Opinion| Tensions over Ukraine reignite the Cold War between the United States and Russia

Marwa El- Shinawy
6 Min Read
Dr Marwa El-Shinawy

US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held a rare summit last Tuesday via video conference, amid escalating tensions on Ukraine’s eastern border. 

Washington and Kyiv accused Moscow of mobilizing forces and armored vehicles on its border with Ukraine in preparation for an attack, in a scenario similar to what happened in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimea and an armed conflict broke out between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, which killed thousands. 

During the summit, which was scheduled to last for several hours, but ended only after two hours, according to the White House, Biden told Putin that Moscow would be subject to “severe economic and other sanctions” in the event of a military escalation in Ukraine.

The goal of this meeting was to improve relations between the two countries, especially after the Biden administration has intensified pressure on the Kremlin since taking office in January. Washington announced sanctions in April and expelled 10 Russian diplomats in response to what it said was the Kremlin’s interference in the US election, as well as a large-scale cyber-attack and other hostile activities. Russia, then, responded by expelling 10 American diplomats and banning senior officials in the United States from entering its territory, and banning the Washington embassy from employing foreign citizens.

But after Biden endorsed the description of Putin as a “murderer”, Moscow temporarily recalled its ambassador to Washington and said that the US ambassador should also head to Washington for consultations. As a result, Russia officially classified the United States as an “unfriendly” country, in a surprising step. In his latest statements, days before his scheduled meeting with the US President, Putin confirmed that “relations between Washington and Moscow have reached their lowest levels,” adding that there are advantages and disadvantages in Biden, but he hopes that there will be no “impulsive movements.”

However, despite the hostile history and the multiple contentious issues between the two countries such as interference in the US elections and other hostile activities, Russia’s buildup of its forces at the border with Ukraine is the most important issue ever that has the potential to fuel the Cold War again in a way that may be more ferocious than before.

In fact, Ukraine is a country of great importance to the United States and President Biden declared this emphatically when he was the Vice President of the United States for an extended period (2009-2017). He declared to the media, “Our country is interested in developing cooperation with Ukraine, and the greatest importance for us lies in Crimea if this region was destined to become a military base for NATO and the American army.” Through this statement, we can insinuate that the greater goal of the United States of America in That region in general, and Ukraine in particular, is to open the doors for it to join the Atlas Alliance in an effort to expand the alliance towards the east because those countries constitute a buffer zone between Russia and Europe. Thus, and within an integrated military, political and economic strategy, the United States of America is working to include Ukraine in the European Union. 

Moreover, many studies see that the ambition of the United States does not stop at the Ukrainian borders but extends to the goal of controlling the Silk Road, which is supervised by China as a symbol of real control over the world, through the control of the lands between Western and Eastern Europe through the Caucasus and Central Asia to India and China, and this control passes through the control of Ukraine and its seaports.

Accordingly, the importance of Ukraine appears, not only as of the focus of US-Russian conflict and competition, but at the same time, it is the focus of an international security and economic conflict that is very complex between the most important actors in the international system, including China, which is the first economic competitor to the United States and the European Union. Therefore, Ukraine becomes a buffer zone for any Russian-Chinese expansion towards US-European interests, strategic depth, and an advanced defense front. Hence, the Biden-Putin summit, despite its importance, will not succeed in calming the situation between Russia and America, as the real causes of the conflict still exist and the coming days may witness more escalation. 

Marwa El-Shinawy: Assistant Prof. at International American University for Specialized Studies (IAUS)

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