In the debate last night Jim Lehrer asked each candidate about his position on Russia. Sen. McCain answered first with a detailed analysis.* Lehrer than asked Sen. Obama if he had any differences with McCain's position.
LEHRER: You see any -- do you have a major difference with what he [Sen. McCain] just said?*
OBAMA: No, actually, I think Senator McCain and I agree for the most part on these issues. Obviously, I disagree with this notion that somehow we did not forcefully object to Russians going into Georgia.
This was what Sen. Obama did in his debates with Sen. Clinton as well. Remember Tim Russert asking Sen. Clinton about Medvedev? After she gave a clear summary* of his impact on Russian politics and US relations with Russia, Sen. Obama said "ditto" to her comments.
RUSSERT: Senator Obama, do you know anything about him?
OBAMA: Well, I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about him. He is somebody who was hand-picked by Putin. Putin has been very clear that he will continue to have the strongest hand in Russia in terms of running the government.
Sen. Obama dittoes too often for comfort.
*September 26 debate:
LEHRER: Two minutes on Russia, Senator McCain.
MCCAIN: Well, I was interested in Senator Obama's reaction to the Russian aggression against Georgia. His first statement was, "Both sides ought to show restraint."
Again, a little bit of naivete there. He doesn't understand that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia. And Russia has now become a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government.
I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes, and I saw three letters, a "K," a "G," and a "B." And their aggression in Georgia is not acceptable behavior.
I don't believe we're going to go back to the Cold War. I am sure that that will not happen. But I do believe that we need to bolster our friends and allies. And that wasn't just about a problem between Georgia and Russia. It had everything to do with energy.
There's a pipeline that runs from the Caspian through Georgia through Turkey. And, of course, we know that the Russians control other sources of energy into Europe, which they have used from time to time.
It's not accidental that the presidents of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine flew to Georgia, flew to Tbilisi, where I have spent significant amount of time with a great young president, Misha Saakashvili.
MCCAIN: And they showed solidarity with them, but, also, they are very concerned about the Russian threats to regain their status of the old Russian to regain their status of the old Russian empire.
Now, I think the Russians ought to understand that we will support -- we, the United States -- will support the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in the natural process, inclusion into NATO.
We also ought to make it very clear that the Russians are in violation of their cease-fire agreement. They have stationed additional troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
By the way, I went there once, and we went inside and drove in, and there was a huge poster. And this is -- this is Georgian territory. And there was a huge poster of Vladimir Putin, and it said, "Vladimir Putin, our president."
It was very clear, the Russian intentions towards Georgia. They were just waiting to seize the opportunity.
So, this is a very difficult situation. We want to work with the Russians. But we also have every right to expect the Russians to behave in a fashion and keeping with a -- with a -- with a country who respects international boundaries and the norms of international behavior.
And watch Ukraine. This whole thing has got a lot to do with Ukraine, Crimea, the base of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol. And the breakdown of the political process in Ukraine between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko is a very serious problem.
So watch Ukraine, and let's make sure that we -- that the Ukrainians understand that we are their friend and ally.
**February 27 debate:
CLINTON: Well, I can tell you that he's a hand-picked successor, that he is someone who is obviously being installed by Putin, who Putin can control, who has very little independence, the best we know. You know, there's a lot of information still to be acquired. That the so-called opposition was basically run out of the political opportunity to wage a campaign against Putin's hand-picked successor, and the so-called leading opposition figure spends most of his time praising Putin. So this is a clever but transparent way for Putin to hold on to power, and it raises serious issues about how we're going to deal with Russia going forward.
I have been very critical of the Bush administration for what I believe to have been an incoherent policy toward Russia. And with the reassertion of Russia's role in Europe, with some of the mischief that they seem to be causing in supporting Iran's nuclear ambitions, for example, it's imperative that we begin to have a more realistic and effective strategy toward Russia. But I have no doubt, as president, even though technically the meetings may be with the man who is labeled as president, the decisions will be made by Putin.