Decades ago, comments like Mitt Romney has made throughout his presidential campaign about Russia and Vladimir Putin’s responses to them would have sent shivers throughout the globe. Romney’s strategy with Russia has given Putin a global platform and left Romney in 1980. It could have been very different.

Decades ago, comments like Mitt Romney has made throughout his presidential campaign about Russia and Vladimir Putin’s responses to them would have sent shivers throughout the globe. Romney’s strategy with Russia has given Putin a global platform and left Romney in 1980. It could have been very different.

Leaders of Russia and the United States used to loft threats across the Atlantic and inspire fear and backing from their populaces and sympathizers. Today, it is a harder sell to get either Russians or Americans to quiver in their shoes at Cold War rhetoric, let alone pay attention. President Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin have been responding to Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s negative comments about Russia since March. In an unintended way, Romney has provided President Putin a global platform to offer a moderate and pragmatic voice on Russia’s national security and arms control strategies. At a time when President Putin is faced with continual domestic protests for the first time in his long presidential career, he is welcoming the opportunity to show his constituents and foreign counterparts that Russia has a major role to play in international politics.

In an effort to close a wide polling gap on the topic of national security between himself and President Obama, Presidential Candidate Romney has taken a Cold War tone with Russia looking to drum up support at home from those who still view Russia as the United States’ number one enemy.

In March, US Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney jumped on President Obama’s private conversation with then Russian President Medvedev on the topic of missile defense when Obama offered more flexibility” to deal with missile defense issues after the presidential election and asked Medvedev to give him some “space” until after the election.

During an with CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer, Mitt Romney responded: “This is a president who is telling us one thing and doing something else and is planning on doing something even more frightening.”He referred to Obama’s comments as “very, very troubling” because Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe.”

When Blitzer responded with the question: “You think Russia is a bigger foe right now than say Iran or China or North Korea?”

Romney responded:

Well I’m saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world’s worst actors… Of course the greatest threat the world faces is a nuclear armed Iran and a nuclear North Korea is troubling enough. But when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the UN looking for ways to stop them … and who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors, it is always Russia, typically with China alongside.

So in terms of a geopolitical foe a nation that is on the Security Council that has the heft of the Security Council and is of course a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe and the idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he’s not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming.

Shortly after, Romney wrote a Foreign Policy article titled “Bowing to the Kremlin,” that stated:

It is not an accident that Mr. Medvedev is now busy attacking me. The Russians clearly prefer to do business with the current incumbent of the White House.

For three years, the sum total of President Obama’s policy toward Russia has been: “We give, Russia gets.”

President Obama appears determined to ingratiate himself with the Kremlin. This, unfortunately, seems to be the real meaning of his “reset” policy. An outstanding example is the personal phone call that Barack Obama made to Vladimir Putin from Air Force One congratulating the Russian leader on his election as Russia’s next president.

The day after the Foreign Policy article was published, President Medvedev responded:

Regarding ideological clichés, every time this or that side uses phrases like ‘enemy number one’, this always alarms me; this smells of Hollywood and certain times (of the past). (US Presidential hopefuls) should apply reason and use their heads when phrasing their positionsand alsocheck their watches from time to time because it’s 2012 now, not the mid-1970s.

After Vladimir Putin was elected President of Russia, Mitt Romney commented:

With the dimming of democracy in Russia, a better label for President Obama’s Russia policy would be setback, rather than reset.

Romney chose two European countries to visit on his summer foreign tour, England and Poland. At Poland’s University of Warsaw he stated:

Unfortunately, there are parts of the world today where the desire to be free is met with brutal oppression, listing the Moscow-allied state of Belarus, the Syrian leadership, and Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chavez.

And in Russia, once-promising advances toward a free and open society have faltered.

 During his acceptance speech last month in Tampa, the Republican nominee for president told convention goers:

Under my presidency our friends will see more loyalty and Mr. Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone.

President Putin chose September to talk about Mitt Romney.

At a press conference following talks with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, Putin remarked about Mitt Romney and the possibility of him becoming a President who considers Russia the United States’ number one enemy:

There are always pros and cons in any situation. The fact that [Romney]thinks us as the number one enemy is a minus, but the fact that he says he is a direct and open man is a plus. We will focus on the pluses, not the minuses.

But, if he is elected, what are we to do? We cannot influence this process and we do not intend to. In his opinion, although largely due to the pre-election rhetoric, even if discarded, Romney’s opinion will not change.

[Romney] has again confirmed the correctness of our position on missile defense problems. It’s not just us that he has convinced of this but, I think, the international community and our European partners as well. [His statements] serve to bolster our positions in negotiations on this sensitive issue.

The most important thing for us is that even if Romney does not win, after four years, he, or another person with such views could come to power in the United States and we must take this into account when considering the long-term security of the Russian Federation.”

As for Mr. Romney’s position, we understand that it is in part…campaign rhetoric, but I think it is, of course, without a doubt mistaken.

Because to conduct oneself like that in the international arena is the same as using the instruments of nationalism and segregation in the domestic politics of your own country.

And while we can expect more back and forth between Putin and Romney, there is more reason every day to realize that the Cold War is falling further into the past. What is unfortunate for presidential candidate and business expert Mitt Romney is that he did not stick with his strengths when discussing Russia. Knowing that it was unlikely that he would make up much of the distance in national security polls between himself and President Obama, he has had a strong favorability rating when it comes to improving the economy and business acumen. Despite their histories, both Russia and the United States need each other to launch huge business opportunities over the next decade.

  • Russia has huge plans to drill for oil in the Artic and Siberia as well as to build a modern infrastructure across its country to transport products between Asia and Europe. This will require billions in investment and expertise from the West and in particular from expertise and infrastructure from top American companies.
  • Russia’s aging space program is critical to the American space program that retired its last shuttle in 2011. The two countries progress in space is dependent on each other for at least the next five years.
  • After many false starts trying to get a high tech community rebuilt in Russia, Russian investors have put significant amounts of money in US venture capital funds that are funding the next generation of technology breakthroughs in the United States and globally. The Russian government too has expanded its commitment to the US venture market. Its RVC-USA fund, dubbed the fund of funds, was created in January, has committed $400 million out of a possible $1 billion to support startups…in the United States.
  • Probably the clearest sign that both countries have moved from the Cold War is that the two governments agreed to ease visa requirements last November.

Mitt Romney missed a significant opportunity to move US-Russian conversation into an era where he should have a lot to offer. Instead, he and his staff chose to lob a bunch of softballs to Putin who was waiting with his oversized bat and six Siberian cranes.

Have a good weekend!

molly

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