The U.S. presidential election is one of the most important events in Russian domestic politics, a popular Russian joke has it. There is actually some truth in this: the outcome of the U.S. campaign will have a noticeable effect on the Kremlin’s future actions, and not just abroad but at home, too.

It’s generally believed that the Kremlin favorite is still Donald Trump, and that Moscow sees a victory for Joe Biden as a threat to its own interests. Yet in reality, there is no consensus within the ruling Russian elite on which of the candidates would be better for Russia, and the Kremlin’s attitude to Trump is far more complex than is commonly believed.

Trump’s 2016 victory was a delightful surprise for the Kremlin. His rhetoric on Russia was completely different from that of his predecessors: no criticism, no preaching, no promoting of liberal values—just calls to “get along” with Putin. Moscow hoped that his election would transform bilateral relations.