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Russian pundits assess possible impact of US midterm polls on 'reset'

U.S. Capitol

Moscow, 3 November: The Republicans' success in the US mid-term congressional elections held on 2 November may complicate the implementation of President Barack Obama's plans, including in the area of foreign policy and relations with Russia. Under these conditions, according to observers, it is necessary to think about long-term measures in addition to attempts to solve the problems in Russian-US relations inherited from the past.

As a result of the elections, the Democratic Party has lost its majority in the House of Representatives but retained a small advantage in the Senate. Although the election campaigns of the American Democrats and Republicans were mainly focused on the USA's domestic issues, not on foreign policy, the results of the elections will clearly affect diplomacy in the most direct manner.

There are plenty of examples of that in recent history. For example, the "reset" in America's relations with Russia may simply be shelved and, say, trade and economic disagreements with China may come to the fore.

According to Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the (Russian Academy of Sciences') USA and Canada Institute, the defeat of the Democrats may well complicate the implementation of Obama's plans. "His initiatives will no longer be able to get as much support as before, but it is hard to say how serious these problems will be," the expert told RIA Novosti.

The fate of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, signed by the presidents of Russia and the USA in April 2010, is the subject of primary interest. For the Senate to approve the treaty, which some Republicans think compromises national security, 67 votes will be needed, while the Democrats, although retaining the majority in the Senate, only have a little more than 50 seats. (Passage omitted: background)

The ratification of the document was expected before the end of 2010, but now the Americans are hoping to do it in the first months of the next year.

Although there is no two-party politics in the USA any more, there is the concept of national interests there, and opposing the treaty on the reduction of arms would be contrary to national interests. At least some of the Republicans must have a responsible approach to agreements with Russia.

The problem is that many American conservatives still distrust Russia, as in the times of the Soviet Union, and this affects their attitude towards rapprochement and cooperation between Moscow and Washington.

At the same time, whatever the balance of power in the Congress, Barack Obama's administration will not give up on improving US-Russian relations and the implementation of the agreements it has reached.

However, Sergey Karaganov, chairman of the presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, thinks that the ratification of the START treaty in the Congress may be made subject to such conditions that would make it pointless for Russia.

"There may be such amendments added to the treaty that will force Russia to simply abandon it," Karaganov told RIA Novosti.

And this should not be a surprise.

Karaganov noted that generally it is possible not to have the ratification, because the treaty itself or its main provisions can be implemented through an executive agreement between the Russian and US governments.

The political analyst thinks that the Republicans' dominance in the lower house of the Congress will strengthen their efforts to seek a reduction of Russian tactical nuclear forces on European territory. In this regard, Karaganov proposes to begin the reduction of all nuclear arms, both tactical and strategic, and both in the USA and Europe. "This will require another treaty, after five-ten years. The current process has exhausted itself," the head of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy said.

Until now, in relation to Russia the Obama administration had to solve problems that were created and accumulated at the time of his predecessor George Bush. With the Republicans' dominance in the House of Representatives, these issues can take a long time, although time dictates the need to move forward and think about the future.

"It is necessary to work for the future, taking into account that Obama might not remain in power after 2012," Karaganov said. In his opinion, as many projects that "would be difficult to stop" should be launched as possible. "In essence, a new agenda is needed, because the current one addresses issues of the past rather than the future," the political analyst said.

For example, one can talk about Russian-US cooperation in the Arctic, the participation of the Americans in the development of Siberia and the Far East together with Asian countries.

Karaganov said that, as regards such an agenda, a special report would be prepared in January within the Valday international discussion club, which was established in 2004 with the participation of RIA Novosti, the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, The Moscow News newspaper and the magazines Russia in Global Politics and Russia Profile.

President Obama has already declared his readiness to work with the Democrats and Republicans for the good of the American people. But it is unclear whether the conservatives are ready for it, all the more so that these congressional elections have become a kind of referendum on US citizens' confidence in the president.

The dominance in the Senate gives Obama some chance, as well as the upcoming "lame duck" session during three weeks before the end of the year, at which the Congress convenes for the last time in its current composition. It will be also attended by the Republicans who have lost their seats during these elections and therefore are more free to choose a political position.

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