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Almost 8 Years After 'Reset,' U.S.-Russia Tensions Ratchet Back Up


If you're following the news, then you probably know that tensions are high between the U.S. and Russia. Whether this is due to differing objectives related to the war in Syria or Russia's alleged cyberattacks of the presidential elections, many say U.S.-Russia relations are at their most difficult since the Cold War.


JOHN MCCAIN: This is the sign of a possible unraveling of the world order that was established after World War II, which has made one of the most peaceful periods in the history of the world.

MARTIN: That's Senator John McCain on CNN's "State Of The Union" this morning. He's one of four senators calling for a special bipartisan committee in Congress to investigate Russian hacking during the campaign season. But we thought this was a good time to step back and get a sense of what is behind all this, so we called NPR Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim to walk us through it. Lucian, thanks so much for joining us.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: Donald Trump seems to have much warmer feelings toward Russian President Vladimir Putin than any recent administration. He says he wants better relations. So do you think this might be the moment where that could actually occur?

KIM: Well, first of all, I think it's important to remember that George W. Bush also famously looked into Putin's eyes when he came into office. And then eight years later, Obama had the reset. I think Trump is going to realize pretty quickly that the U.S. has obligations to its allies, and many of those allies are afraid of Putin. And so you're right. Trump has suggested that he can make a deal. But I think he's also going to learn that Putin, you know, single-mindedly pursues his goals no matter what the U.S. says.

MARTIN: Why has it been so difficult for the U.S. to come up with a workable relationship with Vladimir Putin? You remember that Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, famously said of Gorbachev, you know what? I can do business with him. Why is it that the U.S. seems to have such a hard time doing business with Vladimir Putin?

KIM: The funny thing is that that is exactly what Obama tried. He said, we're going to work on the things we can agree on and sort of put aside the things we disagree on. And the things the U.S. and Russia agreed on was, you know, Iran nuclear deal, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, nuclear nonproliferation. But as I said, Putin was still really suspicious of what the U.S. is really up to. So I think that Trump, you know, might be able to win him over if he stops talking about things like individual rights or free elections. But it's really unclear that a better relationship, you know, personal relationship between the two men could really be the basis for a better long-term relationship between the U.S. and Russia as countries.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Lucian, what does this look like from where you sit in Moscow? How are Russians reacting to all of these recent stories in the news, the accusations about the Kremlin having directed these cyberattacks with an effort to tip the scales of the U.S. elections? How does all that look from your end?

KIM: Well, I think if you had to describe it in one word it would be mockery. Just this evening, the head of Russia's main state-run news agency - his name is Dmitry Kiselyov - he had his weekly news show. And he said outright that the CIA is perpetrating a coup against Donald Trump. He said they're not providing any evidence, we don't know who the sources are. And so he says the real reason for all that's going on in the U.S. is that the military industrial complex in the U.S. is backing Clinton. So, you know, from the point of view of the Kremlin, all that the - all these accusations swirling around only prove that the U.S. has lost the moral high ground and really isn't any better than Russia or any other country when it comes to cynical, dirty politics.

MARTIN: That's NPR Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim. Lucian, thanks so much for speaking with us.

KIM: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.