With anti-Americanism creeping back to the forefront of political rhetoric in Moscow, many in Russia slyly smiled when Romney this year called Russia “our No 1 geopolitical foe”.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, said the remark showed Romney was “open and sincere”. He added: “That Romney considers us enemy No 1 and apparently has bad feelings about Russia is a minus, but, considering that he expresses himself bluntly, openly and clearly, [this] means he is an open and sincere man, which is a plus
“We will be oriented toward pluses, not minuses. And I am actually very grateful to him for formulating his position in a straightforward manner.”
The statement harked back to Soviet times, when Russia’s leaders preferred dealing with Republicans – who were seen as straight-talking, if tough – to Democrats, seen here as masking their anti-Russian stance behind talk of human and civil rights, viewed with suspicion inside Russia.
Maria Lipman, an expert at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, said: “Particularly after the expulsion of the USAid, Washington’s international aid agency, the Kremlin is now too committed to a path of using its old cold war foe as a bogeyman to consolidate wavering domestic support. Anti-American rhetoric in Russia has gone too far to shift easily now.”
Nor has there been much effort from the US presidential candidates to address policy towards Russia except for cheap point scoring, she added, and the next occupant of the White House was unlikely to seek to introduce any significant changes.
Romney even appears in private to be backpedalling on his “number one geopolitical foe” comment. He used his son, Matt Romney, to pass a placatory message to Putin last month during a business trip to Moscow, according to a recent report in the New York Times.
Many Russians have little interest in the race going on in the US, remaining sceptical that it can influence their lives.
In a suburban train heading into Moscow on Friday evening, there was widespread indifference. “Honestly, I don’t care,” said Sergei Chernenko, a 23-year old barman, adding that the election’s outcome was irrelevant.
Irina Kaidina, an accountant, concurred. Her son lived in New York, she said, but she couldn’t remember the name of Barack Obama‘s challenger.
Assistant engineer Nikolai Kuprianov, 32, however, said he had been following the presidential campaign. “Obama would, of course, be a better choice in terms of attitudes towards Russia but Americans have never loved Russia and they only want us for our natural resources,” he said.
Obama had made the “reset” in relations with Russia an early foreign policy priority, but with recent disagreements over Syria, plus Moscow’s accusation that the US stands behind opposition protests against Putin, what was once hailed as a success is now seen as dead.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said as much in an interview published this week: “If we talk about the ‘reset’, it is clear that, using computer terminology, it cannot last forever. Otherwise it would not be a ‘reset’ but a program failure”.
Among Russia’s chief concerns are energy policy – Putin’s ability to govern rests on a high oil price, analysts say – and US plans for missile defence in Europe, which it opposes but both candidates support.