Vienna, August 31 – Most commentators who talk about a new cold war emerging after the events in Georgia are referring only to the geopolitical contest between the Soviet bloc and the Western alliance after World War II, but one of Moscow’s most interesting commentators says that any new cold war will not be the second but the third the two sides have engaged in.
By pointing out that there were two earlier such competitions – one prior to the second world war which the USSR ultimately won in the course of that military conflict and the second, better-known one, which Moscow lost decisively, Sergei Karaganov provides some important insights into what the new conflict is likely to look like from Moscow’s perspective.
In a lengthy article in “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” the head of Moscow’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy says that he is convinced that the world is once again being divided between “ours and theirs,” in which “ours” will be defended regardless of what they do and “theirs” will be condemned no matter how they act (www.rg.ru/2008/08/29/karaganov.html).
According to Karaganov, the new era of conflict reflects both the redistribution of resources in the world following the end of the second cold war, a development that he suggests will be long term, and the rise of authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states after the 1991 settlement, a temporary phenomenon but “for those who are losing – a matter of here and now.”
After gaining economically in the immediate wake of the end of the second cold war, the “old” West started to lose out rapidly because increases in the price of oil and gas led to a massive transfer of resources away from the United States and Europe to those states, including Russia, where these critical energy resources came from.
Many of these energy suppliers, again including Russia, were authoritarian or semi-authoritarian, the Moscow analyst says, and this led to the rise of “authoritarian capitalism” as “the ideological system of the new ‘enemy.’” The West needed an enemy to unite, he insists, but its effort to create “’a union of democracies’” against the authoritarian states was “tragicomic.”
Other changes in the world – including the proliferation of nuclear weapons and America’s loss of prestige around the world because of its actions in Iraq – simply reinforced this development, and effort after September 11th to use counter-terrorism as a unifying force proved a failure.
Thus, Karaganov continues, a new cold war became likely. The West is promoting it as a means to recover the positions it has lost. And Moscow has assisted this effort not only because Russia “has become a symbol and incarnation” of the changes the West opposes but also because Moscow has behaved in ways in Georgia and elsewhere that have only added to that image.
Both in the cold wars of the past and in the one starting now, the Moscow specialist on international relations says, geopolitics is more significant than ideology, and that reality, one often overlooked in recent commentaries, is likely to define the course of the international divide now opening.
Russia has certain advantages and certain disadvantages in this renewed struggle, Karaganov argues. On the one hand, it has a freer society and a richer one than in the past, making it more attractive to many. But on the other, it lacks the resources in terms of space, population and GDP that the Soviet Union had, making it less able to compete.
At the same time, however, Russia’s “corrupt state capitalism” is something “hardly any of the thinking and patriotically inclined Russians” are happy about, he says, but the West has not focused on that political and economic elite in this new “cold war” but rather on Russia itself and thus on all Russians.
And it is worth remembering that what he calls “the old West” is now weaker than it was as well. The standing of the U.S. in the world has fallen precipitously because of its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this group of states controls a much smaller portion of the world’s population and GDP than it did 30 years ago.
That helps to explain what has happened in Georgia. According to Karaganov, “Russia had no other way out” except to respond militarily to “the aggression of Tbilisi and of the forces standing behind” it and then to seal its gains on the ground by extending diplomatic recognition to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
While many are still focusing on those developments alone, “the main goal” of the current rise in tensions involves not Georgia but the potential entry of Ukraine into NATO. “That is absolutely unacceptable for Russia. And even if we were to suddenly agree to this, the logic of events would all the same lead to a confrontation and possibly a military one.”
In order to block this, Moscow must denounce the Russia-NATO Council that when set up ten years ago opened the way to the expansion eastward of the Western alliance and was denounced at the time by some as “’a second Brest peace,’” a reference to the treaty Lenin signed with the Germans in 1918 that sacrificed Russian territory to win time for the Bolsheviks.
“It is time to recognize that this union is not only a relic of ‘the cold war,’ but that it is one of the basic instruments of its rebirth,” Karaganov says.
Two other reports from Moscow about the possibility of a new cold war are worthy of note. First of all, Aleksandr Prokhanov, the editor of the nationalist newspaper “Zavtra,” said on Ekho Moskvy that he welcomed such a conflict because “for Russia, a cold war today represents salvation” (www.echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/536528-echo/).
Without one, he said, Russia would degenerate and die, whereas with one, its citizens will not only bring their money home but focus on developing their country so that it will not lose this latest episode of what he sees as the longstanding and inevitable conflict between Russia and the West.
And for those who are frightened that a new cold war will lead to a hot one, Prokhanov had this to day: “A third world war is not beginning [because] the Americans are not in a position to conduct [it]. They have a terrible crisis, their civilization is collapsing … and they have” incurred huge debts at home and abroad.
And second, Aleksandr Dugin’s nationalist Eurasian website reported today that sources in the Russian ministry of education say that they are preparing a new required course for Russian schools on geopolitics, a course that they suggest may displace current courses in geography (evrazia.org/n.php?id=3893).
The officials reportedly said that the course will explain to students “how to build an empire” as well as “who its enemies and friends are,” content that almost certainly would lead many Russian students to conclude that they and their parents have no option but to restore an empire and to engage in a cold war with the West.