting to discuss issues related to our country’s interests. Then I saw Donald Trump making generalizations and blanket statements without supporting them. I also saw him constantly interrupting Clinton and the moderators and appearing as a bully, a tyrant, a shyster, and an agitator. He appeared uninformed and out of touch. His characteristics are not indicative of what I expect to see in a leader. Hillary Clinton’s credentials are solid, despite her continual need to shroud her work in secrecy.

I agree with Trump’s position to reform the tax codes that allow him and other billionaire business owners to avoid paying their fair share of taxes like us common, everyday folk.

What I disagree with in Clinton’s program is the idea of disclosing too much national security information to the public and the world regarding ISIS and the attempt to destroy their terrorist efforts.

The outcome of the elections is going to be very crucial. I need a president seasoned in diplomatic efforts who is ready to be commander-in-chief on day one, not Mr. Trump. He appears to be an entertainer looking for his next 15 minutes of fame. I am shocked that a person who body-slammed a wrestling entertainment mogul for ratings is even considered a viable candidate for president. His demeaning remarks about several minority groups is disturbing. Also, allegations of inappropriate advances and comments toward women are offensive and repulsive.

This election reminds me of a gubernatorial election we had in Louisiana in 1992. The two candidates were a crooked politician and a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I voted for the crook. There are allegations that Hillary Clinton is a crook. Based on all of the information I have examined, I have decided I’d vote for a “crook” before I’d vote for a hate monger like Trump. Over 30 years of investigations into Hillary Clinton and nothing has ever been proven illegal. Either she’s the smartest crook to have ever entered American politics or they are trying to taint her reputation.

I believe we will continue on the same path under a Clinton presidency. Under a Trump presidency, we might end up in World War III. I do not trust him with our country’s nuclear codes. His Twitter rants might be an indication of his temperance in dealing with foreign powers.

Michael, 63, California

I am going to take part in the US presidential elections in 2016 and have already decided on whom to vote for. I will support the usual party because they have a better candidate.

I support Clinton’s healthcare policy, her position on entitlements, her tax policy, etc. In addition, I cannot support a racist, a bigot, an islamophobe, nor a man who brags about sexual assault. There is nothing good in Trump’s program.

At the same time, there are many things I disagree with in Clinton’s program. I don’t think she is progressive enough on many issues that are important to me, but she is much closer to my views than Trump.

The outcome of the elections is crucial. Trump would take this country in many wrong directions. Additionally, he is proud of his lack of intellectual rigor and his gut reactions. I fear he could push us into some terrible foreign policy directions.

Russia seems to be increasingly willing to support dangerous regimes and to have an increasingly interventionist foreign policy. This seems very dangerous to me and puts Russia and the US into many adversarial positions.

Trent, 52, Kentucky

Yes, I will vote in the 2016 Elections and I have decided who I will vote for – the candidate is from the party that I normally vote for. I generally agree with the positions from the party platform and that this candidate advocates. I think my candidate is a capable person that will do their best to lead this country.

With regard to the positions my candidate is taking. I support the raising of a minimum wage, it is very low and has not been raised since 2009. Even the 2009 rate was very low and I think it is difficult for many to afford the necessities of life. One other economic item of interest to me is that she would like to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for some additional programs for investment, such as debt-free university, road improvements/repairs.

Immigration Reform. There are a lot of children and adults who have been here since their childhood, brought here by their parents who have no legal status in this country. They called people in this situation “the Dreamers”. Many people want them deported to their home country but I would rather they stay and be given a path to citizenship. I think there needs to be a guest worker system implemented. Also, I would like the US to take in more properly vetted Syrian Refuges as the rest of Europe and the middle east is doing to help in the humanitarian crisis. My candidate agrees with this position as well.

My candidate agrees with marriage equality and the expansion of the civil rights act to include sexual orientation. Also, my candidate wants to heal the racial divide by criminal justice reform. Often people of different races are charged and sentenced differently depending on their race. More police training is needed in dealing with people with different races.

Health Care. My candidate will keep and improve the “Obama Care” healthcare system to bring health care to more people and hopefully making it more affordable rather than dismantling it.

The Supreme Court has fallen victim to our gridlock. With the vacancy left by one of the justices dying in February, Obama nominated a judge to be considered by the congress. Congress has not given this person a hearing in hopes that their party will win the presidency and they can nominate someone that agreed with their politics. This is a failure of their duties in my opinion.

The candidate of the opposing party is threatening not to uphold treaties and is advocating some countries to acquire nuclear weapons. I believe this to be dangerous and destabilizing. The candidate that I support is the former secretary of state and I have more confidence in her to use diplomacy.

I agree that the use of a private email server to conduct some state department business was unwise. I do not agree that it is criminal. With regard to anything that I disagree with my candidate, I am nervous about her advocating a “No Fly Zone” in Syria. It could lead to further conflict with Russia.

I think this is a really important election because the next president will be selecting one to perhaps 3 supreme court justices. I want the future supreme court to take a moderate direction rather than a hard right turn. I also believe that the candidate of the opposition party is volatile. I feel that if the candidate of the opposite party wins, with a presidency, congress, and court system in control by a very conservative party, that there could be a lot of social progress and institutions that could be undone. If my candidate wins, without a change in the party of the congress, not much will change. If the parties in congress switch to the same party as my candidate, much progress can be made.

I am not that well versed in Russian/US relationship to offer an opinion about how the future will be. I am hopeful that someday it will be more friendly.

Lance, 41, Georgia

I am going to take part in the US presidential elections in 2016. I have decided whom to support – the usual party I vote for.

Basically, social policies matter the most to me, and I am supporting the more socially progressive candidate. Racial issues remain a big topic in the US, and my candidate will do a better job moving is past the divide.

There is not a god damn thing in Trump’s agenda, actually. On the other hand, I do not quite agree with Clinton’s tax policy. I want to see the tax code completely rewritten and simplified.

The outcome is important. Let’s be honest. Trump is basically a fascist. He would inflame existing tensions, isolate the United States, and slow free trade. And he’s just a dick.

No optimist on US-Russian relations, really. I don’t see either side changing. I actually see it getting worse. Trump and Putin like each other. But that’s not worth having Trump as president.

Anton, 36, Virginia-Samara

Unfortunately, I am not going to take part in this election. Due to a complicated system of getting an absentee ballot, I have missed the deadline. But I can speak about my choice. I have always voted for the democratic candidate and this election wouldn’t have been different.

I would’ve cast my vote for H.R. Clinton. Compared to Trump she does have experience in the international arena, she was an active first lady under her husband’s presidency which is unusual for most, and has implemented some great educational initiatives. On the other hand, her international policies could backfire. While she has shown some finesse as the Secretary of State, I am concerned that her impulsiveness could be misinterpreted by others.

I can’t think of a single issue I would agree with Trump about.

In the unlikely case that Trump wins the local economy of some states that do heavily rely on immigrants (especially illegal) will suffer. It could result in agricultural production shortage in California and Florida. Forceful deportation of illegals is an extremely costly project and legalization is time-consuming and costly for immigrants. Unless some immigration program that is both easy and cheap is implemented the status quo will remain.

It’s difficult to say considering that both countries are intent on showing dominancy in the world. Likely outcome is two camp split and continuous straining in relations.

Jullette, 51, Virginia

I am going to take part in the US presidential elections in 2016. I am a registered independent and frankly, I still don’t know who I will vote for. They both are undesirable for various reasons. As I have not decided it is hard to explain the reasoning. I can tell you things cannot continue like they are in the “greater nation on earth”.

One candidate is a narcissistic, egomaniacal businessman and the other is a narcissistic career politician who thinks the rules don’t apply to her or her family.

They both have appealing stances on issues and equally unappealing stances. There is no drop-dead issue for me, more the one of social and fiscal balance. Regardless of who is commander-in-chief we still have a House and a Senate that act like 5 year-olds playing in a sandbox, so not sure it matters as much as we like to think.

So much I disagree with but mostly the character of the individuals. You can’t fix character and morality.

Yes, the outcome is important as it has the potential to shape the future of our country. First woman president but more bloated government spending and favoritism with rewards for those who donate or a businessman with absolutely no experience in government. If he could put his ego aside and surround himself with subject matter experts (SMEs) he could potentially be successful but that is a very big IF

The future of US-Russian relations in general definitely depends on who is elected.

Paul, 43, Minnesota

It is a privilege to live in a country with democratic elections, and while it’s easy to think that my one vote doesn’t matter, it is important for all of us to do it. While there is certainly some level of corruption in any country, we truly believe that our process works and that our elections are legitimate. By participating we are helping to ensure this is always the case.

It has been very difficult to decide this year. I am disgusted with the two primary options we’ve been given by the two parties who control our political process. It’s like watching a ridiculous television show. Almost everyone I know is frustrated and embarrassed about what is going on. For the first time in my life, I am planning to vote for a third-party presidential candidate, the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. I don’t expect him to win or even come close, and to be honest, I don’t agree with some of his political positions. I am voting for him out of protest.

I typically vote for candidates in one of our two main parties. I am not exclusively loyal to either party. However, this year I am voting for a candidate in a third party, which is unusual for me. I tend to be more liberal on political issues, but I also agree with some conservative positions as well. Mostly I am looking for good people who are trustworthy and who can get things done. I am tired of the establishment candidates who play political games. Hillary Clinton is an establishment candidate. I don’t trust her at all, and I don’t think she can get anything done. She’s too beholden to the political system. This is why Donald Trump has done so well. He is anti-establishment. Unfortunately, he is also an arrogant jackass and an embarrassment to the country.

There are many positions I support in both candidates. I support Hillary’s position on immigration, social issues like gay rights, education policies, etc. On the other side, Trump is absolutely right that America should have smarter trade deals, lower taxes on businesses, and stop spending trillions of dollars trying to police the entire world. He would run the country like a smart business, but he would also be an offensive and embarrassing leader. She would be a much more sensitive and diplomatic president, but she would also be weak and unable to make transformational changes. There is good and bad in each of them.

I disagree with Trump on foreign policy. I think America needs to lead the way in opening up and viewing ourselves as part of a global community. Trump will make the same mistakes that Britain recently made, in closing itself off to the rest of the world. I don’t think building a giant wall on our southern border is the right thing to do, for example. I disagree with Trump’s arrogant style. He doesn’t seem to have thoughtful plans for many key issues. He only has bombastic rhetoric on certain issues. I agree more with Hillary’s positions, but I don’t trust her and am tired of the Clintons in general. She and her husband have been involved in many unethical and illegal activities. She is all talk and no action. She is managing her political career.

The result of the election will certainly be important, although the lives of average Americans will not change much. Thankfully we have a strong system of democracy, with checks and balances in place. No single leader can control the country without the support of many, many others. The greater concern is the people who will surround the elected president. For example, the next president will appoint two or three Supreme Court judges, and this could significantly change the court, and public policy on many issues, for decades.

We are very concerned about the US-Russia relationship. Russians and Americans do not really understand each other, and both sides vilify the other. We are concerned that our travel to Russia and our possibility of living there someday will be removed. We see that Russia is continuing to isolate itself and show needless aggression toward Western countries. We also see that America continues to misunderstand Russian interests and matches the aggression with needless rhetoric. The naiveté of average citizens enables the governments to continue escalating these disagreements. We very much hope that there are stronger relationships in the future. Americans see Putin’s government as corrupt, and we cannot understand how any country would allow its leaders to rule in this way. Americans also don’t understand why Russia is so slow to adopt progressive views and participate more in the global community. In general, the two sides seem far apart, and we are a long way from truly understanding each other. I hope in my own lifetime to see this change, and perhaps to play a small part in it.

I am sure some of my friends might be leaning towards Trump, but they chose not to participate in the survey for any number of reasons. Some stressed that the current elections are a mess and are better be over soon.

However, we have seen so many times how messier it can become when people prefer not to take part in shaping their own future. So I hope that my US friends go to the polls and choose the right man or the right woman. The choice is theirs and I cannot influence it in any way. But no matter whom they grant with their vote and no matter where this man or this woman leads their country I do hope that we will stay friends with my friends and remain positive about the better future.