Sarcastic? Maybe just a bit.
“That Mr. Romney considers us enemy number one and apparently has bad feelings about Russia is a minus, but, considering that he expresses himself bluntly, openly and clearly, means that he is an open and sincere man, which is a plus,” Putin said after a meeting with Serbia’s president.
“We will be oriented toward pluses, not minuses,” Putin said. “And I am actually very grateful to him for formulating his position in a straightforward manner.”
Putin has also praised President Obama for his sincerity, with seemingly less spin. But even if Obama should win reelection, Putin said, someone like Romney might come along in four years, and then Russia would regret it if it had given in on the U.S. missile defense project.
Romney’s characterization of Russia earlier this year as the United States’ No. 1 geopolitical foe caught the attention of Russian officials, and engendered scorn in the media. But Putin views the United States as Russia’s main adversary — that is, a competitor, not an enemy, as Georgy Mirsky, an expert on Russia’s Middle East policy, pointed out in a recent interview.
Putin may see where Romney is coming from. In the Russian presidential campaign last winter, he and his allies heaped abuse on the United States. They accused it of financing and leading political protests in Russia; organized groups that badgered U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul; and denounced U.S. intentions in Syria as well as what Russia considered an American double cross on Libya.
Russian officials are furious about Congress’s Magnitsky bill — which would impose visa and financial sanctions on identified human rights abusers in Russia — and have promised to retaliate if it becomes law. (The White House has resisted the measure.)
How much of this is rhetoric designed for public consumption is difficult to judge, in either country — but in an interview with the RT television channel, Putin presented himself as someone who would be able to deal with a President Romney.
“We’ll work with whoever gets elected as president by the American people,” he said. But Putin has shown time and again that he distrusts and resists change, especially on the world stage. Although he and Obama have tussled over Middle East intervention, human rights and missile defense, they have staked out their ground clearly, and Obama promises the sort of continuity that Putin values.