Romney shreds Russia

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, rear left, addresses supporters as his vice presidential running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., listens during the Romney Ryan Victory Rally at the Daytona Beach Historic Bandshell in Daytona Beach, Fla., Friday, Oct. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney calls Russia the No. 1 foe of the United States and promises to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But if he’s elected president, he might find that he’ll need Moscow’s help.

Russia plays a critical role in facilitating the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The United States also needs Moscow’s cooperation on keeping nuclear materials away from terrorists and American adversaries, and preventing gridlock at the U.N. Security Council, where both countries have vetoes.

While Romney has criticized President Barack Obama’s “reset” — his administration’s policy for improving relations with Russia — he has not said what exactly he would do differently beyond taking a tougher approach. Given U.S. interests in a cooperative relationship with Russia, some analysts think Romney may have to tone down his rhetoric if wins the White House.

“He may discover the value of Russia as a partner on some issues,” says Andrew Kuchins, the head of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

U.S.-Russian relations, like international affairs in general, have not been major issues in a presidential campaign dominated by the economy. But they are an area of sharp disagreement between the candidates and could be an issue in Monday’s presidential debate, which will focus on foreign policy.

Obama administration officials see improved relations with Russia as a foreign policy success after years of tension during George W. Bush’s presidency. They cite the opening of a supply corridor to Afghanistan, the signing of a major arms control treaty, known as New Start, and progress on trade issues, including Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

While Russia has often blocked Western initiatives in the U.N. Security Council, it has gone along in key instances. Last year, Moscow abstained in a vote allowing military intervention in Syria, though Russian officials later accused the U.S. and allies of abusing the council’s mandate. In 2010, Russia also backed new sanctions against Iran after a compromise. However, it has opposed further sanctions aimed at curbing Iranian nuclear ambitions.