The precariousness of current US-Russian Relations seems to be a bit of a déjà-vu. Remnants and tensions of the Cold War still linger and are not about to be forgotten. The repercussions in modern day affairs are so clearly visible that many fear the possibility of the further degeneration of relations between the two countries, perpetuated by the threat of nuclear proliferation. As of late, such fear seems unnecessary.
Over the course of the last few months, pivotal moments have punctuated the fragile stability between the United States and Russia. First, this series of events was triggered by Russia granting asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. His treacherous act left the American government reeling, and Russia’s acceptance of his refuge simply added insult to injury. In addition to this, Russia’s policies on gay rights have agitated the American government. Talks of boycotting the Sochi winter games and President Obama’s remarks regarding talks with Putin at the G20 summit seemed to indicate the failure of the once promising “reset” of the US-Russian relationship.
Conversely, their diverging views on Syrian intervention propelled them into further disaccord. This is nothing new. A long history of tension and animosity, interspersed with moments of peace, forges the identity of this tumultuous relationship. For the moment, it would appear as though both are working collaboratively with regards to concerns that are mutually benefitting. A few weeks ago, relations between America and Russia were worsening quicker than they could be mended. Yet, the Russian Ambassador stated “relations [weren’t] at Cold War level, yet.” Tensions flared amid angst, distrust, and misunderstanding. Worries of a Cold War 2.0 began surfacing. While such statements are worrisome to consider, they are ultimately unrealistic.
After lengthy and heated discussions about disarmament, the United States and Russia agreed that it is of the utmost importance that Syria’s chemical weapons be dismantled. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, drafted a 6-point-plan outlining the principles of their bilateral agreement. Ideally, it will ensure that Syria is completely chemical weapon free by mid-2014, but this may be too ambitious. Nevertheless, a compromise was finally achieved. However, as with all compromises, neither state has been left fully satisfied, and the question of eventual retribution remains unanswered.
Putin’s recent Op Ed is very telling. His plea for cooperation is upstanding and almost noble. Drawing upon sovereignty and passivity demonstrates his urge to follow the protocol of international law. The United States’ keenness on using force seemed counter-intuitive to the Russian government. Are some of the aforementioned negotiations a path to a more promising future between these two counterparts? Putin states that his “working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust”. While Putin may have some valid claims with regards to the sanctity of international law, he is ultimately a former KGB officer with an extremely questionable political record. One must be skeptical in fully believing the genuineness behind such intentions.
So far, the manifestation of a second Cold War has been averted. If a recall is made to the Bay of Pigs incident, the main actors are in play: Obama for Kennedy, Putin for Khrushchev, and Syria for Cuba. However, with time comes maturity, and it appears rationality now trumps impulsiveness. Some say history is cyclical, but it doesn’t always have to be. Out of history comes experience, and out of experience comes wisdom; if we can gain any insight into US-Russian relations through the unfolding situation, it’s that it would be foolish to make the same mistake twice.
When situated within the Syrian context, US-Russian relations appear ordinary to the optimist, unsteady to the pessimist, and diplomatic to the realist. As a matter of fact, the ongoing Syrian crisis may call into question the compatibility of reasoning between these countries. Their inherently different political systems, values and cultures will inevitably clash; hope for a restoration of order might be impossible. Putin stated Russia’s relationship with the United States is marked by on-going trust. Trust is one of those things that needs to be earned overtime, and one could safely assume that such trust is yet to be earned. While the possibility of a Second Cold war seriously seems out of the question, relations are definitely tainted. Such ambivalence is felt on matters of Russia’s rejection and obliteration of America’s influence. Respectfully, the United States is suffering the consequences of Russia’s antagonistic intervention. If democracy is innate to one nation, but foreign to another, will they ever be able to reconcile? While reconciliation may be too premature to imagine, it is safe to say that efforts have been made to thwart the onset of Cold War 2.0.
– Chloe Giampaolo