US-Russia ties reach all time low

(Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

When superpowers confront each other through proxies and microphones, things can easily get out of hand. President Joe Biden knows this well, having created global headlines last week during his visit to Poland, the EU’s frontline in the Russia-Ukraine war.

In a reference to Putin, Biden commented that the Russian leader could not remain in power, given what he has caused and done in Ukraine. To laymen, that was tantamount to a call for regime change. Shortly after, the US public relations machine swung into full gear, noting that Biden did not mean what he said, even when he had said it.

The US government has had to walk back Biden’s words several times before. That was nothing new. What is new is Biden himself and the way he expressed it. Watching his 27-minute speech in Warsaw several times, it is as clear as day that his dismissal of Putin was deliberate and not a gaffe. He wanted to say what he had on his mind, what has heretofore been hidden at the subconscious level.

Interestingly, his words were aimed at Putin, not the country and Russian people. He was very succinct about Putin’s days being numbered, because of the entrapments he has created in the past five weeks-plus of war and carnage in Ukraine. He is held responsible.

By coming out so clearly, Biden is betting on his leadership role, both in the US and the world. He is facing the upcoming mid-term elections, the polling for which are increasingly turning against his Democrat Party. To keep his party’s control of the Senate, he has to shore up his base. Anything that manifests his toughness and draws voters is an asset.

At the global level, American leadership is at stake. After the unexpected troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US’s reputation abroad has been greatly damaged. What the Biden Administration has been trying to do, since he took up the presidency, is to shore up the US’s profile. The Ukraine debacle provides a good opportunity to rally his allies. He has done a good job in that.

Like it or not, the rivalry between the US and Russia has already taken a new form. It certainly will become a war of attrition in overt ways. In the past, both countries have tried to maintain a friendly profile, no matter how superficial, which has made a stable relationship possible. Now, their ties will be under constant stress and this can only escalate.

Already, the US has pressured its regional allies and friends to isolate Russia at planned international meetings, such as the Group of Twenty (G20), of which Indonesia is the current president. Russia is an important regional and global player in this region, as a strategic dialogue partner of ASEAN. A few ASEAN members have unshakable ties with Russia, which can be traced back to the former Soviet Union.

It is pivotal that the region serves as a neutral platform on which conflicting powers can exchange views and reconcile. Otherwise, there will be no place to bridge the gap, losing opportunities to improve friendships. Better US-Russia ties makes the world safer and are vital for peace and prosperity in the region.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn


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