US President Barack Obama (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin.(Reuters / Jim Young)
Moscow announced that it has terminated an agreement with Washington to cooperate in law and drug enforcement, continuing the trend of deteriorating diplomatic relations.
"Russia is reforming its relationship with the US. We have terminated the third agreement with the U.S. in the last six months," Aleksey Pushkov, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Lower House, commented on Twitter.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed an order to terminate the bilateral deal, the government said in a statement on its official website on Wednesday. The agreement, formalized between Russia and the US on September 25, 2002, was declared "out of touch with today's realities and has exhausted its potential," the statement read.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has been instructed to notify Washington of the decision.
As part of the now-defunct bilateral deal, the US agreed to provide financial assistance to relevant Russian entities for anti-crime measures, among other activities. Such philanthropy, however, has raised eyebrows in Russia and prompted questions over the real motive behind Washington's efforts.
It was largely due to these suspicions that Moscow informed the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in September that its services in Russia were no longer wanted or needed.
In a recent interview with NPR, outgoing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on Russia's decision to shut down the USAID office: "We can take our aid money and go elsewhere and help people who welcome us."
Clinton's comment goes far towards explaining the rift in Russia-US relations: Russia has largely escaped from the clutches of its post-Soviet depression, and is now has a dynamic economy with a growing middle class and huge natural resources, which no longer needs handouts from Washington. The Foreign Ministry said that Russian civil society has become fully mature, and did not need any "external direction" from USAID, which was also blamed for attempting to manipulate Russia's internal political processes.
Is Washington, feeling a bit like a jaded partner in a tumultuous relationship, seeking to break off the honeymoon in dramatic fashion? Last year, the decision by a group of US legislators to implement the so-called "Magnitsky Act" against specific Russian officials -- who the US Senators believe should be held accountable in the death of Sergey Magnitsky, an accountant with Hermitage Capital who died in prison in 2009 amidst a tax evasion investigation -- has triggered a diplomatic domino effect between the two countries.
Shortly after the passage of the Magnitsky Act, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Dima Yakovlev bill, which bans American citizens from adopting Russian orphans. In an interview with US media, Prime Minister Medvedev emphasized that Russia's decision to introduce the adoption legislation had no connection with US legislation against Russian citizens.
"This law expresses concerns of the Russian parliament, the Russian State Duma and the Federal Council over destiny of our children... Therefore, despite the fact that many saw it as targeting individual American citizens who want to adopt Russian children, that's certainly not the case," Medvedev told CNN.
The US also recently said it would end its cooperation in the Russian-American Bilateral Presidential Commission on Civil Society. This ongoing atmosphere of animosity between the two former Cold War rivals shows that relations between Moscow and Washington have entered a cooling period. It also shows that Russia is less willing to depend on the United States for services that it can afford on its own.
Meanwhile, Russian experts say that relations between Moscow and Washington have entered a dangerous tit-for-tat stage and warned against further escalation. Honorary chairman of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council, Sergey Karaganov told RIA Novosti news agency that in his view Russia and US have put themselves on a path that is very difficult to step off.
At the same time, the analyst noted that the so called "reset" had not created any solid foundation for better relations between the two countries. Karaganov added that he hoped that the leaders of the two nations would be wise enough not to allow further deterioration in relations.
Viktor Kuvaldin of the Gorbachev Foundation also urged the leaders of Russia and the United States to put an end to the standoff as soon as possible. "Unfortunately, when a spiral starts unwinding it acquires its own logic. People tend to forget who started what and resort to the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" policy, Kuvaldin said.
Russian authorities should stop the process and reach an agreement with their US partners so that they (Washington) would follow suit.