There are endless opinions on when the current crisis in relations between the USA and Russia originated. Some researchers highlight the Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation, others point to the August War or to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. Most radical might even claim that WWI, which put an end to the Monroe Doctrine of the political self-isolation of the States, led to the collision of these two powers. That may be true to some extent; the thing to contemplate, though, being the collapse of the Russian Empire which had cultivated a good rapport with America, especially contributing to the States’ development by supporting the North in the Civil War (whereas European powers fancied the victory of the Confederates) and making the Alaska deal. When the Russian Civil War broke out following the October Revolution America looked favorably at Alexander Kolchak and other leaders of the White movement, the ultimate goal of which was not to restore the monarchy as many people assume but to fight and extinguish communism (or bolshevism). Obviously, Vladimir Lenin was regarded as a threat by the American lawmakers because he challenged the capitalistic system and values calling upon all proletariat worldwide to wage war on the bourgeois. The communistic campaign straightforwardly accused American entrepreneurs of exploiting the working class and labeled businessmen with most obscene adjectives. Moreover, enshrined in the Soviet Russia atheism and rejection of the concept of God was clearly in sharp contradiction to the Protestant moral going hand in glove with capitalism. The last but not the least, Lev Trotskiy, Lenin’s close advisor, spoke for the revolution to take place all over the world. Evidently, the Soviet Russia, the Bolshevik Russia derailed the previous course of cooperation between Russia and the US.
No crisis happens at once; each has its own history of development and milestones. Here the next match to kindle the fire was the Iron Curtain speech delivered by Sir Winston Churchill in Fulton, Missouri, soon after WWII. The speech aimed at diminishing the cornerstone role of the Soviet Union in the victory and picturing it as a threat to the developed capitalistic world – precisely as the West had envisioned it for 20 years already. The Soviets, devastated by the war with towns ruined and millions of people gone, were no military peril to the West (they did not even have nuclear weapons at the time). The creation of the IMF and the World Bank, the international financial institutions controlled by the US, together with the Marshall Plan had a detrimental impact on the potential collaboration between the former allies, too. The States started the Cold War, and the Soviets ended up accepting the challenge and competing in the Arms Race.
The thaw that came with Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy and brought the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Crisis did not last long. John Kennedy was assassinated by a communist Lee Oswald, whose background featured the connections to the Soviet Union. Although the assassination has been drowning ever since in the maelstrom of conspiracy, the official version could not help affecting the bilateral relations between the countries.
Perestroika initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev brought about the fall of the Soviet Union and the scent of rapprochement between the resurrected Russia and the States. Unfortunately, the West overestimated the effect of Perestroika on the Russian economy and public morale. The overwhelming anticipation dominating the West of the coming future where Russia was used a cheap and weak-willed supplier of raw materials and fossil fuels did not work out. The negligence with which Russia was treated by the West made Russian feel marginalized and not appreciated for the turn to capitalism. In spite of the plight and predicament Russia found itself in the late 1990s, a group of nationally-oriented politicians led by Vladimir Putin ascended to power and with their firm grip started restoring Russia’s dignity, balancing between the strong centralized model of the Soviet Union and the free market system typical of a new capitalistic state. Fearing the possible rebuilding of the Soviet Union, the USA and its NATO allies dedicated effort to tearing off Russian historical satellites and diverting them to the scope of the NATO influence. The rising tide of Russia-US confrontation galvanized with such policies hit the Tskhinvali Region in August 2008. The joint American-Georgian effort to present Georgia’s aggression as the Russian invasion did not come off. That fraud accompanied by the political pressure and numerous scandals at the Olympics inevitably worsened the enhancing gap between Russia and the USA.
Finally, the latest milestones to mark the bumpy ride of Russian-American politics are the Crimean and Syrian crises. These, surprisingly, have triggered different social processes in the opponent countries. In Washington the standardized and well-established array of policies and attitudes shifted with the extravagant republican Donald Trump entering the tenure. Ordinary Americans appear to be jaded of the anti-Russian hysteria pushed by the democrats and are looking forward to more attention drawn to domestic issues. Popular Internet hashtags like "Russians did it” indicate that the general public understands the absurdity of anti-Russian allegations and is open to mitigation of the Russian-American political rivalry. Russians, in their turn, have experienced a growth of patriotism and nationalism boasting about the success story of the Crimea. This inflow of pride for their state partially returned the public trust to the government that used to be slammed in the 1990s-2000s. Vladimir Putin today enjoys the popularity and respect that no other Soviet or Russian leader had since Joseph Stalin passed away.
By rights, the world has to draw the line to the Russian-American confrontation. This is of vital and paramount importance nowadays when the global community is encountering a range of daunting problems such as Islamic terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, the refugee crisis, climate change, the painful move to the post-industrial informatized society of the most developed countries with the majority of the mankind still grappling with poverty and famine. Another field of concern particularly for Russia and America is the rapid growth of China. American political scholars now are deliberating over the premonition that China’s expansion in Asia is far more dangerous than a phantom Russian menace.
All in all, I sincerely believe that the crisis in Russia-US relations is about to demise and pave the way to the mutual understanding, support and effort to tackle global problems. Our countries have more in common than our governments seem to realize.
Opinion by Andrei Svistunov