Both John McCain and Barack Obama have been critical of Russia, particularly in light of the Georgian crisis. But Moscow favors the young Democrat over the Cold War veteran.
Obama's Russia policy has yet to be written
John McCain's US presidential campaign begged at the enemy's door this week when a wayward fundraising letter reached the desk of Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin in New York asking for a donation.
The Russians wouldn't spare a ruble for the Republican, and sent McCain a sardonic message saying that, unlike the United States, the Russian government does "not finance political activity in foreign countries." US laws would have prevented them from donating had they wanted to send McCain a check.
Russian officials, in fact, aren't banking on either McCain or Democratic candidate Barack Obama mending relations upturned by Russia's recent war with US-ally Georgia.
Hoping for a fresh start
But the preference among Russians is reported to be in favor of Obama because he represents a clean slate and will be more open to new proposals, according to Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Russian Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and a senior figure in the dominant pro-Kremlin party.
McCain's KGB comment didn't go over well in Moscow
Both US candidates took a harsh stance on Russia in a recent debate when asked if the late US President Ronald Reagan's designation of the former Soviet Union as the "evil empire" still applied to modern Russia.
McCain said "maybe" while Obama, who has moved closer to his opponent's hard-line stance since the war in Georgia, said Russia exhibited "evil behavior" in that conflict.
Nonetheless, Kosachyov said this week that McCain's anti-Russian bias was deep-set while Obama was a more "comfortable" choice.
"McCain got his political formation during the Cold War," Kosachyov told news agency Interfax. "He dedicated most of his life to the fight against communism. It's clear that to this day he still thrashes along that front without seeing any real difference between the Soviet Union and modern Russia."
The Kremlin has had good, even personal, ties with Republican presidents. Nikita Khrushchev visited Dwight Eisenhower in the US. Leonid Brezhnev and Richard Nixon signed the first US-Russian arms control treaties. Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan saw their countries through the end of the Cold War.
Sense of soul or secret police
But Russian leaders sat up and took note when McCain poked fun at US President George W. Bush for saying he looked into his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin's eyes and "got a sense of his soul."
Obama is compared to JFK, but US-Russia relations were tense during his tenure
McCain quipped that he saw something else -- "three letters -- a K, a G and a B," referring to the former president and now prime minister who was a high-ranking KGB intelligence officer until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Democratic presidents are more difficult partners for Moscow because they tend toward a more complicated foreign policy view in contrast to the tough-styled Russian realism, Russian observers said.
The closest the two countries ever came to nuclear war, they point out, was the 1962 Cuban missile crisis under the late US president John F. Kennedy, to whom Obama is often compared.
Democratic President Jimmy Carter led a boycott of the Moscow 1980 Summer Olympics, while Russia blames Bill Clinton for pushing Kosovo toward independence from Serbia.
Personal over party
"Russian authorities would find it more difficult to deal with Obama," Andrei Kortunov, head of the Moscow-Based New Eurasia Foundation, told Ria-Novosti news agency. "He will make world affairs more complicated."
But Kosachyov said his choice was based on the candidates' personal profiles over their political parties.
"Obama doesn't differ particularly in his beliefs about Russia from the Republican candidate, but he is a young politician, without prejudices and so, more ready to take on a new proposals and approaches," he said.
US plans to build a missile shield in eastern Europe have disconcerted Russia
Kosachyov cited as an example Obama's more compromising stance on US plans to site a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, which Russia views as a security threat.
The US candidates' Russia advisors reveal marked difference in how each may navigate the widening gulf between both countries.
Obama's top Russia strategist, Stanford professor Michael McFaul, called Obama "an engagement guy, not an isolation guy."
McCain's top Russia expert is Stephen Biegun, who served Bush on the US National Security Council from 2001 to 2003 and raises fears among Russian diplomats that a Republican president would perpetuate the current adversarial approach.
Tension without economic interdependence
US plans to site a missile defense system in eastern Europe and its support for Western military alliance NATO's enlargement into the post-Soviet space are, Moscow says, a direct threat to its security.
In fact, Russia is battling the United States for influence in post-Soviet countries it views as its rightful sphere of influence and where the US is attracted by energy and strategic interests.
Analysts in Moscow say part of the problem is that security troubles between the two Cold-War foes are not tempered by the business and energy interests that govern Russia's relations with the European Union -- its largest client for natural gas.