An instrument without a handle
6.09.12 18:22 By Feodor Lukyanov, edited by Semyon Kvasha
"The Cold War mentality represented by Mitt Romney's identification of Russia as the USA's "number one geopolitical foe" ignores the very real common interest we share with Russia in reducing nuclear stockpiles, stopping additional proliferation from countries such as Iran and North Korea, and preventing nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists." This is probably the most important phrase concerning Russia in the Democratic party platform adopted at the National convention on Sept. 3.
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 ascension into the World Trade organization is also considered a success for the current American administration, since it forces Moscow to play by the book and is profitable for American businesses. Democrats promise to directly and honestly address the topics on which USA and Russia disagree and to criticize Russia sharply when necessary, as in the case of Russia's support of the Assad's regime in Syria.
Russia is mentioned several times in familiar contexts: the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
There is no special mention of the state of democracy in Russia
In other words, the view of Russia is very neutral and instrumental in this document. In the previous platform of 2008, during the first electoral campaign of Barak Obama there were even fewer words about Russia. Only the most basic ideas of cooperation were pointed out
Obama's Russian politics are likely to continue if he is reelected, he has significantly less ideology than his predecessors or opponents have. The full-scale vision of the parts and places of mutual relations in the future is lacking, yet at the same time there's a very clearly formulated set of specific tasks for the near future.
There's an understanding that the American opportunites to transform Russia are limited, and that the most important thing is to find a way to pursue American interests with the real Moscow, not the desired one.
In general, the importance of Russia for USA and the world is emphasized, but only on certain issues where specific practical dialogue is needed.
When Obama took his post in January 2009 he certainly didn't expect that Russia would take such an important place in his work. But he found out that Moscow's cooperation is quite necessary in certain fields his administration considered priorities: Afghanistan, Iran, and nuclear disarmament. And later he found out that despite all the ballast of controversy and distrust, it was easier to achieve progress with Russia than in the other important fields. Thus the "reset" became an important example of Obama's foreign policy success, and also the target of especially harsh criticism from republicans.
Romney's words about Russia being "the number 1 geopolitical foe" attack not Russia itself, our country probably does not matter at all for this presidential candidate, this is an attack on Obama who promotes the "reset" as an achievement.
This doesn't mean that after becoming president Romney will suddenly warm up to Moscow, but also doesn't lay the cornerstone for an a priori negative attitude. Although Mitt Romney's rhetoric is reminiscent of what John McCain said during his campaign four years ago, there's a significant difference. McCain has never concealed his distrust to Russian authorities and even his wish to change the regime in Kremlin, he is an integral person with firm beliefs he developed during his life. If he had come to the White House, his negative declarations against Russia could have turned into real political decisions.
Romney's rhetoric is not a stance he has strived for, it's a set of stereotypes, there's no personal attitude behind them. It's impossible to predict which course he will take after the election.
As strange as it may seem, Obama's re-election may create difficulties in Russian-American relations. Of course, the President is much more flexible and modern than his opponent, and there would be less ideological slogans in his agenda. The problem is, we don't see any real agenda of mutual relations other than what already was in the "reset" and was realized relatively successfully. Most likely, Barak Obama will want to continue talks on the reduction of nuclear armaments, tactical first of all, add new measures against Iran and new active cooperation over Afghanistan. In 2009 – 2010 it worked, in 2013 it's doubtful.
Moscow is not going to reduce its nuclear arsenal, at least in the near future, the current level is considered a necessary guarantee of security. Russia won't support any new sanctions against Teheran, and war will confuse the whole picture, creating too many new risks. Afghanistan remains the field where our interests coincide the most
Obama's tool-like approach to Russia has its downside. He may be flexible
he is much more advanced than his opponents in terms of tactics, but he is as confused as them in strategy.
Democrats have no new agenda for Russia, they hope to continue the current one. But there may be no "reset take-2" with the same meaning. And not because it's Putin who is in Kremlin now, instead of Medvedev. It's just that the moment when our interest coincided, has passed. A new approach is necessary for a new stage: for example, understanding that the new field for the mutual relations is Asia with all its problems and potentials. But American strategies don't see Russia in its Asian context and don't see it as useful tool. So Obama's second term may become a serious ordeal for both Russia and the USA, despite expectations.
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