Brewing Feud between Moscow and Washington

Brewing Feud between Moscow and Washington

Vladimir Putin, the incumbent President of the Russian Federation has seen the western media develop a sort of addiction for him, not always positive though. In 2015, during the pinnacle days of both Republic and Democratic Party nominee debates, the one constant question was, “How will the next US President deal with a man as conniving as Putin?”. His livelihood during the former Soviet regime as a secret Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) spy, stationed in East Berlin has been of much contemplation. He himself has on many occasions, alluded to the fact that the disintegration of the USSR was a tragedy that hit him hard personally. This is one aspect of his personality that most terrifies the power brokers in Washington.

An old piece of satire, instigated during the Cold War era as propaganda by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said that the KGB, the Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale (GIGN), in a few renditions of the joke, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the CIA are, for most of the part endeavoring to demonstrate that they are the best at getting offenders. The Secretary General of the UN choose to test them. He discharged a rabbit into a forest, and each of them needed to find it. The CIA individuals went in. They put creature sources all through the timberland. They questioned all plant and mineral witnesses. Following three months of broad examinations, they concluded that the rabbit did not exist. When the GIGN (or FBI) went in. Within two weeks, without any leads they set ablaze the woods, slaughtering everything in it, including the rabbit, with no expressions of remorse: the rabbit made them come. The KGB went in. Two hours later they came out with a severely beaten bear. The bear hollering, “Alright! Alright! Okay!! I’m a rabbit!! I’m a rabbit!!”. A renowned method of getting things to turn out in their favor, one way or another.

In a press conference that might signal the start of renewed tensions between the two powers, Putin stated Kremlin’s course of action following the sanctions placed on Moscow, with reference to the alleged involvement in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) email servers, who many believe is what led to the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the US presidential elections.

On 30th July, 2017, Vladimir Putin brought back memories of this anecdote. In a press conference that might signal the start of renewed tensions between the two powers, Putin stated Kremlin’s course of action following the sanctions placed on  Vladimir Putin, whenever confronted the issue, has emphasized that Russia did not and has not played any part in the whole fiasco. Nevertheless, there was a grueling hearing process in the midst of which the Congressional Committee, on the matter, has listened to testimonies from a plethora of parties allegedly involved or with information on the matter. The sanctions are however, not the only bone of contention between Russia and the US right now. When Putin and Trump met during the G20 Summit, hopes were high for a new start in the often-uneasy relationship.

It came after Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama ordered the removal of a number of high ranking Russian diplomats working in America. The reason given at that stage was that these individuals had engaged in espionage but as diplomatic immunity protected them from any prosecution, they were ordered to leave. Vladimir Putin has played the exact same card now. However, experts of foreign relations agree that diplomatic evacuations of this nature are relatively a modest step and should not be that big of a crisis. Though, it also means something else as Putin noted in his conference; Russia will adjust its position diplomatically with respect to US. The general consensus is that this diplomatic evolution should translate primarily into how Kremlin will approach the Syrian crisis now.

Interesting to note, Alexander Baunov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, noted that the US forefront think tank, in matters regarding Russia and the former Soviet empire, announced these sanctions immediately after Congress voted in favor of it but before Mr. Trump could sanction his signature. According to him, this is a diplomatic counter punch meant to instill a fear of a diplomatic crisis in the mind of Donald Trump, who focused much of his campaign on normalizing relations with Moscow. If Trump is unable to mend the gap in his relations with Putin, he will have fumbled in one of his core election manifestoes. That is something he cannot afford right now with his political capital diminishing, a civil war within his own party, and his approval ratings in the single digits. Trump needs stability, specially right now considering how his healthcare bill meant to repeal and replace Obamacare, blew up in his face. Putin knows this, and Trump knows that Putin knows this.

As Putin noted, the number of US personnel being downsized is 755, the exact number sent home by the US. He reiterated that the number of diplomatic staff in Moscow and Washington will always remain similar.

In August 1986, Gennadi F. Zakharov, a Soviet physicist was arrested on espionage charges. Less than a week later, Nicholas S. Daniloff, a US News & World Report correspondent was arrested on similar espionage charges. A proverbial tit-for-tat diplomatic power struggle. As Putin noted, the number of US personnel being downsized is 755, the exact number sent home by the US. He reiterated that the number of diplomatic staff in Moscow and Washington will always remain similar. There have been assertions that a new Cold War may have started, however as Andras Schweitzer noted, the first one probably never ended, merely went into hiatus. The hiatus is over now, the world has transformed, the players have changed, tactics have evolved, maneuvers amplified, alliances have been formed. This is not Cold War 2, it is the original Cold War remastered.

Ousama Khurshid Khan
Ousama Khurshid Khan is currently working as Senior Research Associate in CSCR. He is an MPhil Scholar at NDU Islamabad. He has previously served in NDU’s research think tank ISSRA in 2015. His area of interest is Defence studies and foreign policy of United States, and he writes on regional contemporary issues. He can be reached at osamakhurshidkhan@gmail.com
ok@cscr.pk and he tweets @Sam1992sam.

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