Despite the Cold War officially thought to have ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations between the United States and Russia has remained tense. Chilly relationships between Russia and Western countries begs the question if the Cold War of the late-1900s ever truly ended or rather still exists today.
Yes, the Cold War Ended
The Cold War lasted for 45 years and culminated with the dissolve of the Soviet Union in 1991, at which point the newly-independent Russia transitioned from communism to capitalism. As the Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War officially ended between the Soviet Union and United States when leaders from both nations (Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush) declared an end to the Cold War at a summit in 1989. With that, the end of the Cold War was signed and sealed between the two nations.
When Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush met at the Malta Summit, U.S.-Soviet relations became infinitely more cooperative as the Cold War was put to an end. Bush and Gorbachev began to concern themselves with remedying the relationship between the East and the West through policymaking and mutual respect. The Cold War was declared obsolete by the end of this summit, and relations between what would soon become Russia, and the United States, benefited all the more for this Cold War resolve.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 simultaneously symbolized the reunification of Germany and the disintegration of Soviet-imposed communism. The fall of the Berlin Wall was a crucial event during the end of the Cold War that ultimately contributed to the collapse of Soviet communism. With the end of Soviet-imposed communism in half of Germany, the Soviet Union likewise saw itself collapse not long after, both of which contributed to the end of the Cold War.
This alliance between Western, industrialized nations had a Cold War strategy which prepared for a full-fledged war between Western nations and the Soviet Union. After the Cold War ended, NATO remained to guarantee security and stability for the Western nations' own mutual interests. With the official end of the Cold War, NATO was supposed to have disbanded but instead was enlarged by the U.S. This decision to not disband NATO but maintain such global alliance is an example of how the Cold War definitively ended, but even this event did not deter Western nations from keeping such union with one another.
Despite the fact that Russia adopted capitalism and the Soviet Union dissolved, Vladimir Putin's Russia is just as aggressive as it was when Gorbachev held power in the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the relations between Russian and the United States has further deteriorated and become chilly yet again. As Russia remains in contention with America the more time goes on, concerns about echos of ideological battles and arms races are at the forefront of national security. The Cold War never truly ended, perhaps only in spirit, but as Russia becomes more akin to the Soviet Union than it had previously, and relations between Russia and the U.S. remain frosty, there is the acute reality of a present-day Cold War.
Russian annexation of Crimea
When Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, their actions were strongly denounced by many nations, especially the by the U.S. and European Union. America refused to recognize the Kremlin's sovereign claim over Crimea and even imposed sanctions on Russia (like many other Western nations) to match their strong condemnation of Russia's illegal actions. This Russian annexation of Crimea and the U.S. sanctions that resulted from such an action, both actively contributed to a more unwelcoming relationship between these two nations. Their increasingly chilly relations over international and financial issues connected to this Crimea annexation only works to resurge Cold War relations.
Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, there has been a sharp increase in Russian military activity in the Baltic region. Russian intimidations on land, at sea, and underwater have all occurred almost daily in the Baltic region, and despite Russian president Vladimir Putin's dismissal of such aggression, Putin has also similarly denied invading Ukraine. Furthermore, the Kremlin has began portraying a propaganda campaign which displays the democratic Baltic states as being led by dictatorial powers who tyrannize Russian speakers. This Russian aggression in the Baltics is very reminiscent of Soviet aggression and eventual invasion of the Baltics in 1940, during the Cold War. This resurgence of Russian aggression in the Baltics today signifies a Cold War-era hostility and militance that did not ever truly end since the Cold War itself did not really end just because the Soviet Union became Russia.
Today, Russian ranks fourth in the world for defense spending, and in 2013 specifically, Russia spent a higher portion of their national GDP on defense than America for the first time in a decade. Far outpacing the U.S.'s own spending on military and defense, Russia has amassed incredible military power due to their funding on such areas. This drastic change in allocating more money towards national militance and defense reflects a more authoritarian regime under Russia's president, Putin. Building up more military and defense weapons and equipment further communicates increasing tension between Russia and many Western nations as Russia annexed Crimea as well as displays aggression in the Baltics. As Russia prepares their military and defense, Cold War sentiments continue to propagate Europe and the United States.