April 24, 2016

Lecturer Explores Fluctuating Tensions Between United States and Russia

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Jeffrey Rathke ’91, deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, voiced concern about increased tensions between the United States and Russia in a lecture on Friday.

Although relations between the United States and Russia are not as unpleasant as they were during the Cold War, tension is still palpable, according to Rathke.

“We are at a period of heightened confrontation between Russia and the West and when many of the cornerstones of peace and stability in Europe have become more uncertain,” he said.

Rathke said he believes the deterioration in the relationship from both sides results from Western foreign policy decisions and how they are perceived in Russia.

“There is widespread dissatisfaction in Russia with the policies of their neighbors after the Cold War,” he said. “It allowed for the development of political freedoms in Eastern Europe, without which we would face a more destabilized region, but there is deep dissatisfaction with the choices that Russia’s neighbors have made and with the security system that exists in Europe and the role Russia plays in it.”

Rathke added that, due to undesirable results from Western foreign policy interventions such as the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, Russia is attempting to increase its influence in international affairs.

“They want to be at the table deciding events rather than having to react to them,” he said.

Increased tensions between the country and the West have also resulted from an buildup in Russia’s conventional armed forces, according to Rathke. These forces performed poorly in the country’s 2008 war against Georgia, and Russian leaders have perceived a disparity between their capabilities and NATO’s.

“This makes sense as in terms of technological sophistication and in sure numbers — which is actually different from the situation during the Cold War where Russia had conventional military superiority from the West,” he said.

As a result, Russia has continually engaged in military exercises in Europe — including unannounced large-scale snap exercises — to display its military competency and create instability Eastern European NATO states, according to Rathke.

“If you are a country like Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia, you look across your border and you have your own armed troops of around 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers and you see Russia being able to put 100,000 troops in your near vicinity without much warning,” he said. “This is a situation that creates not only anxiety, but regional instability.”

Rathke added that an upcoming NATO conference will ensure that the organization has the ability to mobilize troops in response to a potential attack on an eastern NATO-member state. However, the United States has already begun placing troops in former Soviet Union NATO-member states to deter Russian aggression, according to Rathke.

“Their responsibility is to not attack Russia, but to make it clear that if Russia decides to intervene in Eastern Europe, forces are on alert and ready to intervene if necessary,” he said.