WHITE HOUSE - Views of Russia are playing a surprising role in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The U.S. government has formally accused Moscow of conducting cyberattacks to influence the elections in favor of Republican nominee Donald Trump. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies any meddling. But that is just one issue involving Russia where Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton disagree.
In the last two years, Russia has adopted a more assertive foreign policy: first with its takeover of Crimea and support of Ukrainian separatist rebels. Second, with its intervention in Syria on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Moscow's actions have been a frequent topic of this year’s presidential debates and rallies. Democrat Hillary Clinton has taken a tough stance.
"I want to emphasize that what is at stake here is the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia. Russia has decided that it’s all in in Syria, and they’ve also decided who they want to see become president of the United States, and it’s not me,” said Clinton.
The antipathy appears to be mutual, said analyst Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution.
“Putin blames Secretary Clinton for the protests against his return to power in 2012. He thinks the United States, and particularly the State Department, was behind those,” said Wright.
For his part, Donald Trump has sought to downplay his earlier positive comments about Putin.
"I don't love [Putin], I don't hate [him]. We'll see how it works. We'll see. Maybe we’ll have a good relationship. Maybe we’ll have a horrible relationship. Maybe we’ll have a relationship right in the middle," said Trump.
Trump’s position on Russia differs dramatically from nearly all mainstream Republican and Democratic foreign policy leaders, according to terrorism expert Malcolm Nance.
"He believes that Russia's positions - the obsolescence of NATO, the destruction of the European Union, leaving Russia to have full rein in Eastern Europe, as it sees fit and allowing Russia to do what it wants with Syria are almost a checklist of Vladimir Putin's requirements,” said Nance.
But where Clinton and others see Russia's aggressiveness, Trump sees an opportunity.
"I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example. But I don’t know Putin," said Trump.
To the Clinton campaign, the hacking of her campaign e-mails is evidence that Russian President Putin would like to see Trump become the next U.S. president.
The Trump campaign says voters should pay more attention to the potentially damaging content of the Democratic Party e-mails, instead of who is behind the hacking.