By Mick Krever, CNN
To congratulate U.S. President Barack Obama on his reelection, Russian Prime Minister Demitry Medvedev did what any other self-respecting 21st-century denizen would do: He took to Twitter.
“@BarackObama Congratulations!,” he Tweeted Wednesday morning.
Given the state of U.S.-Russian relations in recent years, it may seem an overly joyful reaction.
Whether it’s the civil war in Syria, Iranian nuclear enrichment, or a missile shield in Europe, the two countries are increasingly at odds.
As chairman of the international affairs committee in the Russian Parliament, Alexei Pushkov knows a thing or two about U.S.-Russian relations – and he split no hairs over Russia’s preference for America’s next president.
“[Obama’s reelection] is definitely better for Russia and the U.S.-Russian relations,” Pushkov told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday, “especially after Mr. Romney uttered his famous notion that Russia is the geopolitical foe number one of the United States.”
Prime Minister Medvedev Wednesday said that Romney’s comments had been “paranoia.”
According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, Obama will make it a priority to visit Russia next year. But things are not all roses for U.S.-Russian relations.
Take Syria. For more than a year, the U.S. has accused Russia of blocking its efforts to stop the unabated violence. Hillary Clinton in February called Russia and China’s vetoes in the U.N. Security Council “despicable” and went so far as to ask, “Whose side are they on?”
“Ms. Hillary[‘s] approach to the Syrian crisis is highly emotional but rather irresponsible,” Pushkov said. “Just pointing fingers will lead to nothing.”
The American strategy, he said, is based on the assumption that once President Bashar Assad leaves office, peace and democracy will flourish in Syria.
“The ranks of the Free Syrian Army are full of Salafists and radical Islamists,” Pushkov said. “These same people are blowing up American soldiers in Afghanistan. And they have killed American diplomats in Libya.”
The question of who deserves the blame for international inaction on Syria can be debated. But there is no denying that diplomats around the world are frustrated by the deadlock.
While visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that a quiet exit by Assad could be the answer.
“I'm certainly not offering him an exit plan to Britain but if he wants to leave, he could leave,” Cameron said. “That could be arranged.”
It is an idea that has been floated before, during the more than 19 months of uprising and ensuing civil war. After months of protest in Yemen, the president stepped down from power in exchange for fleeing the country for medical treatment.
“I don't think that this is something which is debated today in the Russian political class,” Pushkov said. “I don't think that Russia now is preoccupied with the fate of Mr. Assad.”
Despite nearly 30,000 Syrians dead, according to opposition groups, Pushkov insisted that the war will only be solved through negotiation.
“We have to choose one of the bad scenarios, because there are no good scenarios in Syria,” he said. “I think that a negotiation, although extremely difficult, is a way out, at least.”
That is an analysis that could, almost word-for-word, be applied to nuclear standoff with Iran. There too, Pushkov urged restraint.
“If Iran is attacked, if it is aggressed, then Iran will have all the reasons to make such a bomb as a means of defense,” he said. “And as no country in the world will be able to occupy Iran for a long period, I think that once Iran will redress itself after those strikes, if they happen, then it will take a clear path for arming itself with nuclear weapons.”
Like in Syria, “we need more negotiations,” Pushkov said, “and we have to talk Iran into not building this bomb.”
If there is any hope for improvement in relations between the U.S. and Russia, it may lie in an off-mic comment made by Obama to Medvedev back in March.
“This is my last election,” Obama said. “After my election I have more flexibility.”
Video of the comment, which was made before a joint press conference began and was intended to be private, quickly went viral.
What, exactly, would Obama be more “flexible” on, observers wondered? Pushkov had a suggestion.
For years, the U.S. has expressed a desire to build a strategic missile shield in Europe; NATO says it is intended to defend against attacks from Iran and the Middle East; Russia says it is a threat to Russian security.
This is one of the issues, Pushkov said, where Obama could show flexibility in a second term.
“That's what Mr. Obama suggested,” he said. “And personally, I tended to think that he was sincere.”