President Vladimir Putin has lashed back at Mitt Romney's repetitious portrayal of Russia as the US's "geopolitical foe," saying he's grateful to the Republican contender for making it clear that Moscow would be unwise to trust any future verbal commitments made by any US leader.
Mr. Putin was referring to the strategic deadlock between Russia and the US over European missile defense, a problem President Barack Obama had asked him to stop talking about – in an embarrassing open mic conversation caught during a conversation in Seoul last March – until after the November US election.
In his speech at the Republican convention earlier this month, Mr. Romney accused Mr. Obama of letting down US ally Poland by shelving Bush-era plans for comprehensive missile defense installations in eastern Europe, and insisted a Romney administration would show Putin "less flexibility and more backbone."
On a US radio show on Monday, Romney doubled down, outlining several ways in which he regarded Moscow as a bad actor on the international stage, and repeated his view that Russia is a "geopolitical adversary" of the US.
"I'm grateful to [Romney] for formulating his stance so clearly, because he has once again proven the correctness of our approach to missile defense problems," Putin told journalists Tuesday.
"The most important thing for us is that even if he doesn't win now, he or a person with similar views may come to power in four years. We must take that into consideration while dealing with security issues for a long perspective," he added.
Putin has been arguing for some time that the US is not dealing fairly with Russia, and is seeking to achieve "absolute invulnerability" in its strategic efforts at the expense of everyone else.
But he has never before implicitly called Obama's credibility into question as a reliable partner. Indeed, in an interview with the Kremlin-funded RT network last week, Putin expressed a preference for Obama to win over Romney precisely because he believes that would make a deal on missile defense more likely.
"That Mr. Romney considers us to be enemy No. 1 and apparently has bad feelings about Russia is a minus, but, considering that he expresses himself bluntly, openly and clearly, means that he is an open and sincere man, which is a plus," Putin said. "If he is elected president of the US, certainly we will work with him as an elected head of state."
But Romney's tough rhetoric – though it may be largely election sloganeering – does appear to be making what could be a lasting negative impact in Russia's policy-making community, if only by validating pre-existing stereotypes about US hawks.
"[What Romney is saying] is exactly what our generals have been telling us all along, that all these American strategic moves is really aimed against us," says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma's international affairs commission.
"Romney has opened our eyes to the intrigues of American hawks, including the Pentagon and others. Maybe he intends it as election rhetoric, but isn't he expressing what the voters want to hear?" Mr. Klimov says.
"If this is what half of American voters think, then how are we to plan our strategy for years ahead? Romney really has helped us by clearing the fog away from our eyes," he adds.