Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov delivered a depressing assessment on the state of U.S.-Russia relations earlier this month. While holding out a sliver of hope that ties between Washington and Moscow could improve, Lavrov said ‘the confrontation has hit the bottom’. His remarks came a fortnight after U.S. president Joe Biden and Russian president Vladimir Putin scolded one another like two children in the schoolyard, with the former calling Putin ‘a killer‘ and the latter hinting that Biden may be suffering from ill health. Relations, in turns out, weren’t at the bottom as Lavrov thought.
We know this because the dynamics between the U.S. and Russia have only gotten worse in the weeks since. You can excuse someone for thinking U.S.-Russia relations are as bad today as they were in the early 1980s, when the two Cold War adversaries were on the opposite sides of a geopolitical and ideological struggle.
Anatoly Antonov, the Russian Ambassador in Washington, hasn’t been in town for over a month. Meanwhile, America’s Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan is heading home for consultations, days after the Kremlin suggested the veteran diplomat take some time off.
Last week, the Biden administration enacted another round of sanctions against Moscow for its alleged interference in U.S. elections and hacking into U.S. networks, freezing the assets of 32 entities and individuals and expelling ten Russian officials. Unsurprisingly, Moscow responded, throwing ten American diplomats out the country, barring eight high-profile U.S. officials from doing business in Russia, and restricting the activities of U.S.-funded NGOs on Russian soil.
All of this tit-for-tat is coming at the same time that Ukraine, constantly under the shadow of its larger and more powerful neighbour, says more than 120,000 Russian troops are now deployed near Ukrainian borders.