Relations Between the West and Putin, Summed Up in a Single Perfect Photo



The news: This photo taken at the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings captures exactly what's happening in international relations right now: A detached and isolated Putin being shunned by Western leaders in Normandy. U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and New Zealand's Governor-General Jerry Mateparae all seem to be deliberately avoiding Putin as they surround the Queen.

Why the shunning?: Putin, of course, has become somewhat of a persona non grata in Europe following the stunning crisis in Ukraine. After mass protests ousted Russian-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power, the Russian government responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and supporting, either directly or implicitly, separatist insurgencies in the eastern part of the country. High-ranking Russian officials have been sanctioned, and more may follow in the future barring a change in Russia's attitude towards the conflict.

While the Russian government's stance on the crisis has led to isolation among the international community, that doesn't mean Europe has abandoned hope of de-escalating the crisis diplomatically. Heads of state from the UK, Germany and France personally met with Putin in an attempt to soften the Kremlin's stance and encourage it to back out of Ukrainian affairs.

But the photo does come just one day after the new G7 convened — without Russia. Previously, it was known as the G8.

Historical context: In 1939, it seemed highly unlikely that Russia and the United States would agree on terms for an alliance. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin had recently poisoned his relationship with the West after signing a non-aggression pact in August 1939 with Führer Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. And the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in September, coupled with the USSR's "Winter War" against democratic Finland in December, further strained American relations with Russia.

But in 1940, Hitler's blitz changed everything. When Hitler launched a surprise assault on the Soviet Union in June 1941, American diplomats were quick to coordinate and lend aid to Russia. These diplomatic overtures quickly became an alliance, and by D-Day on June 6, 1944, the war on the Eastern Front had already reversed to the huge favor of the Soviets. Of course, after the war and with the partitioning of Berlin, the Western-Soviet alliance quickly collapsed into the Cold War.


Image Credit: Sergey Mavrody

So are we on the verge of a new Cold War with Russia? It's very unlikely. For one, Russia's move on Ukraine came from a position far weaker than any aggression it's made in the past. Its strategic partnerships with China aren't intended to start a new, anti-Western Soviet front — it's all about business, mutual interests and diversification. China needs energy and Russia needs cash after decades of stagnation. Russian energy accounted for 32.6% of total oil imports and 38.7% of total gas import for the European Union in 2007. And China needs to maintain strong economic ties with the U.S., which consumes almost as much of its exports as the EU. Simply put, neither power can even remotely afford to destroy its relationship with the rest of the world.

So while Putin and Russia might be getting a bad rap in the international community, a new Cold War seems pretty unlikely.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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