United States, Relations with

   Romanov Russia and the United States established relations in the 18th century. After a period of rivalry in North America, Russia opted to sell its colony of Alaska to Washington in 1867. During World War I (1914–1918), Russia and the U.S. briefly fought together on the side of the Entente before the Bolshevik Revolution terminated the former’s role in the war. Shortly thereafter, U.S. troops invaded Soviet Russia, hoping to quash the new regime. Relations were not formally established with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) until 1933. After a brief alliance during World War II, Soviet-American relations plummeted, and by 1947, the two nations embarked on an epic geopolitical standoff known as the Cold War, with the two countries nearly going to war during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, U.S.-Soviet relations, which had warmed somewhat under détente, entered into a deep freeze with Reagan engaging in militarist rhetoric, which was returned by the geriatric leadership of the Kremlin. The U.S.’s surreptitious support to the mujahideen in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan further hampered relations.
   The ascendancy of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 triggered a new direction. Gorbachev’s reforms of perestroika and glasnost, combined with new agreements on arms reductions, ushered in a period of cordial relations. Reagan’s condemnation of the USSR’s “evil empire” in the Eastern Bloc placed intense pressure on Moscow to loosen its control of the region, culminating in the 1989 issuance of the so-called Sinatra Doctrine, which granted autonomy (as well as ultimate responsibility for their actions) to the Communist parties of the Soviet bloc; ultimately, the countries of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary abandoned the one-party system and their defense relationships with Moscow.
   Arms reduction initiatives, including START I, and normalization of relations continued under the new president George H. W. Bush (1989–1993), resulting in support from the USSR for the U.S.-led invasion of Moscow’s erstwhile ally Iraq in the Persian Gulf War (1990–1991) and the reunification of Germany. During the Bush presidency, independence movements among the union republics gathered steam, particularly in the Baltic States and Georgia. While American popular opinion favored such separatist movements, Washington pursued a realpolitik policy of balancing democratic idealism with maintenance of its burgeoning relations with Gorbachev. Bush stood behind both Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin during the failed August Coup in 1991, providing key information to the latter about Soviet military activity.
   In the fall of 1991, as the USSR dissolved, Bush sought to expand his relations with Yeltsin, while simultaneously reaching out to the nationalist leaders of the non-Russian republics. In 1992, the United States committed itself to helping the new Russian Federation and other post-Soviet states to secure “loose” weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear material, under the Nunn-Lugar Act. The United States and Russia also moved to expand cooperation on space exploration and defense, while eliminating Cold War–era impediments to foreign trade, communication, and cultural exchange. In 2007, United States and Russia approached parity in imports and exports, with bilateral trade totaling nearly $20 billion. The U.S. is also an important source of foreign investment for Russia, though the figure—at $3.6 billion in 2007—is now on the decline, with offshore and European investors commanding the lion’s share. Under President Bill Clinton (1993–2000), Washington committed to helping Moscow through its painful transition from a command-and-control economy; however, the imposition of shock therapy, combined with the U.S.’s failure to fully deliver on its promises of aid to Moscow, resulted in a meltdown of the Russian economy. A subsequent purge of Yeltsin’s pro-Western, market-oriented appointees produced a new leadership, personified by the rise of Yevgeny Primakov, that was more Eurasianist in its orientation and opposed to America’s domination of the world system. With a concomitant rise in poverty and a precipitous drop in their country’s international position, many Russians came to view the United States as benefiting from the country’s destabilization, particularly during the war in Chechnya. Despite this, Clinton and Yeltsin maintained a strong personal relationship throughout their two terms as president. In 1999, however, expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into east-central Europe and plans to include the Baltic States, combined with events in Yugoslavia, drove post-Soviet relations to their nadir.
   Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush were able to improve relations with a June 2001 summit in Slovenia, at which Bush declared he was able to get a “sense of Putin’s soul.” With the September 11 attacks, Putin was the first world leader to call President Bush, vociferously condemning the terrorist acts and committing Russian support to the effort to punish the perpetrators, a stance that was unpopular with much of Russia’s political elite. This turning point in relations resulted in extensive cooperation on counterterrorism, Russian backing of U.S. military installations in Central Asia, and Washington’s reestimation of the value of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Chechen links to the global Islamist jihadi movement. Relations began to sour with Washington’s declaration of its intention to invade Iraq in 2002; Moscow organized a group of “old” European states (France, Germany, etc.) to block the military adventure, but to no avail.
   Buttressed by growing oil prices and challenged with a rising terrorist threat, the Kremlin adopted a number of authoritarian measures within the Russian Federation, curtailing press freedom and limiting representative democracy, while acting increasingly aggressively toward its former Soviet neighbors, especially Ukraine and Georgia. Both trends drew pointed criticism from the Bush White House, which angered the Kremlin with its recognition of Kosovo’s declaration of independence and new plans for a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. With the ascendancy of Dmitry Medvyedev and the election of Barack Obama in 2008, relations have changed little. Russo-American ties remain frayed after the South Ossetian War, which was viewed by Western policymakers as an ominous warning to aspiring NATO members in the Russian periphery. Medvyedev’s overt backing of Kyrgyzstan’s 2009 decision to oust the U.S. from its base at Manas has further demonstrated that Russia seeks to marginalize U.S. interests in the near abroad.
   See also Middle East; Nuclear Weapons; Serbia; United Nations; Uzbekistan.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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