The age old tale of conflict between Russia and the United States is a familiar one. Whether it was the petrifying threat of communism during the Red Scare or the decade long tensions surrounding potential nuclear fallout during the Cold War, Russia and the United States have seemingly been at odds with one another for the last one hundred and fifty years. During the Trump administration, some believed that the relationship between President Putin and President Trump had improved, allowing their two countries to finally developed a better understanding. However, tensions are once again on the rise.
Russia and the United States hold conflicting interests for their respective countries’ futures. While the United States believes that democracy and the provision of security around eastern European countries would help stabilize the region, Russia views the spread of democracy as a threat to its regime. “‘Things are at rock bottom. This may not be structurally a cold war in the way the old one was, but mentally, in terms of atmosphere, it’s even worse… ‘The fact that Biden offered a summit meeting would have sounded a hopeful note anytime in the past. Now, nobody can be sure of that. A hypothetical Putin-Biden meeting might not prove to be a path to better relations, but just the opposite. It could just become a shouting match that would bring a hardening of differences, and make relations look like even more of a dead end’” (Weir). Although things have not escalated to the point where the world fears nuclear war, it is clear that tensions between Russia and the United States have risen to a concerning point.
Tensions began to rise when Russian politician, opposition leader, and popular Putin-critic Alexei Navalny was sent to a prison hospital and later to Germany after reports of failing health. “He is in a coma after drinking what his supporters suspect was poisoned tea; they accuse the authorities of trying to conceal a crime” (BBC). German doctors have stated that poison leaves the blood after three days, which raises suspicion as to why Russian officials and doctors would not clear Navalny to be transported to a different hospital out of the country by claiming his condition was not stable enough. The United States disagrees with these types of actions, stating that while the world tolerates them, democracy is endangered.
However, President Biden proposed a “personal summit” where the United States and Russia could hash out their disagreements in a phone conversation between their two presidents, Biden and Putin. Just a few days after this statement, President Biden enacted a list of tough sanctions against Russia due to Russia’s alleged hacking and interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, which infuriated Russia. To further add fuel to the fire, President Biden recently agreed with a journalist’s definition of President Putin as a “killer,” causing Russia to immediately order the Russian ambassador to the United States to return home. The occurrence of these events in rapid succession seem to contradict the initial hopes of a cordial discussion seeking. common ground regarding the country’s differences.
One of President Biden’s first acts in office was to extend the START treaty. This treaty is a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Russia to reduce and limit strategic offensive arms and reduce long range nuclear weapons. The extension of this act, along with the United States’ removal of troops from Afghanistan, would make the transition easier for all the powers involved. President Biden hopes to build off this momentum and use this as a means to spark discourse between the two superpowers in hopes of reaching some common ground.
Although tensions are high and both the United States and Russia are clearly on edge and fed up with one another, the extension of the START treaty is a massive reassurance that there will not be a nuclear war between the two. Despite both countries projecting a sense of ill will, if Presidents Biden and Putin meet with one another to try to work out an agreement (or even just agree to disagree on certain issues), such a discussion could serve as a significant stepping stone towards easing the strain between the United States and Russia longterm.
“Alexei Navalny: Putin Critic Arrives in Germany for Medical Treatment.” BBC News, BBC, 22 Aug. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53871617.
Weir, Fred. “Worse than the Cold War? US-Russia Relations Hit New Low.” The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, 20 Apr. 2021, www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2021/0420/Worse-than-the-Cold-War-US-Russia-relations-hit-new-low.