Monday’s Mtg: Are We In a New Cold War With Russia?

There’s been a lot of talk about Vladimir Putin’s new territorial aggression in Ukraine and how permanent Russia’s icy rift with the West is. Some commenters have jumped on the “we’re in a new Cold War” bandwagon. Most of the experts I read find this term inappropriate, if for no other reason than Russia is a far, far weaker power than the Soviet union ever was. This weakness makes our relations with Russia a far lower priority than they used to be, anyway. Still, a new cold war (lower case version), even with a 3rd rate power version of Russia, is still worrisome. Putin could seek territory or hegemony in other parts of the former USSR, Our European allies depend on Russia for energy supplies. And, we all have to care about the fate of Russia’s Central Asian neighbors, with their large Muslim populations and – there we go again – huge energy supplies.

Mike suggested we talk about Russia for another reason. Some people view Putin’s actions as more defensive than offensive. Ukraine is three layers deep in the former USSR. We promised Russia in the early 1990s that NATO would never expand eastward into eastern Europe and beyond, and we broke our word and did that. Mike wants us to discuss this, and I think a good airing of why we always see other nations moves as aggression and our own as benign is in order. I do not want us to roll back NATO, but it’s worth discussing this broader point, at least.

I’m out of town now through Sunday night, so I won’t say much in my introduction. I’ll preface the topic for those who don’t read the background, and then let Mike do a short summary of his argument.

Discussion Questions –

  1. What are Putin’s motives here? Is he acting in a fundamentally aggressive way, or are his actions really defensive, as Mike has argued? How does the answer to this question relate to who is to blame for this situation?
  2. Regardless of one man’s motives, have Russia’s interests just diverged from ours and the West’s? If so, why?
  3. Is Russia crazy to do be doing this, anyway, because it’s too interconnected to the world economy to throw it all away for a little more territory and local influence?   Or, is the opposite true: Does Western dependence on Russian energy render it helpless to stop Putin?
  4. Should we have done anything different to prevent or manage this crisis over Ukraine? Or, has Obama done a pretty good job (see link below)?
  5. In the 21st century, can regional powers still demand a buffer zone of weak states on their borders?  (We will have an entire meeting related to this subject in July.)

Links –

NEXT WEEK: Is there Still a Sexual Double Standard In Our Society?


2 responses

  1. See this quote (from this lecture: )
    “As far as how this happened, my own interpretation of Putin’s decision to grab and annex Crimea is that it was a product primarily of the profound strategic blow that was dealt to him by Yanukovich’s fall and the degree to which that event was in some ways a very powerful rejection of Putin’s political program. What I mean by that is that when Yanukovich was chased out of the country as a criminal, and when you had tens of thousands of Ukrainians in the streets, they were basically saying, we don’t want to be in a Eurasian Union, we don’t want to be the junior partner to Russia, which they’ve basically been for the last several decades if not centuries, we want a future that looks more like that of Europe. And that, in many respects, was a kick in the gut of Putin, who since he’s come back to the Kremlin has attempted to craft a political narrative about Eurasianness, about Slavic unity, about a religious/cultural zone reconstituting Russia’s place in the world. And that doesn’t happen without Ukraine. It leaves a Eurasian Union consisting of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. And so I think in many respects Putin lashed out in anger. He grabbed Crimea as a consolation prize for the broader Ukraine that had rejected his political platform, and he was in some respects using the action of annexation of the Crimea to compensate for this setback, and, as he has said repeatedly, as part of a broader pushback against what he sees as the West’s infringement on Russia’s legitimate interests and Russia’s honor, from NATO expansion to Libya to a whole host of other issues that have left him feeling as if he was dealt with without respect.”

  2. But it is a fact, is it not, that the majority population in Crimea is Russian, that they had been part of Russia since the time of Catherine II (except since 1954), and that they voted overwhelmingly for union with Russia?

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