Ice Breakers: Remains of the Cold War

Tension between the United States and Russia is the result of decades of differences in culture and political practice that began with mutual distrust during the time of the former Soviet Union. During the early 20th century, the Soviet Union expanded its reach and influence throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This made the U.S. worry about enforcement of the Marshall Plan and alignment with Western Europe to established political and economic presence of the U.S. in Europe. The U.S. and Soviet Union hold opposite views on economic and political ideology, namely democracy versus communism, and stiffly competed for global influence of their ideologies.

The geopolitical, ideological and economic differences between democracy and communism created heightened tension that continued until the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in 1991. Since 1991, there have been efforts on both the side of Russia and the U.S. to work together, such as their partnership in the Gulf War. However, there is still significant distrust between both countries that makes the past difficult for both to overcome. In addition to their past relationships, current U.S. and Russian military involvements in Central Asia and the Middle East continue to create a troublesome competition between the countries, with smaller nations becoming pawns of international disagreements.

Russia’s neighboring states that were once part of the former Soviet Union, are struggling to align themselves with a side in the power struggle between the U.S. and Russia. Some of the former states have chosen a “pro-western” orientation in the establishment of their sovereignties (Satter 2012). Although this alignment is positive for the U.S. it heightens tension between the U.S. and Russia as Russia views its former Soviet republics as its spheres of interest and desires to impose its will which could potentially further conflicts with the West (Satter 2012). “Russia opposes a pro-Western orientation” because it depicts Russia’s loss of influence (Satter 2012). “The spectacle of former Soviet republics making a success of democracy is an implicit challenge to Putin’s authoritarian rule” (Satter 2012)

The U.S. needs to establish its presence in Central Asia tactfully, in a way that helps former Soviet states establish themselves internally and provide benefits externally. Most importantly in these efforts is that the transparency of the U.S. International diplomacy should not be a competition between two opposing ideas, but rather a collaboration that benefits populations and strengthens autonomy.

The U.S. needs to be transparent in its involvement in Central Asia and also be accepting of the inevitable differences between western ideology and the aftermath of the former Soviet Union. “The western approach does not leave room for engaging religion and the existing structures of elites” (Seiple 2005). It has also been noted by Martha Brill Olcott of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that “perhaps the single most crucial element” to understanding Central Asia is to understand their unique political dynamics rooted in clan politics and how this creates public opinion of political and economic privilege and responsibility (Seiple 2005).

Transparency would help build trust between corrupt political rule in Russia and underhanded military action of the U.S. Trust and transparency in Central Asia, and especially Russia, would aid the U.S. in its efforts to stabilize the Middle East. The arms race and competition between Russia and the U.S. can’t truly end until the nations develop better communication and understanding of each other’s ideologies because at the root of their conflict is its arms race with the former Soviet and U.S. image in Central Asia.

Since Vladimir Putin’s rule in Russia the country has experienced a significant economic recovery and change in lifestyle. However, Putin’s rule is also considered to be dated authoritarian rule with crimes against human rights, war and political corruption. The recent re-election of Putin in March 2012 made the international community doubt the progressiveness of Putin’s rule and forward movement of Russia in international relations. According to Satter (2012), “The best possible outcome would be for the democratic forces in the country to succeed in bringing about new elections and a fair choice of president.” But the recent re-election of Putin in March is met with opposition and accusations of fraud, which questions the establishment of civil society in Russia (Kolyandr, 2012). Russia and Central Asia face what Satter (2012) calls a “supreme test.”  He said, “The results of that test will have implications for the whole world” (Satter 2012).