Why the Crimean Conflict is Not a New Cold War

References to the Cold War have flourished in official statements and newspaper headlines throughout the weekend. However, these comparisons are misleading.

It has been a busy weekend for editors and journalists. As new developments continue to pour into the world´s newsrooms, hopes for a united Ukraine are floundering as the threat of war increases. Given the broad repercussions such a conflict would have on the relationship between the US, the EU and Russia, memories of the Cold War have started to dominate public perception of the Crimean conflict.

However, one should refrain from using such rhetoric due to two main reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, the Crimean conflict is not about ideologies but rather about military strategy and economic influence. Secondly – and more broadly – the emergence of a new Cold War is nearly impossible in a globalized world.

“People of this world, look upon this city and see that you should not and cannot abandon this city and this people.” It would be easy to use this quotation in the current Crimean context simply by substituting the word “city” by “peninsula”. In reality, this quotation is taken from a speech that dates back to September 1948. At that time, Ernst Reuter, then-mayor of West Berlin urged the world to save his city from the first woes of the emerging Cold War.

Today – more than 6 decades later – Ukrainian leaders in Kiev urge the world to rescue the Crimean peninsula from Russian troops. It is easy to draw comparisons – most likely too easy.

The Cold War was about the rivalry of two ideologies trying to conquer one another. John Mueller, a professor of political science, famously argued that the Cold War ended as soon as the Soviet Union acknowledged the end of its efforts to spread its ideology. The current conflict, however, is about military and economic power. One of Russia´s most important military bases is located on the Crimean peninsula and the new government in Kiev is likely to annul an existing agreement allowing Russia to base part of its Fleet there. Moscow does not have a real alternative to which it could relocate the affected part of its Black Sea Fleet. None of these considerations point at an ideological conflict that will extend towards other countries or create proxy wars which defined the Cold War.

Secondly, neither Russia, the US nor the EU are capable of, or interested in, initiating a new Cold War. Despite their power rivalries, they are aware that cooperation is necessary to solve some of the most pressing problems. The conflict in Syria, terrorism, climate change, and recent economic and financial crises are just a few examples. The world is not solely dominated by the US and Russia anymore. Actors such as China or India will not show any interest in a war that would threaten their economic output and development, and one that would not constitute any advantage for their developing economies.

Russia might in fact face strong opposition from current partners such as China. As a recent article in Foreign Policy stated, Beijing has a major interest in Ukrainian agricultural territories. Furthermore, Beijing could use the Crimean precedent as an argument to try to move the eastern Siberian Chinese-Russian border which is already today more important to China than to Russia. In other words, even if Russia, the US and the EU decide to enter a new Cold War, it is not at all certain that they will still remain powerful enough to jam world politics and to force other nations to play by its rules.

The danger arising from the Crimean conflict must certainly not be underestimated, but references to the Cold War are either politically motivated or out of context.

This article was republished by The Huffington Post (U.S. edition)


36 thoughts on “Why the Crimean Conflict is Not a New Cold War

  1. Yes, I agree. Reality have to conquer the emotions. By leaving the Russian “friendship” Ukraine has to give up something. It will hurt, but the alternative will be much worst. This is like children leaving home and realizing that freedom comes with a price.

    • It is not about Ukraine alone. The country was given guarantees of territorial integrity from US, UK, and few others in exchange for removing nuclear weapons. So if such promises will appear empty now, that would be a great argument for Iran, NK, and anyone wishing to create their own nuclear arsenal. Actually, Ukraine is technically able to do it as well, and who can solidly argue against it if Ukraine is betrayed?

      • The issue is that any sort of agreement is only as binding as the willingness of all of the signatories to enforce it. Being that one of the signatories of the 1994 Budapest Agreement is Russia we’ve already seen a complete failure of that promise. The United States and the United Kingdom could step in to try to enforce the agreement but how? There is *no* chance that military action will happen. It’s simply not feasible nor wise. That leaves economic sanctions and other diplomatic methods. However, Russian agreement in the Middle East may be of significantly more importance to world stability than the Crimea. The Russians are also unlikely to capitulate to world pressure because of the paramount strategic importance of the Black Sea naval base. In their view it would be like the US giving up Honolulu. So we’re in a position where there are distinct limits on our ability to place sufficient pressure to overcome the significant Russian interest there. I’m not attempt to argue that what Russia has done is ‘right’ or even acceptable – simply that there isn’t much that can be done. If the Russian limit their actions to Crimea then it’s likely to stick.

    • I don’t agree. No one says that letting up Crimea will prevent Russia from further actions to broaden its influence over other countries or territories. There is no freedom in letting somebody take something that’s yours while pretending not to see it. Crimea’s historic affinity is another subject though.

    • Vse je že dolgo jasno, da hočejo ZDA podjarmiti svet v celoti, so zato prvo pritegnili na sebe Evropo in jo ekonomsko med seboj povezali v odvisnost ameriškega (Izraelskega ) kapitala in nato pričeli rušiti manjše in vse večje države Azije in Afrike, da bi lahko nadvladali s svojem kapitalom, toda to ni bilo dovolj, ko so osvojili vse, nekoč vzhodne Evropske države nekdanje SSR, celotnega vzhodnega bloka, so se odločili, da bodo osvojili še ekonomsko razvito in veliko Ukrajino in misleč, če jim to uspe, bodo pričeli z revolucijo še v sami Rusiji, kar jim je bil tudi končni cilj, te razpadajoče Ameriške države, ki se je s svojimi rušenji tujih držav, že preveč finančno in gospodarsko izčrpala, bi se kot so predvidevali, sedaj lahko vsi stroški končno povrnili in bi na tej osnovi svetovnega zla, Amerika zopet zacvetela!

      Seveda se to ne bo zgodilo, saj Putin in vsa vodilna Rusija tega ne bo dovolila, ker se bo branila tudi z vsemi Ameriki še neznani orožji tudi pod ceno tretje svetovne vojne!

      To samo še naivci ne razumejo!

    • I see omissions, for review.

      First, Imperial Russia took Crimea, from the Ottomans, in the 1700s, but Soviet Russia ceded it, to Ukraine, in 1954, upon Khrushchev’s premiership, following Stalin’s death.

      This looks logical, on the map, IF we still had the former Soviet Union, intact, but rather this dissolved, and NATO and the EU have been not only busy, at pawning purloined surveillance, from the US, or there would be no totally fake classic punk rock, funk, disco, et al, since Nixon was president, but also at recruiting former Soviet bloc nations, to join NATO and the EU, etc.

      Putin is up against something, since Viktor Yanukovych was a gross tyrant, heading down the murderous Assad path, but with wrinkles, of embezzlement and gross, exploitive opulence, including one bell, at his mansion, to summon sex, with another bell, to summon alcohol. Hey, this was no reason, to abandon a parliamentary constitution and tolerate abuse, of Mrs.Tymoshenko, in corrupt custody.

      Meanwhile, the US and EU have neglected carbon capture, to use CO2, to grow algae and distill methanol, at the site, of any furnace, while the US exports the drug war, featuring hemp, as a Schedule I controlled substance, while crack, smack, speed, and Zimmy’s Adderall are on Schedule II, since the deuces can’t be used, to make thousands of products, which threaten fossil fuel media, timber, et al cartel profiteering.

      Even so, petro-exporters, like Canada and UK have legal industrial hemp.

      The US has Obama, who was Choom Club boss, in his stony days, as HS hoop player, and who smoked crack, when he lived in Greenwich, to then go for long walks, ‘fasting.’ Hey, on BREAKING BAD and CHAPPELLE’S SHOW it’s called tweaking or Mr.Crackhead President.

      Sorry about Obama’s gridlock, with the pubs, over cruddy Obamacare, but all this waste has to go. But will Obama or another Democrat of Republican be able to deal, with corruption, like the Chinese are doing it?

      I DON’T THINK SO. This leaves a media deficit, including a power vacuum, relative to NATO and the EU, where the US, UK, and other NATO toads have no constitutional media, to recommend, to anyone, in the wake of the US letting GW Bush make sure the 911 attacks happened, in the first place, by stifling the FBI and CIA and all intel, so GW took the August 6, 2001 CIA memo and ran off, to tell Jeb just how nice that Condi is, until the insider traders could deploy and the attacks could go down, without a hitch.

      THEN GW and crew lied, about WMDs, since Saddam was a material witness, to what happens, to turned CIA assets AND Iraq was then poised, to have its oil privatized, to incite a profitable civil war, leaving Obama, to inherit bin Laden and Libya, but stall out, at Syria AND NOW UNRAINE AND CRIMEA.

      Sorry about that now-jeopardized pipeline, from Russia, but Robin Williams’ Snickers commercial had this nailed, months ago.

  2. England and France were in a “hot” war in Crimea, leading up to WW1. I’d not dismiss the idea of a shooting war too quickly — after all, the impulse of many Ukranians to join up with the EU is the genesis of this crisis.

  3. The analogy to children leaving home needs to wait until after an election, not the mobbing of parliament that just happened a few days ago (the western press seems to forget).

    Let’s wait until a properly elected government comes to Ukraine, one where the representatives from the east and south are allowed to enter the parliament building without threats to their lives and the lives of their children.

    This, by the way, is the crux behind the secessionist talk.

    Until May 25, NATO should pressure the interim “government” to just make sure the lights stay on and the trains are running and potholes in the roads are paved. Without a mandate from the electorate in the east and south, there must be no new controversial laws or appointments that will rile the east, south and Russia. They simply don’t have the authority to sign an EU deal until after May 25.

    Aside from this blog, the Debka File is the only high-IQ neutral source of news about the Ukraine now. They say that Washington needs to be pressuring Kiev now, not Moscow.

    • Neither legally, nor practically it is possible to hold a national elections, which will produce a mandate from NW and SE, when part of the country is occupied. It could be done, if international peace-keeping force will replace Russians in Crimea, but Putin will not allow it for sure. And while I agree that interim govenment should be cautious deciding issues, potentially painful for various parts of the country, there’s no reason for them to replace their own interests for those of Kremlin.

  4. Thanks for this article. I had definitely missed considering some points here, and was basically convinced that this conflict could escalate to a world war. That seems silly in light of what you’ve covered in this article; especially the revelation that Russia simply must have this port, and would likely no longer have that port under a new Ukrainian gov’t less aligned with old eastern promises, as it were.

    The primary danger of the conflict in Crimia today must be, therefore, that the inability of NATO countries to keep Russia from taking what it wants will be taken as a sign by the more avaricious countries of the world; China would be more likely to take bold steps regarding that Russian border, or the Sea Islands. Iran might want to make moves on Iraq. India might see an opportunity to act with impunity in the Kashmir area.

  5. The question is, is this a Guantanamo Bay situation, with the Russians merely grabbing the location of one of their own military bases, or is it a Sudetenland situation, with the Russians grabbing an adjacent Russian-speaking, pro-Russian territory.

  6. With the ouster of the Russian-backed Yanukovitch, there were subsequently almost immediate rumblings about getting rid of all the Russians and Jews from Crimea. Good old Ukraine – still a hotbed of ethic and racial hatreds. As well, the 1994 agreement also required that the government of Ukraine be at all times legally constituted, but the ouster of Yanukovitch was not legal because it essentially re-wrote legislative rules without consultation or agreement. The current leadership of the government has been emplaced by fiat, not by current legislative rules. (…)

    (I shortened this comment by one sentence due to inadequate rhetoric – Rick N.)

    • This is flatly not true. Every society has some extreme groups, however if they say one thing, it doesn’t equate to public sentiment or policy. But when the leadership of a country makes comments, “We are going in to protect our people.”, “They are digging up the graves our our ancestors.” These are the murmurings of a lunatic. These are the same excuses, Germany used to take over Austria and other surrounding nations, which were/are home to German speaking people, prior to WWII. Language and culture do not make a people by itself. “Reuniting” is a very dangerous thing. There are plenty of Russian speaking Ukrainians who support Ukraine. The Crimea is populated by mostly Russian speaking Tartars, who wish to remain in Ukraine. If there were an ethnic cleansing, it would be by Russia, not Ukraine. Russia us run by a man who has lost his sense of reality. Telling lies for so long as to believe them himself. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10673235/Ukraine-crisis-Angry-Angela-Merkel-questions-whether-Putin-is-in-touch-with-reality.html Here is the truth. Russia, will say one thing, and do the other. They will attack at night. They will promise peace and wage war. Just like Yanukovitch consistently broke his promise to Maidan protestors. Russian governors are appointed and given scripts to brainwash their people. The people of Russia are lied to, every day, and we are being lied to as well. There is no fascist movement in Ukraine in as much as there’s none in Canada, US, UK, France, Switzerland. The freedom to think, manifests in all ideologies. Russia has to be contained now, not in two or five years. The world cannot afford any war.

  7. One should not disregard the heavy documented fact now that the “Orange and other revolutions” were funded directly by the American Senate through NGO’s.
    THe USA fueled division inside these countries which were not ethnically coherent.
    Now it is a mess in these countries, and Russia is only securing the people which have a cultural and religious link (Orthodox) with Russia.

    The simple reason for these dead people there comes from the American geopolitcs and told by Samuel Huttington in his remarkable book “Clash of Civilisation” the main problem for the USA is their geographical isolation with two oceans compared to the Eurasian land.

    So any economical form of terrestrial and economical and political link between Europe and Asia is a mere squeeze of their world influence because of their geographical situation.

    The idea is simple : just maintain and fuel a formal opposition between Europe and Russia, maintain also the Middle East on fire and there will be no chance of an economical and polical understanding between Europe and Asia.

    Another cultural fact entering the game is also since Pope John Paull II and continuing with persistence with Pope Benedict XVI and now Francis; il the continuous talk and profound understanding ties between religions. A movement led by Rome (Catholic Church) with the Orthodox and the Muslim authorities.

    It is sure that any destruction of the ties in a country like Ukraine between Catholic and Orthodox people is a great victory for the secular movement in the USA.

    But I fear that this kind of nonsensical and divisive strategy will be paid at a high price in the future by the USA.
    Just see now the credit drop the american administration has fallen into by their political position in Egypt. They have succeeded into uniting the Egyptian people against them. Which is a complete failure as the country was a great ally for the USA recently.

    • Could you back up your statement about heavy documented facts about American Senate funding orange and other revolutions in the Ukraine with actual documents?

      • Of course, this one hour investigative documentary from public french TV should be sufficient.

        At the beginning it was Georges Bush Jr with John McCain relaying for the Senate.
        But I believe that Barack Obama even if he is a Democrat, has not profoundly changed the geopolitical interests of the USA. As they remain quite permanent through the years.

        But you can find also the Congress if you dig a little deeper into Wikipedia : NED
        “During the 1980s and 1990s, NED invested millions of dollars in Eastern Europe.”

        You also have Georges Soros who invested a lot into these regions, notably Serbia to bring down Milosevic through NGO prepared stirring of the public opinion.

        But all this is very very old, it has been invented during the french revolution and after as one of the ministers of Napoleon, Talleyrand, perfectly knew and employed these kinds of tactics.
        Later it was employed to good use by the Soviet revolution, now these tactics have gained more recognition through the name of “Soft Power” and are used heavily by the USA and in foreign countries.

        Putin is not a pure democrat of course, but he is not a total and complete naive also…

  8. The author of this article, I think, is missing an important point. While the Crimean Conflict is indeed a conflict of economic and military influence, underlying that conflict is an ideological divide. This is not a conflict between Russia and Germany, or between Russia and France, or between Russia and the US. It is between Russia and what may be called a broad alliance of Western powers. The Western alliance exists in large part due to a close alignment of their ideologies, which cascades down to an alignment of their military and economic interests. And it is the misalignment of Russia’s ideology that excludes them from this group of powers, and puts their military and economic interests in opposition to it.

    In an unrelated point, the fact that China may stand in opposition to Russia’s pursuits in this conflict does not detract from the Cold War analogy. If anything, it adds to it. Recall that during the Cold War, the Sino-Soviet split occurred, which saw China pursuing closer ties with the US while bracing for war with the Soviet Union.

    • “The Western alliance exists in large part due to a close alignment of their ideologies.”

      Nope, there is no alignment of ideologies, it is purely a buying system and an influnce zone for the USA, which repeatedly enslaved the western region through “Soft Power” use since the end of the Soviet Union.

      During the Cold War, the USA was more attentive and quite obedient to its allies as it did not want them to play between the two main powers that were the US and the Soviet Union. De Gaulle in France played between the two main powers and often unsettled the american power to gain autonomy for his people and country. It is recognized as a perfect sensible strategy by Henry Kissinger in his famous book “Diplomacy”.

      In fact the end of the Soviet empire, was a diplomatic disaster for the European western countries, as the USA reinforced their cultural and political grip on these territories as they did not need to make any concessions to European countries to keep them back from the USSR.

      It can be said that today is no Cold War, it is the pursuit of the American influence and tries for punishment of the “rebellious russian people” (during the Codl War) and Putin trying to save the maximum territorial influence he could get through this political hate he did not wished to endure from abroad. He has enough political and economical problems to handle, than to think about opening conflicts elsewhere. But the USA through Soft Power continues to open these conflicts by stirring public opinions at Russia steps.

      • Soft power, by definition, implies the willing cooperation and alignment of those being influenced. Enslavement by soft power is an oxymoron.

      • You are wrong because even enslavement needs the willingness of the slave otherwise no human being will work for you for nothing, pacifically. Slavery is asubtle mechanism between a master and a slave where the master creates the false intellectual context with false arguments where the slave himself approves the necessity of this hierarchy and the slavery itself. Without the willingness of the slave of consciously abandoning his freedom or for a nation its autonomy, you cannot sustain slavery. Slavery is not possible through brute force.
        Read the articles and works of the excellent intellectual, historian and specialist of slavery and colonialism Ibrahima Thioub. And you will learn that the willingness of the “slave” must be acquired by the master in proving its “natural” superiority (which is always false argumentation in the end, but the slave in the context must not know it).
        Alas Ibrahima Thioub write manly in french, and leaves in Senegal. You have quite brilliant and educated people there, great minds also, Pr Thioub is one of them

        To make it simple, any efficient domination system between human beings must last long and to last long as a master you have to convince the slave that he will accept his condition. “Soft Power” could be an exercise into engineering subtle slavery from foreign nations to your system.

  9. The Cold War as all conflicts and wars in history of mankind was about money, power and economic influence. The ideology on the other hand was a tool to justify actions taken in the process of rising control over the world by two super powers. The end of the Cold War had mainly economic reasons. USSR wasn’t able to keep up with USA in terms of military growth because of inefficient economic system, not because of ideology’s inferiority. Adding civil unrest because of poverty to the picture lead the country to its breakdown.

    The next argument against the possibility of new Cold War derives from the notion that globalization leads to unification of interests. In this light Russia’s military aggression is even more frightening. Despite theoretical common goals on global scale, Russia breaks several international agreements and it is seen as a necessary evil to keep the piece in the region.

    Apart from the fact that Ukraine seems to be divided by two trends now (it’s really hard to establish real state of opinion in the whole country thanks to media manipulations) military aggression should never be justified the more because of globalization. Shouldn’t we try to imagine the world without war and condemn such behaviour? It could be one of a few cases when actually ideology won over simple economic needs and never-ending fight over power.

    Of course it won’t happen.

  10. The aims may be [slightly] different, but the rationale used to invade another country is here no different than it was when the U.S. sought to invade Panama in 1989. Our citizens’ lives are being threatened; be damned legality and world opinion.

    But the U.S.’s illegal action against Panama does not legitimize Russia’s act against the Ukraine. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    This is probably going to be another Bosnia-Herzegovina; mindless, pointless carnage ending in the usual subdivisions-of-subdivisions-of-cultures…which could have been accomplished without a single shot being fired.

  11. “The Cold War was about the rivalry of two ideologies trying to conquer one another.”

    Ugh, really? The Cold War was about power, influence, money, and resources just like any war. Any spread of ideologies or conquering of ideologies was as a means of growing an empire or as a consequence.

  12. You lost me at climate change..and saying that China won’t have interest in a war, considering that China has just basically endorsed Russia’s invasion. Putin is interested in rebuilding the Soviet Union, why would he stop at Crimea? And the U.S. administration is showing weakness, which just encourages Russia all the more.

    • The U.S. administration recently did not show any weakness, it has merely made the bad choices of allies : islamist extremists in Egypt and in Syria, and now a 10% right-wing activists in Ukraine inspired by the Nazi regime (nazi swastikas painted inside the administrative buildings taken by the “Ukrainian people”).
      Supporting indirectly those kind of people, even if the old governments were autocrats, leave a really bad impression on the minds and memories of the majority of people of these countries.
      You just cannot make alliance and push in favor of such people at the time of the Internet, where any information or image is revealed.
      Egypt is the case in point where the american support of incompetent islamist extremists stayed too long for the people of Egypt, making the normal guy on the street change completely his mind about “American democratic’s help and funding”.

  13. To put this “invasion” into context, it is helpful to understand the entire geopolitical landscape as it pertains to Russia & Ukraine. Russia simply cannot have its “enemies” (i.e. NATO–that is having Ukraine join NATO) that close to Moscow. It needs the Ukraine as a buffer zone in the unlikely event of an invasion (think Napoleon & Nazi Germany). At least Putin believes this to be true because he thinks in cycles of 20 years. So what did Russian geopolitics look in 1994? In 1974? What will they look like in 2034? Putin sees the world this way, not in a rational “live in the moment” type of way. But in 20 year cycles the world changes drastically. Russia is seizing influence over Ukraine because it can and with little effort. Ukraine knows that it relies almost entirely on Russian natural gas for energy and if they don’t play by Russia’s rules, Russia will cut them off. So they really have no choice but to bow to Russia’s will. Ukraine knows that fighting would be futile, so it laid its arms down. I know I don’t do a good job of explaining so take a look at a book on geopolitics by George Friedman called “The Next 100 years”. I found it very helpful in understanding how geopolitics work…..at least the first several chapters (the last several have too much of a science fiction feel for my liking) http://www.amazon.com/The-Next-100-Years-Forecast/dp/0767923057

    • AMHA, I just do not believe Putin wants the Ukraine, he will just protect the eastern zone of Ukraine that have a majority of pro-russian and orthodox people. Western Ukraine will hold its elections and will be funded without any economic sense of measure by the western countries (sorry : western people pockets, even the american ones). It will be a stalemate process. 😀

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  15. Now that Sochi Olympics are over, the Russians could move their fleet from the Crimean shores and polulate the ghost city they’ve created.

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