Not World War III; it's Cold War II in offing...

Russia is determined, at least as of now, to cut a slice off Ukraine and annex it. Had it happened fifty or eighty years ago, half of Europe would have been already preparing for a war. Russia's move has not yet led the continent towards any such preparation, battle lines have not yet been drawn and not a single shot has yet been fired. Still, the situation in Europe over Ukraine is far from consoling. Both Russia and the West have sailed into uncharted waters. It isn't an eye ball to eye ball situation and both sides have dug their heels deeper into the sands. A war is perhaps not in offing but a standoff has already taken place.

The situation is explosive. Run up to Cold War II has begun. In five years from now it will bloom full and we shall be in the thick of it.

Warnings and threats are gaining in momentum. Dmitri Trenin, Director of Carnegie's Moscow Centre, says that Crimea has de facto declared its independence from Kiev. Russia has intervened to effectively secure the new entity. The Ukrainian police, security, and military forces on the peninsula have been neutralized, many of them pledging allegiance to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. 

"In Kiev, the new government talks about Russia's aggression and orders mobilization — even as it loses control over some of the key cities in the country's east and south. Meanwhile, the West has responded with suspension of preparations for the G-8 summit in Sochi. The US president has talked about Russia paying a high price for its actions, and the US secretary of state has laid out a menu of possible sanctions and other measures."

Pithily, the emerging image is dangerous. The West-sponsored and West-supported upheaval may have pruned Russia's influence in Ukraine; it was nevertheless an act of myopia which has resurrected Cold War, crushed all possibilities of resetting relations between Russia and the West and ended Russia's "post-Soviet passivity." 

And, most importantly as Trenin says, Putin's actions in Crimea and the powers he received from the Russian parliament allowing him to using military force in Ukraine now makes Moscow's intentions more than clear. It is ready to re-emerge as an active player in Europe for the first time since 1989.

In the past 25 years following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and in the period since Cold War ended, Russia has been the biggest loser. Its powers and influence in Europe and Eurasia suffered massive diminution. The United States, Britain, Germany and France marched into the void left by Kremlin. 

Most of the nation states that were formed in the past twenty five years were "carved out of the historical Russian Empire." Russia found itself utterly neglected and completely left out of the new geopolitics and the new orders that reshaped Europe, mostly the eastern fringe and Eurasia.

At least twenty five million ethnic Russians became foreigners when in 1991 "Russia agreed to the dismantlement of its historical empire and accepted the ex-Soviet administrative lines as international borders."

West's dabbling in Ukraine has put us at the threshold of a new Cold War. Russian pride and interests have been severely injured and certainly more than in 2008 when Georgian shelling on South Ossetia, again provoked by the West, killed several Russian peacekeepers. Russia then fought a war and so it did again in Chechnya to protect the ethnic Russians living there and who had in 1991 become foreigners virtually overnight.

Over Ukraine Russia is perhaps right is saying enough is enough. 

Vladimir Putin will certainly see and ensure map of Ukraine re-drawn and sans Crimea even if it takes some time from now. And once this happens, Trenin's prediction will come true. The entire former Soviet Black Sea region, from Moldova/Transnistria to Abkhazia/Georgia will look markedly different from how it looks today.

Georgia, once deemed too much of a pressure point in the Kremlin's backside, will be back on the fast track for Nato's membership action plan, while Moldova might succumb to instability as the governing pro-EU coalition faces a challenge from pro-Russian opposition. As to Transnistria, it will gravitate to Russian-speaking south eastern Ukraine. Farther north, one can safely forecast pressure building for permanent, if symbolic, US troop deployments in Poland and the Baltic states, as well as for Finland's and Sweden's membership in Nato.

As events will cascade reshaping Europe, acrimony between Russia and the West will grow, Moscow's relation with Washington will slip back into yet another phase of freeze and cooperation over Syria will become uncertain. If the United States moves on with slapping sanctions on Russia bilateral trade and investment will suffer leading to complete collapse of Russian equity market where control of foreigners are large and dominant. 

Cold War II will affect Russia more than the West and if it is excluded from G-8 "Moscow will lose its unique position of being present in all major multilateral organizations, both Western and non-Western."

Hopefully, the new Cold War will not be as worst as the original one but there will still be geopolitical competition which will be nevertheless ruthless and will not augur well for the world. Anti-Americanism is growing across the world and against this backdrop the new Cold War will only worsen the situation further. 

Washington's dabbling in Ukraine was needless. Russia, contrary to what Washington believes, cannot be isolated. Not at least without a price. And the price is indeed dear. Its wrong policies and myopia have re-spawned the Cold War. 

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman


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