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Is the Cold War 2.0 coming?

Jan 27, 2014

Recent developments in Europe (Russian diplomatic success in Syria, successful sabotage of UE-Ukraine Association, increase of military expenditures in Russia etc) and wider Eurasia give evidence that the deterioration of peaceful climate in Europe may be threatened by a Eurasian country – Russia.

The bipolar system of international relations is coming to an end. The world is in its multipolar stage which is characterized by the regional centers. The US together with Canada and Mexico form the NAFTA. In Europe there’s the European Union which consists of 28 countries of around 40 European countries. Russia is also working on creation of its own center of power, the so called Eurasian Union consisting of Russia itself, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Current stage of this Union is the Customs Union. In the nearest future we will see Armenia and possibly Kyrgyzstan joining this Union.

Russia started to play muscles under Putin leadership. In 2000-2010 Russia conducted numerous actions very from threats to different countries, embargoes and trade wars to Russian military intervention in Georgia in August 2008.

In 2010-2013 Russia claimed itself as a regional center of power. The most prominent act of Russia’s resurgence is the creation of the Customs Union. Russia was also actively engaged in the Syrian crisis and showed that its diplomatic efforts can influence such heavyweight as the US and its allies. In 2013 Russia sabotaged the signature of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and the Free Trade Area by applying its favorite means such as trade wars and threats against Ukraine.

Meanwhile the European Union was not able to properly react to counter Russia’s interference into EU-Ukraine deal. The EU was not ready, or didn’t want to be ready, to provide Ukraine with some sort of the “Marshall Plan” offering financial assistance to help Ukraine deal with financial loses (worth of around €4.5 bln for couple of months) caused by Russia. The EU foreign policy in Eastern Europe resembles the policy of “appeasement” widely used by France and the UK in 1930s to avoid a threatened conflict.

It’s time to answer the main question: Is the Cold War 2.0 can be spotted at the horizon?

Russia is intended to spend around $650 bln to upgrade its army by the end of 2020. Such increased defense budget will bring Russia to 2nd place in the world in military expenditures. The Russia-led Eurasian Union is set to be established in 2015, creating in such a way, together with the CSTO, counterbalance to the EU and NATO.

The role of Ukraine in Russia’s resurgence and, therefore, the possible new Cold War is immense, however, often underestimated in Washington and in Brussels. Ukraine, if joins Russia’s Customs Union and later the Eurasian Union, can bring significant boost to Russia’s ambitions. 

First of all, with its well-educated population of 45 mln Ukraine would participate in Russia’s development. Secondly, Ukraine has huge military-industrial complex and is able to produce quality armaments and even aircraft and rockets on its own. It is easy to image, if combined with Russia’s potential, will produce even better war-oriented goods. Thirdly, Ukraine alone with its fertile soil can ensure Russia’s complete alimentary security. This list is far from complete.

In next 5-6 years the situation is most likely to be gradually deteriorating if the EU will not manage to engage Ukraine through the Association Agreement with consequent full membership in the European Union. As of today, the EU showed its inability to think strategically. Moreover, not all countries in the EU understand the significance of Ukraine in averting the Cold War 2.0.

The EU has a choice to surrender Ukraine to Russia by self-withdrawal from taking responsibility and allocating resources to help Ukraine join the EU. This choice is quite easy and does not require any resources from the EU in short term. However, choosing this option, the EU risk to have more problems with stronger Russia (Eurasian Union) in mid- and long-term.

Another option is to make strong efforts engaging all measures in order to anchor Ukraine in the European Union. In short-term this option will require significant diplomatic and some financial resources, but in mid- and long term the possibility of new Cold War will be diminished because Russia will not be able to become strong center of power enough to counter the US and the EU.