Why the war in Ukraine is not a Cold War

Andrey Korchagin. A Russian Mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missile RT-2PM Topol. 

Military analysis

Article by: Nicole Gallina

The western world will soon witness a further escalation of Russia’s crusade with the western world. The Ukrainian military and some NATO and US military experts have tried to warn the West and urged political and economic responses, such as freezing Russian assets (in line with the argument that there is “no military solution”).

And responses are coming. But quite the other way round: Ukraine has to produce its own anti-tank missiles, as all it can get from the US-president are armored vehicles. The EU keeps silent on the “conflict” and on how to contain Russia, opening up the way for Greece that tries to embrace Russia in various forms, and leading German SPD-politicians (together with some of their Swiss counterparts), who are calling for a “normalization” of the relationship with Russia.

It looks like Ukraine reminds them of the situation in Prague 1968 and the “normalization” of the situation after Russian-backed troops crushed down the democratic movement in a Czechoslovakia that was occupied by Russia after the end of the Second World War, which, apparently, somehow justified the action.

There are three  important differences between Russian interventions in eastern European countries during the Cold War and today’s situation.

1. Ukraine reached its independence from Russia in 1991, and since then had the right to decide freely on its political and economic fate.

But Russia many times tried to provoke the breakdown of Ukraine as a sovereign and democratic state after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. It liquidated democratic political leaders who had a chance to become the country’s new leaders, such as Ukraine’s “Václav Havel” Vyacheslav Chornovil in 1999, and also tried to assassinate Viktor Yushchenko who was to become the country’s president in 2004. It used political parties such as the Communist Party, and later the “Party of Regions” for its interests, infiltrated Ukrainian security forces, supported corrupted politicians, certain oligarchs and media with pro-Russian views, and also backed organized crime in the country – predominantly in the Donbas. At times, energy (gas) or military (the Russian Black See Fleet in Crimea) blackmail was very useful. Those measures are called hybrid-war methods and include infiltration, disinformation, discreditation, obstruction, intimidation.

Those are probably the only things what Russia’s elites are really productive at. On the contrary, concepts which are based on other premises such as international law and state sovereignty, Russia finds difficult to consider when states other than itself are concerned.

This is all not new. However, what is new and differs from the situation during the Cold War and also from the situation before March 2014 is that Russia has occupied vast territories of an independent European country.

It has used conventional warfare – in a scale only comparable to warfare during the Second World War – in order to occupy large parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. It forced over a million of Ukrainian citizens to flee.Russia leveled at least a dozen of Ukrainian villages and cities in the Donbas, foremost Vuhlehirsk and Debaltseve in the Donetsk Oblast in February 2015, caring little about human losses which might go up to 5000 for the Vuhlehirsk/Debaltseve battles, consisting mostly of Russian soldiers and volunteers, but also more than 500 civilians.

There was no case of large-scale conventional warfare between Russia and a sovereign European country during the Cold War.

2. Putin has a fan club in the West

A second important point that is contrary to the Cold War, we have what Ilarionov calls a Putin-international [find in this speech his arguments why this is not a Cold War].

During the Cold War it was clear that the enemy was the Soviet Union, and it had little friends in the western world. Today’s western friends of the Russian president are many more, including western mass media, most “intellectuals,” and mainstream political parties in Germany, Austria, France, Italy and others.

Disinformation and keywords – initially spread by the Russian side – have been eagerly adopted up by mainstream western politicians and media (also a difference to the Cold War) in order to avoid action. The word “conflict” will probably even survive in the case of a Russian occupation of the Baltic states.

The result is a “omertà,” a code of silence, in western European societies:

  • not to mention the fact that Russia is using conventional warfare against Ukraine;
  • is preparing Russian society for a large-scale war and exercising its troops on a permanent basis,
  • has turned Kaliningrad, the Donbas and Crimea to Russian military fortresses.

This code of silence and the fact that no one wants to get involved has the result that there is no public discussion on the fact that Russia’s objectives are much broader than Ukraine. Russia wants to split Europe from the United States, and to crash NATO. The non-existing discussion makes it almost impossible to get permanent NATO bases into the Baltic states or Poland. On a national EU scale, there are also few proposals and outcomes on how to counter Russia’s destructive efforts: Lithuania has returned to military conscription and banned a Russian TV channel, Poland is putting up several watchtowers in order to observe its border with Kaliningrad (while there is no visible action vis-à-vis Russia’s ally Belarus), some steps are made for a EU energy union.

International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others who could push a discussion on Russia’s evil deeds care little about Ukrainain civilian losses, and even much less about the death of fighters on the Russian side (the latter would open the Pandora’s box of Russian army involvement). The OSCEUN, and other international bodies are helpless at best, and often used by Russia in order to push its interests.

3. The incapability or lack of desire to face the truth also prevents to tackle Europe’s military weakness seriously

During the Cold War, the US army (and their European counterparts) had their material and troops ready in the case of an attack from the Soviet Union. Today this is not the case. Europe and the US aren’t ready to counter a conventional military attack from the Russian side. In the last months, Russia has been free to push the borders for its military exercises in terms of European territory violated and amount of troops exercised. Russia even has turned to nuclear blackmail. Few know that this has been a taboo-issue since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis which almost led to a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union.

The US and the EU have not responded to Russia’s nuclear blackmail. At the same time, they claim deterrence functions.

However, deterrence means: if you are threatened with nuclear warheads, you also have to threaten with them. And threaten in such a way for the enemy to believe you.

This essentially is the problem. Russia does not believe the US and Europe are going to use their warheads. US and European leaders seem to know that. Therefore they even do not threaten with them.

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