Fulfilling the hopes of neoconservatives in DC and beyond, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has now admitted to what has been increasingly obvious for some time; the West and Russia are in a new Cold War.
Medvedev blamed NATO for the new tension, saying, “NATO’s policy with regard to Russia has remained unfriendly and opaque. One could go as far as to say that we have slid back to a new Cold War. Almost on an everyday basis we are called one of the most terrible threats either to NATO as a whole or to Europe, or to the United States.”
Those sentiments are echoed by a rough consensus of Western foreign policy scholars who believe NATO (and especially its expansion into former Easter Bloc countries) has been the prime driver of tensions between the West and Russia.
The recent drive east by NATO culminated in a US-backed coup in Ukraine that led to a democratically-elected, Russian-aligned president, Viktor Yanukovych, fleeing the country in fear for his life. Subsequently, Ukraine has become a battleground between the West and Russia, with Russia taking Crimea and backing separatists in the east, and the US backing the new government in Kiev and neo-fascist militias fighting the separatists.
In a piece for the Council on Foreign Relations, Professor John Mearsheimer argued the blame for the Ukraine crisis is primarily with the US and Europe, noting, “The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West…”
“For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president — which he rightly labeled a “coup” — was the final straw,” Mearsheimer wrote. “He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.”
While the reality of what happened in the coup is ignored by the US media, the dangers of another overthrow from the neo-fascists militias are not denied. Writing in the Washington Post, Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Adrian Karatnycky warned that neo-Nazi fighters in the US-backed and trained Azov Battalion and other far-right militias were threatening any progress that could be made in Ukraine.
The Ukraine crisis is not the only avenue for tension, as the US and Russia are also backing opposing forces in Syria. As the US backs “moderate” rebel groups including Al Qaeda, Russia backs the Assad government. US allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, continue to back ISIS, while Russian-ally Iran and Iran-backed Hezbollah fights for Assad. Though, it should be said that Syria is not so neatly demarcated.
So, here we are, in the next Cold War. Was this inevitable? Are the needs for great power rivalry so essential for the military-industrial complex to justify itself that Russia had to be antagonized? Perhaps. After all, Al Qaeda and ISIS are weak justifications for spending a trillion dollars on a plane no one needs.