Being forged on the Anvil of Eastern Europe is a new version and flavour of the Cold War
of yore, which rears its head once again out of the turbulent waters of political currents
and cross currents there, stoked further by the myopic self-interests of a Western Europe
and USA seeking to establish their control over the spaces vacated by the erstwhile Soviet
Union. At a time when numerous conflicts are scorching the earth in West Asia, and the
outlook is dim to the extent of fears of an impending armageddon, it is necessary for nations
like India to take stock of their policies on the foreign affairs front, in order to cope
with these developments. NRI Achievers reports…
The Cold War is perhaps not even remembered by this generation of youth, beyond dim and distorted traces. Yes, the power alignments in the world have shifted, say for example, by the rise of the BRICS and their opposition to Western finance capital. And yes, the rise of China does offset the demise of the old Soviet Union to a reasonable extent. The Vatican today is no longer battling “godless communism,” as communism itself is a mere spent force today. But no new global paradigm has come to dominance, and in that vacuum it seems like the old Cold War once again is rearing it’s head out of the troubled waters of political instability to fuel the imagination of our media and provide grist for the windmill of our cultural mentality. Ukraine is the anvil on which the new Cold War thinking is being het-up. It’s impossible to understand the roots of the current Ukraine crisis over the downed MH-17 Malaysian airliner without understanding the past, but the past is remembered as a cliché on all sides. We can agree, however, that the “new” Cold War began when Western strategists sought to expand their sphere of influence all the way eastward across the Ukraine to Russia’s border. That push, which seemed like the spoils of Cold War victory to the Western triumphalists, ignored two salient realities. First, eastern Ukraine was inhabited by millions of people who identified with Russia’s language, culture and political orientation.
Second, since it was believed that the Soviet Union was “defeated”, the assumption was that Russia lacked the will and capacity to fight back. Though both assumptions were proven wrong on the battlefield in Georgia in 2008, the machinery of the West never stopped churning and expanding in it’s blinkered world-vision. That the situation is indeed explosive does not need re-iteration. And the run up to Cold War II has begun. In five years from now it will be in full-bloom and we all shall be in the thick of it. All the portents are already there: Warnings and threats are gaining in momentum. Crimea de facto declaring its independence from Kiev, and Russia intervening effectively to secure the new entity, Ukrainian police, security, and military forces on the peninsula neutralized, many of them pledging allegiance to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. In Kiev, the new government raising the bogey of Russian aggression and ordering mobilization — even as it loses control over some of the key cities in the country’s east and south. The West responding with suspension of preparations for the G-8 summit in Sochi. Obama warning Russia will pay a high price for its actions, and the subsequent slapping of sanctions and other measures.
Eventually, Russia did take back Crimea by force, in an offensive that was entirely predictable but seemed to shock the Western mind. Ukraine was broken along historic ethnic lines. For a brief moment, it appeared that a power-sharing arrangement might be negotiated. There was no reason for Putin to send Russian troops to war over Eastern Ukraine if peaceful coexistence was achievable. And Putin did accept the ascension of a new pro-Western elected president in Kiev, and called for a cease-fire and political settlement. But as it often transpires in proxy wars, the proxies drove the dynamics, and Ukraine’s army marched east, claiming a sovereignty that the Russian-speakers refused to accept. Putin’s allies — the so-called “pro- Russian separatists”— refused to surrender and were vocal about Russia not giving them adequate support. Pithily, the emerging image is dangerous. The West-sponsored and West-supported upheaval may have pruned Russia’s influence in Ukraine; it was nevertheless an act of myopia which has resurrected Cold War, crushed all possibilities of resetting relations between Russia and the West and ended Russia’s “post-Soviet passivity.” And, most importantly, Putin’s actions in Crimea and his empowerment by the duma (parliament) to use military force in Ukraine on discretion does make Moscow’s intentions crystal clear — Russia It is ready to re-emerge as a proactive player in Europe once again after the downslide of 1989. For more than two and a half decades now since the disintegration of the USSR, and the end of the Cold War, Russia lost and lost again, with its power and influence in Europe and Eurasia dwindling to near-vanishing-point. The United States, Britain, Germany and France, marched with glee into this vacuum created by the Kremlin’s diminishing influence, and to add insult to injury, almost all new nation states that came into being during this period were literally “carved out of the historical Russian Empire.” Russia found itself utterly neglected and completely left out of the new geopolitical equation, and the new order that was reshaping Europe, mostly the eastern fringe and Eurasia. Seen in retrospect, there is surely no gainsaying that the West’s meddling in Ukraine has indeed put us at the brink of a new Cold War. Russian pride and interests was more than hurt, and certainly more so than in 2008, when Georgian shelling on South Ossetia (provoked by the West), killed several Russian peacekeepers. Russia fought that war and so it did again in Chechnya to protect ethnic Russians living there who had become foreigners virtually overnight in 1991, like 25 million other ethnic Russians when “Russia agreed to the dismantlement of its historical empire and accepted the ex-Soviet administrative lines as international borders.”
Ukraine was probably the proverbial “last straw” on the russian camel’s back, and perhaps Russia is right in calling it ‘enough is enough.’ Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin apropos has certainly ensured that the map of Ukraine is re-drawn sans Crimea. And do believe us when we say that sooner than later, the entire former Soviet Black Sea region from Moldova- Transnistria to Abkhazia-Georgia will look markedly different from how it is today. Georgia, once deemed too much of a pressure point on Kremlin’s butt, will be back on the fast track for NATO’s membership agenda, while Moldova might succumb to instability as the governing pro- EU coalition faces a challenge from an active pro-Russian opposition. As for Transnistria, it probably will gravitate toward Russian-speaking south-eastern Ukraine. Further north, one can safely forecast pressure building for permanent, if symbolic, US troop deployments in Poland and the Baltic states, as well as for Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in the NATO. Coming back to the Ukraine crisis and the present imbroglio over the shooting down of the MH-17 airliner. In Westernspeak, the Russian-speakers in Ukraine aren’t really Ukrainian at all, or they were Russians in disguise, or pawns of Moscow. That designation humiliated and angered them. In the Western PR offensive, the Russians trained them, advised them and perhaps even directed them to shoot down the airliner. And, of course, those alleged Russian agents were carrying out the orders of the Kremlin. Putin is hardly wrong when he says the catastrophe would not have happened if his calls for a cease-fire were heeded. Instead, a ten-day cease-fire was terminated by Kiev on June 10, surely with back-channel US support. What surprises us is, no one has so far questioned the US government whether it lobbied with Kiev to extend the cease-fire instead of pressing their offensive eastward. The NYT had reported that “Ukraine’s President, Petro O. Poroshenko, let the latest cease-fire lapse and ordered his military to resume efforts to crush the insurrection by force.” Sad. If he had instead extended the cease-fire, the plane would not have been shot down.
It is insane for anyone to believe that Putin would want to shoot down a plane carrying over 200 hundred Europeans at a time when the European Union was debating whether to join the United States in imposing harsh sanctions on Moscow. What makes more sense is that no one in an official capacity anywhere wants to take the blame for an unplanned moral, political and diplomatic catastrophe. If Putin bears responsibility for the chain of escalation, so does Kiev and the West. In the meantime, the West will continue freezing its Cold War position and Ukraine’s armed forces will take their war towards the Russian border unless higher authorities restrain them. In this too, no one has asked if Western forces are advising or embedded within the Ukrainian military. Either which way, the Kiev fighters can advance all they desire, but they cannot pacify the east or predict Russia’s next move. If they march into a trap, will the US feel obligated to dig them out?
Even as events cascade reshaping Europe, acrimony between Russia and the West is more likely to grow, Moscow’s relationship with Washington is likely to slip back into yet another phase of deep-freeze, and uncertainty will loom over cooperation on the Syrian front. If the United States moves on with slapping sanctions on Russia, bilateral trade and investment will suffer, leading to a complete collapse of the fledgling Russian equity market which is dominantly controlled by foreigners. Cold War II will affect Russia more than the West, and if it is excluded from G-8 “Moscow will lose its unique position of being present in all major multilateral organizations, both Western and non-Western.” The inevitable tightening of Western sanctions will push Russia to exploit the economic contradictions between the United States and European nations like Germany, and push Moscow toward enhancing its links with the BRICS, especially the Chinese powerhouse. The portents for this trajectory was there for all to see this July just before the airliner shoot down, when Putin visited Latin America, where he promptly forgave 90% of Cuba’s US$ 32 Billion debt to the Russians, ending a two-decade dispute decisively. He then went on to tour six countries in the region and sat down to dinner with four Latin American presidents. The irony went barely noticed. The very purpose of the 1960 US policy towards Cuba was to sever the island from the Soviet sphere of influence. Now, it is the United States which is increasingly being isolated diplomatically in its own “backyard,” while Cuba is now more secure in a new Latin America with Russian support. So if Cold War thinking prevails, the Obama administration will continue funding illegal “democracy programs” aimed at subverting the Cuban state. That could persuade some in the Cuban leadership to resist normalisation with the US, continuing a Cold War standoff of many decades. Hopefully, the new Cold War may not be as bad as the old one, but there will still be geopolitical competition which can nevertheless be ruthless and not augur well for the world at large. The growing trend of Anti-Americanism will soon turn into a veritable torrent, and against this backdrop the new Cold War could only worsen the situation further. Seen in retrospect, Washington’s meddlesome finger-poking into Ukraine seems pretty needless, as Russia, contrary to whatever Washington might believe, cannot be isolated all that easily. At least not without a price, and the price will indeed be very dear to the West, whose myopic policies have succeeded in re-spawning version two of the Cold War. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, America’s heralded new “pivot” to China is steeped and stuck in deep contradictions. Lacking any alternative to the Cold War model, the US is dangerously close to fighting two. The question for progressive leaders of the world, especially emerging economies like India is, how do we collectively act to construct a compelling alternative to the Cold War model, as much of the world slides towards a new Dark Age of class struggle, climate crisis and religious fundamentalism appearing on many continents. Groupings like the BRICS, and their cohesive efficacy, become all the more relevant in this context …