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Russia: Vox Populi -- Muscovites Speak About Clinton-Putin Summit

The first McDonald's in Russia opened on Pushkin Square 10 years ago. Now, on the eve of U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, RFE/RL's Sophie Lambroschini asks passers-by on the square what they think of the United States.

Moscow, 2 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- If it hadn't been for President Clinton's steamy escapade with Monica Lewinsky, many Russians would probably associate him only with the air strikes against Serbia last year. Russians saw NATO's intervention in Kosovo as an appalling example of U.S. arrogance. In that context, the Monica look-a-like contest that's running in Moscow this weekend (at the initiative of the satirical English-language Russian weekly "The Exile") might be more a public-relations event for the U.S. than an embarrassment.

At least 15-year-old Sasha thinks so. He and four girlfriends are having a beer by a fountain on Pushkin Square. He says that he should hate the United States for bombing Serbia but that Clinton has given him a good impression.

"Probably then I would've hated him. The U.S. are uncool, but Clinton is a cool dude because I think he's a real guy -- when they caught him with that broad, Monica."

One of the girls looks at him with disapproval and explains, "It's just that Clinton is young and energetic, like Vladimir Putin."

An elderly lady sitting nearby also comments on the Monica affair, saying, "Clinton's like any young man, after all."

Just over a year ago, NATO's air strikes against Serbia spurred unprecedented anti-American sentiments in Russia -- and Cold War parallels. Also last year, Western accusations that Russian officials were involved in money-laundering, embezzlement, and bribe-taking had the Moscow press crying out against U.S. attempts to discredit Russia.

This year, foreign condemnation of Russia's bloody war in Chechnya had many Russians agreeing with their leadership that the West is trying to compromise Russia's strategic interests in the Caucasus, to weaken the country further.

But few of the people interviewed today brought the subject up spontaneously. They did not specifically mention Kosovo, but they were insistent that the United States has been behaving insolently.

Olga is a music student. She admires the way the U.S. "treats its citizens like precious pearls," but compares its foreign and trade policy to that of a vampire.

"The United States is now the strongest, most powerful country in the world that gives the tone to everyone. Probably, they see Russia to a large extent as a gigantic territory that they can suck out a lot out of, because of our relatively cheap natural resources, our cheap workforce, and complete lack of laws."

Andrey, a civil servant, agrees.

"It dictates its laws a lot. But that's maybe the way politics are -- that whoever is stronger dictates his rules to others. What makes me mad is that here everything is focused on the dollar rate. That I cannot understand."

Aleksandr, a manager of a German company, says that the U.S. should take a lesson from how Russia and Germany developed their relations despite the Second World War.

"The United States is a country that knows perfectly well what it wants but doesn't always take into account the fact that others also want something. I was very surprised by the Germans' tolerance toward Russia. You know, we waged a war against one another, my grandfather died, which means that some German soldier killed him. Nevertheless, we came to understand each other, that we should live in peace and cooperate. But I never, not once, saw that America turned towards us like that." Or is Russian dislike of the U.S. simply based on envy? Aleksandr, an engineer turned businessman, says that Russia would behave just like the United States -- if it could.

"For now, we can only learn from them, the Americans, how they have laws and implement them. That we should learn. And learn dignity from them, how they defend their citizens in every corner of the world, on every planet. I don't see the United States as a threat. And the fact that they're trying to gain control in the economic sphere and trade -- that's been around for centuries. The Spaniards controlled the seas? Yes. And they were the richest country. My God, and so what? In the same way the Americans are doing great. What can I say? We also want to crawl up to that level, only we can't do it for now." As for the Clinton-Putin summit, most see it as a perfunctory diplomatic affair with little immediate consequences. As 16-year-old Elizaveta put it: "It's great that comrade Clinton is meeting comrade Putin, but that doesn't affect us, does it?"