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For the past month, Russia’s threats to withdraw from the New Start Treaty and deploy missiles against America’s Eastern European missile defense shield have put a damper on the U.S.-Russia relationship which the Obama administration has worked so hard to improve. 

The New York Times explains that these threats only add more trouble to Obama’s foreign policy problems, especially when added to Russia’s weapons sales to Syria and Gazprom – Russia’s state-owned natural gas company that provides energy to Western Europe.

However, the failure of U.S.-Russian relations is not Obama’s fault. These examples underline how Russia is looking to increase its status and power on the world stage.

For the past years, the U.S. has complained that turning off gas to Western Europe in the middle of winter because of Ukraine’s lack of payment to Gazprom, as well as supporting Syria, have shown Russia’s bellicose intentions. Washington sees Russia’s demand for payment to Gazprom as a means to bully former Soviet satellite states on key policy issues. Russia continues to sell weapons to states which have been sanctioned by the international community. Given Russia’s history, the U.S. instantly saw Russia’s recent threat against its missile defense shield as a deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations. But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev does not intend to actually attack the West.

Instead, his threats help create a national rallying cry around his United Russia party. Parliamentary elections took place on Sunday, and Medvedev wanted a majority win for his party. The missile defense shield gave him an opportunity to garner support. The threat of the American missile defense shield provided the perfect cause for Russians to rally against during the election. Medvedev believed United Russia could increase Russia’s international standing.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Russia of using Gazprom to bully former Soviet satellite states into submission. Russia demands payment to Gazprom or shuts off gas completely, which underscores its interest in gaining more global prestige. By shutting off gas to Western Europe in the middle of winter, Russia has increased its wealth.

Russia sells weapons to Syria to tell the world that it cannot control its wealth. If Russia caved to the international community, Russia would essentially be allowing the world to take a chunk of its income away. Russia gets a large portion of its income of weapon sales from countries unwilling or unable to buy from the U.S. If Russia sanctioned Syria, Russia would lose the $9 billion it intends to receive from Syrian arms sales in 2011. After seeing how sanctioning Gaddafi resulted in the loss of $4 billion worth of arms sales to Libya, Russia does not want to give the international community the same power to take its income. By refusing to sanction Syria, Russia shows its prestige that the international community does not determine Russia’s finances. This reveals Russian sales of weapons have little to do with Washington.

Russia simply wants to strengthen its global stability and financial standing. They do not want to develop as close a relationship with the U.S. at this point in time as the Obama administration would like. Perhaps if Washington helped Russia achieve its goals, Russia could focus on allying with the U.S.

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