The aftermath of the Russia-Georgia war presents the next U.S. president with an early test of American resolve to continue NATO’s eastward expansion, a bipartisan policy that dates back to the Clinton administration.
Both Republican candidate John McCain and Democratic candidate Barack Obama back NATO membership for Georgia, as well as for Ukraine - support that strengthened with the Russian invasion of Georgia in August. Georgia’s bid to join NATO is expected to be addressed during meetings of NATO foreign and defense ministers later this year.
On the other big issue between Moscow and Washington - nuclear proliferation - both candidates call for continued negotiations to trim each nation’s arsenal and for cooperation on efforts to prevent terrorists and rogue states, such as Iran, from obtaining nuclear weapons.
When asked about Russia during the first presidential debate, Mr. Obama said he and Mr. McCain “agree for the most part on these issues.”
Russian analysts say they are not able to discern how the two men diverge on what promises to be one of the biggest foreign-policy conundrums of the next four years.
“It is impossible to glean enough information from the candidates’ speeches to determine what their respective policies toward Russia would be as president,” Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, wrote in the Moscow Times earlier this month.
Mr. Lukyanov called the two senators’ positions “practically identical and lacking in substance.”
However, supporters of Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain point out differences between them.
Obama supporter Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration, said that Mr. Obama’s approach is “much more nuanced,” while Mr. McCain’s is “isolating” and contains “much more Cold War language.”
Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain’s top foreign-policy adviser, said the Republican candidate “has warned about the dangers posed by Russia’s domestic and foreign policies for many years.”
Unlike Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain “has traveled to Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia and many other countries that border Russia many times and he understands the security concerns of their leaders,” Mr. Scheunemann said.
Russia has taken advantage of surging oil prices to rebuild its economy and its military from a state of collapse after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
The effort, led by Vladimir Putin, first as president and now as prime minister, has been accompanied by a rollback of democratic reforms and an increasing willingness to publicly challenge the U.S. position as the world’s only superpower, analysts say.