A 2009 "reset" helped improve relations between Russia and the United States, but there still exists a divide over a variety of issues, particularly a U.S. missile defense shield in Europe. Russia is wary of any potential U.S. military action (Reuters) against Iran, and has also blocked the UN Security Council (BBC) from voting on a draft resolution calling for a transfer of power in Syria, a resolution the United States strongly supports. Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 (Reuters) could undermine some of the advances in relations made in conjunction with former President Dmitry Medvedev, who is known for less nationalistic rhetoric.
Though it has, at times in the 2012 campaign, come under fire, the reset has yielded some significant breakthroughs on trade and reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles. And, Russia’s recent accession to the World Trade Organization could strengthen economic ties between the two nations. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sees Russia as a potential competitor and a security challenge, while President Obama continues to look for opportunities for improvement on issues such as trade.
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Democratic Incumbent, Running Mate Joe Biden
The "reset" of relations with Russia is considered one of Obama’s major foreign policy achievements. Obama has called the New START Treaty, which limits the number of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, down from 2,200, "a cornerstone of our relations with Russia."
In joint remarks with Medvedev in November 2011, Obama cited the New START Treaty, the 123 Agreement dealing with civilian nuclear cooperation, and Russia’s WTO accession as positive steps stemming from warmer relations. In addition, under Obama, the United States reached an accord with Russia over Iran sanctions.
In addition to backing Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (Reuters), which Russia had sought for nearly two decades, Obama is expected to push for a repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment (MoscowTimes), which would end Cold-War era trade restrictions and allow permanent normalization of trade relations.
Throughout the summer’s campaign, President Obama has struggled in his attempts to find common ground with Russia on how to deal with the Syrian crisis and the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. In June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charged Russia with sending attack helicopters to Syria (CBS), while Russian and Iranian officials countered that that the United States has escalated the conflict by allegedly arming the Syrian opposition (NYT).
In his convention speech in September, Obama criticized Romney’s characterization of Russia as the United States’ number one enemy.
At thepresidential debate on foreign policy, held on October 22, Obama faulted Romney for not supporting nuclear treaties with Russia.
Republican Candidate, Running Mate Paul Ryan
In an October 2011 white paper, the Romney campaign laid out "a strategy to discourage aggressive or expansionist behavior on the part of Russia and encourage democratic political and economic reform." In particular, Romney would review the implementation of the New START treaty and other arms control policies. He also would seek to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russia as a source of energy, including working with the private sector to access untapped shale energy resources in western Europe.
Romney also would seek to curb Russia’s "ambitions to its south by enhancing diplomatic ties, increasing military training and assistance, and negotiating trade pacts and educational exchanges with Central Asian states," according to the white paper. He also opposed (WashPost) Russia’s accession to the WTO.
With Vladimir Putin’s expected return to the presidency in 2012, Romney has expressed concern about "a resurgent Russia, led by a man who believes the Soviet Union was great, not evil."
In late March 2012, Romney said Russia "is without question our number one geopolitical foe" (CNN) that routinely blocks U.S. attempts to put checks on the world’s "infamous actors," through its position on the United Nations Security Council.
"Russia continues to support Syria, supports Iran, has fought us with the crippling sanctions we wanted to have the world put in place against Iran," Romney said. "Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage." In a March op-ed, Romney again accused Russia of "obstructionism at the United Nations" on a whole raft of issues. "Across the board, it has been a thorn in our side on questions vital to America’s national security," Romney wrote.
In a July speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Romney included Russia in a list of nations he would stand up to if elected in November, criticizing the Obama administration’s Russian relations (NYT). While visiting Poland in July Romney also lauded Poland’s transition from communism to democracy as an example for the rest of the world while saying Russia had faltered on the path to freedom (Reuters).
In his August convention speech, Romney again criticized Obama for his stance on missile defense in Poland and request to Russian leaders for flexibility on the issue.
Romney also continued his stance against Russia in early September. "Russia is a geopolitical adversary, meaning that almost everything we try to do globally they try and oppose," he said in an inteview (LAT). "My own view is that Russia has a very different agenda than ours and that we ought to recognize that, and that we should pursue our interests, but recognize Russia as having a different course."
In a foreign policy speech in early October, Romney said he will implement effective missile defense and that there will be no flexibility with Vladimir Putin on this issue.
At the finalpresidential debate on foreign policy on October 22, Romney said he would not "wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin." Romney also insisted that while Iran poses the greatest national security threat to the United States, Russia is the country’s number one "a geopolitical foe."