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Russia not Obama's 'No. 1 foe,' but Moscow doubts a fresh 'reset'

Obama promised 'more flexibility' with Russia after his reelection. But President Putin is pursuing a foreign policy agenda that is increasingly critical of the US.

By Correspondent / November 7, 2012

A shop assistant watches US President Barack Obama speaking on a television screen in a Moscow shop on Wednesday. Mr. Obama won reelection in the US presidential race, but few Russians expect significant changes in US-Russian relations during his second term.

Mikhail Metzel/AP



Many Russians appeared satisfied after waking up Wednesday morning to the news that Barack Obama had been reelected president of the United States. But nobody sounded elated.

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The controversial "reset" of relations introduced by President Obama early in his first term has run its course, most Russian experts say, leaving few lasting achievements behind.

And despite Obama's pledge to show the Russians "more flexibility" on the thorny issue of missile defense – captured by an open mic at a meeting in Seoul earlier this year – nobody in Moscow is expressing much hope for a breakthrough in the increasingly acrimonious relationship during Obama's second term.

"We have learned from that failed attempt by Obama to introduce a reset in our relations that there is room for improvement. And there was some, but it was very limited," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow, and one of Moscow's premier experts on America-Russia ties.

"Of course [Mitt] Romney's remarks, calling Russia the No. 1 geopolitical foe of the US, alarmed many of us," he says. "But things have deteriorated badly in reality under Obama.... After all this, many of my colleagues and I had already come around to the view that not much would change after the election, regardless of which candidate won.

Mr. Kremeniuk adds: "At this point, we would consider it a good scenario if things don't go badly wrong between us in Obama's second term." 

A September public opinion survey by the state-run VTsIOM public opinion agency found that positive attitudes toward the US has slipped modestly from 59 percent in 2010 to 53 percent today, while negative views have grown from 27 to 32 percent. Assessments of the prospects for better US-Russian relations have fallen more dramatically, from 69 percent two years ago to 53 percent today.

Experts say the reset, which sought to overcome the deep chill that settled over Russia-US relations during the presidency of George W. Bush, had a few solid achievements, but failed to move beyond initial successes to identify and pursue a comprehensive new agenda of cooperation.

Chief among the accomplishments was the signing of the first full-scale nuclear arms reduction treaty, New START, about a year after the reset began. Another major benefit was logged earlier this year when Russia granted the US use of a Volga-region airbase to aid the resupply effort to beleaguered NATO forces in Afghanistan.


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