A senior Russian official has canceled a planned visit to the United States, claiming he feared a second civil war being waged by opposing political forces there.
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia's Roscosmos State Space Corporation, who served as deputy prime minister until May 2017, said Thursday that rising tensions between Republicans and Democrats were leading to a breakdown of U.S. society. This included the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), one of many federal agencies affected by a government shutdown due to an inability for the rival U.S. parties to agree on funding for a border wall proposed by President Donald Trump.
"I think that America is actually engulfed by its second civil war now," Rogozin told the Rossiya-24 TV channel, as translated by the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.
He called Washington's sanctions against Moscow—which began under the administration of President Barack Obama—"an outrage," arguing that "this is complete international lawlessness and I absolutely don't care about those motives which guided people in the Obama administration or the current Senate."
The American Civil War broke out in in 1861, as southern separatists sought to establish an independent nation known as the Confederate States of America, which sought to preserve the institution of slavery. Led by President Abraham Lincoln, loyalist Union forces successfully quelled the secession attempt four years later, in what remains the deadliest war in the country's history.
At the time, the Russian Empire offered support for the Union and the U.S. later intervened on the behalf of Russian imperialists during the Russian Civil War, though the socialist Bolshevik forces emerged victorious in 1922 to establish the Soviet Union. After a brief alliance against the Axis Powers of World War II, Washington and Moscow entered a decades-long Cold War that ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but tense rhetoric reminiscent of this period has once again come to define the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
Successive U.S. administrations have expressed concern at Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to revamp Russian political and military might in the 21st century. Ties became severely strained after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula amid political unrest Ukraine in 2014 and accusations that the Kremlin attempted to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in which Trump was elected.
One of Trump's most consistent campaign promises was the construction of a wall on the southern U.S. border with Mexico, a project he argued would curb the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country. Despite promising Mexico would foot the bill for construction, Trump has requested $5.7 billion in federal funds, a move Democrats have denied.
As a result, the U.S. has failed to pass a spending bill, leading to a partial government shutdown that has lasted 19 days so far. The shutdown is already one of the longest in U.S. history, second only to a showdown between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republicans over cuts to social services in late 1995 and early 1996. If the current impasse persists through Saturday, it will become the longest ever.
Rogozin is not the first to raise the prospect of a second Civil War amid the polarized political climate in the U.S. In June, former Trump adviser Roger Stone warned of a potential civil war in an interview with Newsweek and, days later, University of California, Berkeley professor Robert Reich argued that "serious social unrest" may be on the way, even if an actual civil war remained unlikely. Later that month, Republican Congressman Steve King tweeted, "America is heading in the direction of another Harpers Ferry" and "After that comes Ft. Sumter," referring to the Confederate raid on the U.S. fort that sparked the Civil War.
Amid all this talk of Civil War, a poll that same month found 31 percent of likely U.S. voters thought the prospect of a second such conflict breaking out in the next five years was likely.