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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Hillary and Russia

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Many Russian observers are looking ahead to a win by Senator Hillary Clinton in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. For some this is a cause for worry. Political analyst Sergei Markov fears her victory will result in stepped-up criticism of Russia's failures in human rights and democratization, thereby increasing friction. Sergei Rogov, director of the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada, said "relations between Russia and the United States will continue to worsen," but that it won't be Clinton's fault because there is "no principal difference between Republicans and Democrats."

Some Russians assume that Hillary Clinton's views on Russia are similar to those of her husband, former President Bill Clinton. And many believe the United States' error in the 1990s was to treat Russia as if it lost the Cold War. The United States managed both to meddle in Russian internal affairs and treat it with benign neglect. Oligarchs robbed the country blind, President Boris Yeltsin was blind drunk and the United States turned a blind eye. Worse, even though the first President Bush's secretary of state, James Baker, promised that NATO would not move "an inch" to the east, Russia will be effectively encircled by NATO from the Baltic to the Black Sea if Ukraine is admitted.

But what are candidate Clinton's views? "The Russia Hand," by President Clinton's chief Russia adviser, describes a rare instance of her joining in a foreign policy discussion. It was 1993, and though things didn't look promising under Yeltsin, she stood up for Russia: "Before we give up on Russia, we should look at Taiwan or South Korea. Democracy comes in fits and starts after all those years of dictatorship. Russia's not doing that badly when you compare it to Asia. We've got to give them time."

Her views now? Her web site features a long speech in October to the Council on Foreign Relations, where she spoke of the danger of "Russia and China pursuing their own interests often at odds with such global imperatives as nuclear nonproliferation and ending genocide in Darfur," which comes close to saying nothing.

The lack of a clear public track record on Russia can work to Senator Clinton's advantage. With a single strong opening move, she can surprise those who think her policies will be the same as her husband's or the Republicans'.

The move should come in the form of the immediate repeal of President George W. Bush's plan to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic to counter missile attacks from North Korea or Iran. It is unlikely that North Korea will attack the United States by firing missiles across Europe, and Israel has the technology to contain Iranian threats. Even if there are some tactical military advantages to positioning the missiles in Poland, they are outweighed by the arrogance and idiocy of placing them on the land of a traditional enemy. It is because of ill-conceived moves like these that Russia is plowing billions of its petrodollar profits into new ICBMs.

Because she is a Democrat and a woman, Clinton will have to prove her toughness as commander-in-chief in the war against terrorism before she can cancel the Bush plan. When she does cancel it, she will need to link it with concessions from Russia, whose assistance will be critical in dealing with Iran and Korea, the likely flashpoints for her administration if she becomes president. In a stroke she will distinguish herself from the policies of her predecessors and put the pivotal Russian-U.S. relationship back on track.

Richard Lourie is the author of "The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin" and "Sakharov: A Biography."