Icy Tensions Abound: Russia’s Hostile Relationship with Both the U.S. and the Rest of the Developed World


Emily Stewart

As the kickoff to the Sochi Winter Olympics is upon us, the tension between Russia and the United States seems to be at an unusual high. After a private conversation between American diplomats over the situation in Ukraine was released to the Internet this week, the United States has pointed fingers at Russia—a likely culprit in a time of heightening U.S.-Russia tensions. In fact, the animosity between the two dominant superpowers of the Cold War era is unlikely to diminish in the near future—in fact, recent events have potentially escalated the icy relations between America and Russia. This year, the Russian government’s harboring of Edward Snowden and Russia and the West’s opposing positions on Syria are two tangible demonstrations of simmering struggles that portended what Angela Stent, an author interviewed in The Economist, describes as a relationship between the leaders of the United States and Russia as “the worst it has been since 1991.”

However, Russia’s push to exert a unified picture of confidence and what it sees as newfound global dominance is ironic, for the country stands on shaky ground, both politically and economically. As a result, while tensions certainly fly high between the host of this year’s Winter Olympics and the leading country of the free world, the United States seems to have the upper hand both politically, from an international relations perspective, and economically, considering the state of Russia’s economy. While the label of a second Cold War would be an extreme and misrepresentative portrayal of the current animosities between the United States and Russia, if there were such an explicit, tacit power struggle, the United States would certainly come out on top—and in recent tensions, the United States does seem to be the winner in an increasingly adverse relationship with Russia. In fact, the United States-Russia tensions are more accurately described as tensions between Russia and much of the rest of the developed world, namely the United States and the European Union. Russia, though, by demonstrating its aggressiveness to both the United States and the European Union, is merely calling attention to its enfeebled political and economic state, highlighting clear winners and losers in what some might see as a second wave of Cold War-esque hostilities.

Politically, Russia and President Putin’s support of the Yanukovych Ukrainian government and recent controversies surrounding international attendance at the Olympic games in Sochi have only magnified escalating friction between the United States and Russia. While the tension is perhaps not solely between the United States and Russia in these political controversies, the fact of the matter is that Russia appears isolated in terms of a lack of international support for its political actions. With regard to the protests in Ukraine that have seriously threatened the stability of government there, Russia has pitted itself against the United States and the European Union as the two sides offer economic support to the Ukrainian government. Russia pledged economic aid to Ukraine in the wake of Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s dismissal of aligning itself more closely with the European Union. Now, though, that offer has been rescinded—at least for the time being—as Ukraine negotiates with the European Union and the United States over potential economic aid and governmental restructuring that might incorporate leaders of the opposition.

The silent battle between Russia and the European Union and the United States continues, especially at the Sochi Olympics. After disapproval of Russian legislation aimed at severely restricting gays’ freedom of expression, the leaders of the United States and many countries of the European Union decided not to attend the Sochi games. Instead, delegations including prominent gay figures from these respective countries will go to the Olympics. The political battle is evident: Russia, amidst the recent controversies surrounding the Ukraine protests and the Olympics, is increasingly met with opposition from the international community, most notably the United States and the European Union. The developed world, it appears, are the winners in the political struggle against Russia.

Additionally, Vladimir Putin’s projection of a strong Russia, capable of standing up to the United States as an equal global player, can be dismissed or at least diminished by the fact of a struggling Russian economy. According to The Economist, GDP growth is not projected to change much from last year, up to a bleak 2% from 1.5%. The problems of an economy mired in government control and ineffectiveness are very much manifest in Russia, and the economic weakness of the country as compared to its American and European adversaries diminish its leverage in its aggressive pursuit of global attention.

Recent global events have certainly pitted the United States and Russia against each other, and the Sochi Olympics highlight those tensions on a very visible level. Increasingly, the European Union is becoming a target of Russian aggression, and the management of the Ukrainian crisis is certainly indicative of an awkward start to the Olympic games. Nonetheless, with regard to its political isolation and economic woes, Russia—despite its diplomatic belligerence—is the obvious loser in the tensions. According to an article in The Economist, a sign at the Olympics reads, “Today Sochi, tomorrow the world.” Unfortunately, Russia does not seem capable of such dominance. The recent tensions between the developed world and Russia definitely seem one-sided. Russia is evidently not on the winning team.

[Image Credit: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0612/77508.html]