(MNA) - The new political standoff between the United States and Russia cannot be described as a new cold war, because the two countries still enjoy full diplomatic relations and also continue cooperation in many areas.
During the cold war era, the U.S. and Russia confronted each other in all areas and disagreed on many political, economic, ideological, cultural and security issues. However, Russia currently holds no strong ideological position and its economy and is incapable of competing with the U.S. and its allies in NATO.
Russia’s policies toward the West are no longer aggressive; instead Moscow pursues a defensive strategy, trying to minimize the threats imposed by the West on its interests in the Middle East and in the Caucuses. In other words, Moscow is taking sides with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in order to protect its interests in the region in the short term and subsequently prevent any future damage to its control in the Caucasus in the long term.
Russian officials have repeatedly warned of Washington’s aggressive policies in Syria and their consequences for the region. For Russians, it is clear that piling up more pressure on Syria is step towards pressuring Iran, which will further undermine its geostrategic position in the South. Moreover, if Moscow loses the proxy battle, the U.S. would be able to make alliances with semi-Islamist governments in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, a key rival to Russia for the Caucuses.
Russia’s strong support for the Syrian government is fundamentally related to the country’s geostrategic concerns and not merely the economic loss of arms sales to Syria. The fall of Assad in Syria would seriously threaten the balance of power in the region and would also undermine Russian president Vladimir Putin’s domestic prestige.
It is misleading to consider the ongoing conflict between Russia and the U.S. as a new cold war. The two are sorting out their problems at regional levels and in a predefined framework.
Jahangir Karami is a faculty member of the Department of Russian Studies of the University of Tehran.