- Associated Press - Sunday, February 26, 2012

MOSCOW As he hones his presidential campaign theme, Vladimir Putin is accusing the United States of working to weaken Russia and push it back into the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In a wave of anti-Americanism reminiscent of the Cold War, the prime minister has cast his opponents as U.S. lackeys, and the new American ambassador has found himself under unprecedented attack, including being targeted in a YouTube video that implies he is a pedophile.

Mr. Putin’s posturing as a defender of national interests may help him win the March 4 election, but possibly at the cost of the much vaunted “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations that the Obama administration has been championing.

“The current campaign is laden with anti-Americanism,” said Sergei Oznobishchev, head of the Institute of Strategic Assessments, a Moscow think tank.

“It’s like clothing they dust off and put on for certain occasions, currently for electoral purposes.”

Mr. Putin has frequently criticized the United States throughout his 12-year rule, first as president and then as prime minister, accusing Washington of seeking to secure global domination. After a period of relative warmth thanks to the reset, relations have worsened again over U.S. missile-defense plans and Moscow’s support for the Syrian government during its violent crackdown on protests.

With the election approaching and pro-democracy protests gaining momentum, anti-American rhetoric on state TV channels has risen dramatically in pitch.

Offensive YouTube video

Shortly after the arrival in mid-January of U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, who had served as President Obama’s Russia adviser, Channel One state television aired a program describing him as a “specialist in the promotion of democracy” who came to Russia to organize “a revolution.” As a Stanford University professor, Mr. McFaul had written extensively on fostering democracy.

An offensive video posted on YouTube last week shows an anonymous pollster asking people on the street in Moscow to compare photographs of Mr. McFaul to a man convicted of pedophilia and say which one looks like a pedophile.

Everyone in the video points to Mr. McFaul. The videographers could not be tracked down, but the video has the hallmarks of those made by pro-Kremlin youth groups to tarnish Mr. Putin’s enemies.

In another incident, camera crews from Kremlin-controlled stations harassed oppositions leaders after they left a meeting with the ambassador at the U.S. Embassy.

Mr. McFaul has indicated that behind the scenes, Russian officials have been more welcoming.

“Productive meetings this week with Russian govt officials, even as we disagree on Syria,” he said in a Twitter message on Feb. 8. “Sharp contrast with public anti-US statements.”

In a documentary broadcast this month by Channel One, Mr. Putin charged that the United States wants to subdue Russia, fearing its nuclear might.

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