US-Russia relations


Worst since the Cold War


Washington and Moscow should not need reminding how diplomatic hostility between the two capitals spreads to much of the world; and how quickly. Yet US-Russia relations are at their lowest since the ’80s, when the Afghan war bankrupted Moscow and sounded the death rattle of the Soviet Union. Disagreements today range from the standoff in Ukraine to the bloody civil war in Syria. But it’s alleged Russia-backed hacking that disrupted the US presidential election that has Washington fuming. The expulsion of 35 Russian officials, along with sanctions, is bound to provoke retaliation, with no telling yet of the political and financial paralysis that will certainly follow, and how far it will spread.

This is not just a desperate gambit by a frustrated Obama on his way out. Trump naturally plays down the hacking argument as “ridiculous”, but it won’t be too easy for the new president to brush past the confrontation with Russia that Obama is leaving behind. The Republican Party is largely split on the issue. The position of House Speaker Paul Ryan, not to mention John McCain (Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee), is clear, and not in keeping with Trump’s. But there’s an interesting interplay to be expected, especially with the nominee for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil had Rex Tillerson, enjoying close ties with the Kremlin.

Putin has, once again, played the more pragmatic move in the immediate aftermath – preferring to act rather than react. And Trump, as expected, has endorsed his discretion. But with the Russian foreign ministry urging reciprocity it is not yet clear how this scenario will play out in the new year. 2016 saw far too many deaths because of dubious positions taken by the world’s more potent powers. Now, as they head for another collision, it remains to be seen if the rest of the world is about to be treated to another long cold war.