27 June 2017

The New Yorker: “Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War”

The level of tension has alarmed experienced hands on both sides. What we have is a situation in which the strong leader of a relatively weak state is acting in opposition to weak leaders of relatively strong states, General Sir Richard Shirreff, the former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, said. And that strong leader is Putin. He is calling the shots at the moment. Shirreff observes that NATO’s withdrawal of military forces from Europe has been answered with incidents of Russian aggression, and with a sizable buildup of forces in the vicinity of the Baltic states, including an aircraft-carrier group dispatched to the North Sea, an expanded deployment of nuclear-capable Iskander-M ballistic missiles, and anti-ship missiles. The Kremlin, for its part, views the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders as itself a provocation, and points to such U.S. measures as the placement of a new ground-based missile-defense system in Deveselu, Romania.

Evan Osnos, David Remnick, Joshua Yaffa

A valid point regarding the increasing tensions between the West and Russia, and one many seem to forget or overlook: for the long term, Russia’s position is getting weaker, with the economy reliant on fossil fuel exports and a leadership unwilling to reform. Putin’s tactic is to act quickly and decisively in the short term, to secure whichever advantage he can.

But I would hardly characterize the confrontation as a New Cold War: back then the two alliances were of relatively equal strength, whereas now the power balance is more asymmetric and less clear, with shifting alliances (like Turkey) and rising regional powers (China and India) that will probably shape the upcoming decades significantly more than Russia – and maybe even the United States. Hopefully the EU can also find a unified voice and become a respected player in the political arena.

Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War
The D.N.C. hacks, many analysts believe, were just a skirmish in a larger war against Western institutions and alliances. Illustration by Christoph Niemann

Even with the rise of new technologies, the underlying truth about such operations hasn’t changed. They are less a way to conjure up something out of nothing than to stir a pot that is already bubbling. In the U.S., a strategy like the alleged hacking of the Democrats was merely an effort to deepen an existing state of disarray and distrust. For something to happen, many factors have to come together at once, said Alexander Sharavin, the head of a military research institute and a member of the Academy of Military Sciences, in Moscow, where Gerasimov often speaks. If you go to Great Britain, for example, and tell them the Queen is bad, nothing will happen, there will be no revolution, because the necessary conditions are absent—there is no existing background for this operation. But, Sharavin said, in America those preconditions existed.

Another valid point; as we have recently seen in the French presidential elections, propaganda campaigns don’t always succeed, especially when the target is already skeptical and prepared to fight back.

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