The struggle that the world witnessed between the two fundamentally opposing systems — socialist communism and liberal democracy — headed by the former Soviet Union and the United States respectively had come to an end with the lowering of the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle flag forever from the Kremlin and hoisting for the first time of the Russian tricolour flag on December 25, 1991.
And with it, the Cold War era had come to an end. Simultaneously, the United States seemingly emerged as the global power, its military forces claiming to be affording global stability. The US, with its multinationals working towards a new global economic order, paved the way for the emergence of a unipolar world.
Over a period after the collapse of Soviet union, the US has established diplomatic relations with the 12 independent republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union, viz., Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Georgia. But much against the promises made by the US and the West immediately after Soviet Union’s dissolution to Russia, NATO expanded to the East — indeed NATO is today an hour’s away from St Petersburg. Secondly, America pulled out from ABM treaty with Russia unilaterally. It is also building an ABM base in Poland, perhaps to acquire the nuclear-first strike ability. It has thus been pursuing the idea of containing Russia, while Russia is wriggling to come out of its economic woes.
Come 2007, this scenario has however, changed: America started losing its credibility as the economic, political and even as the dominant military power. And today, it hardly accounts for 20 percent of global output, as against a third of world’s output when it established Bretton Woods institutions, revived Japan and secured Europe. Over and above, in the post-cold-war era, the US fought expensive wars in an altogether new hemisphere. These un-ending wars, had caused more economic hardship to the American citizen.
On the other side, Russia, under the leadership of President Putin, started reacting to the anti-Russian efforts of America very strongly. In 2014, America supported a revolt in Ukraine and indeed helped a government to come to power which is virtually anti-Russian. This directly challenged the security concerns of Russia. As a sequel, Russia, with the tacit support of locals, annexed Crimea. This resulted in the US, along with its European allies, clamping sanctions against Russia. Besides, they also raised their hostile rhetoric against Russia demanding that it must restore Crimea back to Ukraine. Thus, the US and Russia are locked up in a tussle. Now the question is: Will sanctions compel Russia to yield to West’s demands? The answer is: It is highly doubtful.
The net result of all this is: the relations between Russia and America have reached the worst point in the 21st century. Over it, the recent developments in Syria have brought the US and Russia closer to the brink of war. Unfortunately, some of the western scholars appear to be under an illusion that by wrecking the Russian economy, they can bring down Putin. But regime changes are always fraught with risk, for it can throw surprises and such surprises might become more threatening, particularly, in the case of a country such as Russia, which is sitting on a pile of nuclear arsenal.
That aside there is also the economic factor. The global economy has not still recovered fully and any such misadventure at this time may throw the economy into chaos. So, it is time for the US and the West to realize that in today’s context of growing multilateralism, they have to march forward collectively through candid discussions.
Incidentally, the US must also bear in mind that its continued confrontational attitude towards Russia is perhaps, unwittingly nudging Russia towards China whose military strength is growing fast and it appears to be eager to displace America as the region’s hegemon. Incidentally, withdrawal of America from its obligations with its known allies has unwittingly gave ample space for China to step in as an alternative force to be reckoned with in the region. Should this take deep roots, the US administration’s handling of China’s aggressive posture to build bases in the Pacific and the South China Sea will become more difficult.
Over it, a massive military exercise involving Russian and Chinese forces is indeed due to take place in Siberia. The sanctions against Russia by the West, annexation of Crimea by Russia, and China’s trade war with the US have all cumulatively paved the way for improved friendship between Russia’s and China. Russia, treating China as a political ally against the West, is looking at it as an alternative source of investment and credit. But despite these developments, there is still a sense of suspicion prevailing among the Russians about China. And the blessing in disguise is: many of such friendly promises between the two are yet to be backed by matching action. Nevertheless, Russia by exhibiting its eagerness to move closer to China sends a clear message to the West: “Don’t push me into a corner with your sanctions.”
So, “what next?” is the big question now. The crux of the problem is of course, Ukraine. And it needs to be resolved. Next comes the dispute in Syria. It is of course, much more complicated because more countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc., are involved in it. But war is certainly not an answer to the problem, for it does not make a whole lot of sense. So, the next best course is: Dialog. The West must negotiate for an internationally-supervised plebiscite for Ukraine and based on its results, the west should allow the groups to join Russia or Ukraine. In all this, America has a great role to play: bring Russia back into a cooperative system of security. Else, the world including America may have to pay a heavy economic cost.
It is time that the US and West to realise that with Putin’s re-election to Presidency, the relationship between these two has indeed reached a point of unpredictability. True, with Trump becoming the President, hopes have been raised for normalization of relations between the two but that turned out to be a mere hope. At least, that’s what became evident after the recent summit in Helsinki. Putin categorically stated in an interview after the Summit that he and Trump had disagreed about the status of Crimea, indeed put it so candidly that they agreed to differ. He also made Russia’s position clear: Accept the fact of Crimeans voting in a referendum to return to Russia and accordingly allow Crimea joining Russia just as what had happened in the case of Falkland Islands. Similarly, there is no agreement of opinion on Syria, particularly, the status of Iranian-backed troops inside Syria and ensuring safety of Israel.
The US and its Western allies have been accusing Russia of launching cyber attacks on computer routers, firewalls, and other networking equipment used by government agencies and other critical infrastructure operators such as the US power grid. The accused Russia’s meddling in the US Presidential elections and the incredible tensions it had caused and is still causing cannot be ignored.
As is evident from the foregoing, Russia, under the leadership of Putin, who is a master at adapting and changing his tactics as the situation demands, is today posing a greater foreign policy and security challenge to the United States and its Western allies. The very fact that Putin is constantly trying to enhance Russia’s sovereignty, bidding to ensure maximum freedom of manoeuvrability for Russia politically, economically and militarily, transformed him into more of a “patriarch” of the nation. In fact, in his second return to the presidency, he has been consciously crafting his domestic and foreign policies to reflect more of Russian mores and norms and interestingly, he ingrained this political necessity in the minds of Russian elite so strongly, that even his successors can’t be afford to be any way different from him.
In such a disturbing scenario, the US, looking at the military might as also the historical legacy of Russia’s anti-US policy, and particularly, Putin’s claimed efforts at deterring the US and NATO, may have to change its present course of trying to contain Russia by its sanctions related rhetoric and instead engage Russia in a meaningful dialog before it is too late to gain balanced benefits between the two. And, such a move would go a long way in ensuring a smooth sail for global economy and peace.