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Russia & United States: Re-Start of A New Cold War?

Paper No. 5657                                       Dated 03-Mar-2014

By Dr. Subhash Kapila

United States by manipulating ongoing domestic political dynamics in Ukraine seems to be intent on re-playing the old Cold War global chess-board with Russia by strategic destabilisation of a resurgent Russia’s peripheries.

The United States seems to be oblivious to the strategic reality that its unique “unipolar moment” in terms of global predominance is long past. In a highly surcharged and fluid global security environment, the United States needs to co-opt Russia as a strategic partner rather than continuing with US Cold War fixations of Russia as a military adversary.

Should the United States not step back from its current strategies in the Ukraine against Russia’s strategic sensitivities there, then chances exist where the ensuing chain of events could revert to the erstwhile half-a-century old first Cold War.

In this strategic power struggle which has global implications, Russia holds stronger playing cards than the United States, comparatively.

Foremost what needs to be analysed is whether the United States backed by a grudging West Europe coalition are in a position to carry through their support of the Ukrainian political protesters who staged a US-inspired ‘civilian coup’ against the Russia-backed displaced Ukrainian President? Does the United States have the strategic will to dislodge the Russian military hold over the Crimea which is a Russian-majority strategic region by a direct US military intervention? Would the United States have the military might to checkmate the secession of Russian-dominated Crimea and other Russian-dominated regions of Eastern Ukraine?

The United States is in no position to do so due to a combination of military limitations, domestic political opposition to any further US military interventions in regions which do not have a bearing on security of Homeland USA and the overall global geopolitical environment.

Militarily, United States is hard-pressed to add muscle to its strategic pivot to Asia Pacific and budget cuts is forcing a cut-down of US Force levels. This precludes any sizeable military intervention by the United States in Ukraine.

Geopolitically, the United States ability to sustain two Cold Wars----- one against China underway in the Asia Pacific and the other a restart of the Cold War with Russia---- does not appear to be a strategically sustainable or a wise proposition.

Next, any US plans for a military intervention in Ukraine to combat a Russian military take-over and overthrowing the US-inspired ‘civilian coup’ regime would require active participation by military forces of Western European nations.

This would not be forthcoming as their own economic compulsions would preclude their participation in a US-led military intervention in Ukraine.

More significantly, Russia has a stranglehold on Western Europe energy security with their virtual total dependence on Russian gas supplies. West Europe would not favour jeopardising their energy security by participation in any US-led military mis-adventure.

So where does this all leave the United States? The United States has limited options to execute any military intervention in Ukraine other than sending a US Navy Fleet into the Black Sea which touches Crimea and issue rhetorical threats of ‘imposing costs’ on Russia. What costs?

Would that matter or deter Russia from its strategic intentions in shaping the situation in Ukraine in consonance with Russian national security interests? Really not, when it is remembered that Russia’s military intervention in Georgia some years back could not really be checkmated by the United States.

Russia has comparatively stronger leverages in influencing Ukrainian events in its favour. Strategically, it is well-placed by virtue of geographical contiguity to undertake military operations in Ukraine to protect its national security interests.

Domestically, the Russian Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to back any proposed military actions against Ukraine to secure Russian national security interests.

Unlike the United States, Russia does not require any military partners to give shape to any of its proposed military actions against US-inspired developments in Ukraine.

Saner voices in US TV debates have counselled against the United States embarking on any impulsive military actions in Ukraine to check-mate Russia. It has the potential of leading to a wider conflict which the United States in the prevailing global security environment can ill afford.

On the overall strategic plane it needs to be observed that the Ukraine power tussle between the United States and Russia has a greater maritime dimension. The United States hopes that by installing a US-friendly regime in Kiev, it could engineer events where such a Government would abrogate the Treaty with Russia on Crimea and demands the vacation of the Russian Navy bases in Crimea which host the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet and thereby rob Russia of its maritime power in the Mediterranean Sea.

Such US intentions could trigger an outright annexation of Crimea and other Russian-majority areas in Eastern Ukraine by Russia by following the same process that the United States has undertaken in Kiev recently.

It must be remembered by the United Sates that “humanitarian military interventions” are not the sole preserve of the United States which it has unabashedly exercised all over the world since 1991. Russia too is now empowered to indulge in the same strategies, especially in areas in geographical contiguity with Russia.

Concluding, one would like to make the following overall related observations:

  • United States would be well-advised not to indulge in the restart of its earlier Cold War with Russia as strategically a more level playing field is emerging between United States and Russia.
  • United States needs to recognise that its ‘unipolar moment’ in terms of global predominance has long past. The United States now needs Russia as a partner in the management of global security and stability
  • Russia has proved its credentials as a responsible stakeholder in global security matters whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or Syria. The United States must accept Russia as a “Strategic Co-Equal” implicit in which is American respect for Russia’s strategic sensitivities and national security interests.