The Candidates on U.S. Policy toward Russia

Council on Foreign Relations
Friday, December 28, 2007 3:41 PM

As 2007 drew to a close, U.S.-Russian relations remained troubled on a number of fronts, especially policy toward Iran, the expansion of NATO, and Kosovo's status.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has firmly opposed President Bush's plan to build a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland and has signaled changes to an important post-Soviet arms pact. Russia has also been critical of U.S. attempts to ratchet up pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program; in October 2007 Putin likened the Bush administration's posture toward Iran to "a madman with a razor blade" (al-Jazeera). Putin's increasingly anti-democratic moves have also raised alarm among both Republican and Democratic policymakers in Washington. At the same time, top officials and candidates from both parties have stressed the importance of engaging Russia on matters of strategic importance, in particular securing Russia's vast stocks of nuclear materials, to avoid proliferation to rogue states or other groups.

Democratic Candidates on U.S. Policy toward Russia

Joseph Biden, Jr.

Sen. Biden (D-DE) has consistently voiced concerns about Russia backsliding on democratic reforms under Putin. In 2005, Biden criticized Putin for making regional governorships appointive positions, and said he had "manipulated the Duma to eliminate most of the opposition." In December 2006, Biden warned that Russia was "moving more and more toward an oligarchy."

In 2005, Biden cosponsored a Senate resolution criticizing Russia for failing to uphold its commitments at the 1999 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Summit, which included agreements on a completed Russian military withdrawal from the Moldova. That resolution also expressed disapproval of Russia's demand for the closure of the OSCE Border Monitoring Operation (BMO), which served to observe border crossings between Georgia and the Russian republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia. That bill passed in the Senate.

Biden previously supported the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which attaches conditions to trading with Russia. But he became opposed to the repeal after Russia imposed a cap on U.S. poultry imports in 2002. Biden's state of Delaware is a major poultry producer.

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Hillary Clinton

Sen. Clinton (D-NY), like most of her fellow Democrats, favors diplomacy toward Russia with the goal of promoting democracy there and reducing nuclear stockpiles. In a November 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Clinton pledged to "negotiate an accord that substantially and verifiably reduces the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals."

She also called for engagement with Russia on "issues of high national importance," including Iran, loose nuclear weapons, and the status of the Serbian province of Kosovo. She said Washington's "ability to view Russia as a genuine partner depends on whether Russia chooses to strengthen democracy or return to authoritarianism and regional interference."

Still, she told the Boston Globe in October 2007, "I'm interested in what Russia does outside its borders first. I don't think I can, as the president of the United States, wave my hand and tell the Russian people they should have a different government."

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Christopher Dodd

Sen. Dodd (D-CT) says the United States should engage Russia diplomatically and call on Russia to "support freedom and democracy" at home and "to eliminate the conditions that export terrorism and allow our enemies to thrive."

In 2000, Dodd traveled to Russia to participate in talks on national security issues, including missile defense and nuclear treaties.

In a 2004 interview with PBS' Online NewsHour, Dodd urged cooperation between Russian and U.S. intelligence agencies to fight terrorism toward the United States and by Chechen militants toward Russia. He said the United States has not taken effective action to facilitate a relationship with Russia on Chechnya and "in connection with the other issues we face in the Middle East and elsewhere."

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John Edwards

Edwards co-chaired the Council on Foreign Relations' Russia Task Force in 2006, which urged U.S. cooperation with Russia, but said the United States must pressure Russia to maintain democracy. The report from the Task Force recommended Russian accession into the World Trade Organization, which, it said, would "promote further liberalization of the Russian economy and should signify full Russian acceptance of a rules-based international trading system." Edwards has been critical of Putin for his anti-democratic tendencies, but says Russia should remain a member of the G-8. In an April 2007 Democratic debate, Edwards expressed concern about Russia's political direction. "They've moved from being a democracy under Yeltsin to being a complete autocracy under Putin," he said.

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Mike Gravel

Gravel campaign spokesman Shawn Colvin has said the United States must "increase diplomatic communication" with Russia. In an interview with Pravda, Colvin said Gravel would not create a missile defense shield in Europe if he is elected president. He also said Gravel would move the United States "toward nuclear de-escalation in an effort to encourage Russia to do the same."

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Dennis Kucinich

Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) favors the elimination of nuclear weapons and has called for new talks with Russia and all other nuclear countries to accomplish that goal. Kucinich supports preservation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which the Bush administration announced it would opt out of in December 2001. "Scrapping it and building a missile defense system will only invite Russia and China to build up arsenals able to overcome our defenses."

He says the United States should cancel ballistic missile defense plans, which he has called "a wacky idea that will never work" (CNN).

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Barack Obama

Sen. Obama (D-IL) has said Russia is "neither our enemy nor close ally," and said the United States "shouldn't shy away from pushing for more democracy, transparency, and accountability" there. He has focused much of his discussion of Russia on diminishing the possibility of nuclear weapons use. In a July 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Obama said the United States and Russia should collaborate to "update and scale back our dangerously outdated Cold War nuclear postures and de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons." In an October 2007 speech in Chicago, Obama said if elected he would work to "take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert, and to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material." He said he would seek a "global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons" and an expansion of "the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles."

In 2005, Obama traveled with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) to nuclear and biological weapons destruction sites in Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan. Obama and Lugar then introduced legislation to eliminate nuclear stockpiles throughout the former Soviet Union. That law was enacted in 2007.

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Bill Richardson

New Mexico Gov. Richardson has said the United States should use diplomatic pressure to get Russia to "control some of the loose nuclear weapons in their domain." In an April 2007 Democratic debate, Richardson also said Russia should be "more humane in dealing with Chechnya." He views Russia as a potential "stable source of energy" for the United States. He also said Russian leaders should increase democracy promotion "in their own nation."

In an October 2007 Democratic debate, Richardson said Russia 's relationship with Iran is "not healthy."

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Republican Candidates on U.S. Policy toward Russia

Rudolph Giuliani

Giuliani advocates commercial engagement with Russia, but has also expressed support for the planned missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. In an October 2007 Republican debate, Giuliani also called for an increase in military spending to "send a heck of a signal" to Russia.

In November 2001, Giuliani accompanied Putin on a visit to Ground Zero. Giuliani told news media at the time that the attacks of September 11, 2001 would bring the United States and Russia closer together. In 2004, Giuliani traveled to Moscow to promote U.S.-Russian business relations.

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Mike Huckabee

Huckabee seems optimistic about the U.S.-Russian relationship. "Things will be better than during the Cold War because, much as we do not want another 9/11, Putin does not want another terrorist attack like the 2004 school siege in Beslan," he wrote in a January 2008 Foreign Affairs essay. Still, he is critical of Putin, whom he calls "a staunch nationalist in a country that has no democratic tradition."

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Duncan Hunter

Rep. Hunter (R-CA) views Russia as a potential hindrance to U.S. foreign policy goals, such as tightening sanctions on Iran to deter its nuclear program. In an October 2007 Republican debate, Hunter said the United States should work with Russia on sea-based missile defenses. The United States should "discuss the prospects of putting our Aegis missile defense cruisers in the Black Sea," he said.

Hunter sponsored the National Defense Authorization Act for 2004, which included provisions to encourage Russia to "open up its secret biological research facilities," he wrote in the Washington Times. The act also required that Russia give Washington "land-use permits necessary to construct and operate disarmament facilities so nonproliferation dollars are not unnecessarily wasted on facilities that cannot be used because of Russian red tape," he wrote. That bill passed.

Hunter, who once chaired the House Armed Services Committee, calls himself a "strong supporter" of Bush's missile defense shield plan.

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John McCain

Sen. McCain (R-AZ) has strongly criticized Putin, whom he has called "a dangerous person." In an October 2007 Republican debate, McCain expressed support for President Bush's plan to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. "I don't care what [Putin's] objections are to it," he said.

In a November 2007 Foreign Affairs article, McCain called for a new approach to what he called a "revanchist" Russia. In that piece, he advocated Russian exclusion from the G-8, and said the West should send a message to Russia that NATO "is indivisible and that the organization's doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom." He also said the United States should promote democracy in Russia.

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Ron Paul

Rep. Paul (R-TX) advocates a "strong national defense and a policy of non-intervention abroad" to ensure a Russia policy that "seeks our national interest."

In January 2007, Paul cosponsored a resolution to suspend the antidumping duty orders on imports of solid urea -- a substance used in fertilizers, plastics, and animal feed -- from Russia and Ukraine. That bill failed.

Paul was the only member of the House to vote against a 2007 resolution "noting the disturbing pattern of killings of numerous independent journalists in Russia since 2000, and urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to authorize cooperation with outside investigators in solving those murders."

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Mitt Romney

Romney advocates "a lot of cooperation" with Russia, as well as "frank and open discussions" about the state of democracy there. He also said in an April 2007 speech that the United States should work to secure "the vast amount of highly enriched nuclear material in their country."

Romney supports the planned National Missile Defense program of the Bush administration.

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Tom Tancredo

Rep. Tancredo's stance on Russia is unknown.

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Fred Thompson

Thompson is skeptical of the Russian government, which he has said is "apparently run by ex-KGB agents" (National Review Online).

"Oppose the Russian leadership, and you could trip and fall off a tall building or stumble into the path of a bullet," writes Thompson, whose studies focused on Russia, among other national security topics, at the American Enterprise Institute.

Thompson has not yet specified a plan for U.S. policy toward Russia.

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