US-Russia 'reset' to remain under Putin: White House
A "reset" of US-Russian ties will go forward regardless of who Moscow's next president is, the White House said, amid news that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin could return to the Kremlin next year.
"The reset has always been about national interests and not individual personalities, said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, in a statement sent to AFP on Sunday, reacting to news of an impending job swap between Prime Minister Vladmir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.
Medvedev, a Putin protege who took over the Kremlin from his mentor in 2008, announced on Saturday that he would step aside for the incumbent prime minister in the March 2012 polls and instead serve as government chief.
The job swap will allow Putin to extend his brand of strongman rule that has sometimes antagonized the West potentially up to 2024 while Medvedev can press on with his trademark program of modernization as head of government.
Although Putin expressed strong criticism of the United States during his presidency and saw ties between Moscow and Washington erode during that time, "it's worth noting that Vladimir Putin was Prime Minister throughout the reset," Vietor said.
"We are quite confident that we can continue to build on the progress made during the Obama Administration."
Although he acknowledged that the United States continues to "differ openly and honestly with Russia on several issues," Vietor said "we will continue to build on the progress of the reset whoever serves as the next president of Russia."
As the candidate of United Russia, Putin is almost certain to win the country's top job in the March elections due to the emasculated state of the Russian opposition and the Kremlin's control over the media.
But Vietor cautioned that "the question of who will be the next Russian president should be for the Russian people to determine."
If Putin again serves the two maximum consecutive terms, he could stay in power until 2024, by which time he would be 72 and the longest-serving Moscow leader since dictator Josef Stalin.
© 2011 AFP