Implications of Russo-American Cold War
Since Biden took power, the powerful US security establishment has radically changed his worldview by showing him Russia’s increasing footholds in the Baltic region, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Afghanistan.
The Pentagon believes that such a meteoric rise of Russia could spell a threat to the waning US influence in these regions.
So, to curb Russian assertiveness in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the Biden Administration has evolved a harsh policy: it has slapped some stringent economic sanctions on Moscow over Russian deployment of troops on the Ukrainian border and seems hell-bent upon heavily punishing Russia with even more crippling sanctions if Moscow masses more forces on Ukrainian border.
But Uncle Sam is grossly mistaken in this regard; punitive sanctions to persuade a resurgent Russia to agree to negotiations are not likely to attain desired result.
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has been intently watching the steady expansion of NATO in its immediate backyard.
Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the trans-Atlantic Security Bloc has expanded its membership to 28, having added 12 more countries, including the strategically important three Baltic States.
And at its 2008 summit in Bucharest, Romania, NATO even promised eventual membership to Ukraine and Georgia.
As a result, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and has widely deployed about 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine this year.
The West has been supplying arms to the beleaguered Ukrainian government to deter Russia from launching a war against Ukraine.
Many Russian political and military leaders consider the US largely responsible for orchestrating regime changes during the so-called Colour Revolutions in Eastern Europe in the early 2000s.
Moreover, Moscow sees a US secret hand behind the ousting, in 2014, of pro-Russian Ukrainian President, Victor Yanukovych.
NATO’s expansionist posturing and the US policy of regime change in Eastern Europe propelled Russia to invade the strategically important Crimean peninsula in March 2014.
Rather than resolving the Ukrainian issue diplomatically under the auspices of the UN, the US has been providing military hardware to the Ukrainian army to be employed against the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Now Russia considers it an opportunity to count on the annexation of Crimea to actualise its hitherto unaccomplished dream of carving out its special sphere of influence in the region around the Mediterranean Sea.
This has made the US apprehensive of an increasing Russian presence in the region.
Therefore, Washington has been deeply engaged in lending a military hand to anti-Russian forces in Ukraine to push Russia back.
The more the US-led West funnels weapons to anti-Russian forces in Ukraine, the more Moscow tightens its firm hold over Crimea.
The Baltic region has also become a major flashpoint between the US and Russia on account of their massive military build-ups in the region.
Under its ‘advanced forward presence,’ NATO has deployed battalion-size units in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, and is inclined to further entrench its military presence in these countries.
Furthermore, American rockets have been placed in the Czech Republic and Poland.
The Kremlin considers NATO’s military build-ups as aggressive posturing and the security bloc’s systematic encirclement of Russia.
NATO’s militarized strategy in the Baltic States will compel Russia to further increase its military presence in the region, thus escalating the chance of confrontation there.
Due to its potential energy resources, both, the (former) Soviet Union and the US fiercely contested against each other for special spheres of influence in the Middle East during the Cold War.
In recent years, the US pivot to East Asia against China and its dismal failure to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria have opened the door for Russia to extend its military influence in the region.
Russia fostered its military ties with Egypt by sending some 500 troops to the country for joint military exercises when president Trump was in charge of the Oval Office.
The Biden Administration deems such growing Russian engagement with the major Middle Eastern countries as a deliberate bid to outweigh the US economic and military presence in the region.
For Washington, Russian dominance of the Middle East also means increasing Chinese military and economic engagement with the top regional powers.
If the energy-exporting Arab countries tilt towards Russia, this will compel European powers to lift their economic sanctions on Moscow to import energy resources from Russia.
What should not be forgotten is that the region not only hosts the fifth fleet of the US, it also provides an adequate amount of energy resources to the US and its close European allies.
Thus, Washington will resort to all means to prevent Saudi Arabia and Egypt, its long-time partners in the region, from jumping on the Russian bandwagon in the Middle East.
The US missile attacks against an airbase in Syria in the past and its multi-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia during the Trump presidency demonstrated how Washington moved to placate an angry Saudi Arabia.
Russia is also slowly losing India to the US as its major arms importer owing to the deepening strategic partnership between New Delhi and Washington.
Both – sanction-hit Iran and cash-strapped Pakistan in Asia – are reluctant to purchase expensive Russian weapons.
This is a well-thought-out strategy calibrated by the US to systematically squeeze the sources of revenue for Russia in South Asia, thereby preventing Moscow from behaving like a regional hegemon in Asia.
To the surprise of the US, Russia retaliated by playing a new Great Game against the US forces in war-torn Afghanistan between 2015 and 2021.
In that game, Moscow was allegedly supporting the Afghan Taliban so that they would defeat the foreign-funded Afghan forces and increase their hold over the country.
Interestingly, both Iran and Pakistan seemed to be largely supportive of such Russian flirtation with the Afghan Taliban.
The US reacted by reportedly assisting certain Daesh operatives in Afghanistan to counter the phenomenal rise of the Taliban and increasing foothold of Russia in the country.
Menacingly, Russia steeply increased its diplomatic and military assistance to the Taliban in reaction to the US alleged support to the militant outfit.
On account of such Russo-American rivalry, lasting peace and stability remained elusive in Afghanistan.
The brewing cold war between Russia and the US is likely to further accentuate the rivalry over Ukraine, political instability in Afghanistan and the ongoing insecurity and unrest in the Middle East.
As far as Pakistan, it should avoid partnering with either country and take only those measures which will serve the country’s national interests.
Islamabad should premise its foreign policy on sagacity, prudence, shrewdness and diplomatic adroitness in the terrain of shifting sands of world politics.
—The writer is former senior researcher at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) and now an editor and commentator based in Karachi.