Why Russia May Become A Big Problem for Barack Obama

The Kremlin is less inclined to make nice, though the economic downturn may crimp Moscow's ambitions.

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Obama has said that he supports missile defense in principle, if the system can be shown to work right. But he has also emphasized reaching out to Russia for cooperation on securing loose nuclear materials, deepening arms control, and defeating al Qaeda and other terrorists.

The global financial and economic crisis, coupled with the current drop in oil prices, has slammed Russia's stock market and spurred the flight of capital, raising doubts about the durability of its resurgence. But in the longer term, Stephen Sestanovich, the Clinton administration's ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union, argues in the journal Foreign Affairs, "Russia's power may actually keep growing, and carry the country's ambitions with it."

Obama could use Russia's help on an array of other problems, from persuading Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear programs to bolstering energy security to confronting global warming. But that will likely require changes from Washington. "We have not treated them very well," says Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser. "We need to show some delicacy and respect and not simply push ahead."

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