WASHINGTON - The Obama administration said on Saturday the "reset" in relations it has pursued with Russia would remain on track despite a looming leadership reshuffle in Moscow widely expected to return Vladimir Putin to the presidency next year.
The White House made clear that US President Barack Obama would press ahead with efforts to repair relations regardless of who takes over in the Kremlin. Analysts said Putin's comeback could complicate - and possibly slow - the process of reconciliation between the former Cold War foes.
Putin to return as Russian president
Putin declared on Saturday that he planned to reclaim the Russian presidency in an election next March that could open the way for the former KGB spy to rule until 2024.
The announcement ended months of speculation over whether he or his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev - who has forged a close working relationship with Obama - would run. It also makes it all but certain that Putin will return to office because of his United Russia party's grip on power.
With Putin considered by Washington to be the "Alpha dog" of the ruling "tandem" since yielding the presidency in 2008 and becoming prime minister, his decision did not come as a surprise to the US foreign policy establishment.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama's diplomatic outreach to Russia - which the president declared from the outset to be a centerpiece of his global agenda - did not depend on "individual personalities" at the top.
"We will continue to build on the progress of the reset whoever serves as the next president of Russia because we believe that it is in the mutual interests of the United States and Russia and the world," Vietor said in statement.
Since taking office in 2009, Obama has made it a foreign policy priority
to fix relations with Moscow, which frayed in the final stretch of
Putin's presidency when George W. Bush was also nearing the end of his
eight-year tenure as US leader.
The "reset" - as the Obama administration dubbed it - has yielded a new
US-Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty and what Washington sees as
improved diplomatic cooperation, including help in pressuring Iran over
its nuclear program and logistical support for US troops fighting in
But US missile defense plans and fallout from the 2008 Russia-Georgia war have remained major irritants.