News / Europe

Analysis: Cold War Reflexes Return to Europe Over Ukraine

Pro-Russian people celebrate in Lenin Square, in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 16, 2014.
Pro-Russian people celebrate in Lenin Square, in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 16, 2014.
Reuters
The Cold War is back.

Russia's military seizure of Crimea and preparations for a possible annexation of the southern Ukrainian province have revived fears, calculations and reflexes that had been rusting away since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Whether the crisis triggered by President Vladimir Putin's attempt to prevent Ukraine, a strategic former Soviet republic, turning to the West, becomes a turning point in international relations like the 2001 al-Qaida attacks on the United States or the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, is not yet certain. There are still some steps to play out.

But policymakers and strategic analysts are thinking through the consequences of a potentially prolonged East-West tug-of-war. And states in the middle such as Germany and Poland are starting to weigh uncomfortable adjustments to their policy.

The standoff is already posing tricky questions about the balance between sanctions and diplomacy, setting loyalty tests for allies and raising the risk of spillover to other conflicts and of possible proxy wars.

“Welcome to Cold War Two,” Russian analyst Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace declared in an article for Foreign Policy magazine.

“The recent developments have effectively put an end to the interregnum of partnership and cooperation between the West and Russia that generally prevailed in the quarter-century after the Cold War,” he said.

Trenin is not alone in seeing the struggle for Ukraine as the biggest game-changer in European security since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

While no one imagines the superpowers returning to a hair-trigger nuclear confrontation or a bloc-against-bloc military buildup - for starters, Russia no longer has a bloc - the knock-on implications for other security problems, and for the world economy, are significant.

Frozen conflicts in Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, all “near abroad” post-Soviet states, could be reactivated.

In Berlin, policymakers worry that Russia could raise the stakes by stopping cooperation with the West over Iran's nuclear program, the civil war in Syria, security in Afghanistan and managing North Korea's unpredictable leader.

Any one of those could make life more uncomfortable for the United States and its European and Asian allies by destabilizing the Middle East and southern Asia or raising tension on the Korean peninsula.

'This is the big one'

The realization that Germany, Europe's central power, has no special influence with Russia when the geopolitical chips are down, and that Chancellor Angela Merkel has been unable to sway Putin despite their common languages, has concentrated minds.

In hindsight, Russia's 2008 military intervention in breakaway regions of Georgia was a dry run. It had less global impact partly because an erratic Georgian leader fired the first shots, but also because it barely changed the status quo.

“Ukraine is different. It's on the fault line and it's too big,” says Constanze Stelzenmueller, senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund think-tank, who led a recent major study on Germany's new foreign and security policy.

“Now we are entering a systemic competition. That's why I think the Cold War analogy is accurate. If you're in Berlin, that's the way it feels. This is the big one.”

Despite its strong economic interests in Russia, where 6,200 German companies do business, and its dependency on Russian natural gas for 40 percent of supplies, Stelzenmueller expects Germany to “surprise on the upside by being firm”.

Moscow is only Berlin's 11th trade partner, below Poland. Germany's main trade body said last week a trade conflict between the two would hurt German business but it would be life-threatening for a stagnant Russian economy.

As former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten observes, while almost every European household owns goods made in China, few if any have anything produced in Russia, except gas and vodka.

Central European economies could be severely disrupted if Moscow played with the gas taps, but stocks are high, winter is over and Russia needs the revenue.

Going neutral

In Cold War One, hawks in the United States and western Europe fretted that then West Germany could turn neutral in its pursuit of detente with the Soviet Union and its east European allies, including communist East Germany.

That never happened. Bonn remained firmly anchored in the Western political and military camp. But there were some epic transatlantic battles along the way.

They included a 1982 clash with the United States over a German-Soviet gas pipeline deal which the Reagan administration feared would make West Germany dangerously dependent on Moscow.

The Germans stood their ground. The pipeline was built and is one reason why Germany remains so hooked on Russian energy.

That dispute - just a year after a Moscow-inspired military crackdown in Poland - may have lessons for any new Cold War.

A year later, Bonn withstood mass protests and threats from Moscow to deploy U.S. medium-range nuclear missiles on its soil in response to Soviet SS-20 rockets pointed at the West. That led eventually to a negotiated end to the East-West arms race.

Then as now, a perceived Russian threat ultimately united Europeans and the United States, despite public misgivings reflected today in opinion polls showing neither Germans nor Americans are keen to get tough with Russia.

Then as now, both Moscow and the West turned to China to try to tip the balance. Then as now, U.S. strategists traded charges of appeasement and warmongering as they argued over the right policy mix between containing Russia and taking its interests into account.

If Putin moves to annex Crimea, Europeans may soon have to contemplate awkward sacrifices to show their resolve.

For France, this could mean suspending a contract to sell helicopter carriers to Russia. For Britain, closing its mansions and bank vaults to magnates close to Putin. For Germany, initiating gradual steps to reduce dependency on Russian gas.

It will take Cold War-style determination for any of that to happen. Maintaining EU unity if the going gets tough, with states in southern Europe such as Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria closer to Moscow, could prove a challenge.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Theophorus from: Virginia,US-war state
March 19, 2014 2:05 AM
Reminds me of Germany. WW1 ended with no one marching in Germany just papers signed saying Germany lost. Later Germany asked itself why? The answer, we are still great. Allies role through Germany and burn most of it.
Hey lesson learned when you crush the enemy. right? Enter Russia, the Soviet union is digging trenches for the dead of those who would oppose them during and after ww2. Now they go broke in 1991. They sign papers and no army marched through Russia. Sounds like our lil germany does it not. A proud people, a strong people, an unbeaten people are these Russians. Russia was never fully beaten, nor was its mind set. They will get worse. History. We made Russia what it is just as we made Germany what it had become in WW2. Papers signed don't change people, the senseless deaths of their fellow countrymen always does.... humans learn alot of lessons through pain. As a kid you play to much and get hurt bad enough you learn not to mess around. This basic form of learning is even in animals. In short Russia has yet to feel the sting, so here she comes under a new flag claiming this was mine so it is again. Sounds like Hitler claiming his oppressed Germans in the Rhineland or sudetanland in czhechoslava. Claiming the Germans were being hurt there or it belonged to them. Both of these things claimed also by Putin with no real evidence mind you. Sad times are soon to come it may take a decade or less, soon come.

P.s. long live Scotland


by: Garret Lebois from: US
March 17, 2014 6:10 PM
Germany & Russia have NO common language. And Russia doesn't
contain North Korea, -CHINA does. Get the facts straight!

In Response

by: Ally from: Russia
March 18, 2014 1:40 PM
I think I had in mind is not quite that. They have not built up a whole dialoga.No ninety percent of people in the Crimea also said enough)

In Response

by: Victor from: New Zealand
March 17, 2014 11:37 PM
Angela Merkel is fluent in Russian and Putin is fluent in German (he was KGB agent in East Germany).


by: Harry Kuheim from: USA
March 17, 2014 5:34 PM
Thanks Barry...we needed another Endless War to spend Billions on.
Your Pals,
Haliburton


by: Steve Hobbs from: Owensboro Kentucky
March 17, 2014 5:31 PM
Insert Santayana quote here!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid