The Cold War Reheats?

After Kosovo, U.S.?Russian relations recall the bad old days


| November/December 1999


The Cold War may be over, but U.S.--Russian relations have cooled enough in recent months to cause many observers to wonder whether the 'strategic partnership' so grandly announced following the collapse of communism may be over.

Antagonism toward the United States on the part of ordinary Russians as well as Kremlin leaders grew particularly fierce during the bombing of Serbia, but anti-American attitudes were rife in Russia prior to the Balkan conflict, and observers there say they have subsided only slightly in its aftermath.

As Sergei Rogov, director of Moscow's U.S.A.-Canada Studies Institute, notes in Russian Life (June/July 1999), America has simply become too arrogant. In the view of the average Ivan, Rogov says, 'the U.S. treats Russia as a defeated country.'

The same assessment came earlier--and prior to NATO's attack on Serbia--from a somewhat surprising source. Speaking at a convention of the U.S. food service industry, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev observed that 'the superiority complex of the U.S. complicates the relationship between our two countries.' Nation's Restaurant News (March 22, 1999) quotes Gorbachev as complaining that 'America and many countries of the West are giving up' on Russia.

The move to expand NATO membership opened 'the first crack' in the envisioned Russian-American partnership, Rogov notes. Why, he asks, did the United States decide to extend the West's military reach closer to Russia's borders 'when we cannot hurt [the West]?' It is the same with arms control, he says. Washington will have little incentive to bargain seriously for nuclear weapons reductions if it views the old balance of power as defunct.

The sorry state of bilateral relations is partly Russia's fault, Rogov admits. Because the country has 'failed to develop and implement a meaningful strategy of economic and political developments,' it has remained adrift for the past several years, with domestic and foreign policy both marked by 'wide zigzags.' But, noting Washington's dominance within the International Monetary Fund, Rogov suggests that the United States is setting unreasonable terms for the loans and debt relief that Russia desperately needs. Many in Russia perceive the debt issue as a kind of American conspiracy to 'destroy Russia,' he says.

But this summer's revelations about a Russian money-laundering operation involving billions of dollars cast doubt on Rogov's contention that the United States is acting ungenerously and unwisely. The IMF has approved some $20 billion in loans to Russia, some of it on an emergency basis in order to prevent the Russian economy from collapsing altogether. And Rogov's depiction of a tightfisted United States withholding vital aid to a put-upon Russia also does not gibe with a recent analysis in The Economist (July 31, 1999). The magazine predicted that the Clinton administration will continue prodding the IMF into bailing out Russia, especially in a year when national elections are scheduled in both countries.