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US and Russia punish each other financially

The Week Ahead: Moscow responds to Western sanctions by closing $1.3 billion market to US farmers

The United States and Russia have long been at odds with each other. After a brief thawing of tensions in the years immediately after the cold war, the two sides have returned to undermining each other, this time in the form of economic reprisals.

Last week, the US placed sanctions on three more Russian state-owned banks citing Moscow’s actions in Crimea. It also targeted Russia’s energy, arms and shipping sectors. In response, Russia has now imposed a full embargo on food imports from the US, EU, Canada, Australia, and Norway. That includes a ban on produce, meat, fish, and dairy products.

During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment “The Week Ahead,” Thomas Drayton spoke to Nina Khrushcheva, an Associate Professor of International Affairs at The New School; and to William Pomeranz, Deputy Director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC.

Drayton asked what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is and if he is trying to strengthen his country’s national identity.

“National identity historically has been very anti-western,” said Khrushcheva. “Basically Russia always defined itself by what the West is not. And Putin has really been doing 150 percent of that.”

Drayton went on to ask if the United States and Russia have reached Cold War levels of tension.

“I think we’re at a post-Cold War low,” said Pomeranz. “I’m not quite sure we’re at Cold War levels yet. But just when you think the relationship can’t get any worse, it does.”

When asked what US interests are in Russia, Pomeranz explained that “America has interests in working with Russia in solving various issues around the world—in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and North Korea. And we have, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, worked with Russia to address those issues.”

Syria has been a major sticking point between the two sides. Russia, along with China, has blocked nearly every resolution passed by the US at the United Nations on the conflict raging in the country. Both sides have used Syria as a proxy war against each other.

Another issue of contention has been the asylum of Edward Snowden. The US wants to try him on espionage charges for leaking National Security Agency secrets. But after he recently requested an extension for his asylum, Moscow granted permission for him to stay an additional three years.

Pomeranz added “the other thing is that the United States has strong allies in Europe. We want to support Europe and the territorial integrity and the borders that exist there.”

The crisis in Ukraine has by far sparked the strongest discord between the US and Russia. Ukraine is split on pro-Russian and pro-Western lines, and both Moscow and Washington have taken advantage of those allegiances.

Khrushcheva agreed with Pomeranz saying that “Ukraine is a buffer zone between Europe and Russia, something that during the Cold War Poland was. Poland was the last line of defense for the West, now Ukraine is the last line of defense for the West, as it is for Russia.”

Drayton asked the guests about Putin’s support at home and where we go from here.

“A lot will depend on the level of support that Putin maintains inside the country,” said Pomeranz.

Khrushcheva said that Putin has about 80 percent support. “I don’t see too much love for Putin, but at the same time, there’s a lot of fear,” she said. “Not so much fear of Putin himself, but fear that if he goes, Russia will descend into chaos. But so far, he stands for Russian pride, and that kind of national pride is very important to the Russians.”

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