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by Sergey Strokan, Journalist, Essayist, Political Commentator and Poet
September 8, 2012 (TSR) – All politics are domestic? It used to be so, but hardly any more. With 2012 US presidential race gaining momentum, some old truisms are being dug up. The convention fever of the last two weeks, which led Republicans and Democrats to fire up their base by locking horns over taxes and jobs, has now landed on a distant shore, thousands of miles away: Russia.
One must compliment Mitt Romney for that, though few residents on the banks of the Moscow River will say that the GOP presidential hopeful deserves any compliments these days. By lashing out at President Obama for not being ‘tough enough’ with Russia, Mr. Romney sparked a new debate on what kind of future awaits US-Russian relations, which have seen ups and downs in recent decades.
Mr. Romney’ s harsh words received angry rebukes from Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’ s spokesperson – a response one should rightly expect to come from the Kremlin under the current circumstances. So, if the Romney-Ryan duo takes over White House, will we enter into a long period of ‘cold peace,’ with wars of words and clenched teeth, if not an open standoff, as during the times of the Cold War?
Listening to Mr. Romney’s current rhetoric on Russia, I experience the distinct feeling of deja vu. Four years back, during the 2008 US presidential race, Republican candidate John McCain used the same harsh rhetoric against Russia as Romney does today. At that time, the prospect of a McCain presidency increased tensions in Moscow, with Kremlin sources privately hinting they were not ruling out a worst-case scenario in which relations might be stalled for several months.
However, the McCain-Palin anti-Russian duo failed – to the utter disappointment of hardliners in both Moscow and Washington. Then came the Obama-Medvedev ‘reset,’ which is being attacked by Romney. As for Mr. Romney – to me, he still hardly looks like a rival who can outsmart and outdo Obama. His domestic political record is not very impressive. However, what will happen with US-Russian policy if it is not Obama, but Romney who will take the oath to be the next President of the United States?
It is interesting that Russian diplomats and political pundits are never able to agree on which administration – Republican or Democratic – better fits Russia’s national interests.
Some say that Democrats are better, recalling the time of the Soviet-American detente of 1970s, and the era of ‘friend Bill and friend Boris,’ with Foreign Minister Kozyrev nicknamed ‘Cozy’ at the White House.
However, after closer scrutiny, one will find that Republicans (despite their strong rhetoric) have developed their own positive record with Russia. The most telling example is President Ronald Reagan – who once called Soviet Union an “evil empire” – developed his Strategic Defense Initiative and then started a new thaw in US-Russian relations. Another example is President Bush, who signed the START I treaty in 1990 with Gorbachev.
On the other hand, Democratic rule proved not so fruitful for Moscow. President Clinton’s final years were marred by scandals in US-Russian relations, like the controversy over Bank of New York. And there is growing frustration in Moscow over the latest moves of the Obama administration, which is proceeding with its anti-ballistic missile system in Europe.
So, the pendulum in US-Russian relations is swinging from one side to another. Therefore, let us not dramatize the situation: There will be no major disasters, as well as no major breakthroughs.
The good news is that while conventions come and go, conventional wisdom prevails.
AUTHOR: Sergey Strokan
Sergey Strokan is a journalist, essayist and a poet. He is also a political commentator with Russia’s “Kommersant” Publishing House. Mr. Strokan hosts “Red Line”, a weekly analytical program broadcast by The Voice of Russia in New York City and a columnist for Russian Today. He is the author of three poetry collections, a winner of the Maximilian Voloshin International Literary Award (2010) and a member of Union of Russian Writers.