- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
Republicans may be rallying around Mitt Romney at the GOP convention in Tampa, but over in Russia the GOP presidential candidate is getting a far chillier reception.
Romney has been tough on Moscow during the campaign, calling the New START nuclear arms reduction deal Obama’s "worst foreign-policy mistake," labeling Russia America’s "number one geopolitical foe," and characterizing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a man bent on rebuilding the "Soviet empire." His advisors have echoed these sentiments, as has the Republican platform, which cites "Russian activism" as one of the "gravest threats to our national security" and alludes to a "hot mic" moment between Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as evidence that the president wants to "appease Russia" on missile defense. It’s remarkably aggressive rhetoric — albeit from a party whose most revered figure famously referred to Russia as an "evil empire."
The Russian press was already up in arms about Romney’s trip to Poland earlier this month (money quote from the state-funded RT: "the Mormon from Michigan has been time-warped back to the Soviet era, behind an Iron Curtain and inside of a 1950s black-and-white television set"). But the outrage has resurfaced in recent days, as the GOP released its platform and opened its convention.
In an article entitled "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan promise Russia Republican hell," for example, Pravda, which has been known to engage in colorful outbursts against Romney, declares that the GOP ticket supports the "radicalization of the country’s foreign policies" — particularly those concerning Russia. "According to the Republican Party," the newspaper scoffs, the "Russian administration is authoritarian and does not respect human rights…. They refer to Russia as a traditional rival of the United States along with North Korea, Iran and China…. To crown it all, Mitt Romney expressed his willingness to be the godfather of the Russian opposition and organize the training for opposition activists at American educational centers."
Pravda isn’t alone. At the state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti, journalist Fyodor Lukyanov observes that "no matter how much you may dislike Russia and its authorities, the time when it was America’s enemy number one is long past." In a blistering column for the state-run radio station Voice of Russia, presenter John Robles warns that Romney and his "cold war thinking" will signal the death knell of Obama’s "reset" with Russia, and he doesn’t stop there:
To say that Romney and his Republican brethren are a danger to world peace would be an understatement. Their "ultra-conservative" views and stances on a number of issues will bring about another era of neo-conservative subjugation for the American people and the world and their backward thinking and confrontational posturing will destroy much of the delicate compromise that has kept the world stable for the last four years….
To listen to Romney and his Republican like and read how they plan to "curb Moscow", "confront Russia", surround Russia with missiles and the like is to get the impression that he is talking about some small third world nation they can just obliterate at any moment and not the largest country on the planet and a formidable nuclear power.
Another Voice of Russia article — entitled "Republicans choose presidential candidate and external enemies" — includes an interview with an expert identified as Valey Korovin, the director of the Center for Political Expertise. "It is a fact that Russia and the US are geopolitical opponents," Korovin is quoted as saying. "This logic is based on the confrontation of two kinds of civilizations, and the Republicans openly speak about it. The Democrats think the same but use more roundabout expressions and adhere to the use of soft, smart force. As for Romney, he is only a presidential candidate, so he does not care about beating around the bush and bluntly calls a spade a spade."
The intense focus on Romney’s posture toward Russia isn’t limited to government-controlled news outlets, either. In a report today on the GOP convention, for instance, the privately owned daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta leads with, "Russia is once again among America’s enemies." The business daily Vedomosti highlights a recent Citi report suggesting that a Romney victory in November could batter the Russian stock market and explores what a GOP win would signify more generally for the "reset" and U.S.-Russian relations.
Of course, we don’t know whether a President Romney would actually follow through on his Russia rhetoric. As Peter Baker points out in the New York Times today, "the pragmatic dealmaker in Mr. Romney may find that even if he does not want to sign a nuclear arms treaty with Moscow as Mr. Obama did, it is useful to be able to move supplies through Russian territory to Afghanistan."
For now, at least, Romney may want to soak up the moment in Tampa — and avoid picking up any Russian newspapers.