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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Cold War 2: Will the US and Russia face-off yet again?

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 A political and socio-economic scene-change in global affairs was unpredictable as it was ambiguous. For forty-five years or more, this power shift was played out in chilling fashion between a promising capitalist nation and an already fulfilled communist one. It later went on to define a radical decades-old relations in which both countries embarked on a journey of exploration and discovery of what’s best in advancing their cause and as well consolidating their position on the global stage. It was painful. 

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It is true that neither side ever fought the other but the consequences had been appalling. The rise of America on one hand and the eventual actual disintegration of the USSR on the other became a trading point that dominated the Cold War polity. The power transfer was at best and at worst, dictated by the final crumbling of the Soviet Union that had long served Russia – the biggest member. It came at a price; not only a monetary price but one involving militarism and the backing of proxy wars in far-off places of the world. Both countries used what many international relations experts referred to as ‘client states’. For many long and painful years, these states fought for and represented the beliefs of either the United States or the Soviet Union. Example, the Vietnam War of 1955 was significantly shaped in this direction where the United States supported anti-communist South Vietnam while the Soviet Union sided with the North. The indirect pursuance of both nations’ many but different interests in that war pointed out to a reinforced wave of political and military rhetoric. 

Tellingly, the very many complexities and uncertainties that surrounded the Cold War became a fertile battle ground for intellectuals of differing denominations. Even realist thinkers faltered profoundly in their arguments on the nature of the international system in the midst of a power standoff that ensued decade-in and decade-out between the two powerful countries. Their predictions of a Cold War world, explanations on the race for supremacy and its consequences somewhat remained vague. But the power balance that became a condition which clearly favoured the United Stated as the emerging and leading hegemon sanitised those predictions and explanations. And as the United States win the status as the world’s most powerful nation, an important piece of history was rediscovered. This history is what is now defined along self-centred lines where other countries’ resistance to the dominance of a super power nation turned the world flat on its face.   

Meantime, since the end of the Cold War, the homegrown shakers and movers of politics in United States have become increasingly aware of Russia’s attempts to relive that history. Unsurprising, most of them are largely unimpressed by the state-of-play and maturity of Russian politics to give meaning to its very existence. This thinking has been driven by a series of post-Cold War behaviours that have had a significant impact on world affairs. US-Russia relations have been left reeling at its own pace as their leaders grapple with the knack for a possible embellishment. What remains is that Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin have both been at the centre of events as they unfold. But it has to be said that the two men differ greatly in thinking as they go about leading their peoples to greater prosperity. The bitterness of losing his country’s super power status to America in 1991 still sits raw within the mind of President Putin and the wider Russian political landscape. This is why Putin has been busy putting up a fight in what he describes as “defending the country’s interests”.  The ambitious drive coming from the Kremlin to achieve this means Russia-America relations will stand its own compelling test. 

As recent as the start of this year, the country embarked on a powerful display of that drive by annexing Crimea – a territory that belonged to Ukraine after fighting broke outside between pro-Russia separatists and a government that deposed the country’s former leader. The deliberate attempt to redraw the world map started in February when Russia invaded Ukraine in what Moscow politicians termed as ‘an apparent bid to protect Russian citizens living in Ukraine.’ The assault was made necessary, shortly, after a Europe-styled uprising led to overthrow of the now-exiled former president Vikto Yanukovich. 

This single act was greeted with widespread condemnation by Moscow and the country believed a coup d’état was being meted out at a democratically-elected president.  Reports from the United States though and large parts of Europe (America’s allied European countries) suggested otherwise and pointed to a blatant act of interference by Russia. President Obama himself at one time disagreeing with Russia on the Ukraine crisis simply said of the Kremlin: “Russia has sometimes displayed attitudes that remind the world of the Cold War period.” This criticism, though, did not limit Russia as it continued meddling in the internal affairs of Ukraine and amassing thousands of troops around Ukrainian borders in what became a stepped-up aggression by Moscow. 

All these seemed to have fired defiance into President Obama’s make-up in the months ahead. And standing on Russia’s doorstep in the nation of Estonia in September, Obama derided Russia’s “brazen assault” on Ukraine and pledged that the United States would defend any Nato ally facing a similar threat. “You lost your independence once before,” Obama told a packed concert hall in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, after meeting with Baltic leaders. “With Nato, you’ll never lose it again.” His defiance was laced with the new knowledge that there is a strong western alliance that can ward off any threat coming out from Russia. But the billion-dollar question is what would have happened if ‘sorry’ Ukraine was a member of Nato? What followed the crossfire of criticisms have always been sanctions – those that target pockets of the Russian economy.

In profound ways, United States’ slamming of sanctions on Moscow is underpinned by the need for its allies to take significant steps that would culminate into an eventual taming of Russia. In as many months, this resulted in Russia’s financial woes with its currency; the ‘Rubble’ hitting all-time lows. The wisdom behind these sanctions has been the need to isolate Russia which saw it expelled from the Group of 8 nations. Even at that, Russian politicians remained the least bit worried and went about showing the world that they can be tough. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin simply laughed off any attempt to isolate Russia after the country’s expulsion from the G8 in this way: “They can call it G7, G2… They can call it whatever they like. It is certain that any critical international activity without Russian participation is meaningless.” 

As a matter of convenience, it must be stated that Russian president Vladimir Putin believes in a type of rhetoric that borders on bravado. To be fair, it has to be said also that the man has displayed some very smart moves on the global stage to promote international peace and security. These include the prevention of an American-backed airstrike on Syria which earned him recognition in some quotas as the most powerful leader of 2013. It was based on a compromise that led to Syria giving up on its nuclear weapons. Putin’s mastery of fine political points during negotiations provided a merciful moment of levity and shrewdness. In stark contrast though, the Ukrainian crisis is being played out in a different light in which many European countries are caught up in the crisis. Most of these countries are allies of the United States and the threat outrage is what is pushing the latter to come up with a better formula on how to deal with threats. The feeling of Russia being a bully state is becoming more and more palpable in the Baltic region and some of these countries are now taking refuge in the Nato alliance. Clearly, they look up to America as their Godfather. 

It is however no news that the United States remains fired up to engineer a desirable global thinking and to enlarge a new circle of influence around its interests in the world. This may come at a price because other nations will sure do compete for their own interests. Which is why the country would need to somewhat refocus, reorient and redirect its foreign policy in order to significantly deal with the very many incompatibilities. This is not to say America should give up on its power in the world. American politicians must continue to do their homework in making their country participate in symbolic international eventualities that will significantly shape the future of our world. 

Both America and Russia are not tourists on the global political landscape and they will all go on to defend their interests. For many past long years, they have been known for disagreeing on many contentiously but critically important global issues. At a time when many European nations think very high of America as their most reliable partner, one thing in this thinking is the need to prepare for even the most unpredictable of circumstances. Russia’s seemingly deliberate attempts to expand its influence in the world are what woke the United States and its allies to this reality. And as America’s relations with Russia stands at a difficult juncture with both countries seeking to further advance their cause, the latter will put its future in great uncertainty if it should go into a second Cold War with the former. After all, America is known for its exceptional performance on the global stage.

Lamin Njie is a sub-editor at The Standard newspaper. He is writing a book titled, ‘The Boston Bombings: A Gambian Rethinking’. 

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