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From Russia, With Love: The Future of U.S. - Russia Relations

Sarah Parvini |
November 5, 2012 | 6:48 p.m. PST

Senior News Editor

President Barack Obama and then-President Dmitry Medvedev discuss U.S. - Russia relations. (Creative Commons)
President Barack Obama and then-President Dmitry Medvedev discuss U.S. - Russia relations. (Creative Commons)
There are many international policy areas President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney agree on (the candidates' stances on Iran as mentioned during the debates, for example). Russia isn't one of them.

Romney has used wild hyperbole against Russia throughout his presidential campaign, to the extent that Russian officials have taken notice.

"When phrasing their position one needs to use one's head, one's good reason, which would not do harm to a presidential candidate,” said Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s current prime minister and former president. “[One needs to] look at his watch: we are in 2012 and not the mid-1970s."

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 Some experts said that despite all the public appearances and commentary, the Russian government isn't truly offended by Romney's remarks.

"That's the kind of thing that gets said during election campaigns,” said Dr. Mark Galeotti, academic chair of New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and an expert in Russian affairs. “While they posture themselves and say how shocked they are, they understand that these are things said during campaigns. "

The government, he said, understands that Romney is going to take those shots to garner votes.

In 2009, Obama and his administration set out to "restart" relations with Russia, and put in place New START, a nuclear arms reduction treaty. Most experts agree that the "restart" stopped there - not much else has been accomplished since then.

But for Romney, there's no room to restart relations with the Kremlin. In March, he called Russia America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe."

Though he later explained he meant this in a diplomatic sense - according to Romney, America's greatest enemy is Iran - he's vowed to review the New START program, which cuts both Russia's and the United States' launcher fleet in half. 

Romney's Cold War mentality toward Russia is anachronistic. His rhetoric comes from politics more than it does from a real understanding of the situation abroad, Galeotti argued.

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"Russia is more of an uncomfortable neighbor," Galeotti said. "It clutters up the street with its half-dismantled car; it plays its music too loud. Its kids are out really late at night and very noisy. They're not the neighbors you choose, but they're not really a threat."

While it is gross exaggeration to paint Russia as the United States' biggest problem, the country has stirred a bit of tumult in the Middle East.

Russia has continuously blocked actions to end the chaos in Syria. Three times now, Moscow vetoed U.N. resolutions on Syria.

In June, Russia's foreign minister said the country would never agree to foreign intervention in the state (more than 33,000 people have died since the violence began last March, according to Syrian opposition forces).

Moscow also decided in September to shut down the U.S. Agency for International Development because of its recent support for vote monitoring and other democratic efforts.

Despite this, the Obama administration's policy has been one of diplomacy and engagement.

The real question is how much freedom any president truly has with regard to Russian policy. Either the U.S. government works with the Russian regime, which means with a fairly unpleasant government whose interests are not the same as the United States' on a host of issues, or it gambles with the prospect of more international problems because of Russia.

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 If America wants to play hardball with Moscow, the government has the opportunity to make it very miserable for the U.S. in the short term (which speaks to both Russia’s wealth and power in the region).

"Although we may not like the fact that the Russians are cracking down on the opposition, that's just something you have to put up with,” Galeotti said.

The bottom line is this: Whether it is Obama or Romney who wins the election, relations with Russia need to be reviewed. The U.S. may not be "bowing to the Kremlin," as Romney suggested, but experts said Obama's "reset" isn't working either.

It's easy to say on the campaign trail how much tougher the U.S. needs to be on Russia. But to really change Russia, Galeotti said, it won't be by talking tough. Russia must be altered by the experiences of its ordinary citizens.

"Russia is being changed by Americans and other Western companies investing and bringing their own culture. Russia is being changed by more Russians traveling west and seeing what working democracies are like," Galeotti said. "If we really want to change Russia, we do so a lot more effectively through kindness than through harsh words.”


Watch Romney's statement on Russia below:


Reach Senior News Edior Sarah Parvini here. Follow her on Twitter.



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