Tampa Bay—President Obama’s so-called reset with Russia "has failed" and the Kremlin remains a top "geopolitical foe," according to a senior Romney campaign adviser who noted that the GOP challenger would pressure Moscow to improve its poor human rights record.
"They’re trampling civil rights" and the Obama administration refuses to talk tough with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ambassador Richard Williamson, a Romney adviser, told reporters Tuesday evening during a discussion hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative.
"They’re our foe," he said. "They have chosen a path of confrontations, not cooperation," and a Romney administration would publicly admit this. "We’re better to be frank and honest."
A regime like Putin’s is "surprised when the U.S. doesn’t have the courage and integrity to speak the truth," said Williamson, chiding the Obama administration for cozying up to Moscow despite its recent anti-democratic slide.
Another top Romney adviser, Pierre-Richard Prosper, noted that Putin’s Russia has become a place where "the rule of law" has evaporated, leading Western businesses to approach the market with caution.
"Without the rule of law, how can someone feel comfortable engaging in business in Russia," asked Propser, a former Bush administration official. "Russia is calling itself a democracy but is not behaving like a democracy."
Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of imprisoned Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, also urged Putin to "allow free and fair elections."
He called "on Putin to let my father out of jail," and explained that rampant corruption is killing Russia’s ability to compete in the international marketplace.
Following the disputed March elections that put Putin back in power, the Obama administration rushed to offer congratulations rather than criticism. This was taken as a sign that Obama was kowtowing to the Kremlin, noted panelist Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza is a member of Solidarity, Russia’s leading opposition party.
Obama’s statement on the elections failed to highlight "a single thing related to democracy and human rights," Kara-Murza said. "That congratulations was taken" as positive reinforcement by Putin.
During the past four years, the Obama administration has "closed their eyes on inconvenient issues of human rights" when it comes to Russia, Kara-Murza added. "It is not only immoral but impractical."
Bold U.S. leadership will be needed in the coming years if the Kremlin is going to reform, Kara-Murza said.
"The U.S. can show it is serious about its commitment to freedom and democracy," he said.