The End of the 'Reset'

Why Putin's Re-Election Means Turbulence Ahead

(Wolfgang Wildner / flickr)

When it comes to Russia's political future, the only guarantee is uncertainty. Yes, on Sunday Vladimir Putin will be elected president of Russia for a six-year term, with a comfortable majority of the vote. Yes, too, huge numbers of demonstrators, probably more than a hundred thousand, will take to the streets the next day to protest.

What will happen after that, however, is difficult to predict.

Putin has been knocked off balance by the emergence of a large, mainly urban-based opposition demanding political reforms. But there is also reason to suspect that he will make changes in his foreign policy. True, when his return to the Russian presidency was announced last September, there was good reason to expect continuity more than change. For starters, it was easy then to assume that Putin approved of the foreign policy of his junior partner, President Dmitri Medvedev. More, it seemed at the time that Russia's economic challenges would command the majority of Putin's attention for the foreseeable future. Finally, there were strong incentives for Russia to improve its ties with Washington to balance against a rising China.

But now those propositions look highly dubious. Putin's latest campaign article, "Russia and the Changing World," makes clear that the so-called reset in U.S.-Russia relations is over, and that tough times lie ahead. Addressing his own question -- "Who undermines confidence?" -- Putin pointed at the United States and NATO, but especially at the Americans, who "have become obsessed with the idea of becoming absolutely invulnerable." Some may write off Putin's anti-American tone as campaign rhetoric, but it has become increasingly clear that his brash posture toward Washington reflects what he actually thinks about the United States and its foreign policy. In fact, Putin has long held these views. 

Today it's as if Putin has dialed the U.S.-Russia relationship back to 2007, when he unleashed his anti-American diatribe at the Wehrkunde security conference in Munich. Then, Putin's anti-Americanism was angry and

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