In what seems a very innocuous statement, the US and Russia issued a joint commemoration this weekend of the 1945 meeting of US and Russian troops on the Elbe River, saying it showed the nations “overcoming their differences in pursuit of a greater cause.”
The intention is to liken the common enemy, Nazi Germany in 1945, to the current foe of the coronavirus pandemic, and suggest that the US and Russia could once again put aside differences to work together in this new crisis.
But because this is 2020, and the statement involves Russia, it necessarily became a political row almost immediately, with the statement panned both by President Trump’s political rivals as a sign of his being too close to Russia, and by anti-Russia hawks who see this as Vladimir Putin trying to trick the US in some way into being less hostile.
"The 'Spirit of the Elbe' is an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause," U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a joint statement on April 25. —RFE/RL
“I am sure this was a Russian initiative,” said former official Angela Stent, while Rep. Eliott Engel (D-NY) chalked it up to Trump’s “bizarre infatuation with Russia’s autocratic leader” and said he was “playing into Putin’s hands.”
Yet the coronavirus really is an opportunity for nations to put differences aside to address mutual threats. Everywhere else in the world such initiatives are being put forward, with the UN even calling for a global ceasefire to address the pandemic. It’s only natural for the US and Russia to also address that possibility.
And typical grousing about that notwithstanding, a rapprochement between the US and Russia to focus on coronavirus would only be a good thing, bringing the world’s two biggest nuclear powers away from tensions and seeing if there are ways to cooperate.
It is also noteworthy that the US and Russia are the two major parties to resist the UN call for a global ceasefire for the pandemic, but may still find some common ground with one another. This may suggest that the entire call for unity may not be lost on them, even if it takes some outside their comfort zone.