In the early 1940’s, the world had been plunged into World War II, a conflict that would change the trajectory of history. With global tensions flaring, a power struggle broke out between Russia and the United States to see who would prevail as the world’s hegemon. Following the end of World War II, U.S. President Harry Truman introduced the Truman Doctrine, a measure taken to prevent the Soviet Union from extending its power and territory. Many mark this as the beginning of the Cold War. For over forty years, a war dominated by propaganda, proxy conflicts, and nuclear brinkmanship would keep the world on the edge of its seat. In 1987, Ronald Reagan would deliver his infamous speech at the Brandenburg Gate, in which he would plead, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Two years later, the Berlin Wall would be torn down.
Today, a war of personalities and smoke-filled rooms is being fought every day. It won’t dominate the headlines, but make no mistake; it will change the world as we know it. In 2017, the world is still on the edge of its seat. As Donald Trump assumes his role as President of the United States, the new Cold War rages on.
The Power of Putin
With world leaders playing such a pivotal role in world affairs today, the power that Putin holds must not be overlooked. Vladimir Putin’s influence in Russia far exceeds what most comprehend it to be. He has served extensively in public office, holding positions that include:
- Director of the Federal Security Service
- Secretary of the Security Council
- Leader of United Russia
- Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union State
- Prime Minister of Russia (two terms)
- President of Russia (two terms)
Putin boasts an incredible 82% approval rating. A study done by the Washington Post finds that despite a relatively underwhelming 45% of Russian citizens believing the country is headed in the right direction, 82% approve of Vladimir Putin. This is astonishing considering that Putin is openly resurrecting the KGB.
A Personality President
Only time will truly tell what Donald Trump’s presidency will produce. However, a ruthless primary season and general election have shown the world that Trump does not fear a challenge. A nuclear North Korea, a booming Chinese economy, and the difficulty of garnering enough funds and public support to build a border wall will keep Trump’s hands full at all times. On top of that, a foreign policy chess match with Russia will likely lead the way as either his largest success or failure at the end of his term(s).
When comparing Putin and Trump, one can quickly realize that Trump’s value is dwarfed in comparison to Putin’s. Estimates for 2017 place Trump’s net worth at around $3.7 billion, 54 times less than Putin’s reported net worth. However, Trump’s larger-than-life personality has tremendous value as a great distraction to cover what is going on behind the scenes with his foreign policy team. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, is less than clear on his stance on Russia’s actions and relationship with the United States. Trump garnering all of the public’s attention in the coming months should provide Tillerson time to refine his position on the increasingly complex relationship between Russia and the U.S.
Relationship Status: It’s Complicated
At this point, the relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is largely unclear. A fascinating TIME article analyzes historical links between the two leaders. However, the beginning of their relationship can be traced back to 2007, when Trump told Larry King, “Look at Putin—what he's doing with Russia—I mean, you know, what's going on over there. I mean this guy has done—whether you like him or don't like him—he's doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period.” A handful of tweets and interviews later, the public gazes upon a supposed developed friendship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. However, no one can seem to make out what the relationship actually looks like. It can be expected a more clear distinction of this will emerge in the next couple of months.
In the next part of this series, we will analyze various components that contribute to the new Cold War between Russia and the United States, such as nuclear arsenals, economies, and international conflicts.