Ognyan Minchev offers an unpersuasive interpretation of Putin’s thinking:
Putin might share some of that same distrust of liberal partners and be more apt to deal with a hard-line conservative in the White House.
Yet, there would almost certainly be tradeoffs. A conservative president would likely engage in more assertive policies toward Moscow. A more active U.S. policy toward the Middle East, the South Caucasus, or Central Europe would risk clashing more openly with Russia’s positions. Why would Putin want this, given the fragility of Russian power today? Threats have been a key driver of Russian power politics throughout the history of the Empire. Putin’s calculations could take many forms. A more active U.S. policy on disputed issues might demonstrate not only American power but also reveal American weaknesses. A more assertive U.S. presence in the spheres of Russian interest might also provoke more active opposition by China, and Russia may benefit from greater competition between Beijing and Washington. Or Putin might prefer an immediate, open rivalry with what he perceives to be a weakened United States across a range of issues.
The easier (and more accurate) answer is that Putin doesn’t actually want a “hard-line conservative in the White House.” Putin distrusts the U.S. because he believes that the Bush administration behaved in an ungrateful and untrustworthy fashion in the previous decade, and U.S.-Russian relations improved as much as they did because the current administration seemed to be more reliable. U.S.-Russian relations reached their lowest point in the last twenty years in no small part because of a “more active U.S. policy” toward the Middle East, the South Caucasus, and central Europe. Putin might be willing to deal with a more hard-line American President, but only so long as it this translated into tangible gains for Russia. Provided that the hard-liner was willing to live up to his end of the bargain, there could be some room for agreement, but there isn’t any. Since Romney’s Russia policy is essentially to never make any deals with the current Russian government, Putin doesn’t have much of an incentive to cooperate. That will guarantee that U.S.-Russian relations will deteriorate much more than they have in the last year.