After the Cold War, the US and Russia have be come “frenemies,” with the status of their ties swinging from good to bad, and then the other way. If their relation- ship becomes too bad under a previous president’s regime, a change of leadership can reboot their ties. The upcom- ing two years will mark a new cycle of the US-Russian rela- tionship as Washington is in the heat of a presidential race, and Moscow will have Duma elections this year and a presi- dential election in 2018. Some Western scholars believe that both countries have engaged in a public confrontation.
After the signing of Minsk Protocol and the ceasefire in Syria, the US-Russian relation- ship had a brief span of im- provement. But the relaxation can barely reverse the plum- meting US-Russian ties that took place after the Ukraine crisis.
In the Cold War, the US and former Soviet Union had de- veloped a tacit understanding about how to deal with their frictions – when tensions rose to a tipping point, they took measures to cool down. How- ever, this time, both countries have not shown any signs of self-restraint. The most terrible scenario for both countries is not a face-off, but a chronic lack of channels to talk about and seek reconciliation.
It seems that the US and Russia have forsaken the “brake system,” adding a lot of concerns to the international community about whether both countries will lose control amid simmering tensions. The current US-Russian stalemate started from the Ukraine crisis, which is still the crux of their antagonism.
A lot of experts and pundits believe that the Ukraine crisis is the game changer of the in- ternational relations, in which US-Russian ties have met a changeover. The crisis leaves no space for the US and Russia buffer zones for reconcilia- tion, because no matter which side started the crisis, it has touched upon the bottom line of both countries.
Russia’s bottom line is to maintain its dominant influence in the region of the former Soviet Union. Although Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine have been overturned by US-led color revolutions, this was achieved covertly by the hand of proxy agents. Rus- sia is wary of color revolutions, but it still able to deal with them.
However, as the Ukraine crisis broke out, the US and its European allies decided to be engaged in a direct way. In Russia’s sense of national se- curity, the region of the former Soviet Union is its sphere of influence, any breach of which is a direct threat to the survival of the Russians.
In this case, there won’t be any compromise.
For the US, Russia’s moves in Ukraine have jeopardized the stable structure of major powers, which might change the global order the US is committed to safeguarding. If the US gets cold feet in face of the Russians, it will lose its leadership and authority in the Western hemisphere. Thus, Washington has decided to im- pose the severest sanctions on Moscow since the end of the Cold War for Russia’s annexa- tion of Crimea and support for the rebels in east Ukraine.
Neither Russia nor the US should take full responsibil- ity for the current deadlock.
Their exchange of accusations are simply efforts to win over moral support for their own national interest. The struc- tural contradiction between Russia and the US remains intact, and more concerns have emerged because their risk control mechanisms seem stuck and miscalculations might lead to intense con- flicts. Russia has few counter- measures in this game. The sanctions have gravely upset Russia’s economy. The Russian leadership is losing control of the country.
The key to cooling down the tensions is to rebuild trust by taking small steps in easy areas of cooperation, such as nuclear disarmament, anti-terrorism measures and environmental protection. If major issues can only raise tension, minor problems might trigger coop- eration.
The author is a PhD candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University.
Source: Global Times