US–Russia relations plunge amid disagreements

Thursday, 2016-10-06 13:01:20
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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an award ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on September 22, 2016. (Credit: Reuters)
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NDO—The relationship between the US and Russia has plunged into bitterness amidst hard-to-resolve disagreements related to the Syrian and Ukrainian crises, leading to tit-for-tat sanctions.

After the two sides’ reciprocal recriminations, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to sign a decree to suspend a treaty with the US on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium, a material used in the production of atom bombs, in response to Washington’s unfriendly acts against Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Ministry informed the US side of the above-mentioned decision and explained that President Putin’s action aimed to ensure national security and was specifically due to the recent developments.

Russia said that the US posed a threat to its strategic stability with its hostile actions towards Russia, and that Washington was incapable of meeting its commitments on disposing surplus plutonium originally intended for use in nuclear weapons under international treaties.

The above decree put an end to six years of cooperation between Russia and the US on the use of plutonium. In 2010, the two countries signed an agreement calling on each side to dispose of 34 tonnes of surplus plutonium by burning it in nuclear reactors.

Prior to the above decision by Putin, Russia declared that it would no longer seek unilateral nuclear disarmament, after it cut its strategic nuclear potential by 85%. Since the Cold War, the two sides have signed three agreements on nuclear arms control and have taken unilateral efforts to limit their nuclear weapons stores.

However, the pace of nuclear disarmament by both countries has slowed down recently with the escalation of tensions in bilateral relations. Since the START-3 Treaty was signed in 2010 and entered into force a year later, Russia and the US have made almost no significant efforts to further nuclear disarmament.

The above tough actions by Russia came as relations with Washington reached their lowest level since the Cold War. Both sides have continued criticising each other and sparring on many issues related to the Syrian and Ukrainian hotspots and have not been able to find a common voice in addressing shared challenges, such as the resurgence of terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. Russia has even accused the US of exacerbating the problems in those regions with its interventions.

Russian news agency Sputnik argued that in recent decades, no US military campaign had brought about peace. For example, the war in Iraq resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and left the country in turmoil. In Afghanistan, the US invasion has increased terrorist activities, leading to the revival of Taliban. The US military interventions in Libya, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen have also created increasingly aggravated instability and violence.

Russia also accused the US of threatening its national security. Moscow criticised the missile defence system that the US and its NATO allies have deployed in Poland and Romania, which border Russia, threatening the safety of the Land of Birch. Russia has made no secret of its intention to disable that missile defence system. Accordingly, it is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of penetrating the US’s missile defence system.

Another security issue that created tension between Russia and the US is that US intelligence is placing what Washington has termed “pressure” on Russian diplomats. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on October 4 alleged that US intelligence was constantly increasing “recruitment attempts” on Moscow’s diplomatic staff in the US. US intelligence agencies even used “the most miserable means of pressure, including threats to the health of diplomats’ family members,” Ryabkov said. Russia also accused Washington of creating “artificial difficulties” and “invented restrictions” on their movements, preventing diplomats from fully implementing their tasks.

The above situation makes analysts fear the risk of an imminent arms race, as happened during the Cold War. Russia’s suspension of its nuclear pact agreement with the US, as well as its decision not to continue its unilateral nuclear disarmament, makes disagreements between the two parties more difficult to neutralise and will cause tensions to escalate day by day.

Meanwhile, the increasingly strict economic sanctions between the two sides have also caused great damage to both. According to economic experts, the Russian economy has seen an average loss of 2% of GDP each quarter due to sanctions from the West. At the same time, the sanctions have also caused billions of dollars in damage to the US and the European Union, while making the world’s losses reach more than US$60 billion.

It seems that tensions between the US and Russia not only damage the security and economic interests of the involved parties, but also have a detrimental effect on the environment of peace and development worldwide. This is also the reason why many Western newspapers have recently expressed concern about the risk of the outbreak of a third world war as Russia and the US have decreased dialogue and increased confrontation.