Escalating Tensions and a New Cold War?

Jon Sky, Reporter

The world may have assumed they saw the last of the hostilities and proxy conflicts of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Observers and statesmen from both the East and the West believed this would mark the start of a collaborative East-West relationship. And for some time, it did. Western firms began operating in the former Soviet Union, and despite widespread corruption; greater diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties developed. These factors, along with the general liberalization of Russia, seemed to create an environment where the country could assimilate with western Europe.

Only two decades later we have found ourselves on the cusp of another Cold War. The starting point for this Russia vs the West confrontation is not as clear as Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech, but it is rather a series of events. The more dramatic of these include The Russo-Georgian War, the Annexation of Crimea, the ongoing dismemberment of Eastern Ukraine, as well as the deployment of Russian military forces to aid Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.

Behind the headlines, there have been many less publicized issues which aggravate relations and degrade what trust existed. Every four years, Russia runs its Zapad Exercises which consists of the deployment of heavy military forces throughout its western military districts and Belarus, frighteningly close to smaller NATO members who broke away from the Soviet Union during its 1991 implosion. To counter this perceived bullying and reassure its Eastern members, NATO placed four battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. To the south, the U.S. led Sabre Guardian exercises saw 25k troops from 20 NATO countries deployed in Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Another potential act of Russian provocation has been the violations of the INF Treaty by Russia in its deployment of the advanced SSC-8 missile system. This treaty signed in 1987 served as a symbol of peace and trust between the two powers. Russian submarines have been spotted in the Baltic Sea and heavy bombers intercepted off the coast of Scotland, which needless to say has caused alarm and no small amount of consternation in Western European capitals. This has prompted the United States to invest significant sums into upgrading its European and UK air bases.

Not only has Russian military aggression been displayed, but their intelligence community has reverted back to their KGB modus operandi. This has been displayed by the poisoning of defectors who now reside in NATO countries. However, their KGB ways have evolved with the times as they now experiment with computer warfare. The term “Russian hackers” is becoming a household phrase in the United States with different attacks on technological institutions each day. This new form of warfare is not just limited to private companies with personal data such as Facebook, but our own sovereignty with the breaching of our electoral system.

Before the proverbial panic button is pushed, it should be said that this second Cold War, seems very different from its predecessor. Russia now ironically seems to be wearing the imperialist mantle in contrast to its former socialist claims. It is of course no longer a communist state, but effectively an oligarchic autocracy. Putin and his administration are motivated by regaining Russia’s world influence (and a degree of financial strength) as opposed to its previous preoccupation with spreading the glories of world revolution. Russia’s current interest in world influence and the old Soviet Union’s goals of spreading of communism were means to a similar end.

If the Russian agenda continues, then prospects for normal East-West relations could be in jeopardy. Henry Kissinger depicts the current situation of this new Cold War accurately, saying in The Atlantic: “Russia is a vast country undergoing a great domestic trauma of defining what it is. Military transgressions need to be resisted. But Russia needs a sense that it remains significant. We will probably win a new Cold War, but statesmen must comprehend the limits of their definition of interest. A post-Tito-type Yugoslavia wracked by conflict stretching from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok—from Europe across the Middle East to Asia—is not in America’s interest.”