— Since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin as president last May, Russia has taken a series of anti-American steps. In recent months, his government has ended USAID programs in Russia and banned adoptions of Russian children by American parents.
Russia on Wednesday banned imports of American meat and pulled out of an agreement with the U.S. on law enforcement and drug control.
The measures were widely seen as retaliation for a new American law that bans alleged Russian human rights violators from receiving U.S. visas or opening U.S. bank accounts.
The Russian ban on American meat imports goes into effect in two weeks. They threaten about $500 million worth of U.S. exports of beef and pork.
David Satter, a Russia specialist at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, said in Moscow that the move was in reaction to the new U.S. visa ban.
"This obviously is a form of retaliation. They want to hurt the American economy," he said.
Russian health authorities said they are banning the American meat because some American beef and pork contain ractopamine, a feed additive that helps make meat leaner.
But Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, says that Russian health authorities often follow political orders from the Kremlin.
"I think it is being driven by the domestic developments in Russia, where anti-Americanism, anti-American propaganda has been used to discredit those civic activists who are defiant of the regime," she said.
The law enforcement accord dates back a decade. It allows U.S. funding for joint U.S.-Russia action in combating drug trafficking, international prostitution, money laundering, terrorism and computer crime.
David Satter said, "This is one area of cooperation in which Russia can potentially be useful to the West. Russian organized crime, in particular, circles the world. And no one knows more about it than the Russian Ministry of Interior."
U.S.-Russian cooperation is expected to continue in these areas. But Masha Lipman believes the Kremlin’s new step will send a flashing warning signal to Russian officials.
"Terminating cooperation in anti-drug activities is extremely unreasonable. I think there is a universal understanding that no country can actually do drug control independently of others," she said.
Wednesday’s steps by Moscow come after the Obama administration announced last Friday that it was pulling out of a joint working group with Russia supporting civil society organizations.
Analysts fear that U.S.-Russia relations are falling into a Cold War pattern of tit-for-tat.