US president Barack Obama has lavished praise on his counter part Dmitry Medvedev in a Russian TV interview, raising questions about loyalties in the Russian presidential election.
Washington and Moscow have enjoyed a steady thaw in ties since Medvedev and Obama took their respective offices after both Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush suffered somewhat strained relations.
But the 2012 question about whether Medvedev or Putin will be president in future means any implicit shows of support from the Oval Office will raise eyebrows – even if they will have little impact on the outcome of the race for the Kremlin.
“The US government has had a consistent strategy throughout Obama’s presidency of favoring Medvedev, encouraging Medvedev and partially predicating the reset on Medvedev being there,” Ben Judah at the European Council on Foreign Relations told The Moscow News.
With comparatively bold words Obama laid out his support for Medvedev as a partner in their countries reset in a TV interview broadcast on Rossiya 24.
“Immediately after the election I contacted President Medvedev and, in my opinion, we have formed a very successful partnership in our reset plan,” Obama said.
Putin was not forgotten and Obama briefly mentioned the prime minister’s support for the reset, but he moved swiftly back onto Medvedev, “because of all this, it seems to me, the relationship has improved dramatically in the last two years,” Obama said.
It’s far from the first time America’s Democrats have given tacit backing to a second term for Medvedev.
On a visit to Moscow in March Vice President Joe Biden came close to giving the sitting president the White House seal of approval.
And Obama and Medvedev have cultivated a friendly image for the cameras, typified by the “burger diplomacy” on display when the pair went out for fast food during Medvedev’s stateside trip last summer.
Andrei Kortunov, president of the Eurasia Foundation, said that Obama’s administration had “invested heavily” in relations with Medvedev, “More than once Obama has raised his voice in support of Medvedev and his policies,” he said.
But this comes with a caveat, as Putin or another candidate a could replace Medvedev in 2012. “That might be interpreted as a foreign policy defeat because the Republicans, for example, might say you made a huge investment and now we have to start almost everything from scratch,” Kortunov said.
Judah adds that American support is unlikely to keep Medvedev in the Kremlin, as there are other pressures bearing down.
“The Kremlin policy of using Putin to speak to the east and Medvedev to the west has come back to haunt them. In Beijing there is clear antipathy towards Medvedev who is seen as pro-Western and likely to reload the reset,” he said.
“In the West Medvedev is seen as a more sincere modernizer and a less abrasive negotiating partner. This strategy helped relations with both sides but now it has the potential to undermine either relationship. The presidency of [either Putin or Medvedev] will be seen as bad news for bilateral ties in either Washington or Beijing.”