Both Senators McCain and Obama have condemned Russia’s military offensive in Georgia. Professor Andrei Tsygankov believes that “Senator McCain needs national security issues to be in front of these elections to be able to win” and that Senator Obama “has not established any differences on foreign policy issues from McCain and is therefore competing against McCain on McCain’s terms.”


Story Transcript

Russia and the candidates

ZAA NKWETA, TRNN: Accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president of the United States, Senator John McCain criticized Russia for its military campaign in Georgia.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): Russia’s leaders, rich with oil wealth and corrupt with power, have rejected democratic ideals and the obligations of a responsible power. They invaded a small, democratic neighbor to gain more control over the world’s oil supply, intimidate other neighbors, and further their ambitions of reassembling the Russian Empire.

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PROF. ANDREI TSYGANKOV, POLITICAL ANALYST AND AUTHOR: McCain and his advisors early enough understood the importance of national security elections. McCain is not someone who is competent enough on domestic issues. One of them, and the most important question, the most important issue of these elections, is the economy. And McCain admitted he would like to be more knowledgeable about the economy. So this is a matter of record. And at the same time, he’s someone who always believed from the beginning in invading Iraq. He continues to defend this foreign policy blunder of the United States up until today. He has made multiple statements to the effect that the United States should not withdraw, should not even establish timetable. He’s someone who believes that this is also something that Americans will support. So he really runs on a national security platform. And now he also has another threat—not Islamic radical terrorism, but the rise of Russia and the rise of China. And it seems that now is the time for him and for many other political forces in Washington to actually validate this threat. McCain has started his attacks on Russia not yesterday, not last year, but at least the record goes all the way to the year 2003. McCain was already advocating a tough approach on Russia. He was issuing statements. He was speaking on the Senate floor that the coup d’etat, anti-Western coup d’etat, with KGB forces at helm, took place in the Kremlin, Russia is coming back to the new Soviet state, new Soviet Empire, and the United States must take actions. So this is really, to me, a very strong record and very strong evidence that McCain needs national security issues to be at front of these elections to be able to win. And he will win if these are going to be viewed by Americans as national security elections, because Obama has no credibility whatsoever when it comes to his record on national security. And, unfortunately, it comes down to who is going to out-tough one another on this issue, on the Russia issue. It’s possible there will be more nuances down the line, but Obama already has made it more difficult for himself, because he refused to rethink the issue, he refused to propose a really principally different strategy on how to deal with Russia. Obama has made very similar statements. He also believes that Georgia should be granted MAP [Membership Action Plan], which is the next stage on the path to integration with the Atlantic alliance, with NATO. He made statements that are essentially one-sided and will be read and viewed by Russia as pro-Georgian. So he is competing against McCain on McCain’s terms, and therefore he’s in a very difficult position. There is still a possibility that the approach may change; there is still a possibility that Obama’s team will understand that they are losing this battle, they cannot win the battle with McCain on McCain’s terms. And the problem with their team, the problem with Obama, the way I see it, is that they have not established their difference on foreign policy issues from McCain at this point, and they need to. Otherwise they will lose.

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Professor Andrei Tsygankov

Andrei P. Tsygankov is Professor at the departments of Political Science and International Relations at San Francisco State University. He teaches Russian/post-Soviet, comparative, and international politics since August 2000. A Russian native, Tsygankov is a graduate of Moscow State University (Candidate of Sciences, 1991) and University of Southern California (Ph.D., 2000).

Tsygankov published widely in Western and Russian academia. In the West, he co-edited New Directions in Russian International Studies (2004), and he published Pathways after Empire: National Identity and Foreign Economic Policy in the Post-Soviet World (2001), Whose World Order? Russia’s Perception of American Ideas after the Cold War (2004), and Russia’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity (2006), as well as many journal articles. In Russia, his best known books are Russian Science of International Relations (2005, co-edited with Pavel Tsygankov, also published in Germany and China) and Sociology of International Relations (2006, co-authored with Pavel Tsygankov, also published in China).