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Russia: Friend or Foe?

Author: Anya Schmemann, Director of the Independent Task Force Program
October 29, 2012
National Interest


In last week's foreign-policy debate, while many countries and regions were left unmentioned, Russia was invoked ten times.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney defended his assertion that Russia is America's "number-one geopolitical foe." He added, "I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin."

President Obama, whose administration considers the "reset" of relations with Russia one of its signature foreign-policy successes, accused Romney of being stuck in the Cold War mentality of the 1980s.

Is Russia friend or foe? The answer, as with most foreign-policy issues, is a little of both. More fundamentally, in a world full of serious challenges, does Russia deserve to be so singled out?

Russia is undeniably large and important, and it often acts as a significant spoiler on the global stage. But certainly it no longer ranks among the top foreign-policy priorities or problems for the United States.

Russia occupies a lot of space, but much of it is frozen tundra, and it is only the world's ninth most populous nation. It has significant mineral and energy resources and is a major producer of oil and natural gas, but it will require massive new investments to extract new reserves. Russia also maintains a sizeable military force and possesses a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons, but its military is weakened and in need of modernization. Russia's economy is also sputtering, and its long-term challenges include a shrinking workforce, population decline, high levels of corruption and poor infrastructure.

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