Made By Secret Handshakes

This just in: the Cold War isn’t over.

The above sentence is pretty controversial amongst historians, politicians, and on the international stage as a whole. However, this week has shown that international tensions involving Russia and her foreign policy decisions are certainly not a thing of the past. See, very recently Russia decided to enter the foreign stage i.e. ISIS. Unfortunately for Russia, her entry was contentious and caused some serious backlash by both ISIS (well, obviously) and the United States.

The main problem with US-Russia relations is history. It can be argued that history is the main issue in foreign policy regardless of the nations, but the US and Russia have this deeply ingrained history that affects every conversation the US and Russia have had since 1919.  The problem with such a deep, long, and often tension fraught, history is that everything has meaning. Anything Russia does creates a US response, as it has since 1946… including Russia joining the fight against ISIS.

Today’s students are taught, at pretty much every level of education, that the Cold War ended in December 1991 when the USSR dissolved into 15 separate, sovereign, nations. Except, that’s false history. It’s the history Western countries want to believe, and it’s the history the US has tried very hard to make true. Unfortunately, you can’t make wrong history the truth… it’s false no matter how you look at it. See, when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, it didn’t do so because the PowersThatBe honestly believed the soviet political system was wrong, it did so because it was practically broke. A space race with the United States that was carried out mostly in secret (which means its budget was never made public, either, and historians can only guess how much it actually cost), an arms race, and a fruitless war in Afghanistan (which, something the US should have thought about 14 years ago… but that’s another post) all combined to essentially bankrupt the Soviet Union. Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika attempted to fix both the stagnant politics and economy, but too little too late. It wasn’t Ronald Reagan standing on the Berlin Wall demanding “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” that caused the USSR to fall, it was money. That doesn’t change the political facts of what is now the Russian Federation and 15 ‘post-soviet spaces.’ All it did was create a period of unstable turmoil.

Russia’s economic woes weren’t ended with the fall of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin’s policies couldn’t stem the money bleeding, nor could he deal with the political infighting of rebels in various areas, including Chechnya, which became violent. When Yeltsin resigned in 1999, handing the reigns to then Prime Minister Putin, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. Unfortunately for the world, they were too soon to breathe easy. Putin’s policies, beginning in 2000 when he was officially elected President, were congruent with setting Russia back on a path toward Soviet power. The political structure might be called something different, but Putin’s never been shy about what he wanted: complete control over the area. He managed to squelch the majority of Chechen insurgency, enacted sweeping reforms which returned stability to Russia, and manage to win hearts and minds. His popularity in Russia is almost unheard of, and the moment he began reforms within Russia, Western nations began questioning their definitive responses that the Cold War was over. The problem is that ‘Cold War’ has such a detrimental impact on the morale of a nation’s citizen that no country will admit the Cold War never ended. In 2008, Putin’s constitutional term limits were reached, and his former Prime Minister became President… well, PINO (President In Name Only). In 2011 Putin had the constitution amended, and in 2012 resumed his official role as President-for-real.

Putin’s never been shy about his foreign policy motivations: he constantly refers to former Soviet states as the ‘post-soviet space’ and claims absolute rights and influence in the area. In 2008 he attempted to reclaim Georgia under the guise of an oil war, and in 2014 he annexed a piece of Ukraine. Putin is very transparent in his foreign policy goals, and such goals bring him into conflict with Western nations on very frequent occasions… the arguments against Putin, his government, his reforms, and his foreign policy decisions use exactly the same language that was used when the Cold War was ‘official.’ The Cold War hasn’t ended, it’s just called something different in the halls of nations foreign offices, NATO and the UN. As NATO’s influence expand into Eastern Europe, Russia’s fury at the meddling of Western powers grows.

Just last month, Russia joined the fight against ISIS… Putin has always supported al-Assad, something the US and EU nations vehemently oppose, and ISIS has started encroaching into territories previously held by the Syrian government. Russian military actions in Syria are entirely in support of the current regime. The problem is that the US can’t be happy with Russian help, especially when they’re on opposite sides of the al-Assad issue, and the US argues that all Russia has done is bomb ‘moderate’ rebels and civilians, but hasn’t actually done anything against ISIS forces in Syria. The US state department has, in fact, accused Russia of making the situation worse.The Russian entry into the war on ISIS has actually allowed the US to use Cold War rhetoric, and has accused Russian intervention in ’emboldening’ the al-Assad regime to continue to attack its own citizens (a claim that the US has little proof of… but it’s ok, because propaganda!).

The thing is, is doesn’t matter to ISIS if the US and Russia hate each other, or if US-Russian relations are what led Russia to start bombing ISIS in the first place, all it knows is that a military entity is dropping bombs with the intention to eradicate them, and they aren’t so happy.

ISIS’ reaction to Russian intervention in Syria was to send a message. On Halloween, a Russian passenger plane was blown out of the sky about 25 minutes into its flight from an Egyptian resort.The debris fell in Sinai, inside Egyptian territory. Most of the passengers and crew were Russian, with a few Ukrainians on board. ISIS immediately claimed responsibility, but both Egypt and Russia dismissed this. Unfortunately, their dismissal was political, rather than fact based. See, Egypt admitting that it can’t guarantee the security of tourists would be detrimental to the economy, and it would also result in the world questioning why Egypt hasn’t taken a stronger military role against ISIS. Russia admitting that ISIS fought back would be detrimental to its own propaganda machine, and cause panic and unrest at home. Putin immediately took political cover, deferred all questions to Egyptian authorities, and cautioned jumping to conclusions.

A couple days later, the US and UK both suspended flights from  Sharm el-Sheikh claiming intelligence suggested an ISIS bomb brought down the plane. Yesterday, Russia too suspended all flights from  Sharm el-Sheikh, essentially admitting that it acknowledged US, UK and French intelligence that the crash was the result of ISIS intervention. Although Russia hasn’t made an official statement, a country doesn’t suspend flights to a very popular tourist destination without good reason. ISIS bombing a plane is good reason. Only Egypt seems reluctant to admit what the facts show… that ISIS has found a way to attack passenger jets, and has brought the fight onto home soil.

The knowledge that ISIS has moved beyond simply gaining territory in the middle east, and has become an actual terrorist threat to civilians outside their current territory, poses a serious problem. The world seems to agree that ISIS is a dangerous militant force, they just can’t seem to agree what to do. Russia has learned the hard way, as the first mass casualty, that there are bigger things to worry about than Cold War rhetoric and Russian-US relations. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s stance on the world stage has always been questionable… and on Halloween they learned the lesson that Jimmy Carter learned in 1979: in a globalised world, no one is safe, and retaliation will come in the form of attacks on civilians of other nations if that’s what it takes to make a point. Russia has to decide if it will continue its quest to reclaim Eastern Europe, and create allies in the middle east which are the anti-thesis of US desires, or if it’ll return to the international isolation of the early Yeltsin years. Either way, Russia just experienced a massive loss….one more for the Cold War that the world says is over.


*: this is the same United States that allied itself with Syrian rebels, giving training, guns, ammunition, and other weapons. The same Syrian rebels who are either funded by Al Qaeda, or have joined ISIS… but US hatred of al-Assad is so deeply ingrained that they ignore the facts and reality of what the Syrian rebels are, argue that they’re only assisting the ‘vetted moderates’ (which don’t actually exist), and have sent 50 special forces into the area… but the US insists it won’t engage in ‘boots on the ground’ warfare. In reality, the US understanding of the situation in Syria isn’t that great, and they probably shouldn’t be commenting on what does, or does not, constitute helping.

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