The last few weeks have treated Russia very poorly. Following one of the most tense Olympics in recent memory, two of Russia’s allies, Ukraine and Venezuela, erupted in violent protest in opposition of Russia-friendly regimes.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych left Ukraine to seek refuge in Russia after refusing to give up his power in response to a parliamentary vote. He still claims the title of president. The United States has already moved to capitalize on the ill will the protesters have toward Russia. President Obama has warned Russia to back off by saying, “The Ukrainian people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future.” Despite this, Russia’s parliament approved the use of their military in Ukraine. Russia has already effectively invaded the Ukrainian region of Crimea. All this should sound familiar, and both superpowers should know by now that it is a trap.
Three years ago, the world saw its greatest outburst of revolutionary fervor this century. In what we now call the Arab Spring, a revolt in Tunisia inspired protests across the Muslim world, which led to the overthrowing of the governments of three countries, gaining rights for the citizens of many others and launching one, Syria, into a bloody civil war that continues to this day.
Syria represents all that could possibly go wrong with Ukraine. Like Ukraine, both factions in Syria run on support from Moscow and Washington. Russia’s long-standing relationship with Syria, dating back to the last revolution in 1966, brought in cash and weapons for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on revolutionaries. Russia also worked its tail off at the United Nations to prevent sanctions against Assad’s regime. The United States began its work against Russia on that front, but eventually began providing rebels with funding, military training and humanitarian aid. The greatest superpowers of the 20th century drew each other into yet another proxy war.
Ukraine looks to be going the same way. With Russian troops menacing the interim government of Ukraine and the United States and its allies thumping our chests with all our might, the country is a tinderbox for broader international conflict.
The takeaway from all this is that the Cold War isn’t over. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia and the United States can’t seem to stop getting into proxy wars. We don’t have this kind of trouble with China, despite their flagrant human rights abuses and increasingly frequent friction with their neighbors. It’s a problem specific to the relationship between the United States and Russia. And frankly, it’s purposeless.
Each country’s goal of retaining and expanding a coalition of allies against the other has led only to making more enemies. As the Eastern and Western Blocs decay, we must learn to leave each other alone. Each aggression by Russia cannot be seen as a threat to the United States, and Russia must stop taking every opportunity to disrupt American foreign policy that presents itself. The practice helps neither power, and it especially hurts the nations with whom we play tug-of-war. It’s time to drop the faÃ§ade of working for the greater good.