The Old New Cold War

3 April 2014, 15:42

General Philip Breedlove finally said the following: “Now it is very clear that Russia is acting much more like an adversary than a partner”. It is very likely that for NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, what he voiced was already obvious, but, as has happened before in history, even a “small” war puts everything it its place. After the brazen seizure of part of Ukraine by its Eastern neighbour, American-Polish journalist Anne Applebaum feels that: “many are beginning to understand that the narrative is wrong: Russia is not a flawed Western power. Russia is an anti-Western power”. For more than 20 years, many people were deluded, particularly in Europe, by the new Russia’s easily understood greed for money. Although they were cautious of the representatives of Russian capitalism in the world and oligarchs, they were ready to offer them their hand.

British journalist and Senior Editor for The Economist, Edward Lucas, was one of the first who, back in the 1990s, was already warning the international community that post-Soviet incumbents in Moscow were abusing the trust of the West. One of his books is entitled Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West. Another book is entitled The New Cold War: Putins Russia and the Threat to the West. In an interview with The Ukrainian Week, Edward Lucas speaks about the Ukrainian crisis as a whole and about the new Cold War.

U.W: When did the new Cold War begin?

– I think the new Cold War really started several years ago and it was a mistake on the behalf of the West to think that Russia had changed completely in 1991. Unfortunately, we saw the return of the kind of Chekist deep state, even in the Yeltsin years, with the growth of the Korzhakov (Aleksandr Korzhakov, ex-KGB officer, head of the Presidential Security Service for Boris Yeltsin in 1993-1996 – Ed.) faction in the Kremlin and Mr. Primakov (Yevgeny Primakov, Prime Minister of Russia in 1998-1999, diplomat – Ed.) being Head of the Foreign Intelligence Service. This intensified when Mr. Putin and his KGB friends from St. Petersburg took over in Moscow, and it’s been getting worse ever since. I think the difference of the old Cold War is that the old Cold War was about a very sharp military confrontation and a very sharp ideological confrontation and without much use of money. And the new Cold War has been about the use of Russian money in the West to divide the weak of the West and also the use of the energy weapon. So there are some differences, but increasingly, I think, as we watch the situation develop in Ukraine, the new Cold War and the old Cold War are looking more and more similar.

U.W: Is there any ideology behind the current confrontation between Moscow and the West?

– Oh, very much so. Just read Mr. Putin’s speeches. It’s clear that he believes in Russia as a civilizational power with all sorts of specific characteristics, deeper values and with a sort of historical destiny behind it. I think it’s that old Tsarist era of a triad of autocracy, orthodoxy and nationalism, which has come back. I think there was a bit of an ideological vacuum in Russia in the 90s, but Mr. Putin is quite busy filling it. 

READ ALSO: Edward Lucas: Ukraine’s pain is Europe’s shame

U.W: So what we have now is a serious threat to European and possibly world security. Where is the place of the old structures, such as NATO, the EU and others under these conditions? Do they have the same role to play?

– I think that NATO is back in business, big time. I think that the organisations that are struggling to find a role are the OSCE, which is now deadlocked and has in fact been deadlocked for many years. It’s just that we haven’t really noticed. The Council of Europe and the European Security architecture, which dates from the Paris Charter from 1990, about inviolability of borders and respect for common human rights values and so on, that’s gone. And I don’t think Europe’s really woken up to this. We are still pretending that the old game will work. For the new game to work, which is back to NATO and territorial defence, we need to spend a lot more on defence and we need to restore our relations with America. And that’s going to need a lot of new thinking and new efforts in Europe.

U.W: Would you agree that there is a problem with NATO. That essentially this is an organisation that only guarantees security to its members and in this case we have a problem with Ukraine, which is not a member. Is there something that should be changed in the statutory documents of the organisation? Or is the only way for countries like Ukraine, for example, to join NATO to guarantee their security?

– No, it’s not the only way. I think the problem with NATO is that it’s a bit like a close family and you can’t just join like that. You are requiring other countries to risk their lives for you and this is something that happens only after quite careful consideration. It’s not like just joining a golf club and I think that joining NATO requires a long period of reforms and military development to ensure interoperability from a military point of view. It’s not just a political alliance. So even if we want it to, I don’t think that Ukraine can join NATO for several years. And I’m not sure that the NATO members would want to extend the Article 5 guarantee to Ukraine until we have a clearer idea of what the Ukrainian government is going to be and how Ukraine is going to be run. So I think I would put that on one side. I think NATO’s job is to defend its own members and create a kind of a real red line in Europe, that whatever Putin does in Ukraine, which is terrible and will cause him a lot of problems, is not the same as attacking a NATO country or is completely off-limits. So to that extent, it’s a kind of security fence in Europe.

U.W: But Ukraine is on the other side of this fence. Does that mean that it is completely unprotected?

– I didn’t say that. I think we need to do different things with Ukraine. I think this is where the EU comes in to try and help with the financial and economic stabilisation of Ukraine and giving any help it can with the new constitutional settlement and so on. But from the security point of view, I think there’s room for intelligence-sharing. I would personally be in favour of selling weapons to Ukraine, or giving weapons to Ukraine. I would be in favour of having joint military exercises with Ukraine and I think that the most important thing – that the most important thing we can do for Ukraine is to impose much more serious sanctions on Russia. But we will save Ukraine not by having a military confrontation on Ukrainian territory, but by raising the cost to Putin. I think we should be trying to bring down the Putin regime completely. This is a good opportunity to try and destroy this whole overlap between crime, business and the KGB in Russia. We should be aiming to split the regime, turn Putin’s supporters against him and give him some really serious problems.

U.W: Zbigniew Brzezinski is quoted as proposing “Finland’s scenario” for Ukraine and even from Russia we hear demands that Ukraine should be completely neutral and not part of any military or even political blocs. In addition, the Kremlin wants Ukraine to be divided into some kind of federation or confederation. Is this something that sounds acceptable to you? Is this something that would increase Ukraine’s security or security in Eastern Europe?

– No. I think this is an extremely bad idea and I think it both misunderstands Finland’s position during the Cold War and it would be completely wrong for Ukraine. We are over the days when other countries make decisions about people’s futures and Ukraine’s future security is for Ukrainians to decide. If I was the Ukrainian government, I would say that we are going to have a five-year moratorium on any discussion of membership in the EU or NATO, because we need to get on with stabilisation and reform. And if at the end of these five years the Ukrainian people choose to open discussions on either NATO or the EU, that’s for them, but it will come as a result of the political process. As membership of both organisations is totally impossible within a five-year framework, you don’t lose anything by saying that you’ll have a moratorium on it. But that has to come from Ukraine, rather than from outside. I think that on the whole, being a neighbour of Russia is an extremely uncomfortable business, even in Finland now, which is historically against military alliances. The people there are increasingly worried about Russia and I think there is quite a good chance that Finland and Sweden will be joining NATO quite soon.

U.W: Countries like France were sometimes irritated by what was perceived to be “unjustified phobias against Russia” in countries like Poland, Estonia or Latvia. Would you now say that the “old” and “new” Europe understand each other better when it comes to the danger of Putin’s Russia?

– I think the “old” Europe and “new” Europe is quite out of date. This divide is not between “old” and “new”, it’s really between North and South. So you have the North European countries; Sweden and Estonia also the Netherlands, Denmark and Britain, taking a very bleak view of Russia, and the Southern European countries such as Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Italy and Spain being very much against any sort of real sanctions. So the real divide is North-South, not “old”-“new”.

READ ALSO: Russian Aggression: Genesis, goals, counteraction and legal consequences

U.W: For many Ukrainians there is a dilemma, in how Ukraine responded to events in Crimea. On the one hand Ukraine was commanded to show restraint and not respond with fire to Russian action in Crimea, but on the other, there is the feeling that if a country does not defend itself, how can it expect to be defended by the outside world?.

– I think it is very difficult. But I think you are paying the price for the Yanukovych government and actually for the governments that preceded it. Clearly the contingency planning was extremely weak. And you start from a position where all the options are very bad. This is true not only in Crimea, but in many other things. So I think one can certainly fault the Ukrainians for not having concentrated their forces. If they had had a good intelligence analysis of what was going on, it might have been a good idea to concentrate all the Ukrainian forces in Crimea in one place, rather than having them scattered all over the place in different, completely indefensible locations. That would have been a much more difficult target for the Russians. I don’t know the military geography of Crimea very well, but I suspect that there would be at least one or two places that would have been more defensible. Ukraine should also have stockpiled some food, water, communications and so on, to make themselves a bit more able to resist this sort of Russian pressure.

But I think this is the same dilemma the Baltic States faced in 1940; resistance is hopeless and if you don’t resist, people will say you consented. It’s a tactic that Russia is well-able to use and which we have suffered from in the past.



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