Turning the Page? Medvedev, Obama, and US-Russia Relations

Once again, exams [this time Corporations] have foiled my ability to cover exciting developments in Russia. Anyone reading by now knows that Putin, along with four parties (United Russia, Just Russia, Agrarian Party, Civil Force), has endorsed First Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to be the next President of Russia. In so doing, Putin has all but guaranteed that Medvedev will win the vote in March. A full discussion of the coverage and implications of this event is beyond my ability at this point – I will simply point you in the direction of Sean’s Russia Blog, Scraps of Moscow, Accidental Russophile, and Perspectives on the New Russia. There, you will find good coverage and analysis as well as lively discussions on Medvedev. Instead, I want to briefly the possible intersection of domestic political developments in Russia and the United States and the what meaning it has for the future of US-Russian relations.

For those of you not following the US presidential election, a little background- first, Sen. Barack Obama (whom I support) is now in a statistical tie with Sen. Hillary Clinton in the first three early primaries (IA, NH, SC); second, if Obama wins the Democratic nomination,
I predict he will almost certainly defeat any Republican challenger.

In my opinion, an Obama presidency in the US and a Medvedev presidency in Russia would, as my title suggests, ‘turn the page’ in US-Russia relations. First, and most strikingly, both are young – Medvedev is 42 while Obama is 46. Both are liberal lawyers by training, and, as their ages suggest, are relatively new to the political scene. Obama has [in my opinion accurately] cast himself as the candidate who can move past the domestic battles of the ’60s generation, who is not married to the old rules of the game and preconceptions. Medvedev would be the first Russian president whose career in government started after the fall of the Soviet Union – he was not a Communist Part functionary, he was not in the security services. Obama makes the case that the US needs to focus on building more constructive relationships with the rest of the world, even when we do not agree all the time. Medvedev is a modernizer who sympathizes with Western values.

If and when Presidents Obama and Medvedev meet for the first time, they would not be handcuffed by the Cold War mentality that has defined our relations for the past several years. At a recent foreign policy event in DC, a woman asked Obama what he would see if he “looked into Putin’s eyes.” Rather than fall for the Russophobic bait, Obama simply said that we need to be forceful in voicing our concerns, while working to improve our cooperation in areas where we agree. I think this sort of practical and non-ideological approach would be reciprocated by Medvedev.

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