For Russians, at
Least Obama Would Be Predictable (Gazeta, Russia)
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."
“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
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.
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
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.
Posted by Worldmeets.US
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
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
*Fyodor Lukyanov is Chief Editor for Russia in Global Affairs.