Barack Obama will remain Moscow’s main partner in Washington for the next four years. Although he generally has a much more peaceable attitude toward Russia than Mitt Romney, this does not remove all of the problems from the bilateral relationship. Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma foreign affairs committee, and Alexei Malashenko, a member of Carnegie Moscow Center’s panel of experts, explain which issues will take central stage on the presidents’ agenda and to what extent the two men will be able to solve them.

The Deployment of U.S. Missile Defense Systems in Eastern Europe

Pushkov: “I’m skeptical about the missile defense talks; although Obama seemed to promise to show more flexibility. But this will be severely restricted by the situation in Congress, where any step to meet Russia half-way will be equated with a betrayal of U.S. national interests.”

Malashenko: “I think we can expect a new round of talks that will end with a certain adjustment to American plans. This is not because of a change in approach by the White House and the Pentagon, but because of the high cost of the project. In the context of the economic crisis, the Americans will be forced to limit their ambitions somewhat. Whether a move like this will suit Moscow is not yet clear.”

The “Magnitsky Bill” to Introduce Visa and Financial Restrictions on a Number of Russian Officials

Pushkov: “It’s traditional in America to have an anti-Russian law in place. The ‘Magnitsky Law’ will replace the Jackson–Vanik amendment. It will definitely be passed. But the Obama administration has an interest in ensuring that it’s passed in a more watered-down form. It is most likely that it will not single out Russia as the sole and special target of this attack.”

Malashenko: “A milder version will be passed. The White House has no desire to worsen relations. Of course, it doesn’t all depend on President Obama, but his victory will give a substantial boost to his authority.”


Pushkov: “Our position and that of the United States could move closer if Washington could realize that they need to talk about starting a dialogue within Syria, rather than supporting one of the warring sides. But, unfortunately, the prospect of them realizing that doesn’t seem very likely.”

Malashenko: “There are various options. The most realistic, from my point of view, is that America will support external intervention – but by the Arabs, not the West. They would say Syria is an Arab problem. That, by the way, is a more balanced solution than threatening them with American weapons.”


Pushkov: “Obama will come under increasing pressure from Israel, the pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S. and Republicans embittered by Romney’s defeat to take decisive action. In light of this, the likelihood of a scenario involving the use of force and military strikes increases.”

Malashenko: “Nothing substantial will happen on the Iran track. America has had so many presidents, but Tehran is still standing, the same as ever. I don’t think it will be possible to mount attacks against Iran. Washington’s relations with the entire Muslim world are at stake.”

Resetting the Relationship with Russia

Pushkov: “The reset has run out of steam. Its objective was to change the tone of bilateral relations. If you look at the reset as a tactical policy that had a limited goal, it worked. If you see it as something that would bring Russia and the U.S. to a qualitatively new level of relationship, it didn’t work.”

Malashenko: “I think the U.S. will change its terminology. The word ‘reset’ itself seems to have run out of steam, but they will no doubt find something similar and perhaps not so loud. Obama is not the kind of man to go for worsening relations.”

The Putin–Obama Relationship

Pushkov: “Obama has a kind of moral debt to the current Russian president. Before his first visit to Moscow, he said – in a way that was rather incautious and politically tactless – that Putin was standing with one foot in the past and that he needed to understand the Cold War had ended. These words created a negative backdrop to their personal relationship. Knowing Putin’s character, I imagine that, if he gets a signal from his trans-Atlantic colleague that he is ready to build a constructive personal relationship, he’ll respond.”

Malashenko: “These two politicians are unlikely to show sympathy toward each other. There’s no great love between them, nor has there been. It was easier for Putin to deal with Bush Jr. Relations with the U.S. at that time were bad, but the personal relationship was at a level of understanding. If Romney had won, by the way, it would have been the same.”
This translation originally appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines. The original article was published in Russian in Izvestia.