Emily Dutton,

Correspondent (Our World)


It was only four and a half years ago that Hillary Clinton famously presented her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov the gift of a ‘reset’ button (or ‘overcharged’ button as falsely translated by the Americans). It may have been a classic American public display with Clinton bursting with alacrity and enthusiasm, but it symbolised to the world that America was prepared to move on from the hostility of the past towards a more amicable future. With such a public reunion, it is difficult to believe that after only a few years, the relationship between two of the most powerful countries in the world could have deteriorated so rapidly.

Now even the US President, Barack Obama, has openly admitted that the relationship between America and Russia has serious issues. Firstly, on a late night American talk show, Obama expressed his fears that Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, was slipping back into a ‘cold war mentality’. He also addressed the issue formally at a press conference — where Russia was top of the agenda — where he highlighted his concerns: “It is probably appropriate for us to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia is going, what our core interests are, and calibrate the relationship so that we’re doing things that are good for the United States and hopefully good for Russia as well, but recognising that there just are going to be some differences and we’re not going to be able to completely disguise them.” Tensions between the two countries reached a climax last week when America announced that an imminent meeting between Obama and Putin has been cancelled, sparking fears that history may repeat itself and another Cold War could break out. So, why has this relationship deteriorated so rapidly and where will all this end?

The question of why this has happened requires significant consideration. Obama himself cited issues concerning Syria and human rights among ‘a number of emerging differences’. He has previously revealed his ‘disappointment’ caused by Russia’s recent decision to grant US whistle blower Edward Snowdon asylum. Various factors dating back to the beginning of Obama’s presidency could have contributed to the current unrest.

Later in February 2012, former American Ambassador for the UN Susan Rice expressed America’s ‘disgust’ at Russia and China’s decision to veto a UN resolution, which condemned ‘gross violations’ in Syria. Russia’s apparent reluctance to condemn events in Syria was an issue raised by Obama in his most recent press conference.

The relationship between Obama and Putin on a personal level does not appear to have helped the current situation. Putin’s predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, made considerable progress with Obama and the reset appeared promising. However, in March 2012, when Putin was re-elected, some of this progress seemed to be reversed with the introduction of a number of less democratic laws in Russia.

Another issue outlined by Obama was human rights. When Russia joined the World Trade Organisation in 2012, it seemed positive steps towards unity were being taken. However, problems arose when an American human rights bill was deemed ‘belligerently unfriendly’ by Russian politicians.

More recently, conflicting views over the gay rights have caused the gap between the two countries to widen. Obama has openly criticised a Russian law stating that same sex couples should not demonstrate their affection publicly nor should they or anyone else be permitted to participate in public events which promote gay rights.

The most recent and arguably crucial development in this increasingly hostile relationship is Russia’s decision to grant asylum to US whistle-blower Edward Snowden. This is highly speculated to have prompted Obama to withdraw from his upcoming meeting with Putin, a decision seen as a very public and very deliberate snub.

The fear of another Cold War grows rapidly with each new emergence. Certainly this relationship is not simple but is it past the point of repair? It appears only time will tell.

Image Courtesy: realjameso.16, Released under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic | Wikimedia Commons; kremlin.ru, Released under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported | Wikimedia Commons