Sunday 18 February, 2018 Update: Dark Skies Ahead for US-Russia Relations?

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It is no secret that relations between the United States and Russia have been tumbling downhill for an extended period of time. Last week’s indictments of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian groups on charges related to attempted meddling in US elections and political process raises the possibility of even chillier relations, and heightened tensions looming in the weeks and months ahead. The indictments are not the only telltale sign of trouble on the horizon.

In Syria, the convoluted situation on the ground and in the skies has created an environment where a direct confrontation between US and Russian forces could come about with very little warning. There have been a high number of close calls in the air over the last six months,  leading military officials in the Pentagon to question whether or not deconfliction channels are working as well as advertised. Added to that are the increasing number of reports surfacing in the media that a US airstrike killed a number of Russian military contractors in northern Syria on 7 February. Moscow has downplayed the reports, possibly to prevent questions rising about just why Russian mercenaries were operating in the area of an oil and natural gas field controlled by a US-supported militia. It’s becoming apparent that a US airstrike in support of the militia forces did take place, resulting in perhaps 20-30 Russian citizens having been killed. How or even if Russia will respond is unknown. Given Moscow’s reluctance to shed light on its Syrian operations, a Russian response will probably happen in the shadows and away from the roving eyes of the media, and other observers.

Circumstances being what they are, conditions are turning ripe for an wholly new cold war to blossom in Syria, and in other places where US and Russian interests are at odds. Whether it comes about by design, or happenstance remains to be seen. Moscow and Washington would prefer to keep the current competition in the shadows for as long as possible. Eventually, the maneuvering will be pushed out into the open, and the intentions and objectives of both sides will become clear. That will be the point when things run the risk of turning into a full blown cold war between the United States and Russia, or becoming something even more dangerous.

March 2016 DIRT Project: The New Cold War

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Whether or not Russia presents a geopolitical threat to the United States and her European allies is no longer up for debate. The question has been answered by Russia through its military actions in Crimea, the Ukraine and Syria, its burgeoning diplomatic relationships with nations such as Iran, and its obsession with challenging the United States in every manner possible around the globe. Moscow has bent over backwards to show the world that it is a threat to the United States, Europe, and democracies around the world. On Saturday, 13 February, 2016 Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev stated that the world said that the world was fighting a new Cold War. He went on to warn of grave consequences for the West if it did not cooperate with Russia in Syria and in other places.  The thinly veiled threat is impossible to ignore, as is the intimidation factor.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Cold War 2.0. This is not your father’s or grandfather’s Cold War.

In the last half of March, I will publish a three-part series on the new Cold War, providing a detailed analysis of the diplomatic, economic, and military dimensions of the new state of political hostility between the United States and Russia. The series will also examine the conditions and events which have led to this point, as well as what the future might hold.

For those of us who grew up during the 80s and remember the unbridled optimism that washed over the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reemergence of a belligerent Russia may seem like a nightmare come to life. The bad old days could be returning. Whether or not the United States wants to accept it or not, Russia is a threat. More alarming is the fact that Russia considers us to be a threat once again. Moscow is making decisions and taking actions based on this presumption, and it is working to Vladimir Putin’s advantage. Meanwhile in Washington, the Obama Administration is reluctant to accept the new geopolitical realities that are emerging. With the failure of his foreign policy, President Obama appears to be satisfied with leave a resurgent Russia on the desk for his successor to contend with.