The basic problem between America and Russia is that these are two proud nations whose ambitions are out of proportion to reality and direction in which the world is moving right now.
The United States is a superpower which fails to recognize the changing global landscape. Fifty years ago, the American economy accounted for 38% of the global GDP. Today it accounts for 24%, and when adjusted for purchasing power parity, that number drops to 15%. These are still impressive numbers for any country, but the decline is obvious. America’s status as the sole superpower is slipping away. China’s economy is now larger when measured in PPP, and it is catching up quickly in nominal terms.
The American political and economic elites, as well as much of the public, have the “America first” mentality, and they refuse to realize that the world is changing. Any challenge to America’s superpower status is seen as a result of brutal dictatorships, political and military aggression or unfair competition. The American response is to contain and pressure potential regional competitors such as Russia, China and Iran to prevent them from dominating their respective regions. These efforts produce an unpleasant backlash, and this is the case with Putin’s Russia.
Russia, on the other hand, cannot fully claim to be a superpower yet, other than in a military sense. It does have a vast nuclear arsenal and a strong military, but its economy is still too weak to mount a real challenge for superpower status. Nevertheless, Russia has risen from the ashes of the Soviet Union as a potent force in Eurasia. Between 2000 and 2013, Russia’s GDP went from $196 billion to $2.3 trillion. Bolstered by this rapid economic growth, the Russian leadership and the public once again believed that Russia deserves its rightful place among the world’s great powers.
Russia stopped conceding its geopolitical interests and began to press the issue and respond aggressively to new challenges to its influence in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia also began to re-establish its influence in regions removed from its borders, from the Middle East and North Africa to Southeast Asia and Latin America. Domestic economic and social issues took a back seat to ambitious displays of power. And that’s where ambition impedes Russia’s actual development as a country. Russia probably should have followed China’s example and patiently waited for its time to come. Instead, Russia pressed the issue, which resulted in deep tensions with the United States and the West generally, and a host of economic problems.
Then there is the rise of perhaps the world’s last “superpower” China, its economic growth is so staggeringly large, and increasing at such a phenomenal rate, there exists no analogue in all of human history. Putting this in perspective for you; China has consumed more cement in the frenetic building of its towns and cities between 2011-2014, than the United States of America used in the last 100-years of its existence. The pace of Chinese economic growth could easily compare to two United States but within one country. Whoever befriends and maintains a working relationship with China, wins the war of the superpowers, and Russia looks to be an early favourite.