Cold War: back to the future?

Cold War: back to the future?

The Ukraine crisis has crystallized Cold War-like polarization, just as every crisis between the U.S. and Russia does. While the dust of the Cold War has certainly been kicked up, don’t let it impede your visibility.

Over the weekend Russia’s President Putin said in a TV show that he doesn’t have any intention to push for a Soviet style “Iron Curtain” or a “Soviet invasion.” He emphasized that the U.S. and Russia have various common interests and are partners on a great variety of issues. Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of both countries were trying to find a solution for the Ukraine crisis in Geneva. Also, President Obama said on Feb. 19 that Ukraine is not a “Cold War chessboard” in which the U.S. and Russia are vying for influence.

Both countries have not needed each other so desperately ever before. Today they can solve the conflicts they face only hand in hand. Washington cannot fix its relations with Iran and solve the Syria crisis without Moscow at all. Furthermore, their economies are so intertwined. Putin said in the same TV program over the weekend that “today, when one tries to punish someone, in the end they will saw off the branch they’re sitting on.” Couldn’t have said it better.

The dependence on energy is a fundamental part of this picture. Putin wrote a letter to the EU leaders last week warning that Ukraine’s debt crisis has reached a “critical” level and could threaten to transit to Europe. Moscow had cut off gas transit through Ukraine to Europe in the winters of 2006 and 2009 over similar unpaid bills to Gazprom, which left parts of Europe without heat.

People seem to be aware of this dependence. Wall Street Journal just published the results of a survey conducted in Germany last week. Accordingly, 50% of the German people believe their country should play a neutral role between Russia and the West, rather than stick firmly within the Western alliance.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has recently said being a member of NATO doesn’t mean
Turkey needs to stand against Russia. This statement reveals that Ankara also forms its policy based on this dependence.

On top of these, it was only last October when the U.S. economy shutdown because Congress failed to raise the debt limit. Hence, the current conditions certainly do not allow the revival of the Cold War.

Yet, it is not only this international conjuncture which doesn’t let the Cold War to rise from its ashes. The actors in this system are also not suitable. The Cold War took place between two global powers.

Today, economically, Russia is not a global power. However, it is also not just a regional power, as Obama had described it late March. Today Russia is a nuclear power, Europe’s main gas provider and holds a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council. Furthermore, it has great impact on East Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

Then why does this regional power with a great impact on three regions not equal one global power – because Russia would equal Brazil if you took away the nukes and the U.N. Security Council. Hence, it is a regional power with extensive global impact.

Due to all of these reasons, the confrontation between the U.S. and Russia remains only regional. It is their cooperation which is global.