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5 /3/2016

This is not a new cold war but something more dangerous - FT.com

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⌘ ­F (Mac)andusethefindbar. Text­onlyversion Viewsource September23,20154:19pm Thisisnotanewcoldwarbutsomethingmore

September23,20154:19pm

Thisisnotanewcoldwarbutsomethingmore

dangerous

RobertService

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Analreadyunpredictablegloballandscapecouldworsen,writesRobert

Service

©Reuters
©Reuters

S

inceFebruary2014,whenPresidentVladimirPutinannexedCrimea,wehavefoundourselves

reachingintothepast—specificallytothecoldwar—tomakesenseofgeopolitics.

Fromthe1950s,theUSSRhadnuclearweaponstocompetewith

5 /3/2016

This is not a new cold war but something more dangerous - FT.com

Americanmight.Itledamilitarycoalition,theWarsawPact,thatintimidatedwesternEurope.

SovietideologyrepudiatedallthatNatocountriesstoodforinpoliticsandeconomics.

Thereweretimes,notablytheCubanmissilecrisisof1962,whentheworldtrembledattheprospect

ofimminentnuclearArmageddon.Itremainedaconstantpossibility,byaccidentordeliberate

action,untilthelate1980s,whenUSPresidentRonaldReaganandMikhailGorbachev,hisSoviet

counterpart,begantheprocessofstrategicdisarmament.

ThereactiontoMrPutin’sactionsinUkrainefromwesternleaderswasswiftandfirm.USPresident BarackObama,GermanChancellorAngelaMerkelandUKPrimeMinisterDavidCameronagreed oneconomicsanctions.TheRussianeconomy,buffetedbytheplungeinworldoilprices,sank further.Foreigndirectinvestmentdriedup.BigRussianbusinessesjoinedthecapitalflight.Inhis

December2014annualtelevisionmessagetotheRussianpeople,MrPutinadmittedhardtimeslay

aheadwhileurgingRussianstobackhimasthemantorestorenationalgreatness.

Russia,humbledinthe1990s,offersfertilesoilfornationalism—andthemoreMrPutinis

criticisedbyforeignleaders,thehigherhisdomesticratings.Yethisauthoritarianmethodsleave

himvulnerabletothekindofunexpectedproteststhatoccurwhenpeopledecideenoughisenough.

ThemiserablefateofLibya’sMuammerGaddafiisastarkexampleofwhatcanhappenwhenan

autocraticleaderfallsfromfavour—andfearofacivilcommotionisneverfarfromtheRussian

president’smind.

Thistime,threatsofnuclearholocaustdonotspringsoreadilytoRussianlips.Indeed,atreatyon

furtherstrategicarmsreductionwassignedasrecentlyas2010.

Moscowiscertainlymodernisingitsarmedforces,whichhaveprovedmorethanamatchforthe

Ukrainians—buttheRussiantechnologicalbaseiswoefullyinferiortoAmerica’s.MrPutinmay

blusterbuttherealityisthathecannotriskwarwithNatounlessheandhisbloatedelitearewilling

toforgothebenefitsoftheirill­gottenriches.

Russiahasdevelopedfromthepupaofcommunismintoanauthoritarian­capitalistcaterpillar.

Authoritarianismandmarketeconomicscanbefoundtogetherelsewhereintheworld,incountries

thatarefarmoresuccessfulthanRussiaindiversifyingtheireconomies;Singaporeisprobablya

moreattractivemodel.Russiahasnoallies,saveforacrumblingclientstateinwhatisleftofBashar

al­Assad’sSyria.MoscowsellsalotofmilitarytechnologytothatregimebutitisdoubtfulthatMr

AssadpaysupanymoredependablythanSaddamHussein,whowasnotoriousforrunningupdebts

totheSovietleadership.

All­outstrugglebetweenRussiaandAmericaonacoldwarscaleisnotonthecards.Whatwedo

have,however,isasituationthatisbad—andcouldeasilyworsen.

ItisoptimistictoexpectMrPutintochangecourse.Fornow,hegainsesteemathomewhen

bullyingtheneighbours.Estonia,LatviaandLithuaniahavegenuinecauseforconcern.Inthe

longerterm,experiencesuggestsMrPutinwillproveapoorgeostrategicthinker.Hehasalready

damagedRussianeconomicinterests,whichsurelylieinsecuringwesternassistancetobuildupthe

country’sabilitytocopewithcompetitionfromChina.

MrPutin’sfrequentdiplomaticoverturesforaSyriansettlementdeserveseriousexamination.But

heshowsnosignofdisengagingfromUkraine;and,havingloosedthedogsofnationalism,hewould

5 /3/2016

This is not a new cold war but something more dangerous - FT.com

findithardtoputthembackinthekennel,evenifhewantedto.Thismakesforalesspredictable

globalsituationthanthefinelytunedbalanceofpowerthatprevailedduringthecoldwar.

Insomewayswenowliveinevenmoredangeroustimes.Sparksondistantborderscanhave

unplannedandexplosiveconsequences.

Thewriterisauthoroftheforthcoming‘TheEndoftheColdWar,1985­1991’

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