Mr. Putin's recently publicized plan to establish a "Eurasian Union" – a strong economic, and potentially political, alliance of former Soviet states – has rekindled fears among many in the West that Russia's strategic goal is to bring back the USSR and return to its historic rivalry with the US.
"We had hoped that the reset with the US might help Russia move into a friendlier, closer relationship with the West, but that seems to be fading fast," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Now it seems the general opinion in the US is that Russia is fast becoming an authoritarian state with the scarecrow figure of Putin as its next president. It's all starting to feel a bit hopeless."
In a Washington Post interview earlier this month, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, often seen as moderate, is quoted as saying that Putin "dreams of rebuilding the Russian empire." Obama's reset of relations "has to end ... we have to show strength," Mr. Romney added.
At a Washington conference Tuesday, Republican House Speaker John Boehner slammed Russia's "use of old tools and old thinking" as an attempt "to restore Soviet-style power and influence," and called for tougher measures to rein in Russian ambitions. At the same meeting, Garry Kasparov, a leader of the banned Other Russia opposition movement, urged Americans to heed Ronald Reagan's advice and treat Putin's Russia as an "evil empire" beyond the pale of civilized nations.