U.S.-Russia sniping invokes Cold War memories

WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Russia used the 70th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly on Monday to call for cooperation publicly, while harshly chastising each other in the process.

Hours before meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin pointedly accused the U.S. of being an elitist, know-it-all.

Referring to the U.S. in a speech before the U.N. General Assembly, Putin said, “We all know that after the end of the Cold War, a single center of domination emerged in the world. Then those who found themselves at the top of the pyramid were tempted to think that they were so strong and exceptional, that they knew better than the U.N. and didn’t have to reckon with the U.N.”

Putin intimated that the U.S. “instead of automatically authorizing and legitimizing necessary (U.N.) decisions, it often stands in the way.”

Putin’s blunt remarks came hours after Obama took Russia to task on the floor of the General Assembly for its annexation of Crimea and “further aggression in Eastern Ukraine.”

Obama said, “America has few economic interests in Ukraine. We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine. But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated.”

“If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia,” said Obama.

Taking note of the chilly relations between the two presidents plus Russian attempts to project its power in the Western Hemisphere and its takeover of Ukrainian territory, a growing number of western observers have suggested the Cold War has resumed.

But Obama dismissed such talk as a by-product of Russian propaganda.

“Russia, state-controlled media may describe these events as an example of a resurgent Russia — a view shared, by the way, by a number of U.S. politicians and commentators who have always been deeply skeptical of Russia, and seem to be convinced a new Cold War is, in fact, upon us.”

Obama also suggested Russia’s power grab has backfired.

“The Ukrainian people are more interested than ever in aligning with Europe instead of Russia,”

Continuing to publicly push Russia to retreat from Ukraine, Obama suggested Russian claims of working for a better world may be more talk than action.

“Imagine if, instead, Russia had engaged in true diplomacy, and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected. That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia, and better for the world,” he said.

Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees research in Washington and Moscow on Russia and Eurasia, told WTOP recently that it’s hard to predict Russia’s behavior on international issues related to the U.S.

“We have seen most recently Russia be a constructive player in the P-5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. At the same time they’ve done things that are completely obnoxious — like harboring Edward Snowden, who’s been responsible for these very damaging leaks that involve U.S. national security and intelligence programs.”

Weiss said a key consideration in examining Russia’s ability to pose another Cold War challenge to the U.S. is that Russia “is a shadow of what it was in the Soviet period. Its ability to project force and to use conventional tools to influence development in these regions is significantly under challenge in these regions at the moment.”

He suggested Russia has tried to cover its weaknesses by employing unusual tactics to remain relevant on the world stage.

“That’s why you see a lot more use of these unconventional tactics, whether it’s the so-called hybrid war we’re seeing in Ukraine or tools promoting corruption and other sorts of dirty dealing — with the elites taking power in countries across the former Soviet Union,” said Weiss.

Both leaders publicly stressed interest in working for the good of each other’s nations and the world, but the frosty language on display at the general session suggested moving from interest to action would be a difficult proposition during and after their private meeting.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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