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Moscow glad to see Obama’s victory but stays aware of problems in relations

November 07, 2012, 16:19 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, November 7 (Itar-Tass) — Russia is glad to see Barack Obama’s victory in the US presidential election. According to the unanimous opinion, although relations between the two countries would see little change whatever the outcome, Romney was regarded as a partner far harder for Moscow to do business with. Many politicians are describing Obama as a more flexible politician, prepared to compromise, but at the same time they are warning of lasting, complex problems in relations between the two countries, first and foremost, the US plans for a missile defense in Europe.

In Moscow’s opinion, the idea of resetting relations was one of the main achievements of Obama’s first presidency. In contrast to his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama refrained from strong criticism to invariably refer to Russia as a partner, not a foe. Obama abandoned Bush’s plans – much criticized in Russia - for the prompt admission of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO. Moscow took some reciprocal steps towards Washington, too, to have allowed NATO to deliver supplies to its contingent in Afghanistan through its territory.

Mitt Romney produced a very unpleasant impression on Russians by saying that Russia was the United States’ number one geopolitical foe. It was pretty clear from the outset whom of the two men Moscow would like to see the winner. Interviewed on the Russia Today television channel in September President Vladimir Putin said that in his eyes Barack Obama was “a sincere person who genuinely wishes to change the world for the better.”

Over the four years of Obama’s presidency Russian-US relations surely improved, Putin said. He described in favorable terms the signing of the 2010 treaty on further strategic offensive arms reductions and also noted US support for Russia’s admission in the World Trade Organization in 2012. Even about the plans for creating a NATO missile defense system in Europe, which had drawn strong objections from Moscow, Putin said that he believed a compromise with Obama was still possible: “I believe that he sincerely wishes to settle the problem.”

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was very articulate in expressing his attitude, too. Last April, at the end of his presidency, Medvedev said that he felt “certain affection” towards Obama and hoped for his victory.

However, on the whole the resetting of relations has not worked the way it had been expected to. Russia and the United States tend to disagree with each other ever more often. Moscow criticized NATO for Libya and blocked the adoption of a harsh resolution on Syria.

Bilateral relations have become more strained, too. Russia dismissed US criticism over its parliamentary and presidential elections. In particular, Moscow is annoyed by the so-called Magnitsky list – a bill the US Senate voted for to approve of sanctions against a number of Russian officials suspected of complicity in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky at a Moscow detention center in 2009.

Analysts say US foreign policy priorities will remain unchanged during Obama’s second presidency. Certainly, the missile defense issue will remain a great controversy – Washington will not give up its plans for deploying a missile defense in European by any means. The long-going arms reduction talks are sluggish and will certainly continue for a long while.

“Earlier, Obama told the Russian leadership that after the elections it will be easier for him to conduct a dialogue with Moscow,” the first deputy chief of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, Vyacheslav Nikonov, said. However, he remarked that Russian-US relations today were not very deep ones and their agenda did not look impressive at all.

During his second term Obama will be confronted with a number of problems on the agenda, if he really wishes to go ahead with the relations resetting policy, the chairman of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, Mikhail Margelov, told Itar-Tass.

“Unlike Mitt Romney Obama does not see Russia as a geopolitical foe,” Margelov said. “But he will come across quite a few problems of the current agenda for going ahead with the relations resetting. For instance, what is to follow the START treaty, the non-expansion of NATO eastwards and the coordination of positions on Afghanistan.”

“Practically all achievements of the previous presidency on this track have been exhausted, possibly except for the Jackson-Vanik amendment,” Margelov warned. “And further resetting steps will run against the wall of missile defense.”

“The ‘flexibility’ the re-elected US leader has promised does not mean that the United States will drop its missile defense plans altogether. After all, Obama himself enshrined that system in a legal document – NATO’s strategic concept, adopted in Lisbon in 2010. The allies would interpret cancellation of missile defense plans (should it ever happen) as an end to the principle proclaiming the indivisibility of the alliance’s defense,” Margelov explained.

The potential of improving Russian-US relations has been largely exhausted, and the issues that the resetting has failed to address have gone worse,” the director of the Russia and Asia programs at the US think tank World Security Institute, Nikolai Zlobin, is quoted as saying on the website. Yet the diplomatic vocabulary that Moscow and Washington will be using in their dialogue may get milder during Obama’s second term, the analyst believes.

To Moscow Obama’s victory spells predictability, says the director of the Institute of Strategic Evaluations, Sergei Oznobishchev. In his opinion, Obama is easy to understand, positive and prepared for a discussion. “It is an entirely different matter that it will be very difficult to conduct a dialogue – due to the enormous negative legacy that has massed up since Bush’s presidency,” he added.

The expert recalled Obama’s promise, made at a meeting with Medvedev early this year, to be more flexible on the missile defense issue after the elections. “I am absolutely certain that it will be precisely that way. Such promises are not made casually,” Oznobishchev said.

“Both sides will benefit from a more balanced and more accurate policy. In that respect Obama the president was more accurate and more considerate towards Russia’s interests, although he had never acted to the detriment of the United States’ interests,” the head of the US foreign and internal policy sector at the world economy and international relations institute IMEMO of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Fyodor Voitlovsky, told the Voice of Russia radio station in an interview. “Although the resetting was seen by many in the United States as a concession to Russia, in reality both countries demonstrated their readiness to compromise on some issues and to stay very firm on others.”

Obama, he believes, will keep pressing for the United States’ interests, but he is certainly someone who is in no mood to regard a compromise as a loss.

“To Obama achieving an agreement is equivalent to victory,” the analyst said.