The USA and Russia, it seems, are now being pulled together by the exigencies of the times and, in the interest of world peace, are exploring ways to cooperate with each other rather than follow their old adversarial trajectories. This was more than obvious in the greetings message that President Putin sent to President Barack Obama last Christmas. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s visit to the Kremlin is also a case in point. And this was all happening despite Putin’s Crimea campaign and the fact that US ally Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet over Syria.
Russia (as the USSR) and the USA have been traditional rivals since the end of World War II. Both were contemporary superpowers in their time. When the USSR was dismantled, some say, following American machinations, the USA was left as the world’s only superpower. But while the rivalry progressed in the 50s, 60s and 70s, it produced some interesting aspects. Both tried to one-up each other during this period. They raced against each other on the ground in terms of military forces and arms and in space with their respective rockets and satellite programs.
In fact the US and Russia have a long history of trying to outdo one another. Many bilateral rivalries have occurred between the two throughout their tumultuous history.
After World War II, an arms race between the US and the Soviet Union ignited, with both powers vying to be kings of advanced weaponry. This technological rivalry naturally evolved from mere rocket-based arms to the exploration of the cosmos, as both nations raced to put a satellite, an animal, and a man into orbit. The Soviets darted fast out of the gate, launching the Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2 (with Laika the dog in tow) into orbit in 1957. However, when the US astronauts, the Soviet cosmonauts and President John F. Kennedy entered the picture in the 60s, the race really heated up. On April 12, 1961, the Soviets catapulted Yuri Gagarin — a pilot in the Soviet Air Force who had once fled his village from a German invasion — into orbit.
Not to be outdone, President Kennedy soon addressed Congress and the nation and demanded that the US put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Heeding the call, American astronaut John Glenn one-upped Gagarin by orbiting the Earth three times in 1962. The next year, Cosmonaut Valentia Tereshkova became the first woman in space. And so a back-and-forth power-and-prestige grab ensued and lasted until the end of the decade. On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin touched down on the moon. Moments later, when Armstrong announced that “the Eagle has landed” and stepped onto the moon, the space race had been won. In 1972, chess player Bobby Fischer took it on himself to topple the Soviet Union’s almost 25-year dominance in the sport when he went up against current world champion Boris Spassky. Given the bilateral relations between the two countries at the time, it’s no surprise that the 21-game match in Reykjavik, Iceland, drew worldwide interest. Despite some infuriating disappearing acts and seemingly high- maintenance demands from Fischer, the eccentric American genius ultimatelyproved victorious (and even won a rematch against Spassky in 1992) and is considered by many to be the greatest chess player who ever lived.
In the 80s, Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union. Standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on June 12, 1987, Reagan firmly commanded Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” This was the infamous Berlin Wall, which separated East Germany from West Germany. Twenty-nine months later the wall fell.
The thawing relations between the America and Russia were marred after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet. It was feared that Russia would retaliate but it decided not to in all probability because a Russian attack on a Nato country would have been akin to an international war. The change in US policy towards Russia became too obvious when US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow. This was pursuant to the efforts being made to organize talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war.
Historically Pakistan has hardly enjoyed cordial relations with the USSR. After fragmentation of the USSR into smaller republics, Russia was always seen by Pakistan’s ruling junta as a foe rather than a friend. Lately, the Russian regime has been making a deliberate attempt to bridge the confidence gap but animosity spread over decades is not likely to turn into friendship easily through Pakistan has recently purchased some advanced military helicopters from Russia. Both countries need to work harder to forget the past but many factors continue to haunt the relationship, the worst being the ever-changing geopolitical scenario which often turns friends into foes or the other way round.
Since its independence, Pakistan has remained under the umbrella of US foreign policy. It provided airbases to the US from which spy planes would snoop on the USSR. At one stage, the USSR even threatened to attack these bases. One important factor that ruined potential Pakistan-USSR relations right in the beginning was cancellation of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s visit to the USSR as he chose to go to the US at the eleventh hour.
Pakistan always enjoyed cordial relations with China and is known as its ‘time-tested friend.’ This often restricted Pakistan’s relations with the US, India and the USSR. Later, Pakistan’s relations with China were condoned by the US due to its growing trade ties but Russia has always remained a foe in the Pakistani perception.
Russia and the United States have always maintained diplomatic relations, but the already strained relations between Russia and the U.S. have greatly deteriorated due to the Ukrainian crisis and the Syrian Civil War. Even then, despite the tensions between both countries, the United States and Russia are still willing to cooperate and work together on international issues such as security and international peace – and that is the silver lining for world peace.
This article was originally published in South Asia magazine published from Pakistan http://southasia.com.pk/international.html