Russia and the West: post-Cold War crises

After a year or so of playing nice, things are turning very sour between The West and Russia. Not just the UK, but Donald Trump and the US are now involved too.


Relations between the West and Russia, at loggerheads over the Syrian conflict, have hit many lows since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The aftermath of the fall of the USSR initially saw a rare period of cooperation, including over the NATO military alliance, but strains appeared soon afterwards.

Here is a reminder of a difficult relationship that has been key to world affairs.

Kosovo war

In 1999 NATO launches a 78-day bombing campaign on Yugoslavia to force its republic of Serbia to withdraw forces from Kosovo where it is accused of repressing separatists.

Russia, an ally of Serbia, had threatened a return to a Cold War-style freeze in relations if NATO acted.

Two days after the strikes start, Russia kicks out NATO’s representative and suspends military cooperation.

Tensions resurface after Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, not recognised by Russia.

NATO grows east

In March 1999 NATO admits three former members of the Soviet-era Warsaw Pact — the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

Moscow warns NATO against allowing former Soviet republics to join but in 2004 it welcomes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, along with ex-communist states Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Their eventual inclusion into the European Union also annoys Russia.

Missile shield

Moscow’s suspicions towards NATO’s tilt eastwards deepen with plans launched in 2010 for a European missile shield to counter a perceived threat from Iran.

To be operational by 2020, it includes the deployment of missile interceptors and powerful radars in Poland and Romania.

Georgia conflict

In August 2008 Russia bombs the Georgian capital Tbilisi, after it intervenes in its separatist region of South Ossetia, and occupies a large part of the former Soviet republic’s territory, provoking a Western outcry.

A peace accord negotiated by French president Nicolas Sarkozy leads to the withdrawal of Russian troops. However Moscow recognises separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia and maintains a heavy military presence in both.

After the war, NATO freezes relations with Moscow until the following June. Moscow then suspends its military cooperation with NATO.

Ukraine crisis

Russia in 2014 annexes Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and is accused by the West of backing separatists waging an insurgency.

Washington and Europe impose painful economic sanctions.

NATO suspends civilian and military cooperation with Moscow and the allies put their troops on a state of alert, with battalions deployed in Poland and the ex-Soviet Baltic states.


Russia and the West are on opposing sides in Syria’s seven-year war, with Moscow backing President Bashar al-Assad and Western-backed rebels seeking to unseat him.

Russia uses its veto 12 times against UN Security Council resolutions on the Syrian crisis.

Since 2015 it has carried out a campaign of air strikes in support of Assad.

In 2017 US President Donald Trump orders air strikes against a Syrian airbase after a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun.

It leads Russia to suspend a hotline with the US army on Syria operations.

In February 2018 the US-led coalition bombs pro-regime fighters in Deir Ezzor Syria, reportedly killing several Russian mercenaries.