MOSCOW, November 11 (RIA Novosti) – The first serious conflict in modern Russia-US relations can be traced to 1999 when NATO, led by the United States, launched a military intervention in Yugoslavia. The pretext for this attack was the country's Kosovo problem. Citing ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, as well as demands to withdraw Serbian troops from the autonomous regions of Kosovo and Metohija, the NATO bombings, which were not authorized by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), began in March 1999. The United States took part in Operation Noble Anvil, which was promoted as a "humanitarian intervention." Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia, and many other towns suffered missile attacks and bombings. From the outset Moscow viewed the bombing of Yugoslavia as an act of aggression. Russia's first response was cancellation of an official visit to the United States by then Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who turned his aircraft around over the Atlantic and returned to Moscow as an expression of protest. The Russian Federation also temporarily suspended cooperation with NATO.
Ongoing, one of the most challenging aspects of the relations between Russia and the United States and NATO remains the issue of anti-ballistic missile defense (ABM). In 2002 the United States unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 ABM Treaty. Prior to that, the United States had repeatedly declared its intention to withdraw from the treaty which, according to Washington, "did not meet today's realities," intending to set about creating its own national anti-missile defense system. Russia, in turn, insisted on preserving what it saw as a crucial bilateral agreement of international significance, in Moscow's wording, "a cornerstone of strategic stability and security." Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement in connection with the US decision to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty. He stressed that Russia "did not oblige jointly withdrawing from the ABM Treaty, which the United States was insistently proposing, and did everything possible to preserve the treaty, guided by concern about preserving and enhancing international legal foundations in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
After quitting the ABM Treaty the United States began, and to this day is actively pursuing, the creation of its own global anti-missile system. On September 17, 2009, US President Barack Obama announced the adoption of a "phased, adaptive approach" to the deployment of anti-missile defense in the United States and Europe. The first phase of this program has already been completed. Washington is set to use the anti-missile defense, developed and tested in Europe, in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East regions as well. Russia insists upon legally binding guarantees, coupled with an effective verification mechanism, to ensure that this anti-missile system is not aimed at Russia.
The March 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, including the so-called Shock and Awe invasion, by US troops of Iraq, soured Russian-US relations further. The invasion was authorized by US President George W. Bush. The official reason for the invasion was the alleged connection of Saddam Hussein's regime with international terrorists, as well as a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. No such weapons were ever found. Once again, the operation was conducted without any authorization from the UNSC. The US version of a UNSC resolution to intercede was not put to vote after Russia, China and France stated they would veto any resolution that included an ultimatum to use force against Iraq. The justification of waging war in Iraq under the slogan of a "war on terror" in the Middle East did not meet with understanding from the leadership or the populace of Russia. Some Russians expressed the view that the US war was aimed at taking possession of oil resources and imposing a 21st century world order, without regard for the United Nations. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the military operation against Iraq "a huge political mistake" and expressed his concern about "the threat of the collapse of the existing international security system."
The United States has repeatedly tried to use regional conflicts, engineering "color revolutions" to pursue international political goals. Localized exclusively in the territory of the former USSR, these engineered revolutions are justified by a US fear of Russia's growing role in global politics and its influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In 2003, the color revolution technique was tested by the United States in Georgia (the so-called Rose Revolution). Mikheil Saakashvili, who succeeded Eduard Shevardnadze as president of Georgia, pursued an openly pro-American policy and was directly financed by funds from George Soros. Events in Ukraine proceeded in a similar fashion. In violation of the country's constitution and of all democratic norms, under pressure from the United States and European nations, a third presidential election was held in 2004 against the background of the "Orange Revolution." The principle promoter of the revolution was a United States non-governmental organization (NGO) called Freedom House, headed by James Woolsey, director of the CIA under US President Bill Clinton, and financed by George Soros. Unrest in Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyzstan "Tulip Revolution" in 2005 ultimately failed to achieve their goals. There is also evidence implicating the US State Department in the April 2009 riots in Moldova.
In August 2008 a new confrontation between Russia and the United States erupted as a result of the Georgian army's invasion of South Ossetia. Russia, protecting the residents of South Ossetia, many of whom were Russian nationals, moved troops into the republic. After five days of military activities the Georgian military were pushed out of the region. Meanwhile Abkhazia, essentially independent of Georgia since 1993, pushed Georgian troops from its upper Kodori Gorge region. On August 26, 2008, Russia recognized the sovereignty of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both countries had formerly been part of the USSR and had been demanding independence even before that state's collapse. The United States and NATO could not stop Russian successes in the region, and gave up their expansion into post-Soviet space.
Plans to reset relations between Russia and the United States, announced after the election of US President Barack Obama, have not materialized. According to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin, trust in Russian-US relations was again undermined by the overthrow and murder of Libya's ruler Muammar Gaddafi, brought about by the actions of the US and its allies. In mid-February 2011 mass rallies erupted in Libya demanding the resignation of Gaddafi, the country's leader since 1969. The rallies evolved into armed confrontation between Gaddafi's forces and the opposition. In March 2011 the UNSC imposed a no-fly zone to protect the country's population from Gaddafi's army. The no-fly zone gave NATO justification for a military operation in Libya. During almost nine months of fighting, Gaddafi's opponents managed to take control of almost the entire country. The conflict's turning point occurred toward the end of August when the opposition, supported by NATO air forces, captured Tripoli, the country's capital. On October 20, Muammar Gaddafi was killed near the Libyan city of Sirte.
As a result of the NATO action Libya is in a serious crisis. Liberal forces supported by the army and Islamist parties backed by former rebels are fighting for control of the country. The Russian Foreign Ministry considers the current chaos in Libya to be a direct result of the irresponsible interference of the United States and its NATO allies for the sake of a forced "democratization" of the country. Russian statesman Yevgeny Primakov, an expert on the Middle East, believes that Russia was cheated by its American "partners," who persuaded Russia not to veto the Security Council resolution closing Libyan skies under the pretext of the threat of civilians being bombed by the Libyan army.
Another continuing debate in Russian-US relations is Russia's assistance to Iran in developing nuclear energy for peaceful uses. In 1992 Iran and Russia signed an Agreement on Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy. The Agreement covered the construction of nuclear power plants and cooperation between the two countries for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. A number of western nations, the United States and Israel in particular, displayed hypersensitivity about not just Iran's nuclear program but also its cooperation with Russia in this area. They accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful nuclear program. Tehran has dismissed all the accusations, claiming that its nuclear program is designed exclusively to satisfy the country's electric energy needs. The United States introduced sanctions against Iran, both in the UN and unilaterally, which have significantly damaged the country's economy. In 2012, under pressure from Washington, European Union members embargoed Iranian oil imports. Russia does not consider sanctions against Iran to be an effective means of understanding the debate, and is confident that diplomatic efforts should be continued.
The ongoing crisis in Syria is currently one of the most dangerous challenges for the international community. In March 2011 an internal political collapse in Syria was provoked by the so called "Arab Spring" movement, which by that year's end grew into a full blown civil war. The crisis was intensified by unprecedented international involvement. Opposition against the government was supported by both neighboring (Turkey, Arabian monarchies) and foreign (United States and France leading an international coalition) countries. The coalition's striving at any cost for regime change in Syria led to a militarization of the conflict. The US and its allies began funding and arming the opposition, even assisting in the recruitment of mercenaries for the task. The conflict has polarized Syrian society and intensified a fierce and unnecessary confrontation in interfaith relations, including a rise in radical religious influence.
These same foreign influences have triggered the assembling of the terrorist organization the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) subsequently renamed the Islamic State (IS). The IS, with its al-Qaeda connections and reputation for extreme cruelty, has grown most powerful during the conflict in Syria, where it fights against government forces. Using Sunni dislike of Bagdad policy, the IS launched a massive offensive in Iraq's northern and northeastern provinces, quickly occupying large areas. In summer of 2014 the IS proclaimed a caliphate (Islamic state) on its occupied territories in Syria and Iraq. Since the beginning of the current Syrian crisis, Russia has repeatedly counseled the US and its allies to take into account the threat of intensified terrorist activities. Russian President Vladimir Putin said United States policy in Syria is not grounded in reality. According to Putin, the United States was arming an opposition militia without any consideration of the consequences. "I think this is a very short-sighted and incompetent policy that has no basis in reality. It is an utterly uncalculated and unprofessional policy," the President stated. The US's refusal to negotiate with the Syrian government is one of the major problems in combating the IS.
Differing approaches to the situation in Ukraine have contributed to a further downturn in relations between Russia and the US. The current political crisis in Ukraine broke out in late November 2013. The government announced that European integration of the country would be put on hold, causing mass protests, christened Euromaidan, to sweep the country in January. In February the protests became clashes between armed radicals and law enforcement forces. On February 22, 2014, a power grab took place in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Verkhovna Rada, the country's parliament, broke agreements between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders and changed the Constitution. Parliament leaders and the head of Ukraine's Interior Ministry ousted the country's president, setting a new parliamentary election date for May 25. Moscow questioned the legitimacy of the parliament's decisions. Crimea and several regions in the east and south of Ukraine did not recognize the legitimacy of the parliament, and chose to hold referendums regarding their political future. A referendum was held in Crimea on the status of the region's autonomy, and a majority of voters supported uniting Crimea with Russia.
Crimea joined Russia on March 18 as a constituent entity of the Russian Federation. Farther north, residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, who had not recognized the legitimacy of the February coup d"état in Kiev, proclaimed the creation of "people's republics," declaring their sovereignty following May referendums and later forming a union called The Federal State of Novorossiya, as yet unrecognized by Ukraine's current government.
Kiev authorities began an "anti-terrorist operation" and mobilized the army to invade the newly proclaimed autonomous regions. According to UN data, as of October 31, the number of victims of Ukraine's conflict reached 4,035, with 9,336 people wounded. The United States, in dissent of Russian actions toward a peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, introduced visa, financial and property sanctions against a number of Russian officials, Federal Assembly members and businessmen, as well as several Russian companies and banks. As of March 2014 the US severed contacts within the Russian-American Bilateral Presidential Commission and a number of bilateral cooperation events, including those of law-enforcement, have been cancelled.
On September 24, 2014, US President Barack Obama, speaking at the UN General Assembly, stated that the most serious global threats are, in order of importance, the Ebola virus, Russia's actions in Europe and terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov labeled the US President's remarks that Russia ranks second among international threats a "brain aberration." Lavrov said the US President's statement does not reflect the way Russia is perceived in the modern world. He went on to say that "the tired attempts to equate "Russia's actions in Ukraine" with the threat to international security being posed by the Islamic State terrorist group are nothing but a primitive distortion of reality. This flawed reasoning once again proves the commitment of the United States and its NATO allies being steered by them to the policy of double standards in the interests of implementing their geostrategic plans. All this clearly exceeds the boundaries of reason."