While there is nothing wrong with efforts to build new trade and transit infrastructure across Central Asia per se, they ought to be driven by market logic rather than reflexive hostility to Russian and Chinese influence.
Given the political uncertainty which has permeated Russia since the parliamentary elections last year, tensions with the military represent a potentially dangerous liability for the Kremlin. Putin and his advisers no doubt recall that it was the military (and the KGB) that overthrew the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, not the liberal intelligentsia.
Because of the other challenges that the United States is facing right now internationally from the euro zone crisis to the Arab Spring, there will be less focus on Russia which is not an immediate problem.
The irony is that November’s election is not likely to have a major impact on U.S.-Russia relations. The Kremlin’s own approach will remain the same whatever happens in November. Obama and Romney presumably understand this reality; that is why Russia can serve as a proxy for the bigger foreign policy discussion they are not having.
The North Caucasus retains an anomalous position within the Russian Federation – a kind of “internal abroad.” Since the Soviet collapse, most of the European population has left for the Russian interior, increasingly differentiating the North Caucasus from the rest of the country.
Washington had four years with the young, agreeable Dmitri Medvedev as its principal Russian interlocutor. But last week’s election confirmed that soon U.S. diplomats will once again be dealing directly with Vladimir Putin.