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As Putin rises again, will the US-Russia 'reset' of ties hold?

Vladimir Putin's return to center stage has sharpened criticism by American critics of the US-Russia 'reset' that improved relations. US critics see an effort to revive a Soviet-style rivalry.

By Correspondent / October 26, 2011

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looks on while chairing a meeting with activists of the All-Russian People's Front in Moscow on Wednesday. Prominent Republicans in the United States are warning that the US should do more to hinder Russia's global influence.

Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

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Moscow

Russia's foreign policy community is watching with growing nervousness as leading Republicans in the US, including at least one top contender for the party's presidential nomination, turn their ire against Barack Obama's already troubled "reset" in US-Russian relations, which the Kremlin sees as vital to its future plans for repairing Russian influence in the world.

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Republicans have been critical all along of Mr. Obama's policy of building strong, practical relations with Moscow while soft-peddling US disapproval of Kremlin power abuses and human rights violations. But as recently as last December, more than a dozen Republican senators joined Democrats to win the needed two-thirds Senate ratification of the START nuclear arms reduction accord, which was understood in Moscow as a sign that pragmatism would always prevail in Washington.

Now, Russian experts do not seem so sure.

Since former president Vladimir Putin decided to shoulder aside his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and seek a fresh term as Russia's supreme leader, the tone of discussion about Russia in the US has grown much harsher, many note.

Mr. Putin's recently publicized plan to establish a "Eurasian Union" – a strong economic, and potentially political, alliance of former Soviet states – has rekindled fears among many in the West that Russia's strategic goal is to bring back the USSR and return to its historic rivalry with the US.

"We had hoped that the reset with the US might help Russia move into a friendlier, closer relationship with the West, but that seems to be fading fast," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Now it seems the general opinion in the US is that Russia is fast becoming an authoritarian state with the scarecrow figure of Putin as its next president. It's all starting to feel a bit hopeless."

In a Washington Post interview earlier this month, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, often seen as moderate, is quoted as saying that Putin "dreams of rebuilding the Russian empire." Obama's reset of relations "has to end ... we have to show strength," Mr. Romney added.

Reining in Russian ambitions?

At a Washington conference Tuesday, Republican House Speaker John Boehner slammed Russia's "use of old tools and old thinking" as an attempt "to restore Soviet-style power and influence," and called for tougher measures to rein in Russian ambitions. At the same meeting, Garry Kasparov, a leader of the banned Other Russia opposition movement, urged Americans to heed Ronald Reagan's advice and treat Putin's Russia as an "evil empire" beyond the pale of civilized nations.

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