Wednesday 17 Jul 2024

Cold War 2.0?

There is no 'reset' in sight amid a US-Russia chill, as the countries grow apart

AFP | FEBRUARY 09, 2013, 06:59 AM IST

There are few hopes in Russia for another "reset"in relations as US President Barack Obama enters his second term, withbilateral disputes growing every month and mutual distrust increasing, analystssay.

Russia has welcomed the appointment of old hand John Kerryas US secretary of state while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held an apparentlycordial meeting with Vice President Joe Biden on the sidelines of a securityconference. But analysts caution that mistrust runs too deep and disputes aretoo numerous for Washington and Moscow to make any headway in bringing aboutthe transformation in relations that Obama hoped for when he first came topower in 2009. The Kremlin is now turning Russia towards a strategicconfrontation with the US," said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst with theCarnegie Moscow Centre.

In its latest salvo in late January, Russia announced plansfor bans on all US meat imports and the termination of a long-standingbilateral drug control agreement. The US in turn pulled out of a joint workinggroup on civil society. It also said it was "deeply concerned" byRussian draft legislation that would place a national ban on "homosexualpropaganda among minors".

The trigger for the standoff was the passing by the UnitedStates of a rights bill targeting Russian officials with sanctions over theprison death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Russia responded with a ban onUS adoptions, widely regarded as the toughest piece of anti-US legislationduring President Vladimir Putin's 13 years in power.

The buzz of the "reset" that Obama launched in2009 with Putin's predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev after nearly a decade of distantties now seems far off.

Obama's own travel schedule is indicative of the state ofRussia-US relations -- he appears to have dropped plans for a bilateral visitand will only come when Russia hosts the G20 summit in September. "Itlooks like Obama won't come to Russia until the G20 in September since thereare a lot of arguments and no topic for a breakthrough is in sight,"Pushkov wrote on Twitter.

The former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton recentlyraised hackles in Moscow by accusing Russia of trying to"re-Sovietise" the region, a claim that Putin dismissed as"rubbish". "The US is very disappointed -- Obama is personallydisappointed," Russia in Global Affairs editor Fyodor Lukyanov told AFP.

"Obama won't come to Moscow because a visit has to givea concrete result and there won't be one. Now there is nothing that couldjustify this visit."

Russian officials have resorted to rousing anti-Americanrhetoric against anti-Putin protesters allegedly funded by the US Department ofState. It banned USAID from Russia and ordered non-governmental organisationswith international funding to call themselves "foreign agents"."For Putin now, foreign policy is an instrument for internalpolitics," Shevtsova said.

Yet while playing the anti-American card at home, Russia hasin fact cooperated with the US in international crises such as Iran and NorthKorea. But the key sticking point in diplomacy is the conflict in Syria, whichhas turned into another thorn in the side of bilateral ties. Washington hasdenounced Russia's opposition to UN Security Council efforts to reach a globalconsensus on the need for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit. Russiastill holds strong cards in dealing with the United States but on a dwindlingnumber of international issues, experts say. "Relations are limited tospecific diplomatic cases: on Syria, on Afghanistan and Iran. As a whole, thefield of relations is narrowing," said Lukyanov.

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