The return of the Cold War

The return of the Cold War

A new Cold War is on the horizon, writes  Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Europe has to be prepared for a Cold War or armed conflict.

These are the likely scenarios if the West and Russia cannot reach an agreement on their differences.

The only successful European response to the present situation and to preserve peace and freedom is to reinforce Europe’s defences and present a united front with the US.

This could create a new framework for negotiations. But it is unlikely that sanctions, even strengthened by declining oil prices, will lead to changes in Russia's policy or of its regime.

This is a message which can be deduced from speeches at the Munich Security Conference held at the weekend (February 5 to 8, 2015).

The Munich Security Conference was always a place of constructive dialogue, a forum where international security policy decision-makers exchanged views. This year, conversations were dominated by the rising tensions and accusations between Russia and the West.

This was exacerbated by the breakdown of the September 2014 Minsk agreement forged between Russia and the Ukrainian separatists with Ukraine to halt the war in the country’s Donbass region.

The conflict is ongoing, with the Ukrainian army calling for equipment to counter the Russian-backed separatists who are advancing towards the coastal city of Mariupol.

Another issue was the visit on February 5 and 6 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, first to Kiev and then to Moscow.

Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande met Russia’s President Vladimir Putin apparently to submit a Ukraine peace plan which may have made concessions to the separatists - and therefore to Russia - and which went further than the Minsk agreement. Although Mrs Merkel did not disclose any details she appeared despondent after the visit.

Russia and the West - as Judy Dempsey from the Carnegie Institute described it – are having a ‘dialogue of the deaf’.  And at Munich, positions were laid down, mutual accusations were made, but discussions were limited. The planned meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was cancelled.

We have, in this context, to differentiate between the over-arching tensions which have developed into a conflict between Russia and the West, and the military conflict in Ukraine, which is a tragic symptom of the Russia-West fallout.

There were important speeches during the two-day Munich conference. US Vice President Joe Biden had, at the start of President Barack Obama’s administration, announced a ‘reset’ to move towards good relations with Russia. The reset failed.  At Munich, Mr Biden underlined an alliance resisting Russia. ‘America and Europe are being tested,’ he said.

‘Six years ago,’ said Mr Biden, ‘I spoke about the “reset.” Today, I’m here to talk about the need to reassert - not just reset - to reassert the fundamental bedrock principle of a Europe whole, free - and free.’

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko pleaded for military equipment from the West.

Mrs Merkel made a commitment to Western unity against Russia, but ruled out supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Britain's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon indicated that Russia had lowered the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons and added that the UK must update its own deterrent in response to Russia upgrading its nuclear capabilities.

Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite stressed the need to increase Nato deployment in the countries bordering Russia.

Although the opinions of Western representatives differed on detail, they highlighted the common theme which was to resist Russia's aggressive behaviour.

Foreign Minister Lavrov maintained that Russia’s increased military activity along its western border and the actions against Ukraine were legitimate responses to the West’s intrusion in Russia's sphere of interest, and a breach by the West of former agreed positions.

The question now is: What are the Russia-West options in the wake of the Ukraine crisis?

There is a lack of understanding on both sides over perceptions and motivations - intended or unintended - which has led to total distrust.

Russia regards the situation as a ‘value driven’ intrusion in its sphere of interest; the West is afraid of Russia's neglect of its values. Russia has always been concerned about the safety of its borders, and even more so now it is a declining power.

The options appear to be:

  • A new Cold War, with some frozen conflicts in Ukraine and Georgia, and potential further unrest in the Balkans and the Baltics. Russian and Western politics could also clash in the Arctic, the Middle East and Africa. Russia is entering an unhappy partnership with China. This would also damage both economies which could increase aggression.
  • Armed conflict between Nato and Russia with the destruction of countries such as Ukraine offers an horrific scenario.
  • Negotiations between Russia and the West to create a new framework for Europe, with both sides considering mutual interests, guaranteeing independence and integrity of intermediate countries such as Ukraine and Georgia, would be the ideal scenario. This now looks unlikely. However, as the result of talks in Munich, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France aim to meet on Wednesday, February 11, 2015, in Belarus's capital Minsk - giving a ray of hope.

But Europe has to be prepared for the two first scenarios - Cold War or armed conflict.

A strong, self-confident Europe, able to defend itself, could succeed in ending a Cold War by bringing Russia to open and fair negotiations. Unity with the US will be essential. This could open the third scenario - negotiations to create a new framework.

One thing must never be forgotten. Russia is Europe's closest neighbour and always will be.

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