Is there a new cold war? Does Russia have the upper hand?
President Barack Obama controversially expelled 35 Russian diplomats from American soil in December 2016. President Putin, in return, said he would not do the same. In fact, Putin said he doesn’t need to respond because of President Trumps pro-Russian attitude.
“If we talk about the last Cold War, we are currently somewhere between the erection of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile crisis,” said Lt. Gen. Evgeny Buzhinsky, a former head of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s international treaties department and now head of the PIR Centre, a Moscow think tank.
So far it looks like Russia is winning…
Obama expelled the diplomats over the supposed “Russian Hacks” and undermining the democratic process. A few weeks before the 2016 election, Putin withdrew from a major nuclear disarmament pact with the U.S. Russia says the U.S. is trying to undermine its global influence, and ultimately depose Putin. U.S and Russian relation have been fraught for decades. The Syrian war, Crimea, the U.S accusing Russia of war crimes, violating cease fire agreements, and more have all raised tensions between the two nations.
Molly McKew, a contributor at Politico, may have outlined Putin’s strategy. She argues he is destabilizing the balance of power, so that nations are no longer aligned with the USA against the former Soviet block in the east, but against each other, and especially against the USA. She says the key to this is information control. Its not propaganda in the traditional sense, instead the emphasis is on sewing mistrust in western governments. State sponsored internet trolls conduct online campaigns to shut it down, criticism of Russia, and point out crimes and mistakes western leaders have committed.
Analyst Eric Garland notes that America has unwittingly played into this scheme. In the 1980’s the US armed and trained the Taliban to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, leading to the creation of Al-Queda and the war on terror.
By invading Iraq in 2003 without a plan for peace, NATO and US led forces destabilized the region and triggered a civil war. Obama even accused Britain of doing the same to Libya in 2011. The result has been the rise of Daesh and the ongoing war in Syria.
Putin can claim he is trying to clean up the west’s mess. Thanks to the openly anti-Russian statements by politicians like Obama, Bush, and McCain; Putin can paint himself as the victim of US aggression.
Many people in the US do not know who to trust. Huge security leaks, and breaches have exposed illegal activities by western surveillance, Wikileaks continues to damage the reputations of politicians and intelligence agencies, even President Trump has been suspicious of them.
The result of all of this is that the US government looks incompetent and criminal. Society is divided. Divisions like this typically display themselves in the political process as we have seen. With controversial outcomes. The EU’s borders are shrinking, as well as their economies. Even Trump criticizes NATO’s strength. These are Russia’s publicly stated goals. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, to prevent it from joining NATO. Putin has stopped the Assad regime from being overthrown from America’s attempts. Putin invaded Crimea when Ukraine attempted to join the EU. In December of 2016, he negotiated the most successful ceasefire in Syria yet. This makes Putin appear as the more effective statesman.
Yet Moscow has said Putin doesn’t want a proxy war with the US, rather to renegotiate the world order, get Russia back to the table, and stop sanctions.
Is there an ulterior motive? Does Trump know how to play Russia right back?
As the Panama Paper’s revealed, Putin’s government is corrupt. Its electoral system is so rigged in his favor and many accuse him of running a dictatorship. He has an appalling record for oppressing gay rights, stopping freedom of press, and for assassinating his opponents. Not to mention the economy which is volatile. The sanctions from the US have only furthered the problem.
All eyes are on Trump, who has appointed several pro-Russian cabinet members.
America is divided. Trump’s friendliness in regards to Russia, will stop the “cold war”. Or is the US playing right into his hand? Time will tell.