Recent crisis between Russian Federation and USA/EU in Ukraine and Syria let some academics and journalists to talk boldly and write extensively on the concept of “New Cold War”. In this article, I will try to summarize different authors’ views about the nature of West-Russia relations in recent years.
Motly, Alexander J. (2014), “The Sources of Russian Conduct”, Foreign Affairs
Alexander J. Motly’s recent article published in Foreign Affairs magazine, “The Sources of Russian Conduct”, is symbolic because the name itself is a reference to George F. Kennan’s “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” article, which was accepted as the starting point of the Cold War period.
In this article, Motly basically claims that, although Russian Federation is not a communist empire like USSR, it is still an anti-Western political entity that has been acting hostile towards Western world and Western values. Moreover, the search for an absolute leader (Putin in this case) in domestic politics, is same as communist years in Moscow. Ever since he appeared in Russian politics in 1999, Vladimir Putin has been building an increasingly personalistic regime. Putin’s Russia is corrupt, centralized and carries connotations of hyper-masculinity. Although Putin poses a direct threat to Western interests, he was lucky because the Western governments have been reducing their military spendings and NATO has been in decline for some years. Thus, Putin’s neo-imperial ideology has been gaining popularity around the world in recent years. Looking at this downward trend, the author claims that the Western bloc should develop a long-term policy against Russian expansionism.
Motly thinks that this policy should be -similar to what they did in the past- containment. Ukraine is the first and foremost example of a country that should be saved from Russian expansionism. Thus, Ukrainian government must be financially, militarily and politically helped. Other countries around Russia including Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova, as well as -possibly- Belarus and Kazakhstan should be supported by the West. Motly says; “Central to today’s containment policy is constraining Russia’s ability to use energy as a weapon. Halting the building of the South Stream pipeline, reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas, and helping Ukraine reform its energy sector will be key. Last but not least, sanctions—as forms of minimizing Russia’s economic power—must be maintained and possibly intensified.”
He also thinks that the US and Europe must also work on their soft-power appeal. If they claim to stand for democracy, human rights, and “European values”, then they should actively promote them – especially in those places into which Russia seeks to expand. Motly continues; “Moreover, the West should always be ready to provide Putin with a face-saving exit from his aggressive behavior: ‘it is a sine qua non of successful dealing with Russia’ Kennan wrote, ‘that the foreign government in question should remain at all times cool and collected and that its demands on Russian policy should be put forward in such a manner as to leave the way open for a compliance not too detrimental to Russian prestige.’ In sum, counterforce plus soft power plus a willingness to compromise make for the best form of containment, whether in 1947 or in 2014.”
Alexander Motly is also very optimistic about the future. He thinks that George Kennan’s optimism about the future during the Cold War can also be applied today. He asserts that, thanks to Western sanctions and the general Russian economic stagnation, Putin’s Russia is rapidly decaying. Putin’s regime includes vast corruption, overcentralization, inefficiency, ineffectiveness and bureaucratic empire-building. With containment, this could be accelerated. Finally, in his view, a wise, sustained and steady policy of containment could ensure that, when Putin’s regime is shaken to its foundations, the outcome will be favorable for Russians, their aggrieved neighbors and for the world.
Allison, Roy (2014), “Russian ‘deniable’ intervention in Ukraine: how and why Russia broke the rules”, International Affairs
According to Roy Allison from Oxford University, Russia’s Crimea and Ukraine policy poses the greatest threat towards the Europe (West in general) after the Second World War. He thinks that although Western public opinion generally takes the issue from the geopolitical perspective, in fact, it is problematic in terms of international law and diplomacy. Russia, on the other hand, legitimizes its acts on the basis of Kosovo example and its influence based on its military power and its political power coming from its UN Security Council seat. However, Allison thinks that -unlike 2008 Georgia case- this time Russian aggression might lead to a serious confrontation between the West and Russia.
Allison then summarizes Russia’s arguments for Crimean move;
- The toppling down of Yanukovich government (an elected President) is anti-democratic and this event should be considered as part of Orange Revolution and Arab Spring.
- Russia has right to protect Russian originated Ukrainians on the basis of human rights.
- A pro-Western government in Kiev is a direct threat to Moscow’s security in Crimea and Black Sea region.
- Ukrainian crisis might lead to a serious refugee crisis for Moscow. Thus, Moscow has right to act.
- Ukrainian people called for Russian intervention and thus, Russia has right to intervene.
- There was a democratic referendum in Crimea and Crimean people wanted to annex to Russia.
Allison thinks that these arguments are problematic for certain reasons.
- Ukrainian transition was not only based on street demonstrations but the President Viktor Yanukovich was democratically impeached by the Rada and there was a new democratic election in Ukraine.
- Russian originated people in Ukraine were never threatened by the Ukranians and the human rights argument used by Russia was false.
- The new Ukrainian government, from the first day, declared that they will be loyal to international and bilateral agreements and never posed a threat to Russian security in Crimea or Black Sea region.
- Unlike Kosovo (1999) or Libya (2012), there has never been a serious refugee crisis in Ukraine.
- Ukranian people cannot invite a foreign country to help them without a resolution passing from the Rada – Ukrainian Parliament. Moreover, Russian aggression was against 1994 Budapest Accords between Russia and Ukraine through which Ukraine gave up from its nuclear weapons in return to Russian guarantee for its territorial integrity.
- Crimean referendum was made under the influence of Russian tanks and was not democratic.
Monaghan, Andrew (2015), “A ‘New Cold War’? Abusing History, Misunderstanding Russia”, Chatham House
Andrew Monaghan basically claims that, although there are many similarities between the Cold War tensions and current Russian aggression, this theoretical framework might lead us to wrong conclusions. We are now living in 21st century and 20th century is over. Thus, we should interpret Russian policies from the perspective of current strategic thinking, not from the Cold War’s strategic perspective.
According to Monaghan, it is a fact that there are still serious differences between the West and Russia. The Western liberal values are in sharp contrast with Russian statist and conservative values. Furthermore, Russia has close ties with anti-democratic regimes such as North Korea, China, Iran etc. and it does not promote democracy in the world unlike Western governments. Starting from 2007 Munich Conference, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been increasingly questioning Western liberal and libertarian views and criticizing them severely. However, this might not mean that Russia and the West are in the situation of existential threat to each other. There are several reasons for this.
First of all, the hypothetical “New Cold War” pattern is not supported by some facts. For instance, Russia and EU countries enjoy high degree of economic relations especially EU’s dependency on Russian gas is a serious factor for the continuation of relations. (Western economic sanctions against Russia now changed the situation)
Secondly, there are common threats for opposing camps such as the international terrorism and the nuclear proliferation. ISIS terrorism for instance, is a serious factor that could make two sides cooperating more instead of competing.
Thirdly, Monaghan thinks that Russia is not implementing expansionism, but rather, trying to secure itself. Since in Russian mind Ukraine is part of the “Russkiy mir”, Russia sees the situation as a threat to its own territories, not as an attack to a foreign country. Thus, Russia is only dealing with its “near abroad”, its own backyard. However, Russian economic investments and foreign policy initiatives in Syria, Iraq, Africa and Latin America show that Russian ambitions are not only limited to its near abroad geography, but Russia wants to become a world power again.
Fourthly, although Russian policy in Ukraine might be problematic, in times where the Western governments have other problems like ISIS, civil war in Syria, instabilities in Iraq, Yemen and Libya, refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and the rapid rise of China, putting Russia at the top spot might not be a rational move.
Fifthly, there might be a methodological problem. Although many social scientists focus on similarities to explain social phenomenons, this might prevent dynamic and flexible thinking as it was stated by French historian Marc Bloch.
Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ
 Motly, Alexander J. (2014), “The Sources of Russian Conduct”, Foreign Affairs, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/142366/alexander-j-motyl/the-sources-of-russian-conduct.
 Allison, Roy (2014), “Russian ‘deniable’ intervention in Ukraine: how and why Russia broke the rules”, International Affairs, http://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/russian-%E2%80%98deniable-intervention%E2%80%99-ukraine-how-and-why-russia-broke-rules.
 Monaghan, Andrew (2015), “A ‘New Cold War’? Abusing History, Misunderstanding Russia”, Chatham House, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/field/field_document/20150522ColdWarRussiaMonaghan.pdf.