Russia’s Cold War habit


A few weeks ago, Mikhail Gorbachev – the last leader of the Soviet Union and the man who did more than anyone to end the Cold War – told the German newspaper Bild that it is possible “to recognize all the features of a new cold war in today’s world.” The United States “has already dragged” Russia into it, Gorbachev has said, in an effort “to realize its general triumphalist idea,” notes Vladislav Inozemtsev, an Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University.

Today’s cold war has much in common with the two previous confrontations, he writes for Project Syndicate:

For one thing, as was the case in the 1820s and late 1940s, Russia is aggressively rejecting Western values and opposing the US. Though no one is threatening to attack Russia, anti-Western hysteria is being used once again to divert attention from domestic economic challenges and consolidate support for the country’s leader.

Thus, President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, like that of Nicholas I, proclaims itself the defender of the Orthodox faith and the Russian (similar to the nineteenth-century Slavonic) “world.” This claim has provided the Kremlin with a ready-made justification for destabilizing neighboring countries like Ukraine and supporting secessionist movements from Moldova to Georgia, while openly calling for the suppression of “color revolutions” in its near-abroad.

This points to a critical observation about the current cold war: the West is not “dragging” anyone into it, Inozemtsev adds:

In fact, in all three confrontations since the nineteenth century, it was Russian action, motivated by domestic concerns, that spurred European or Western efforts at strategic containment. Today, the West is reacting to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and occupation of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, just as it responded to the annexation of Wallachia in 1853 and the blockade of West Berlin in 1948.

Moreover, in all three confrontations, the Western side has comprised several “natural allies,” while Russia has acted either alone or with minor satellites. All three times, the country’s leaders displayed a willingness to blame others for its homegrown follies, alienate all of its potential allies and sympathizers, and waste its human and economic resources.

“Based on this history, it seems likely that Russia’s effort to contain perceived enemies will lead only to economic collapse and political disarray, forcing the country’s elites to step away from their geopolitical aspirations and turn to urgent domestic issues,” he suggests. RTWT

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