Why US-Russia Relations Are So Challenging – OpEd


These days the world is rightly involved with the genocidal activities of the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu even though the Jews had suffered unspeakable atrocities by Hitler’s Nazi Germany the world and the media are not getting adequate coverage of another story relating to the great change taking place in Europe since 1945. Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be following the footsteps of Adolph Hitler through the acquiescence of the European countries and most notably the US. As Angela Stent in her article (Why are US-Russia relations so challenging? Dated April 27, 2020) pointed out The United States’ relationship with Russia is today the worst that it has been since 1985. Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and what appears to be its continuing attempts to affect the 2020 election campaign have made Russia a toxic domestic issue in a way that it has not been since the 1950s. 

She added The U.S. National Security Strategy declares Russia and China the two top threats to U.S. national security. At the best of times, U.S.-Russia ties are a mixture of cooperation and competition, but today they are largely adversarial. Yet, as the world’s two nuclear superpowers, Russia and the United States bear a unique responsibility to keep the peace and discourage the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons around the globe. 

These are hopeful words but one can only hope that the aspirations of the rest of the world which have become more complex with the addition of China and complex economic relations among different countries giving rise to phrases like “decoupling” and “ de-risking” in the global dictionary.  Coming back to Europe and President Vladimir Putin one has to remind oneself of Putin’s red line he had repeatedly asked the West to ensure Russia’s strategic interests. 

As Angela Stent wrote Russia’s legitimate interests were ignored by the United States. This includes Russia’s right to a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet states, meaning that they should not aspire to join NATO or the European Union. Today, Russia defines its security perimeter not as the borders of the Russian Federation, but as the borders of the former Soviet Union. It demands that the United States and Europe acknowledge this. 

This reminds the world of Putin’s lamentation that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the demise of “historical Russia,” a comment that did fuel speculation about his foreign policy intentions amid a buildup of tens of thousands of Russian troops in regions bordering Ukraine. “It was the disintegration of historical Russia under the name of the Soviet Union,” Putin said of the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union while speaking in a documentary film called Russia aired on state television. Putin, a former agent of the Soviet KGB security service, has previously lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union, calling it the “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century.” The comments in the documentary, however, reveal how much he feels the disintegration of the Soviet Union devastated Russia’s power. 

Soviet Union’s final hours were described by Christopher Klein described the ten-minute speech by Mikhail Gorbachev announcing the dissolution of the Soviet Union and his resignation as its eighth and final leader. Three of the Soviet Union’s 15 republics had already declared independence, and days earlier the leaders of 11 others agreed to leave the USSR to form the Commonwealth of Independent States. Once the republic leaders signed the Soviet Union’s virtual death warrant, all that was left was for Gorbachev to pull the plug. The process of the demise of the Soviet Union was not short. The reforms enacted by Gorbachev set the stage for a series of mostly bloodless revolutions that swept through the Soviet satellite countries of Eastern Europe in 1989. As the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet leader chose not to order a military response. 

The historic changes earned Gorbachev the Nobel Peace Prize and Time magazine’s “Man of the Decade” honor, but the USSR had lost its communist Eastern Bloc. Increasingly, Gorbachev was being pulled in two different directions by democrats who wanted even greater freedoms and autonomy for the republics and conservatives who wanted to end the reforms that they believed were breaking the union apart. The maverick leader of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin, was a particularly radical thorn in Gorbachev’s side. Yeltsin, who had dramatically quit the Communist Party in 1990, called for Gorbachev’s resignation after the Soviet army cracked down in Lithuania and other republics that sought independence and greater sovereignty.  In March 1991, the USSR held a public referendum to determine whether the union should be preserved or dissolved. More than three-quarters of voters wanted the USSR to endure, but six republics abstained from voting altogether. Despite the results, the referendum did little to stop the fracturing of the country. Yeltsin and other democrats continued to push Gorbachev to introduce more radical reforms, and the Soviet President negotiated a treaty that decentralized power from the central government to the republics. In his letter of resignation, President Mikhail Gorbachev wrote “ 

“Due to the situation which has evolved as a result of the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” Gorbachev said in his address. “The policy prevailed of dismembering this country and disuniting the state, which is something I cannot subscribe to.” “We’re now living in a new world. An end has been put to the Cold War and to the arms race, as well as to the mad militarization of the country, which has crippled our economy, public attitudes, and morals,” he said before lamenting that “the old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working.” 

Mikhail Gorbachev appointed Vladimir Putin as his successor and thus began Putin’s rule which continues till today. On his death, an analyst writing on Gorbachev’s legacy wrote: Mikhail Gorbachev will remain one of the most controversial figures in modern Russian history. A son of poor peasants, he was a Nobel laureate, the first and the last president of the Soviet Union, the initiator of nuclear disarmament, the main contributor to ending the Cold War, and the architect of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring). Yet, to many ordinary Russians, his rule is likened to that of Tsar Nicholas II, a humble ruler with noble aspirations yet unable to cope with complex challenges, who made erratic choices that ultimately led to his country’s disintegration, accompanied by sharp economic decline and a demographic catastrophe. Unlike Nicholas II, however, 

Gorbachev’s resignation in December of 1991 did avert a large civil war. And some of his decisions were transformative. The unification of Germany and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact would not have been possible without him. He dreamed that these events would be followed by the dissolution of NATO and the opening up of a “Greater Europe,” a trans-Atlantic community “from Vancouver to Vladivostok.” Now, the dream and the dreamer are no more. It is difficult, indeed impossible, to bring into words the life and legacy of any great people. Such attempts remain elusive and the people can only paint them as they see fit. 

Ambassador Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh

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