This shot, taken in 1992 at Russia's strategic Northern Fleet port of Severomorsk, shows one of the US Navy's most advanced ships, the AEGIS cruiser Yorktown, and the destroyer O'Bannon, making a port visit among the ex-Soviet Navy's cream. In the distance is the Kirov class flagship Peter The Great looms.
It is amazing how the situation between the once could be allies has deteriorated over the last 10 months. The seizing of Crimea, the bloody shadow war in Ukraine, the horrifically peculiar shooting down of a 777 full of international travelers, so many aerial intercepts, some of them very provocative, and now the sub hunt on the Baltic Sea and the militarization of the arctic, the new normal seems oddly reminiscent of a volatile past most have tried to forget.
It is really amazing to look at this picture and to think of all the possibilities that lay before both former foes on the day, some 22 years ago, it was taken. Where did we lose our way? Was Russia left in economic limbo for far too long, and along with NATO's expansion eastward, did this leave the door open for a strong man to give the people back some of the pride they once had, or at least the illusion of it, albeit at the expense of democracy? If so, it is very troubling as haven't we learned that lesson far too many times in the past, all with horrific results? Should the west have invested heavier into the Russian economy early on after the fall of the Soviet Union, just as we had done with the Marshall Plan at the end of WWII?
A more contemporary question also exists, it is clear that Putin senses weakness and the lack of resolve from his country's traditional counter-balance, the US. Sure, this is statistical in nature, with the rise of the Chinese economy and the series of treasure depleting wars abroad, in particular the absolute blunder that was the war in Iraq. Yet, President Obama's lack of backing up his words with force, even if token in nature, when it came to his 'red line' regarding chemical weapons use in Syria seems to have created a fracture in geopolitical perception.
When you are dealing with a man like Putin, a massive sign of weakness from his key competitor (at least in his mind) is akin to a shark smelling blood. Simply gaming out the scale of logic clearly shows that if Obama was not even willing to slap Syria's embattled ruler, Bashar al Assad, with attacks on his air defenses and on his other military capabilities, even if only via standoff weaponry, putting no American lives as risk, than he would surely opt not to intervene if the world's largest nuclear power were to grab some land on Europe's backdoor.
In the end Syria's chemical weapons were destroyed, a solution partly brokered by Russia. This was a good result on the scale of Syrian conflict, but the whole affair did much damage far beyond Syria's borders for President Obama, the west and to the credibility of the United States in general.
It is undeniable that US-Russian relations have changed dramatically for the long haul, and where exactly this trip into the winter wonderland of Russian relations will lead us remains anyone's guess. Yet it seems that in retrospect there may have been a great missed opportunity for the west that could have kept us from returning to our dangerous past.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com