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For Russians, at Least Obama Would Be Predictable (Gazeta, Russia)


"Romney’s rhetoric is not the expression of a long-held position, but a set of common stereotypes that are not backed by the candidate’s personal beliefs or attitudes. What course he would pursue if elected is therefore impossible to predict. ... There is no arguing that the Democratic president is a lot more flexible and modern than his opponent, so there will be less ideological sloganeering."


By Fyodor Lukyanov*



Translated By Anastassia Tapsieva


September 8, 2012


Gazeta - Russia - Original Article (Russian)

President Obama: From Russia's point of view, while the next four years may not be as productive as the last four, at least Moscow knows him.

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“The Cold War mentality represented by Mitt Romney's identification of Russia as 'our number one geopolitical foe' ignores the very real common interest we share with Russia in reducing nuclear stockpiles, stopping additional proliferation by countries such as Iran and North Korea, and preventing nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists." Out of the electoral platform adopted at the Democratic Party Convention, this is perhaps the most important phrase on the subject of Russia.


The document states that the “reset” policy “has produced significant cooperation in these areas, as well as in Russian support for the Northern Distribution Network that supplies our troops in Afghanistan.”


Russian membership in the WTO - which forces Moscow to play by the rules and therefore benefits American business - is also listed as an achievement. And during negotiations with Moscow, the Democrats promise to honestly and directly raise issues on which the Washington disagrees, and sharply criticize Russia when necessary, as has been the case with Russian support of the Syrian regime.


Russia is mentioned several more times in another familiar context: the New START treaty(a major achievement), anti-missile defense (we will continue to look for opportunities to negotiate), Iran (instituted sanctions that are harsher than ever, and they will be further strengthened). And that is about it.


There are no special remarks on the state of democracy in Russia (the platform has a general passage on promoting and supporting American values, without specifying where and with whom), and in any case, there is no new agenda.


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In other words, the perception of Russia is rather instrumental and neutral. In the 2008 party platform, which accompanied Barack Obama’s first campaign, there were very few mentions of Russia. There were brief references to areas for cooperation - the very ones that are now considered a success, and that Moscow should not be allowed to violate international law - an echo of the thunder of the Georgian war, which has now die down.


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Obama’s policy toward Russia, which he is likely to continue if he keeps the presidency, has been noticeably less ideological than those of his predecessors and opponents. There is no large-scale view of the role and place of bilateral relations, but there is a clearly stated set of concrete objectives for the immediate future.


There is an understanding that America's capacity to transform Russia is limited, so more importantly, an effort will be made to realize American interests with the real - not the wished for - Moscow. Generally speaking, the platform emphasizes Russia’s importance to America and the world, but only on matters, the resolution of which requires maintaining a business-like, issue-oriented conversation with Russia.


When Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, he certainly didn't expect Russia to play a role in his agenda as prominent as it has. As it turned out, Moscow’s cooperation has been very valuable on several issues that the Obama Administration considered a priority: Afghanistan, Iran and nuclear disarmament. And then it turned out that despite all of the contradictions and suspicion, it was easier to make progress with Russia than with some other issues. So the “reset” is an example of a success for Obama’s foreign policy, and consequently, a point of harsh criticism from Republicans. Romney’s utterances about “number one foe” are targeted less at Russia, which the candidate is indifferent to, than at Obama, who touts the “reset” as an achievement.


This doesn't mean that as president, Romney will suddenly warm to Moscow. But it also doesn't mean that he will a priori have a negative attitude. While Mitt Romney’s rhetoric is reminiscent of John McCain's during his campaign four years ago, there is a significant difference. McCain, who never hid his suspicion of the Russian authorities or his desire to see regime change in the Kremlin, is in this sense a man without conflict and with convictions that formed throughout his life. So if he were to move into the White House, his negative statements about Russia would have become real policy.


Romney’s rhetoric is not the expression of a long-held position, but a set of common stereotypes that are not backed by the candidate’s personal beliefs or attitudes. What course he would pursue if elected is therefore impossible to predict.



Strange as it may seem, Obama’s re-election may create a few difficulties for Russian-American relations. There is no arguing that the Democratic president is a lot more flexible and modern than his opponent, so there will be less ideological sloganeering. The problem is that beyond what has already been part of the "reset" - and has been realized and implemented relatively successfully, Obama’s team seems to have very little agenda for bilateral relations. Most likely, Barack Obama will want to continue negotiations on reducing nuclear stockpiles, and particularly new, tactical measures to pressure Iran and increasing cooperation on Afghanistan. It worked from 2009-2010, but is not likely to work in 2013 and beyond.


Moscow has no intention of not reducing its nuclear arsenal, at least for a few more years, since current levels are seen as a necessary security guarantee. Russia would not support new sanctions against Tehran, and a war would complicate the picture and create lots of new risks. Afghanistan remains an area where approaches largely coincide (as proven by the so-called NATO base in Ulyanovsk, despite the rather negative opinion of the Russian public), but even here there are likely complications. There are increasing signs that the U.S. will maintain a some form of military presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia, which is likely to irk Moscow and Beijing.

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Barack Obama’s instrumental view of Russia has its downside. He is prepared to be flexible (as he promised Medvedev and which Republicans endlessly bring up), if he sees a tool that according to him, would help on matters relating to Russia. Then and only then, is he ready to compromise and make deals on concrete issues. At the same time, as a true pragmatist, he is not trying to define Russia’s place in America's long-term strategy or indeed, global development. Obama has gone further than Romney in the sense that he realizes the fact of the drastic changes taking place in the global arena, and the need to find new ways and tools for exerting American leadership. But he, like many others, does not understand what this means and what it entails. That is, Obama is more aware in a tactical sense, but he as strategically confused as his opponents.


Democrats don't have another agenda for Russia and hope to continue with the one they have. But a "Reset-II" with the same content is impossible. Not because it is Putin and not Medvedev in the Kremlin, but because the moment during which interests overlapped has passed. There is a need for a fresh look. For example, an understanding that the next issue for bilateral relations is Asia, with its tangle of problems and opportunities. But in the context of Asia, American strategy doesn't see Russia as a useful tool. So Obama’s second term, contrary to expectations, may be a challenge for Russia and America


*Fyodor Lukyanov is Chief Editor for Russia in Global Affairs.


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[Posted by Worldmeets.US Sept. 15, 1:44am]




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