In 2006 a monument called, ‘to the struggle against world terrorism’ was given as a gift to the United States from Russia. The unveiling and dedication of the monument was met with little fanfare and few in the US even know of the existence of the monument. “About 50 million people visit New York every year and more than eight million live there but no one seems to have heard of The Teardrop…which is odd because it is a 100ft tall, 175-ton memorial to those who died on the city’s blackest day.”[i]
Intended to be in New York, it is instead now in New Jersey. President Vladimir Putin came to the US and was not received by the sitting President at the time George W. Bush, nor was he met by then vice president Dick Chaney. This may have been a slight on the part of the Bush Administration and a decisive turning point in contemporary relations between the United States and the Russian Federation.
The aptly named “teardrop” is a 100ft tall bronze monument to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. The monument features a large crack in the center and a four-ton reflective nickel teardrop that is forty feet and seemingly suspended from the top of the monument. It was designed by Zurab Tsereteli one of Russia’s premiere sculptors. It was not highly publicized[ii].
Everyone knows that the statue of liberty is a gift from France. But with the political climate and the history of cold war attitudes between the US and Russia did not allow for the same understanding for Russia’s gift. The Teardrop was sent as a peace offering of sorts from the people of Russia; to say that the pain felt by the US on September 11th was felt by the global community as well. Especially ringing true with the Russia as it had at the time been grappling with Terrorism in Chechnya. This was a symbolic offering of solidarity at a tumultuous time in not just the US but the world. It was a way of saying global terrorism affects us all. It seems since the dedication of this monument and the subsequent perceived slight had a sort of chain reaction effect for US-Russia relations. From the issues involving former CIA agent Edward Snowden to the Ban of Russian children being adopted to US parents; relations are at pre Gorbachev era.
The seesaw relations that ensued were bellicose in nature, when one country extended its hand to the other does not return the extension of the proverbial olive branch. In 2009 when Secretary of State Hilary Clinton went to Russia and famously “reset” Russo-American relations, IT would seem the United States was willing to give up the cold war- like handling of the Bush Administration.
When the Magnitsky law was passed in the US, it required reports to be issued on the compliance of the Russian Federation with its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization. It said there were to be no special treatments for Russian officials. In a culture of rampant corruption in terms of trade since the Yeltsin era this may have been hard for Russian politicians to get used to. It is named for Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky, a Russian accountant and auditor whose arrest and subsequent death in Russian custody generated international media attention and triggered both official and unofficial inquiries into allegations of fraud, theft and human rights violations of the part of said Russian officials. Magnitsky sought to expose corruption in the Putin government and alleged violations of the rules of the entry into the WTO. Vladimir Putin accused the US of singling out Russian diplomats unfairly, he retaliated by enacting a ban on US adoptions of Russian Children.
In planning to create an economic zone of interdependence with Central Asia in the form of Eurasian Integration, the US accused Russia of attempting to re-Sovietize. Putin then retaliated by claiming US aid organizations were supporting and abetting Russian agitators and dissidents domestically. Russia’s relationship with Syria has also been a source of contention and the last us Russian incidence involving former NSA leaker Edward Snowden seemed to culminate in the worse US-Russian relations since the soviet era.
Two realities shaping the narrative on the bilateral relations today. Russian domestic policy and shared conflicting international interests. To deal with internal problems, Putin says he’s a defender of Russian values. Or the United States wants to interfere with Russian domestic affairs and encroach on Russian political etiquette. Putin vilifies the US on the international arena saying that US aid supports domestic political agitators.
Russia was pleasant before the “Restart” due to its desire to want to join the WTO, specifically nice to the Bush Administration. Russia wanted to show it could be integrated into the global market economy and compete on a leveled playing field like the juggernauts of the west the EU and the US. But it seems Russia was repeatedly waiting for admission into the World Trade Organization and told it had the support of the US. Instead it seems Russia lost patience with being “nice” and were eventually admitted to the WTO, on their own.
The monument was a catalyst for souring relations with the US. The one event, a perceived slight was the first push in an eventual snowball effect. But it seems Russia is unwilling to forgive the perceived slights and attempts to disrupt Russian domestic affairs on the part of the US. Russia can’t conform to Western ideals of democracy due to a legacy remains from the Mongol Yoke and the need in Russian civil society for the “strong man” role in leadership.