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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Russia must tread carefully after Republican victory

U.S. Capitol at Sunset

The Russia-US reset has come under a new spotlight after a resounding Republican victory in the US House of Representatives. While Russia is not at the top of the Republican hit list the Kremlin and the White House will now have to tread carefully if a hostile lower house is not to turn the clock back on Russia-US relations.

While the newly buoyant opposition is sharpening its knives on domestic policy, the old Cold War enemy is not entirely out of its sights.

"It depends on how well the Russian side reads the situation and understand the political dynamic," Carnegie Centre deputy director Sam Greene told The Moscow News.

"If Moscow is seen to be a difficult partner and to be belligerent in areas where the US has interests, including Eastern Europe and Japan for example, then it will make it much harder for Obama to push forward with this reset and the new relationship with Russia," he said by telephone.

"It is important for Russia to be very, very sensitive if is interested in a new relationship and it is important not to cause any unnecessary problems," he said.

Foreign policy focus

The American public went to the polls on Tuesday to elect all members of the House of Representatives and about a third (37 out of 100) of senators. The republicans took at least 60 seats from Obama's Democrats and at the time of writing 30 results are still to be announced.

The Democrats held onto the Senate, however. This could be crucial for dealings with Russia as it is here that foreign policy is controlled, says Greene. They did however lose 6 seats to the Republicans, including Obama's old seat in Illinois.

Steering a safe course

"It don't think it will have a huge impact on the general trend of US policy towards the region," Chatham House analyst Alex Nice told The Moscow News. He said that the approach of Moscow and Washington towards one another would be "two track", cooperating on issues such as Afghanistan and non-proliferation.

And they would just try to avoid conflict on the issues where they don't coincide. This may not be too hard as America is less interested in Russia's traditional sphere of influence. "There is declining interest in the countries bordering Russia, Ukraine in particular."

Clinching the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is just around the corner and Nice and Greene agree that this will pass soon enough not to cause particular problems.

But Russian accession to WTO also waits, not quite so soon, and "it is at least possible to imagine Congress creating a problem over this," says Greene. A rising Tea Party looks set to thwart the president where it can. "They will not make any exceptions for foreign policy," says Greene.

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