The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, accompanied by a squadron of warships and support vessels, is steaming from Murmansk to the Mediterranean, supposedly to aid that country’s controversial air attacks in Syria. NATO officials have blocked the Russians’ plan to refuel the flotilla in Spain.
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Tensions between Russia and the West are mounting. NATO is beefing up its presence in Norway, in Central Europe and in the Baltics. The European Union is strengthening the sanctions it imposed on Russia in 2014 in response to the situation in Ukraine – now the EU is reacting to Russian moves in Syria. Russia has responded by placing Iskander tactical ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and by sending its squadron to the Mediterranean.
The Middle East is very far from finding peace. Numerous conflicts between regional powers, proxy wars and local clashes, some involving Russia and the United States, have devastated vast areas of Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Russia and China are aligning their interests to oppose what they believe are global policies of containment and intervention by Western powers
Russia is striving to build closer links with Turkey and thus to neutralize NATO’s second largest military power. Although the West has not always properly recognized Turkish interests and Turkish sentiments, the country is not yet ready to leave the Western alliance.
It is also obvious that Russia and China are aligning their interests to oppose what they believe are global policies of containment and intervention by Western powers. U.S. President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia has led to an even stronger Chinese fear of being contained. Yet the strong U.S. opposition to China’s claims to control the vast maritime areas in the South China Sea and East China Sea has been justified. In this context, the U.S. policy is embedded in an effective system of alliances.
The new factor in the region, however, is the elusive stance on the issue of the new government in the Philippines. It potentially weakens the opposition to China and affords Beijing a stronger military posture in the South China Sea and towards the Pacific. China is also trying to increase its influence in Thailand and Malaysia.
It is often said that the world is inching closer to a new cold war. Actually, it is already engaged in a hybrid war. If one looks at all these sanctions, propaganda, clandestine actions to stir unrest, interventions on foreign soil and cyberattacks as instruments of hybrid war, such a war has become a reality.
The world is a volatile place today. Besides the hot conflicts in the Middle East and the worsening relations between the West, Russia and China, very dangerous tensions have arisen in the triangle of India, Pakistan and China. Such hotspots make the breakout of a real, global military conflict possible, if not imminent.
During the Cold War, the fear of assured mutual destruction prevented an outbreak of war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Nuclear deterrence worked in a bipolar world. In today's multipolar system, it has lost a good deal of its importance.