USA – Russia relations: Back to Cold War?

The world can only benefit from good relations between Russia and the US.

It is no secret that the USA – Russia relations are far from a love affair. It would be rather trivial to mention historical examples here, so let’s just stick to recent years. The end of the Obama administration was marked with rumours of election hacking by the Russian Intelligence and subsequent deportations of Russian intelligence Officers. Despite the promise made by then Russian President Medvedev and US President Obama in 2009 about a ‘fresh-start’ in the US – Russia relations, the breakdown of the relationship seemed to be inevitable and was sparked by Vladimir Putin’s comments on the US interfering with Russia’s legislative election in December 2011. This was followed by the dispute on the INF Treaty and the Ukraine crisis. (In)famously, the Snowden affair also added to the aggravation of the relations of the two countries.

Contrary to this tradition, in his election campaign, Trump notably declared that he sought to achieve warmer relations with Russia. Trump was regarded as the President to restore relations with President Putin. Trump’s promise of a reset has initiated a wave of support in his face in Russia. Trump’s profile of a ‘successful’ businessman who is not willing to tolerate much opposition or critique appealed to Russians, and especially to Putin’s supporters who admire similar traits of their leader. Whatever his motives, even the Russian President stated that Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton would pave the way of fixing the deeply strained relations between Washington and Moscow.

Yet the past few weeks, this sentiment has changed as Trump’s made statements about Crimea and seemed unable to handle criticisms over immigration ban. Russian’s Foreign Ministry has not been at all happy with the US President’s suggestions of Russia returning Crimea. The conflict of interest between the US and Russia over the Syrian war has however been the X-factor to this willingness for the two countries to ‘work’ on their relationship. All in all, Moscow has been supporting Syria’s government while the US have been explicitly opposing any attempt to back Assad. Practically this was demonstrated by Trump’s first major military action. The US President launched 59 US cruise missiles on a Syrian regime airbase after an alleged chemical attack in Idlib Province. Russia in turn has been reported to hit Western-backed groups in its attempt to eliminate the rebels opposing Assad. The result of this has been that the US – Russia relations have reached post-Cold War nadir with both sides confirming this distrust. What had looked like it was going to be a warm era for the two protagonists of the Cold War, is already marked by the lowest point in US – Russian relations in the past decades. ‘Reset’ seems to be just another word with no meaning in the US and Russian dictionaries.

What would it take for an actual and genuine change in the relations of the two countries? Frankly, the sun to stop shining. Washington and Moscow are polarised in more political matters than not, and are guided by narrow national interest rather than anything else – be it the fact that contrary to Russia, the US wants a stronger NATO, or that Trump’s pro-oil attitude can traumatise the oil-export dependant Russian economy (not to mention Syria etc.). The mutual admiration that the two leaders share is therefore neither enough nor entirely as blatant (in large probability), and rather seems like a meaningless charade – as they tend to be. The world can only benefit from an end to the Cold War-esque relations between Russia and the US as such a development would imply willingness to resolve the Syrian crisis. But who is fooled by politics these days anyway?

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