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 this year, Putin said, someone like Romney might come along in another four years, and Russia would regret it if Moscow had given in on the American missile defense project.
Romney’s characterization of Russia earlier this year as America’s Number One geopolitical foe caught the attention of Russian officials, and engendered plenty of scorn in the press. But Putin himself sees the United States as Russia’s main adversary — that is, a competitor, not an enemy, as Georgy Mirsky, an expert on Russia’s Mideast policy, pointed out in a recent interview.
Putin, in his own way, may see where Romney is coming from. In the Russian presidential election campaign last winter, he and his allies heaped abuse on the United States. They accused it of financing and leading the political protests, organized groups that hounded and badgered U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, and denounced U.S. intentions in Syria as well as what Russia saw as an American double-cross on Libya.
Russian officials are furious at the 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 it.)
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 President Romney if it comes to that.
“We’ll work with whoever gets elected as president by the American people,” he said.
But he has also shown time and again that he distrusts and resists change, especially on the world stage. Though he and President Obama have tussled over Mideast intervention, human rights and missile defense, they have staked out their ground clearly, and Obama at least promises the sort of continuity that Putin values.