News Analysis: Frosty U.S.-Russia relations about to get even colder
2017-08-05 12:18:00

Left: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 23, 2016. (Xinhua/Bai Xueqi)

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 -- U.S.-Russia relations are at a low point, and are poised to get even worse after the United States slapped a new round of sanctions on Russia this week.

That could lead to both countries taking an even more confrontational stance going forward, U.S. experts said.

Washington's relationship with Moscow has been sour for some time, amid disagreements involving the war in Syria, the conflict in Ukraine, and U.S. accusations that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, a charge Russia strongly denies.

The new U.S. sanctions, passed with bipartisan, veto-proof majorities, underscore that Congress believes the U.S. cannot work with Russia, despite U.S. President Donald Trump's hopes several months ago that the two could partner on a number of issues, analysts said.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, told Xinhua that relations, currently frosty, are set to get even colder.

"I think that U.S. policy on Russia is heading only in one direction, and that is an increasing toughening of the position," Gardiner said, adding that the sanctions make a warming of relations highly unlikely.

"All of these sanctions make it very unlikely that we are going to see some rapprochement with Moscow," he said.

It had been Trump's hope that Russia would work with the United States on defeating terror group Islamic State, which had overrun vast swathes in the Middle East, although the radicals are now on the defensive.

The New York billionaire had wanted to work with the Kremlin in a bid to end the conflict in Syria. While Trump signed the sanctions under protest, analysts said the important takeaway is the fact that, in the end, he signed them.

The worsening of ties could manifest itself in even more sanctions in the future, as well as closer U.S. relations with other nations in the region, Gardiner said.

"I think it will look like increasingly ramped up sanctions against the Russians. I think it will look like sending defensive weaponry to the Ukraine, (which is) highly likely now," Gardiner said.

"I think we're going to see an increased U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe, such as the Baltic States and Poland. We're going to see further deployment of U.S. strategic bombers to Europe, especially to Great Britain, as a warning to Russia. And I think we're going to see a strengthened partnership with countries like Poland," he said.

Indeed, the United States and Poland are seeing increasingly warm relations recently, and Trump chided Russia, a traditional Polish adversary, in a speech from Warsaw earlier this summer.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West echoed sentiments that the bilateral relations are worsening.

"The relationship will remain rocky for the foreseeable future," West told Xinhua.

"There are pressures on each side that will keep the two leaders apart and make it difficult for them to reach any meaningful agreements," West said of Trump's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It will be some time before there is any thaw in the U.S.-Russia relationship," West said.

Still, experts said Russia would not likely risk a war with the United States. Russia is no longer a global power, as it was during the Cold War, and the country's power is limited to Europe. The nation does not have much ability to project its power globally.

In sharp contrast, the United States is a global super power, U.S. analysts said.

Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of Congress and the Presidency, told Xinhua that now is one of the nadirs in the U.S.-Russia relationship, but it could be far worse.

"Both nations have a greater level of economic engagement than the depths of the Cold War, (but) Syria is a far cry from the proxy conflicts of the Cold War," he said of the conflict in which both the U.S. and Russia are indirectly involved.

"That said, the United States will continue to face a Russia that is asserting its power," Mahaffee said.

Mahaffee noted there continues to be confusion on why Trump often refuses to speak ill of Russian actions, both during the election and abroad, that many Americans and their elected officials find reprehensible.

While Trump signed the sanctions into law earlier this week, he did so reluctantly, saying that he signed them "for the sake of national unity."

On Wednesday, Trump blasted Congress for what he said was bringing U.S.-Russia relations to a "dangerous low."

U.S. Congress, however, is strongly opposed to what it sees as disagreeable Russian behavior.

"Congress, in bipartisan fashion, has decided to codify these sanctions to reflect just how unacceptable some of Russia's behavior is to the United States," Mahaffee said, speaking of how Congress views the situation.

Mahaffee said that while both nations will continue to cooperate on some necessary counterterrorism measures, the United States also has a very different definition of counterterrorism efforts in Syria, compared to Russia. Editor:Nicky