US presidential campaign, Putin’s influence

Text of report by the website of heavyweight liberal Russian newspaper Kommersant on 9 February

Commentary by Dmitriy Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center: "Price of the Question"

The struggle for nomination of the US presidential candidate from the Republican Party is heating up. Rick Santorum’s triple victory in America’s heartland states does not mean that there is a new leader in the race for the nomination. However, it does signal that the Republican conservative base, as well as the infamous "Tea Party" group, does not feel comfortable headed by Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor looks like too much of an opportunist in their eyes. And this is yet one more testimony to the deepening ideological split in the American political elite, and in society on the whole.

Questions of foreign policy are on the periphery of the American electoral campaign. To the degree that they are represented there, the most notable topics are associated with China (economy being ever more closely tied to geopolitics), Iran (nuclear program) and, of course, Afghanistan. Russia is on the periphery of this periphery. Nevertheless, even the moderate – by American standards – Romney is proposing a very harsh approach to Russia. In his program, he promises to "reset the reset," so as to limit the "destabilizing" influence of Russia on world politics.

Of course, a verbal blow to the "reset" is, first and foremost, a blow at its author – Barack Obama. Obviously, pre-electoral programs are written primarily for the elections. As soon as a candidate becomes president, he is imbued with a sense of responsibility and realizes that politics is the art of the possible, and steers toward a middle-of-the-road position. We may even add that, in the past, American Republican presidents, acting constructively and without excess ideology, have sometimes achieved significant successes in building relations with Moscow.

But America is changing – as is the whole world. Moreover, it is changing in different directions at the same time. Its flanks are growing stronger and its middle more barren. While some are trying to adapt to the "post-American" world, others are preparing to restore US world domination. No matter who gains the upper hand, the United States will have a significant change of role – from a patron power, bearing responsibility for the world system as a whole, to a power that pursues primarily its own national interests. It is unlikely that this change of guidelines will be an easy one for the US and its partners.

Considering the other possible variants, Russia should feel comfortable with Obama. The incumbent president has a good chance of re-election, although much can still change before election day. Evidently, considering this fact, Putin and publicists who are friendly to him are berating the US Democratic Administration.

And they are right in doing so: Having the reputation of being a "friend of Putin" today in the US is more dangerous than being considered his enemy. Maybe it will help.

Source: Kommersant website, Moscow, in Russian 9 Feb 12

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