Sun, Mar 30, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Cold front, not Cold War, likely result of US and Russian enmity

By Angela Stent

With Ukraine in turmoil and the US and Russia warily eyeing each other’s every move, the world seems to be on the brink of a prolonged confrontation similar to the Cold War, but is this really the case?

Russia, accusing the West of supporting a coup d’etat by “fascists” and “terrorists” in Kiev, has annexed Crimea, tested an inter-continental ballistic missile and reserved the right to intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine to protect the Russian population there. The US has sanctioned Russia and called Crimea’s annexation illegal. However, it has also called for cooperation to resolve the situation peacefully and declared that Ukraine should pursue productive ties with both Russia and the West. So far, the Russians have dismissed those sentiments.

This is not the start of Cold War II, and Russia is not the US’ antagonist, but nor is it an ally. The two sides disagree on a wide range of questions. Yet there are critical international issues — such as Iran and Syria — on which progress is not likely without some cooperation. The challenge is not to try again to “reset” bilateral relations, but rather to find — once the Ukrainian crisis abates — a basis on which the two sides can collaborate where their interests overlap.

However, we have to be realistic. Every US president since 1992 has sought to refashion the US-Russia relationship and move it beyond the ideological and military competition of the Cold War. However, each attempt, while producing some results, ended in disappointment. A key reason is that the US and Russia have fundamentally different understandings of what an improved relationship would look like.

In reviewing these efforts, one constant stands out: The US has made the most progress on issues where Russia has felt that the US respected its interests. The first diplomatic reset, at the end of former US president George H.W. Bush’s presidency, took major steps toward defusing the nuclear dangers resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result, Russia remained the only nuclear state in the post-Soviet area, while legislation pioneered by then-US senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar helped to secure nuclear sites, scientists and materials.

The second reset, under former US president Bill Clinton, was more ambitious: A fully fledged effort to create a partnership that promoted substantial US involvement in Russia’s economy and evolving political system. It also involved persuading a reluctant Russia to support two NATO interventions in the Balkans. However, the second war over Kosovo in 1999 led to the collapse of that reset.

The third reset came at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative, when he offered Russian assistance in the campaign in Afghanistan after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. However, the expectations of former US president George W. Bush’s administration were very different from Putin’s. Russia sought an “equal partnership of unequals,” especially US recognition of Russia’s sphere of influence in its own neighborhood.

Instead, Russia had to deal with the Iraq war, NATO enlargement to the Baltic states, pro-Western revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, and the Bush administration’s “Freedom Agenda” aimed at global democratization. The Kremlin viewed with great apprehension the specter of regime change, especially in its neighborhood. By the time this reset ended in the rubble of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, the US had come to view Russia as a global spoiler.

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