The possible election of Putin as the President of Russia will not signify a fundamental change in the direction of U.S.-Russia relations. The main reason for this is the fact that no major decisions on foreign or domestic policy during the period of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency have been made without implicit or explicit support from Mr. Putin.
There has been some progress, whether some version of rapprochement, or the so-called “reset” in U.S.-Russia relations. Mr. Putin supports this and in principle he will continue to support it, assuming there is no major change in U.S. policy, and this is where the larger factor of uncertainty lies. What is going to happen in the U.S. elections in November of 2012? It’s obvious that the fact that the Obama administration has pursued a set of policies that have taken into consideration to a greater extent some of Russia’s core interests has considerably helped facilitate the improvement in our relationship. But the short answer is that Mr. Putin as president will not make a huge difference.
However, one thing worth mentioning is that Mr. Obama has certainly developed a strong personal chemistry with Mr. Medvedev, and it’s likely that this has facilitated some of the success they had in their relations. Mr. Obama will face the challenge of developing a personal relationship with Mr. Putin, as did his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Needless to say, there has been progress in the discussions between the United States, Russia and NATO in the past year. It’s true that we didn’t reach as full an agreement by the NATO summit in June as one might have liked. But my prediction is that the discussions will continue and cooperation on missile defense is probably the biggest challenge in the near term of our security relationship. Once again, in this respect Putin’s presidency will not lead to any drastic changes. It’s clear that it was always going to be difficult for the United States and Russia to reach an agreement on cooperation in this area.
This has been a very difficult issue that goes back more than three decades in U.S-Soviet and U.S.-Russia relations. So I suppose that despite the unlikelihood of any change in foreign policy, the real answer is somewhat unsatisfying: nobody can be sure, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens next.