The new tensions between the US and Russia

Over the last few years international media, diplomats and strategic experts across the world have much debated the possibility of the Cold War returning. The post-Cold War international system demonstrates that the United States holds the title of sole superpower, with Russia continually attempting to resurrect her former glory.

Both nations trying to maintain their prior spheres of influence and power remains the central root for their misunderstanding. However, both the U.S and Russia failed to understand their new positions in the evolving international relations environment. The reality is, that even though the United States survives Russia as the primary superpower in terms of both hard and soft power, the U.S struggles to adapt in the face of new encounters and philosophical threats such as global terrorism. The U.S is the only nation with the capability and capacity to deploy its military across the globe in any periphery. As the Soviet Union relinquished its influence, power and size in the battle of Cold War politics, it also ushered in an era of newly independent nations and the spread of democracy across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. However, Russia has great aspirations and objectives, and expects its relationship with the United States to come hand in hand with the consideration, reverence and respect it received during the days of the Cold War.

With the fall of global oil prices, Russia continues to suffer the effects of a struggling economy, with social spending in particular taking a direct hit. In addition, Russia is seen as counterproductive in respect to its international objective. This is amidst NATO strategic expansion into Eastern Europe, with motivation involving the increased isolation of the Russian Bear.

At the moment, domestic issues and insurgency are not a huge issue in Russia, but the economy is in under pressure and remains the greatest concern for President Vladmir Putin. As nations around the world persevere to hang on to the hinges of the United States, it is clear that the Cold War and its infamous tensions linger on, albeit less visible than before.

Since the world functions in the shadow of a disordered multi-polar system, the major powers fail to presume that the international system will change merely by allowing international politics to evolve organically.

Rising powers such as China, India, Brazil and other countries who battle for space in their own region against regional and global containment, the international system fails to shift into the correct gear. The system does not know whether to move into the reverse or forward gear, and risks stalling. For this reason the silent return of the Cold War between the US and Russia was not fully recognised by the international community, and further, endeavours to manage the disorder caused by this scenario in the international system.

Firstly, the Eastern European expansion of NATO was directed by the US and largely a target on Russia. It has absolutely failed. In particular, NATO’s strategic trajectory to isolate Russia within Central Asia has deteriorated at the Ukrainian border. Annexing the peninsula in 2014, Ukraine has lost a significant portion of strategically important land mass on the northern coast of the Black Sea to Russian hands. If you take the Crimea issue or the close relationship between Russia and China, what does it demonstrate? Here, Russia clearly states and demonstrates to the nations of the world that if the U.S does not recognise Russia’s influence and power on the global stage, these kinds of behavioural diplomacy will be exercised.

The result would favour Russia and China rather than the rest of the world or to the U.S, who prioritise peace-keeping initiatives, economic growth and collective security over regional power displays, territorial ambitions and opportunistic land grabs. Now, Crimea is lost. It means the end to the issue. Despite sanctions imposed on Russia by the West, it has not been globally accepted and enforced. This is the syndrome of multi-polar disorder. The Western sanctions are not followed by India or China, and therefore struggle to maximise Russian isolation. China progresses its economic interests and objectives with Russia by gaining and renewing gas contracts, and India continues its loyalty to its old friend for two reasons. Firstly, Russia reveres its strategic partnership with India with its estrangement and noncompliance in arms sales to its neighbour and rival Pakistan. Secondly, though India tries to balance it arms imports from the US and Israel, more than 75 percent of India’s military procurements largely depend on Russian. This is merely scratching the surface of the entangled web of relationships between these particular nations.

A nation that remains a thorn in the side of international peace is North Korea. Where is distinguishable and/or responsible action taken by the U.S? Why does this specific country receive the cold shoulder when it issues threats? The answer is simple, the U.S does not have Russia’s support. Russia allows China to defend and protect its neighbour, prohibiting any action that directly involves the international community outside of economic sanctions. Therefore, no diplomatic pressure has materialized. In addition, the U.S fails to directly engage and/or influence long-term solutions or movements across the African continent, where humanitarian atrocities and on-going conflicts wreak havoc across several nations.

Secondly, the centre stage of conflict in Syria, engagement is currently a face to face struggle. The U.S’ involvement has meant any consideration and/or action needs to be within the process and terms commanded by Washington. Russia, clearly in a mood of retaining its past glory by using the Syrian conflict, has not presumed the current system has already moulded new powers into it, and therefore offers no consultations with India or China. In this trajectory, Russia has more power has it sits opposite the United States. The Russian bear is unaccompanied, free from influence or alliances, has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Since the U.S no longer has intentions of treating Russia as an equal power anymore, it hesitates more in considering Russia’s suggestions and views with resolving conflicts. The divergence of having a consensus on the Syrian issue is a centre part of the on-going failure.

The sad outcome was not the divergent nature of the U.S and Russia’s interest, but the fall of innocent lives in the conflict zone that surrounds the Middle East.

So what would be the natural solutions? Firstly, agreeing and accepting that a Cold War environment has already prevailed in the international system due to the changes in the international relations. Factors may include the fall in the price of oil, the new entry of non-state actors like ISIS, an increase in global terrorism or the rise of new powers which clearly describe the disorder in the international system. This means accepting that the US is no longer the sole superpower, but this argument has no strength. Accepting that the U.S is the sole superpower, and though Russia has lost its glory, but not lost its capability to challenge the U.S in the terms of hard power would give some meaningful steps forward in any negotiations. With this, the U.S will gain the support of Russia for its interest in global issues. The U.S should not forget it only won the Soviet ideology but not the Russians. For example, though India now has a strategic partnership with the U.S, it has never gave up its old friendship with the Soviet’s new Russia. Comparatively, India has stronger ties with Russia than it does with the U.S. In fact, most of the Soviet Union’s old friends are extending its ties with Russia in a new format. The U.S has no perception that this is directly related to the failure in dealing with Russia appropriately, considerately and respectfully.

Secondly, the U.S and Russia should accept new rising powers such as China, India, Brazil and others whole heartedly. The new entrants seeking their space to grow and contribute their own politics may not be digestible to the US and the United Nations Security Council. But the fact remains that the tension between the U.S and Russia displays two sides of the same coin. However, with this tension the expense of shadow politics and the neglect of concern has been the catastrophic chaos in Syria and the deaths of countless innocent civilians.The Syrian conflict and the failure to create a consensus between the U.S and Russia has demonstrated this.

Antony Clement

Antony Clement is currently a student of the International Relations program at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK

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