Don’t go Russian into things

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Since the end of World War II, also slightly before and during, the United States has had a very rocky relationship with Russia, to say the least. Although never actually going to war with the U.S.S.R., the U.S. came too close for comfort several times. Incidents such as the Bay of Pigs; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Korean, Vietnamese and Soviet-Afghan wars; the Space Race; the Nuclear Arms Race and the Berlin Wall all seemed like inevitable signs of a war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Fortunately for everyone, it is still called “the Cold War.”

Now that Russia has been free of communist rule for nearly 25 years, one might assume that the U.S. and Russia could go back to being friendly world powers. However, that has not been the case, especially during the past eight years. During President Barack Obama’s administration, the U.S./Russia relationship has become somewhat strained, and for good reason.

Graphic by Erik Cliburn

Graphic by Erik Cliburn

In 2011, the Syrian Civil War broke out, pitting the rebels of the Free Syrian Army against the official government in Syria led by President Bashar al-Assad. Later that year, the United States began supplying the FSA with non-lethal supplies including food, water, medicine, etc. However, the CIA eventually was put in charge of providing money, intelligence and training to FSA commanders. In 2013, the UN investigated and discovered use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on its own people (mostly civilians). This was about the time that the war began to be viewed as a globally serious issue. Then later in 2015, al-Assad and the Syrian government began requesting military aid from Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin obliged by beginning bombing campaigns in rebel-held territories throughout the country. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that up to this past September, Russian bombings had killed more than 3,800 civilians, with one-quarter of them children, while the number of rebels killed is just above 2,800. This backing of different sides in the Syrian Civil War has caused a lot of stress between the relationship of the U.S. and Russia, for obvious reasons.

Aside from the conflict in Syria, Russia also has become unpopular in the West for its actions in 2014 against Ukraine. Following political unrest in Ukraine, Russia decided to send troops into the region of Ukraine known as Crimea. By Feb. 27, 2014, Russian troops had captured the Crimean parliament building and instituted a pro-Russian government. A referendum was held by the pro-Russian government to annex Crimea for Russia, making Crimea independent of Ukraine. The referendum passed but internationally it is not recognized by many European countries because of Russia’s military occupation of the region during the vote.

Not only has Russia been involved in international issues that strain our relationship, but they have large internal issues as well. The country has no laws to protect LGBTQIA citizens from discrimination in the workplace or in government, and a ban has been placed on anything that can be regarded as “homosexual propaganda.” It was not until 1999 that Russia declassified homosexuality as a mental illness. LGBTQIA social issues were a cause of great concern during the 2012 Sochi Olympics because LGBTQIA athletes around the world felt that their rights would not be upheld during their stay in the country. Aside from this, many Western countries argue that Russia is not a true democracy, meaning that presidential elections are rigged. Putin was criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for having no real competition and excess government spending on his behalf, according to the New York Times.

President-Elect Donald Trump will not take office until January, but Putin already has expressed desires to improve U.S./Russia relations during Trump’s administration.  I hope that before Trump blindly begins mending relations in Russia, he takes a good look at all that has taken place in just the past five years. To say that Putin has been a bully would almost be an understatement. Although war is the last thing I would want to happen between the United States and Russia, I could not in good conscience support a leader who feels he can invade lands to which his country has no claim, who has killed more innocents than soldiers and denies people in his country basic human rights.

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