Putin’s recent unveiling of an “invincible” nuclear missile has dealt a fresh blow to U.S.-Russia relations. The announcement about the development of a new range of strategic nuclear missile came just weeks ahead of the Russian presidential election. Putin’s claims on rendering US and NATO missile technology ‘useless’ seemed more than just domestic muscle-flexing; it was almost a direct declaration of its disapproval of Trump’s foreign policy.

Election and the Russian Collusion

Trump’s win had fuelled speculations about greater diplomatic cooperation between the former cold war rivals. In his presidential campaign, Trump had frequently heaped praises at his Russian counterpart. So it was no surprise when he said that he would “love to be able to get along with Russia”. But a year after Trump assumed office, relations nosedived and sanctions remained water-tight.

Ties plunged into chaos when reports emerged detailing Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections to tip the results in favour of Trump. A Special Counsel Investigation questioned several individuals connected to Trump’s election campaign. The probe eventually led to the resignation of Michael Flynn as the National Security Advisor after it emerged that he had withheld information about his contacts in Russia. The situation was further exacerbated when former FBI director James Comey levelled allegations against Trump  stating that he was fired because of the agency’s probe into possible Russian interference. It was however the news of Trump Junior’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya , in exchange for critical information about the Clinton campaign that dealt the final blow.

But Why the Policy Chaos?

With the collusion theory gaining traction, Trump’s administration faced heavy criticism for “undermining the U.S. democracy”. Following this, it abandoned its rapprochement policy and focussed on aggressively denying allegations of collusion with Russia. Since then, engagement has oscillated between ambiguity and hostility, irking Russia on many occasions.

Russia’s expectations of a conciliatory U.S. first took a hit when Trump ordered an air strike in Syria last year in response to a gas attack which left scores dead. A few months later in November, the two leaders agreed that that there was “no military solution” to the Syrian conflict and signed a joint statement. The agreement failed to make any political breakthrough and the war-torn Syria continues to witness ceasefire violations.

Trump’s repeated threats of pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal have also met with Russian hostility. Sergei, Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, condemned Trump’s remarks and called it an “attack on Iran”. Though Trump’s warnings have pushed for a fresh round of talks between U.S. and Europe, Russia looks visibly upset with his demands.

North Korea has emerged as the latest thorn between U.S. and Russia. After sparring with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over who had the “bigger nuclear button”, Trump recently blamed Russia for undermining international sanctions on North Korea.

Should the U.S. be worried?

A statement from the White House downplayed the nuclear development and asserted that “U.S. capabilities were second to none.” Putin’s rhetoric on the other hand, hinted at the escalating “arms race”, a situation almost reminiscent of cold war decades.

Since Trump’s election, Washington has repeatedly escalated tensions with Kremlin while making little progress on the poll promise of rapprochement. In order to navigate through contentious issues such as Crimea and Iran, the Trump led administration should be open to addressing Russian concerns regarding American nuclear capabilities.

The announcement of Russia’s latest nuclear missile is a clarion call for the U.S. to look at its Russia policy beyond the prism of the 2016 elections. It would thus be pragmatic for the Trump administration to extend complete cooperation with investigation about collusion at home, while focusing on shifting the gear from sanctions to trade and security.  To douse the heightened pressure, U.S. and Russia should make sustained efforts towards dialogue, engagement and an eventual détente.

Reference and Sources:

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/01/europe/putin-russia-missile-intl/index.html

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-putin-nuclear/putin-before-election-unveils-new-nuclear-weapons-to-counter-west-idUSKCN1GD514

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/sanders-us-defense-will-remain-second-to-none/2018/03/01/97ff3ec4-1d8b-11e8-98f5-ceecfa8741b6_video.html?utm_term=.0dea7eeed971

V Padmaja is currently pursuing her Masters in Journalism from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia. Her areas of interest include international affairs, politics and women’s rights. She can be reached at Twitter @PadmajaVraman.

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