Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cold war 2.0: how Russia and the west reheated a historic struggle

Warnings of a return to cold war politics have been a staple of European debate for three years, but in recent weeks many western diplomats, politicians and analysts have come to believe the spring has indeed been released. Russia is being reassessed across western capitals. The talk is no longer of transition to a liberal democracy, but regression.
The post-cold war era is over, and a new era has begun. Cold war 2.0, different in character, but potentially as menacing and founded not just on competing interests but competing values. The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said: “The reality is that behind the appearance of consensus … a form of world disorder took hold. We are now paying the price for that error of assessment that gave westerners a feeling of comfort for two decades”....

...the former head of MI6, warned: “We are moving into an era that is as dangerous, if not more dangerous, as the cold war because we do not have that focus on a strategic relationship between Moscow and Washington.” But unlike the cold war, there are now “no clear rules of the road” between the two countries.The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, an advocate of dialogue, made the same point: “It’s a fallacy to think that this is like the cold war. The current times are different and more dangerous.”

The reasons for all this anxiety are not hard to find. The accumulation of recent Russian provocations is daunting. The hybrid frozen war in Ukraine and the bombardment of Aleppo in Syria, revealing a determination to keep Bashar al-Assad in power, top the list.

Add to that Putin’s sudden scrapping of a 20-year-old US-Russian agreement to reprocess excess plutonium to prevent its use in nuclear weapons. He also deployed short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in eastern Europe, unnerving Nato members Poland and Lithuania. He moved advanced S-300 and S-400 ground-to-air missiles, and radar into Syria in a sign that he now regards the country as his preserve, and can see off any plan for a Turkish or American no-fly zone. In a display of military reach he dispatched the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, and its taskforce, to the waters off Syria so its SU-30s and MiG-29 aircrafts can drop yet more bombs on Syria.

He even raised the spectre of the Cuban missile crisis by saying he was considering reopening military bases in Cuba and Vietnam, a move calculated to unnerve US public opinion. At the same time, Putin is trying to challenge western diplomatic alliances – notably with Turkey, Egypt, China and Libya. All the while he experiments with new techniques – the unprecedented use of cyber warfare, including the hacking of Democratic politicians’ emails, and wider use of information wars to destabilise the Baltics or fund parties of the right in eastern Europe. The only common factor, apart from the aggression, is his unpredictability, adding to Putin’s self-image as a master of political intrigue.

.... Many acknowledge the west must take its share of the blame for the collapse of relations. The mistakes are real, notably the scale of Nato expansion to the east and in the Baltics. Russia also feels deeply that it was duped into accepting a UN resolution criticising Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, only to find it was used as cover for regime change. Hillary Clinton, then at the State Department, did little to mange the Russians. Russia has not voted for humanitarian action at the UN since.... read more: