News / USA

Russia-US Relations Deteriorating

President Barack Obama meets with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Yokohama,  Japan, 14 Nov 2010
President Barack Obama meets with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Yokohama, Japan, 14 Nov 2010
Five years ago, the Obama administration sought a “reset” in relations with Russia - but over the past several years, relations between Washington and Moscow have soured.

The so-called “reset” brought concrete results, such as a major strategic arms control treaty reducing the number of long-range weapons.

In another example of cooperation, analysts point to Moscow’s tougher stance on Iran. Russia voted at the United Nations to impose stricter sanctions on Tehran over its alleged nuclear weapons policy.

Moscow has also allowed American forces to transit through Russia in and out of Afghanistan - an important step as U.S. combat troops wind down their presence in that country.  

And Russia joined the World Trade Organization with the strong backing of the United States.

Relations deteriorating

Analysts say the “reset” was meant to be the first phase in establishing even closer ties between Washington and Moscow. But they say major disagreements have derailed the efforts to begin the second phase - in fact, experts say, relations between Washington and Moscow are deteriorating.

One reason is Russia’s unwavering support for Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad.

Robert Legvold, with Columbia University, said Moscow’s backing is part of a larger set of issues that set the United States and Russia apart.

“The United States has for some time, going back to the Bush administration and including the Obama administration, believed the international community had responsibility when there were egregious human rights violations,” said Legvold. “The Russians, like the Chinese, and for that matter the Indians, are deeply committed to the notion that the outside world ought not to be interfering in these domestic problems, no matter how bad they get for the populations in these areas.”

Differences over arms control

Another area of disagreement is arms control.

Matthew Rojansky, with the Wilson Center, said the United States wants more cuts in long-range ballistic warheads - greater cuts than those imposed by the New START Treaty.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen in the duration of Obama’s second term," Rojansky. "It’s just not something that the Russians are sufficiently interested in, given that the United States is also not prepared to put items the Russians are interested in - like, for example, restrictions on ballistic missile defense or space-based weapons or cyber weapons - on the table."

Snowden still a problem

Another irritant in US-Russia relations, said Robert Legvold, is the case of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor granted temporary asylum by the Russians.

“At the outset, they were not unhappy that Snowden had done what he had done - they were able to use Snowden, and the way the U.S. government responded to him, as a counter to U.S. criticism of their own domestic policies, repression of free speech and a host of things of that kind,” said Legvold. “Putin would have been happier had Snowden moved on and it didn’t become an issue where the U.S. insisted that Russia had to play an important role in turning Snowden over to the U.S.”

Rojansky, from the Wilson Center, said historically, the U.S.-Russia relationship has been driven by the relationship between the two leaders: when leaders distrusted each other, you had bad relations, and vice-versa.

“With Bush and Putin there was sort of too much crisis to crisis, a kind of love-hate [relationship], too much extremes of high and low in their perceptions of one another," Rojansky said. :Whereas Obama and [Dmitry] Medvedev had a very stable, kind of mutual respect going on, that Obama and [Vladimir]  Putin simply don’t have. I think there is a cold distrust on both sides and a lack of respect, actually.”

No progress ahead in relations

Rojansky said most of Russia’s concerns and objections are largely driven by Moscow’s national interests - which in some cases go counter to U.S. interests. But Rojansky says despite those differences, the dialogue between the two countries must continue.

“There is no alternative - you have to talk to them. One of the big mistakes that Bush made towards the end of his presidency, was to tell the Russians, say publicly, the Russians don’t understand their own interest, they don’t know what’s good for them. That’s just a way of shutting down dialogue and they are never going to take you seriously after that.”

Many experts expect that for the duration of the Obama administration, U.S.-Russia relations will simply muddle through - with neither President Obama nor President Putin investing a lot in moving the relationship forward.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

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This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: PermReader
March 01, 2014 5:58 AM
" relations will ...muddle through." - Obama`s muddle through thinking and actions against "American imperialism" from within make international chaos and became a part of the Putin`s international "conservative" strategy.

by: Georgy Zhukov from: Puerto Rico
February 28, 2014 1:17 PM
Russia now hates whatever smells of Islamic fundamentalists because of their Caucasus problem. It will never support a regime change in Syria when it is very possible that sharia lovers might take control. They are not politically correct, they love whatever gives them (Russians) security in their country. Russia will not support a group which they will have to fight later on as the U.S. does from time to time.

by: Deswantoro Ismail from: Indonesia
February 28, 2014 6:16 AM
There's still a sense of cold war between them, power show-off is always their nature. Influence and economic doctrine that both they're seeking altogether though to face the vice-versa aftermath.

by: Alfredo Galarraga from: Orlando
February 27, 2014 8:55 PM
Russian government are not conducted by trusty people, every time try to nail a dagger in US shoulders.

I think,... they aren't learn the lesson in cool war.

In Response

by: Anonymous
March 08, 2014 7:51 AM
You are demonstrating entire ignorance of history. It is Russia, that has always been stabbed in the back. What lesson should it draw from the Cold war? Never oppose to the US? Even when its own national interests are at stake?
In Response

by: tom from: tampa
March 02, 2014 8:03 PM
Wait a minute! Russian gov is not conducted by trusty people??
They're saints compared to the US government. Where do live? Not here, for sure!

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