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Putin Presidency Unlikely to Derail US-Russia Relations

Vladimir Putin (file photo)
Vladimir Putin (file photo)
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Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will swap jobs next year with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Our correspondent looks at whether the change will affect U.S.-Russia relations.

Russia political analysts say it was no surprise that Vladimir Putin decided to run for president in next year’s Russian elections, replacing Dmitri Medvedev who is expected to become prime minister in a new government. The analysts say Putin is practically guaranteed a win because political opposition has been stifled and the Russian leadership controls most of the media.

Questions are being raised as to what affect a new Putin presidency will have on U.S.-Russia relations.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner recently gave this assessment.

"What’s ultimately important is that this is a matter, a decision - that is the question of who will be Russia’s next president - that’s a decision for the Russian people to determine," said Toner. "We, for our part, look forward to working with whoever is the next president, because we believe, clearly, that it’s in the mutual interest of the United States and Russia, and the world that we do work closely together."

Many analysts say relations between Washington and Moscow are good when compared with a low in 2008, when Russia fought a brief war with Georgia. Since then, under the Medvedev presidency, Washington and Moscow have signed a major arms control agreement, and there has been increased cooperation on such issues as Afghanistan, Iran and Libya.

Putin first won the presidency in 2000 and became prime minister after Medvedev became president in 2008. The announced job swap next year could mean Putin dominates the Russian government until 2024.

Robert Legvold, a Russia expert at Columbia University, describes the U.S.-Russia relationship as progressing slowly.

“But the other half of the story is that this is very vulnerable," said Levgold. "There is nothing guaranteed that the progress will continue. It can be upset by events that one or the other side, or both sides, react to awkwardly or in an exaggerated fashion, or maybe the events themselves will justify a harsh reaction.”

Legvold says the relationship could be affected by the outcome of the U.S. election.

“We know what the outcome will be in the Russian election," he said. "In Washington, in the Obama administration, the expectation is continuity in Russia policy, basic continuity coming out of the March elections. But I think it is very difficult to predict continuity coming out of the November 2012 U.S. election.”

Many experts agree with Legvold that there will not be any real change in U.S.-Russia relations with Vladimir Putin back as president.

Matthew Rojansky at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Putin, as prime minister, if not calling all the shots, at least approved the key decisions related to U.S. relations.

“So for example, I don’t see New START [strategic arms agreement] being rolled back," said Rojansky. "I don’t see cooperation on Afghanistan being rolled back. The Libya [U.N.] resolution [imposing a no-fly zone] which Russia didn’t block was a difficult call and Putin certainly had reservations and you heard him expressing those reservations. But did he ultimately come to some kind of consensus with Medvedev? Clearly he did. I think the two of them operate as a unit.”

Rojansky believes that while the substance of the U.S.-Russia relationship may not change, the tone might.

“Obama has invested very heavily in his relationship with Medvedev," he said. "It made sense. It was relatively easy for him because he and Medvedev come from a similar kind of origin in the sense of both being lawyers, both being technology oriented, both being kind of globalists in their outlook. Putin just doesn’t have that. And I don’t see Putin and Obama pushing the relationship to be very active by sheer force of personality and interest in one another. I just don’t think that’s going to happen.”

The analysts believe one thing is for sure: the U.S.-Russia relationship has grown over the years to such an extent that they say a return to the tension-filled Cold War days is virtually impossible.

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