Romney’s Stance on Russia Raises Hackles in Moscow

Patrick Goodenough | August 30, 2012 | 4:46am EDT
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President Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a G20 summit, in Los Cabos, Mexico on June 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

( – Russian media lashed out Wednesday at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his pledge to end the Obama administration’s so-called “reset” of ties with Moscow and his campaign’s reiteration of Romney’s view that Russia remains a top “geopolitical foe.”

Pointing to remarks by campaign advisors on the sidelines of the Tampa convention, online campaign material and the 2012 Republican platform, commentators predicted dark days ahead in bilateral relations should Romney become president.

“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan promise Russia Republican hell,” ran the headline on an article on the tabloid news site, focusing on the party platform and material on the Romney campaign website.

It accused Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of supporting “the radicalization of the country’s foreign policies, particularly about the relations with Russia.”

“The [2012 party platform] program paid special attention to the U.S.-Russian relations,” the article added.

In fact, the 54-page platform dedicates around 200 words to Russia, far fewer than those on the Middle East and Latin America, and somewhat fewer than those on South Asia and China.

Nonetheless, the Russia section does include some hard-hitting criticism. Russian leaders are urged “to reconsider the path they have been following: suppression of opposition parties, the press, and institutions of civil society; unprovoked invasion of the Republic of Georgia, alignment with tyrants in the Middle East; and bullying their neighbors while protecting the last Stalinist regime in Belarus. The Russian people deserve better, as we look to their full participation in the ranks of modern democracies.”

The platform links Republican backing for the granting of permanent normal trade relations to Russia with support for legislation targeting human rights violators, the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.

Another section of the platform names “Russian activism” among several threats to U.S. national security to which the Republicans say the Obama administration has “responded with weakness.”

The article also looked at material on Romney’s website relating to ties with Russia, taking particular issue with – in its words – the candidate having “expressed his willingness to be the godfather of the Russian opposition and organize the training for opposition activists at American educational centers.”

The actual wording on the site is rather less dramatic. It speaks of “bring[ing] more leaders of Russian civil society organizations to the United States on exchanges programs,” a step that “would raise their profile and empower them with ideas that can be shared with their fellow Russians upon their return.”

Also receiving attention in Russian media were comments made by a Romney campaign foreign policy advisor, Richard Williamson, at a Tuesday evening discussion in Tampa, hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative on the sidelines of the convention.

Williamson, who served under the Bush administration as ambassador to the now-defunct U.N. Commission on Human Rights and later as special envoy to Sudan, was quoted by Foreign Policy as describing the Russian authorities as “our foe,” adding that “they have chosen a path of confrontations, not cooperation.”

He said that while Romney’s characterization of the Kremlin as a “geopolitical foe” had left some in Washington uncomfortable, it was “better to be frank and honest.”

(Romney used the “geopolitical foe” term last March, when responding to President Obama’s unguarded comment to then President Dmitry Medvedev to the effect he would have “more flexibility” on the missile defense issue – long a source of contention with Russia – after November’s election.)

Williamson’s comments received attention by the pro-Kremlin television network, Russia Today, and also featured in a strong-worded opinion piece by a columnist with the state-owned Voice of Russia.

Williamson’s contention that Russia had “chosen the path of confrontation rather than cooperation,”  was a blatant lie, the columnist wrote. “To say that Russia has chosen such a path when the entire Republican platform is based on and call[s] for confrontation with Russia is disingenuous and a complete and total lie.”

To hear Romney and Republicans speak, he said, one could “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.”

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