I spent last week in Moscow and St Petersburg visiting our Russian clients and prospects, with much to talk about on the geo-political front other than Ukraine and sanctions.
With the US Presidential election in the autumn, I was struck by a very different take on the prospect of a Trump Presidency. Thoughtful watchers recall that Russia-US relations have traditionally been more straightforward under a Republican President, rather than a Democrat like Obama, despite the rhetoric.
But the Russian business community also seems to recognise a successful entrepreneur as intrinsically more pragmatic and measured than any career politician rooted in Party ideology. “He’s a successful businessman, so he knows how to make things work. He will make logical decisions in the interests of the US, and we will see a less emotional approach from the White House” commented one senior player.
By contrast interest in BREXIT was much more muted. The debate is not being followed nearly as closely as the US Presidential elections. There is little interest and understanding of what the UK leaving the EU might mean for financial services let alone the famously well invested London real estate market. And I sensed an underlying optimism that another major European power outside the EU might mean more balance across the continent from Moscow’s perspective.
The historian in me was reminded that the UK and Russia were natural allies at each end of the continent since the 16th century, apart from a ‘blip’ in the mid-19th century (in the Crimea, intriguingly).
“Whatever you say about our system, we don’t produce leaders like Trump, Corbyn or Marie Le Pen” wistfully reflected one old friend, who has been a long-time critic Russian politics. Indeed many euro sceptics across the EU might agree with Putin that "there's a process of Islamization [going on in Turkey] that would make Ataturk turn in his grave." Certainly Donald Trump and Boris Johnson would agree!