The former Cold War rivals US and Russia have traded barbs with each other in the recent past over a string of events that have led to worsening of ties between the two countries. After US halted negotiations with Russia over Syria ceasefire, the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence has officially said that the cybercrime offensive from Russia threatens the US presidential elections. US officials yesterday formally accused the Russian government of directing cyber attacks on American political organisations, saying the hacks were “intended to interfere with the US election process”.
On September 10, the two countries had announced a truce deal that raised hopes for the first time for violence-stricken Syria. US Secretary of State, John Kerry had then said, “Today, the United States and Russia are announcing a plan which we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria. The United States is going the extra mile here because we believe Russia and my colleague have the capability to press the Assad regime to stop this conflict and come to the table and make peace.”
The truce, which was to begin on Eid al-Adha, soon came under strain when both the countries started accusing each other of breaking the ceasefire. 23 people were killed in an airstrike on September 15. A UK-based Syrian observatory was unable to determine who was responsible for the strikes. Even though the strikes hit the ISIS controlled town Al-Mayadin, it raised a furore on both sides – according to the terms of the ceasefire, ISIS held areas do not come under the ceasefire rules.
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While the truce held fragile, it was in force until early October when the US halted all talks of ceasefire in light of the continuing bombardment of Aleppo.
Parallel to these events, US and Russia were also head-to-head in the hacking scam. On October 7, US formally accused Russia of cyber crime and of hacking its email servers. A US government official said, “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.” The hacking resulting in leaks of emails of the Democratic National Committee.
Until this announcement, US had refrained from publicly naming Russia as one behind the cyber attacks, considering the fragile ceasefire truce. However, US has suspended all talks regarding the ceasefire with Russia before this announcement was made owing to Russia’s renewed strikes in Aleppo and Ukraine. In the wake of suspension talks, Syrian forces grew stronger in Aleppo, shutting off the window of hope that had opened for civilians in strife.
The offensive doesn’t stop here. US also accused Russia of war crimes, with John Kerry saying that Russia keeps hitting hospitals and medical facilities and children and women. He said, “Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals and medical facilities, and children and women.”
To this, Russia replied saying that the only reason US is accusing it of war crimes is because they couldn’t keep up the ceasefire truce. A Russian tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets even went on to say that this could be the signal of another cold war between the two nations.
The primary reason why this tension arose between the two nations and the failure of the ceasefire truce is a result of the starkly differing positions that the two hold with regards to Syria. Russia has been a longstanding ally of Syria, backing President Bashar al-Assad. Mutual support between the two ensures Russia’s hold in the Syrian region. Russia launched airstrikes in Syria against IS forces and terrorists in September 2015. The US, on the other hand, opposes President Assad and holds him responsible for atrocities against Syrians. The US has been conducting air strikes in the region since September 2014. The ceasefire truce was to put a stop to these strikes and prevent any more deaths of civilians.