The Cold War Reheats?

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
(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.

The probability that the U.S.-Russia relationship will become a
political punching bag supports Rogov’s assertion that the two
countries are capable of transcending their current differences and
their troubled past. ‘I reject the view that Russia and the U.S.
are doomed to be rivals forever,’ he declared.

Maybe not forever, but a close congruence of national interests
still seems a long way off.

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