Washington and Moscow remain locked in an uneasy limbo between strategic partnership and confrontation over Kosovo, Iran, and missile defense.
But with a Russian presidential election scheduled for March 2008, and a U.S. vote the following November, that balance could tip. Here's what some of the front-runners in the U.S. presidential race have to say about their future strategies in engaging or confronting Russia:
Arizona Senator John McCain (Republican) has suggested that Russia should be barred from the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrial nations because of its "diminishing political freedoms" and "efforts to bully democratic neighbors, such as Georgia." Of Russian President Vladimir Putin, McCain said: "This is a dangerous person. And he has to understand that there's a cost to some of his actions." Alluding to U.S. President George W. Bush's 2001 comment that he had "looked into Putin's soul," McCain said, "I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes and I saw three things -- a K and a G and a B."
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (Republican) has stressed the importance of Russia's cooperation in antiproliferation efforts. "They've got to be engaged in frank and open discussions about the serious and disturbing turn of events in their own country. But we also have to remain a partner with them on the issue of securing the vast amount of highly enriched nuclear material in their country."
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (Republican) has backed expanding NATO and shoring up relations with Eastern European democracies, naming Ukraine in particular as a "hedge" against Russia. "We should make it clear that America can speak softly and carry a big stick.... We want to continue to commercially engage Russia; at the same time, we should move as quickly as we can to build missile defense."
New York Senator Hillary Clinton (Democrat) wrote in "Foreign Affairs" magazine that Putin has "suppressed many of the freedoms won after the fall of communism, created a new class of oligarchs, and interfered deeply in the internal affairs of former Soviet republics.... We must make clear that our ability to view Russia as a genuine partner depends on whether Russia chooses to strengthen democracy or return to authoritarianism and regional interference."
Illinois Senator Barack Obama (Democrat) has made curbing nuclear proliferation a key point of his foreign policy. "We know that Russia is neither our enemy nor close ally right now, and we shouldn't shy away from pushing for more democracy, transparency, and accountability in that country. But we also know that we can and must work with Russia to make sure every one of its nuclear weapons and every cache of nuclear material is secured," Obama said. "One way we could strengthen this relationship is by thinking about the Russians as more of a partner and less of a subordinate" in nonproliferation efforts.
Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards (Democrat) has called for maintaining a strategic partnership with Russia because of its influence over issues of global security. As the co-author of an article published by the nongovernmental Council on Foreign Relations, Edwards writes, "it is in the U.S. national interest for Russia to be a part of the G8 and eventually other key institutions such as the World Trade Organization," but adds that Russia's inclusion must be justified by changes in policy.