by ADAM CAJKA
Alumni–Masaryk University in Brno, Czech republic
On meeting Vladimir Putin, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, said: “Well, I guess I´ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.” David Cameron and Barack Obama personally delivered similar messages, in slightly less hostile terms. From many other sources we hear that the relations between Russia and a few western states (US and the rest of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – NATO) are near to a new cold war level. Can we expect tanks and troops invading a satellite state, high-risk military games involving nuclear bombers as in Stanley Kubrick´s Dr. Strangelove, gas supply cut-offs, and angry diplomatic exchanges? Who would benefit from it?
Escalating tensions between Russia and western countries led by the US are reminiscent of the bad old days. The cold war, a global stand-off of immense ideological, military and political import, began in the late 1940s and continued until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. What was good about that era, as some western scholars say, is that the bipolar world system, communism vs capitalism, was much more stable in terms of security than the present system, which has become multi-polar (China, US, Brazil, India, EU) and less predictable.
Today the “battleground” would be less extensive, the battle-lines less clear. The particular trigger for the resurgence of cold war thinking was Russia’s sudden annexation of Crimea in March 2014. The Black Sea region has been historically regarded by Moscow as its own for a long time. It is, in fact, part of the sovereign territory of independent Ukraine. However the Ukraine is deeply torn between two worlds. Part of its population desires to approach the European Union, the other part, similar in numbers, prefers historical ties with neighboring Russia.
Since March, the trouble has spread. Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine are fighting for independence, or at least autonomy, against the western-backed government in Kiev, whilst Russia is implicitly threatening western energy supplies.
Putin complained that western countries, ‘not him’, were pushing the world towards a new cold war. He said that the extension of NATO membership in central and eastern Europe since 1991 had been a “geopolitical game changer” to which Russia was forced to respond. That response included resumed long-range strategic bomber flights, to counter similar US activities around Russia’s periphery. “NATO and the United States have military bases scattered all over the globe, including in areas close to our borders, and their number is growing,” he said.
The question of borders is interesting. In May 2014 Noam Chomsky came to Czech republic and during a lecture he said: “The borders of Russia are at the borders of Russia but the borders of the US start at the borders of Russia too.” The cold war logic (containment) is clear and hopefully exaggerated. But the double standards used by the media in evaluating Russian and US foreign policy, interferences and invasions of different territories and states, are apparent.
Russia is, according to mainstream view, economically weak, deprived of foreign investment these days, largely dependent on incomes from energy exports at a time when the international oil price is dropping. But, although it may be an economic dwarf, it is still a superpower – in terms of nuclear weapons. Also, the country has immense natural resources and it is not unusual that Russians think that the US wants control over them. Maybe the support of separatists in Ukraine is based on fear, rather than expansionist ambition.
The invocation of the cold war is nothing new. Most probably some Russians and more than a few western generals actually miss it. Looked at another way, it could be argued that the cold war never ended. Bilateral proxy contests for power and influence have continued, though in different forms – almost in each regional conflict (Kosovo, Serbia, Georgia, Syria, now Ukraine) Russia´s and US support stand one against the other.
Some of the worst excesses of the cold war period, such as arms races in nuclear and conventional weaponry, are now hopefully absent. Or at least seem to be. The paranoid days of doctrines of MAD (mutual assured destruction) seem unlikely to return. But any sign of more hostile international environment will encourage countries to invest into their security and politicians-hawks will have more listeners. The atmosphere and the sense of insecurity in the world, even without real threats, will create fertile ground for military industries of the two world top exporters – Russia and the US.
Sources: Denik Referendum, The Guardian, Le Figaro
(Adam Cajka has been interested in different kinds of conflicts. He was studying international relations and environmental studies at the Faculty of social studies of Masaryk University in Brno, Czech republic. His fields of interest have been resource wars, environmental conflicts and various theories of development. For couple of years he has been working in the field of global education.)