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US And Russia Moving Towards Second Cold War – OpEd


By Mike Jennings

Three years after the United States launched an initiative to “reset” relations with Russia, the two sides are at odds over more issues than they agree on, and look set for another Cold War.

The “reset” initiative was launched in 2009, shortly after both US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev took office. However, with the election year looming large, two-time former Russian President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is running for presidency on an anti-American campaign.

Putin has accused the United States of attempting to weaken Russia and reduce it to the chaos that immediately followed the collapse of the former Soviet Union. “Our partners don’t want allies, they want vassals,” he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

Throughout his career, Putin has been an outspoken critic of the United States. Although his remarks could be explained by Russia’s March 4 presidential election, they are not they only confrontational element between the two countries.

A major catalyst in the deterioration of relations was US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s call for a full investigation into Russia’s parliamentary election. In December, Clinton said the US had “serious concerns about the conduct of the election.” By questioning the veracity of the Duma election, she denied the legitimacy of the very Russian government the US hoped to reset relations with.

Clinton’s remarks drew a sharp response from Russian officials. Prime Minister Putin said, “We are the largest nuclear power… and our partners have certain concerns and shake us so that we don’t forget who the master of this planet is, so that we remain obedient and feel that they have leverage to influence us within our own country.” His mention of Russia’s nuclear capability was particularly interesting.

Earlier, President Medvedev had said that Russia will target the American missile system in Europe if Washington and NATO fail to reach an agreement with Moscow on how the system will be built and operated.

The missile system was proposed by former US president George W. Bush under the pretext of confronting alleged threats posed by what he described as “rogue” states. The proposal included an advanced radar system, with a range of 6,000 kilometers, to be stationed in the Czech Republic; and an anti-ballistic missile system to be deployed in Poland.

The proposal faced Russian criticism from day one. Since then, Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern over the planned missile system, saying that it threatens Russia’s strategic interests.

President Medvedev also warned that Russia might opt out of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with the United States, if Washington proceeds with the missile system without meeting Moscow demand. While the New START does not prevent the United States from building new missile systems, Russia says it could withdraw from the treaty if it feels threatened by such a system in future.

Perhaps, however, the most telling indicator of another Cold War between the United States and Russia is the disagreement over Syria.

On February 4, Russia and China vetoed a US-engineered UN Security Council resolution calling for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. The two had also vetoed an earlier draft in October 2011.

All 13 other members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution, which backed an Arab peace plan aimed at stopping the violence in Syria. Russia and China said the resolution would be a violation of Syria’s sovereignty.

The strategic partnership between Damascus and Moscow has prompted Russia to ­firmly oppose any international intervention in Syria. The partnership between the two sides exceeds the twelve year rule of Bashar Assad and dates back to the Cold War era, when his late father Hafez was president.

Syria is the anchor of Russia’s influence in the Middle East, a region which has long been the target of Western colonial and neo-colonial policies. With the United States maintaining military bases in Arab states such as Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, and Iraq; the presence of NATO force in Syria would effectively mean the demise of Russian interests in the region.

On the other hand, the United States has made it its mission to overthrow the Assad government. Since the beginning of the Islamic Awakening across the Middle East and North Africa, the United States has been focusing its attention on Syria. While ignoring abusive monarchs, who brutally cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in countries like Bahrain, American officials consistently singled out the democratic Syria.

Failure to make progress on an issue that President Obama has heavily publicized, could prove to be costly for his re-election campaign. The circumstance has placed the American president at a crossroads. He either has to forgo the “reset” initiative, or meddling in Syria – both of which have received widespread publicity.

In Washington, the “reset” initiative is associated with Obama, which means that most Republicans and even many Democrats refuse to take responsibility for its failure – or success. In Moscow, anti-Western candidates, who secured the most seats in the Duma following the recent election, view the “reset” initiative as a tool for US meddling in Russian Affairs.

With Obama’s approval rating on the decline and uncertainty engulfing his re-election, no one in Washington seems to be concerned with saving the “reset” initiative.

Republicans already dominate Congress and a GOP win in the November presidential election coupled with Putin taking back presidency from Medvedev could mean more fierce confrontations between the United States and Russia.

Unlike the Soviet-era Cold War during which the United States was the stronger of the two in terms of economy, this time around Russia seems to be better positioned in that regard, albeit with China on its side.

China, the largest foreign holder of US debt and the world’s second-largest economy, will play a decisive – and perhaps the most important — role in the event of another Cold War.

Prior to the two resolutions on Syria, China had used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council only six times and mostly on issues that would immediately affect China or its neighboring Asian states.

Beijing’s decision to veto the Syrian resolution – not once, but twice – was more of a signal of support for Russia than a mere expression of opposition to the content of the resolution; given that a Russian veto would single handedly prevent the passage of the resolution.

Most political analysts agree that the global balance of power is moving eastward. A new superpower is in the making and it is effectively siding with Russia. This is something to think about for American officials bringing the world to the brink of Cold War II.

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