Russia Relieved Obama Keeps Critic From White House

Russia welcomed President Barack Obama’s re-election, expressing relief at the defeat of a Republican candidate who named Russia the No. 1 U.S. geopolitical foe.

Speaking today to reporters in Hanoi, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he was “happy the president of such a major and very influential state won’t be someone who considers Russia enemy No. 1.” President Vladimir Putin sent congratulations to his U.S. counterpart, saying he hoped for more “constructive joint work,” according to the Kremlin.

Romney declared during the campaign that Russia is the top rival to U.S. interests, prompting Democratic criticism that his approach to the veto-wielding United Nations Security Council permanent member is naive as the two countries are cooperating on areas such as talks over Iran’s nuclear program and the anti-Taliban drive in Afghanistan.

Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney “means that there won’t be a political twin of George W. Bush and an open enemy of Russia in the White House,” Alexei Pushkov, head of the lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said on his Twitter Inc. account. “This is better for the outside world.”

Efforts to improve relations with the U.S. under Obama’s so-called “reset” policy were spearheaded by then-President Medvedev, who agreed last year to make way for Putin’s return in March elections. While the world’s two biggest nuclear powers still share a number of interests such as speeding a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, they disagree about uprisings in Arab nations and missile defenses in Europe.

Continued Reset

“There’s a high probability that the reset will continue,” Mikhail Margelov, head of the upper chamber’s foreign affairs committee, said in a phone interview. “Mutual willingness is needed to make the reset truly successful and bilateral. There’s such willingness from our side.”

Still, relations between Russia and the U.S. have worsened even after Obama worked to reduce tensions that existed under his Republican predecessor Bush. Putin, who extended his 12-year rule after unprecedented protests against voter fraud, has criticized Obama’s administration over its bid to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its efforts to promote democracy in Russia.

Same Problems

“It would be more difficult to talk to Romney and it is easier to deal with Obama, but the problems are the same,” Nikolai Zlobin of the Washington-based World Security Institute said by phone. “Relations are damaged and are going to get worse. Putin’s aim is to limit American influence in the world.”

Obama in March told Medvedev, who was then Russia’s president, that he would have more flexibility over missile defense after his re-election.

The plan for missile defense facilities in Europe, which the U.S. has said is aimed at thwarting an attack from a rogue nation such as Iran, has been a source of friction with Russia, which says it will weaken its nuclear deterrent.

“Putin has an instinctive distrust of the U.S.,” Cliff Kupchan, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group in New York, said by phone. “Relations will continue to be mixed, a combination of cooperation and discord.”

The number of Russians who have a negative attitude to the U.S. increased by 5 percentage points to 32 percent since 2010, according to a poll released today. The share of those who are positive decreased by 6 percentage points to 53 percent, according to the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM, which interviewed 1,600 Russians from Sept. 15-16. The margin of error was 3.4 percentage points.

Russian Backers

A survey published last month by VTsIOM showed that Obama had more support among backers of Putin’s United Russia party than among all Russians. Forty-four percent of respondents who back the governing party said Obama would be a better U.S. leader for Russia, more than the average 42 percent for all Russians.

While Obama is more pragmatic on Russia, a Romney presidency may paradoxically have been useful by presenting Putin with a clear opponent to justify an anti-U.S. foreign policy and military build-up, said Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Maybe a tough Romney policy on Russia would even have been helpful for Putin,” she said by phone.

(Corrects story published on Nov. 7 to fix analyst’s job title in 11th paragraph.)
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