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Analysts: Frayed US-Russia Relations Predate Ukraine Crisis

Strains in US-Russia Relations Predate Current Crisis
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There are signs of increased strains in U.S. relations with Russia. On Monday, the U.S. accused three Russian citizens in the United States of having ties to a Russian spy ring. Moscow denies the charge. The accusations follow stepped-up U.S. criticism of Russia for what Western powers say is Moscow's continued support of separatists in Ukraine. Analysts say relations between the two countries had begun to fray even before these two incidents.

Russia dismissed charges that the three men accused by the U.S. were part of a Russian spy ring. It is the U.S. that is at fault, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.

“Russia-American relations have been in a difficult period for a long time. It looks like the U.S., acting under the principle ‘the worse, the better’ has decided to start another round of anti-Russian campaigning,” said Lukashevich.

The U.S. and Russia traded accusations over the spying incident just days after an attack in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol left dozens of civilians dead.

The attack spurred a new round of Western criticism against Russia, which the U.S. and its allies say is arming and supporting separatists in Ukraine.

Russia’s interference in Ukraine could make it difficult for the U.S. to cooperate with Russia on other issues said Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who spoke at the Brookings Institution.

“That kind of cooperation can’t continue when Russia tramples on the rules of the international systems that it seeks to benefit from. When it bites off pieces of its neighbors’ territory and tries to bully them into economic and political submission,” said Nuland.

Problems in U.S. - Russia relations started long before these current incidents, according to Russia analyst Stephen Blank.

“I have been saying for years that the U.S. needs to re-think its policies towards Russia, even before Ukraine and even before the latest spying incident,” said Blank.

He told VOA’s Russia Service that Moscow has been carrying out aggression against its neighbors since at least 2008.

“The idea that we can have business as usual under Putin, even if he leaves Ukraine, I think is an illusion. This is a government that is bent on undermining the whole structure of security in Europe in order to keep Putin in power,” he said.

The United States has been re-thinking its relationship with Russia, said Russian Studies director Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute. But he thinks additional sanctions may not bring the desired results in Ukraine.

“Putin does not care at this point about, you know, any further sanctions. In fact, if you read the Russian analysis, the Russian press, their sense is that pretty much they have absorbed all of the pain through sanctions, through diplomatic isolation and pressure, and now they might as well, you know, go for it. Go for broke,” said Aron.

In spite of tensions over Ukraine, there are areas of cooperation, said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“Obviously, there are issues where we feel that we can continue to work together on - the Iran negotiations. Those talks are ongoing,” said Psaki.

Psaki said that on the Ukraine crisis and other issues the U.S. has been very open about its engagement with Russia, but hopes that areas of cooperation can continue.