By Robert Bridge
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called on the US presidential candidates to check their calendars following explosive comments by a top Republican contender Mitt Romney.
Saying that some of the statements coming out of the US elections debate “smell like Hollywood,” Medvedev wished “at least two things” from the field of Republicans battling to challenge the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama.
“I would urge all who lay claim to the chair of US president, not excluding the candidate you have mentioned, to do at least two things: first, use reasonable arguments while formulating your positions. Doing so won’t hurt. And second, check your watches. It’s 2012 now, not the mid-1970s,” he said.
The Russian president’s blunt comments were in response to remarks by Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, who labeled Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”
The war of words began during the nuclear security summit in Seoul, Korea, where Obama was overheard on a ‘hot microphone’ asking Medvedev to be patient on missile defense until after US presidential elections.
“This is my last election,” Obama was heard telling the Russian leader on the sidelines of the summit. “After my election I have more flexibility.”
Romney pounced on the comment, playing up to perennial Republican fears of a militarily resurgent Russia obstructing US moves on the global chessboard.
“Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage and for this president to be looking for greater flexibility where he doesn’t have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia is very, very troubling, very alarming,” the Republican told CNN in an interview. “(Russia) is without question our number one geopolitical foe.”
When pressed if he actually believed that Russia represented a bigger threat to the United States than either Iran or China, Romney backpedalled on his remarks, perhaps sensing that he had overreached himself, saying: “Of course the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran, and nuclear North Korea…”
He then criticized Russia for not siding with the United States in the UN Security Council, but rather with the “world’s worst actors.” The US recently expressed its displeasure over Russia’s decision to veto a UN Security Council resolution on Syria. Moscow held to the position that the resolution made tough demands on the Syrian government, while failing to do the same for the militant opposition.
Medvedev warned that politicians are attempting to manipulate the European missile shield debate to pursue their own personal agenda.
“Missile defense is a political issue that various political forces are manipulating in order to pursue their own political interests, including interests connected with elections – parliamentary and presidential,” the Russian president told reporters.
Medvedev said he supports Washington’s willingness to continue its dialogue with Moscow on plans to build a missile defense shield in and around Europe.
“The American side demonstrated its willingness to continue it [the dialogue]. We wholeheartedly support it,” he said.
The Russian leader added that there were no secrets regarding missile defense talks with the United States.
“As for our dialogue with President Barack Obama…we discussed various topics, including anti-missile defense,” Medvedev said. “There are no secrets here, like there is no surprise in the fact that a number of issues are very difficult to solve in the current political situation.”
There are better and worse times for political decisions, he added.
“It is evident that the best time (for political decisions) is when all political forces are stable, regardless of the issues with which this or that person deals, it is simply a clearer construction,” Medvedev stressed. “In fact, this is what we talked about. And there is no surprise in it, we have never concealed this. President Obama could say about it both in public and behind closed doors. But each time something is taken out of the context, it arouses a wave of conspiracy theories.”
Barack Obama stressed there was nothing secretive about his comments to Medvedev, and he could repeat them again “in public.”
Will the reset survive US politics?
Romney’s comments, although possibly just a case of election-year hyperbole, nevertheless reveal a latent streak of hostility against Russia on behalf of certain members of the Republican Party.
Romney’s remarks also reveal the dilemma that Moscow faces in its efforts to maintain a relationship with Washington: although President Medvedev and President-elect Vladimir Putin seem prepared to continue developing the Russia-US reset, America’s devotion to the plan largely hinges on the direction that the political winds are blowing out of Washington.
Indeed, out of the remaining field of four Republican contenders – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul – only Ron Paul has refused to play the Russian card for political gain. Thus, in the event of a Republican victory, it would be safe to say that the Russia-US reset will suffer irreparable damage, if not outright devastation.
This quandary perfectly explains Russia’s apprehension over US plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe: although the Democrats today are devoted to the reset, there is no promising what the case will be come November.
Russia has warned the United States on many occasions that unless the two sides can come to an agreement on US missile defense – which Russia views as a potential threat to its national security – Moscow will have no choice but to respond in kind. That could very well mean another arms race at a time when the planet can least afford it.