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Washington and Moscow may loosen knot, even if slightly

By Yu Sui | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-24 07:06
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Russian and US state flags fly near a factory in Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region, Russia on March 27, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

The world has been waiting for US President Joe Biden to reverse the protectionist policies of his predecessor and normalize the United States' relations with other countries, including Russia and China. Russia-US relations hit another low when Biden said "I do" when asked if he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin was a "killer" in an interview broadcast on March 17.
Moscow responded by recalling its ambassador in Washington on Thursday, and Putin pointing at the US' history of slavery, massacring Native Americans and dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

The good news is that Putin has proposed the two presidents speak on the phone to discuss how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, regional conflicts and other important issues, suggesting the conversation be open to the public. On Friday, the Kremlin said Putin's offer to speak by phone with Biden was aimed at preventing bilateral ties from completely falling apart over the US president's offensive remark against his Russian counterpart.

A week after assuming office, Biden had spoken with Putin over the phone in a bid to extend by another five years the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty before it expired on Feb 5, and to maintain transparent and regular communication between the two sides. Yet, as the latest spat between the two sides shows, Russia-US relations are anything but normal.

US-Russian ties started deteriorating when the US and some other Western powers tried to extend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to Russia's doorstep to Georgia and Ukraine. After the Crimea incident in 2014, US-Russian ties deteriorated further leading to sanctions and counter-sanctions. And while Moscow blamed the US for inciting unrest in Russia, the US accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election.

Russia and the US realize full well the importance of a stable bilateral relationship but cannot help flexing their respective muscles. And since the US is desperate to maintain its supremacy and Russia's goal is to develop into a strong economy, it may be difficult for the two sides to reset their relations. The US sees Russia as a military giant but an economic dwarf and has been taking measures to thwart Russia's efforts to achieve rapid economic growth, maintain political stability and safeguard its territorial integrity.

The US has also been trying to neutralize Russia's nation-rebuilding efforts by imposing economic sanctions and trying to orchestrate a color revolution in Russia, by extending support to Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny, who has now been arrested. And the two sides' differences over global concerns such as Syria, the Iran nuclear deal and the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue have intensified bilateral disputes.

Three major arms control deals between Washington and Moscow were once the symbol of a progressive bilateral relationship. But despite Russia's willingness to extend the treaties, the Donald Trump administration allowed the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to expire-and quit the Treaty on Open Sky in November 2020. So, although the White House and the Kremlin have agreed to extend the New START, the room for the US and Russia to improve their ties has shrunk.

That US sanctions have not been able to cripple Russia, as Washington would have liked to see, and Putin has maintained a high approval rating shows Washington's "maximum pressure" has failed in case of Russia. Trump expected the US' European allies to help it contain Russia but the European member states of NATO were reluctant to do so. As a result, the US' attempt to sanction Nord Stream 2 pipeline found few takers in Europe.

If finished, the 1,230-kilometer Nord Stream 2 pipeline, led by Gazprom, Russia's state-owned gas giant, will become one of the longest offshore gas pipelines in the world. It is designed to deliver Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine, and given the high demand of energy, Western European countries can hardly sever ties with Russia as the US wants.

Washington has also tried to drive a wedge between Beijing and Moscow, as it sees Beijing as a major rival and Moscow as a major threat. But since both China and Russia are aware of the US' tricks and attach great importance to their friendship, they will never fall prey to the US' evil designs.

Russia and the US understand the significance of a peaceful relationship, and cannot ignore their mutual interests in a wide range of global issues such as regional and global security, and climate change. So competition and cooperation between the two sides will continue, with competition taking a larger share of the exchanges.

The author is a researcher at the China Center for Contemporary World Studies. The views don't necessarily represent that of China Daily.

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