Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fighting the New Cold War

A piece in today's FT by Ivan Krastev, suggests that far from backing down, the Putinist government in Moscow may be considering stirring up trouble for the West on a new front: the Balkans. Given the nihilist Russian position on Syria, which has essentially destroyed that country, it is quite possible that Putin could meddle in the region, with some attempt to reward Serbia's more friendly position to Russia by dismembering Bosnia. Yet the economic crisis of Russia is causing a rapid erosion of Russian soft power, and the collusion of corruption, which Krastev identifies as the primary source of Russian leverage is dwarfed by the attractions of European integration. Although Russia is now seeking public spending cuts- with the glaring exception of defence spending, the economic situation in Moscow is looking increasingly bleak. That Putin has a weak grasp of economics has been obvious for some time, and thus he fails to understand the serious and permanent damage his policies are inflicting on his country.

Despite the major economic crisis that Putin's aggression has got Russia into, there is, as Adam Smith once said "a great deal of ruin in a nation". The crisis, as bad as it is, could take several years before it leads to a change of mind in the Kremlin.

Under such circumstances, the West must take Russian hostility and its attempts to disrupt the international order as the "new normal", and respond accordingly. Too many leaders in the European Union regard the crisis as one that should be circumvented, and the new EU representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini is either naive, deluded or corrupted if she thinks that this is in any way an appropriate time to restore friendly relations with Russia. 

As yet another military assault by Russia against Ukraine seems in prospect, and as the democratic government of Ukraine struggles with its own economic crisis, the West may find that the dismemberment of Ukraine leads to complete collapse, with consequences that could include the break up of the EU and even NATO.

In fact NATO offers the best template for the defence of Europe and Ukraine. After the division of Germany, at the hands of the Soviet Union, the West did not delay the reconstruction of West Germany in order to wait for some unity of Germany that only the USSR could provide. The Federal Republic of Germany was given Marshall aid and military support that allowed the country to become a power in its own right and in its own defence. Eventually the puppet state of East Germany collapsed and Germany was triumphantly reunited.

If we want that scenario for Ukraine, then we need to seal the border, in order to prevent further Russian incursion. It seems to me that making further Russian advance into Ukraine as costly as an incursion into Western Germany would have been will help to give the Artseniuk government sufficient breathing space to get to grips with the economic crisis. Clearly some major debt restructuring is required- and the assistance of further transfers from the EU and the USA will be critical to the prospects of the Ukrainian economy, as Marshall aid was to the German economy. 

The front line for the West is no long the Fulda gap, but the Airport at Donetsk. The new generation of European leaders must accept the same responsibilities as Adenauer, De Gaulle, De Gasperi, Schuman. Meanwhile in the United States, the same vision as Truman or indeed General Marshall himself is still very much needed.

Russia has become a rogue state, and its aggression against Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and its brutal threats against several other neighbours should make it clear that it is extremely dangerous to world peace. Although it is economically weak, as a result of the current oil crash, the incredible concentration of wealth into a few tens of hands has made the country the nexus of virtually limitless corruption. The enemy is quite clear. the problem is how to face the challenge that the lethal combination of malevolence, aggression and corruption poses to the open society on the Western model.

If we face a new cold war, we should take the lessons of the first cold war: good fences make good neighbours and shut down the Russian aggression in Ukraine.

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