By Paul Goble
Moscow has two goals in promoting the notion that the current conflict between the West and Russia is “a new cold war.” Most obviously, it wants to generate opposition within Western countries to any willingness to stand up to Russian aggression abroad and repression at home.
But far more important is the Kremlin’s second goal: By insisting that what is happening is a new cold war, Putin’s regime is making a claim to be the equal of the West, something that may play well with Putin’s base at home but is not justified by Russia’s current position however often Kremlin propagandists and their acolytes repeat the claim.
To the extent then that Western commentators fall into the trap of using the Kremlin’s “cold war-redux” notion, they unwittingly elevate the status of Russia today to one that it does not deserve. Russia is not the Soviet Union. It is a far weaker but also far more dangerous opponent.
Putin’s Russia has only part of one of the three things scholars have long identified as the basis of a superpower. It does not have a powerful economy, it does not have a system that attracts others to it, and, except for its nuclear arsenal. it does not have a military capable of taking on a modern Western military like that of the United States and NATO.
Moreover, and far more important, Moscow does not have the network of states who are prepared to support it in opposition to the West. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had both satellites and client states that would do its bidding. Now, the Kremlin can’t even get its “partners” on the former Soviet space to follow its lead on things like expelling diplomats.
Putin and his minions routinely describe Russia as “a besieged fortress.” And as a result of his policies of aggression and repression, that is an increasingly accurate description. But being “a besieged fortress” and an outlaw state that ignores international law and its own constitution does not make it an equal or a counterpart to the West.
Consequently, it is long past time to recognize that we are not in a new cold war with a powerful ideological, economic and military power. We are in a conflict, one that still does not have a good name, with a declining but revisionist and revanchist country that often gets its way not as a result of its strength but through bluff and bluster and the weakness of the West.
And that in turn means that the situation today is far more like the 1930s when the international community such as it was had to deal with Hitler’s Germany than it is like the Cold War after 1945, however much Putin, his Russian base, and his friends in the West continue to try to suggest otherwise.