New Cold War Gathering Steam

By Asif Haroon Rajacold war

16 hours long marathon talks were held in Belarus between the delegates of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France on February 15, 2015. A road map to peace in Ukraine’s war was finally secured. Hopefully, it will put an end to the escalating bloodshed in the region. The fruits of the talks are however yet to be seen on ground as the fighting between Kiev government forces and Russian backed Ukrainian rebels has not ceased. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that aspects which were approved  in the agreement included ceasefire which was supposed to begin on Sunday February 15, 2015, special status for rebel regions, provisions on border controls and humanitarian issues. On the other hand Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the deal did not include any agreement on autonomy for eastern Ukraine, as Russia has been demanding. No detailed accounts were given by either side.

Continuing with its policy of pressure tactics, the EU has warned Russia of additional sanctions if the deal was not respected. Holding Russia responsible for non-implementation of the agreement sounds quite strange when seen in the backdrop of the Ukrainian military continuing to attack the rebels and the rebels retaliating in response. Moscow has serious and legitimate concerns regarding calculated ethnic cleansing of pro-Russian people residing in the rebel held areas in Eastern Ukraine. These concerns were voiced by President Vladimir Putin in his interview with ARD (German Channel). Prior to the recent peace deal, Putin had warned of catastrophic consequences if the Kiev government continued to nurture radical nationalism and Russo-phobia. He stated:
“Frankly speaking, we are very concerned about any possible ethnic cleansing and Ukraine ending up as a neo-Nazi State. What are we supposed to think if people are bearing Swastikas on their sleeves? What about the SS emblems that we see on the helmets of some military units now fighting in Eastern Ukraine? If it is a civilized State, where are the authorities looking? At least they could get rid of this uniform; they could make the nationalists remove these emblems.”

Putin added that fear of reprisals is one of the major reasons the local militias are not leaving the cities they are occupying. In this regard he said: “Indeed, self-defense fighters, for example, were supposed to leave some of the towns they had surrounded, but they haven’t yet left. Do you know why not? I will tell you plainly, this is no secret: because the people fighting against the Ukrainian Army say, ‘These are our villages, we come from there. Our families and our loved ones live there. If we leave, nationalist battalions will come and kill everyone. We will not leave, you can kill us yourselves.” Putin stressed, “That is why we have fears that it may all end up this way. If it happens it would be a catastrophe for Ukraine and Ukrainian people.”

The Russian leader rightly dismissed the idea that only Russia has the key to solve the Ukraine crisis, saying that it sounds as if someone is trying to pass responsibility for the conflict to Moscow. “You know, when someone tells us that we have some special opportunities to solve this or that crisis, it always troubles and alarms me. I always begin to suspect that there is an intention to pass on the responsibility to us and to make us pay for something. We do not want that. Ukraine is an independent, free and sovereign State,” Putin said.

Indeed the statement of the Russian President seems justified as Russia is being blamed to be solely responsible for the entire crisis, not realizing that it is simply not possible to motivate or mobilize such a large force without any internal friction. There is no denying the fact that ethnic Russians are treated as second-rated citizens in Ukraine. Their worth can be gauged from Kiev’s ruthless response to the uprising in Eastern Ukraine, which till recent was the most lucrative region for foreign investment. Prosperous cities now lay in ruins. Most of the civilian population has fled the area and the ones who chose to stay back are forced to live in underground bunkers due to constant bombardment by Ukrainian forces. In case Russia cuts off humanitarian aid to the region, the beleaguered people of Eastern Ukraine will starve to death.

Russia has been accused of destabilizing Ukraine by pumping in tanks, weaponry and troops, and blocking US-NATO military action in support of Syrian rebels to topple Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. But for Russia’s principled stand, regime change in Syria would have occurred by late 2014 and the outcome would have been as calamitous as in the case of Libyan misadventure. Russia’s moves are being projected as a dangerous game played by Russia, which could pave the way for another round of Cold War and possibly trigger Third World War. In its bid to browbeat Russia, western leaders, thinkers and commentators have been speaking strongly against Russian foreign policy and disregarding Russia’s strategic, political and economic interests. The West fails to realize that Russia with its military capability and economic power will continue to play an important role in world affairs and as such its significance can neither be ignored nor undermined. Adoption of such a hostile posture may prove costly since the West may lose an important partner in resolving issues in Ukraine, Syria and even Iran.

NATO’s strategic imperative is to force Moscow into a war in Ukraine to exhaust it economically, prevent EU-Russia trade, and eliminate Russia as a global competitor to the US.  In the backdrop of frenzy created over Ukraine, and the US hyperactive efforts to implement its New World Order, NATO backed by CIA is continuing to flex its military muscles among the European States with a view to bring whole of Europe under its complete sway. It is trying to expand its reach as far forward in Eastern Europe by portraying Russia as a great threat to the region. Earlier on, several East European/Baltic States had been won over through engineered color revolutions. NATO’s efforts have been stepped up in the aftermath of Ukraine crisis. US-EU sanctions are meant to punish Russia for opposing neo-colonial restructuring of Eurasia. The West somehow overlooks the reality that in case Russia wanted to take over Ukraine or part of it, it could have done so with much ease in the initial phases of the crisis.

NATO has taken two steps in the recent months to ensure the security of its northwestern neighbors against the so-called Russian threat. The first step was to authorize a quick-response force to reassure the security of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Secondly, the alliance stepped up its cooperation with non-aligned Sweden and Finland. The countries agreed to the idea of inter-operability of their forces with NATO militaries and chose to strengthen plans with the alliance for any possible deployment on their territories. Since 2009, Sweden and Finland together with their NATO neighbors Denmark, Iceland and Norway have established a Nordic Defense Cooperation initiative. The Baltic militaries will be given new opportunities for top quality training, planning and arms procurement. From this, it can be assumed that under the guise of Russian aggressive designs, NATO and the US seem to be taking advantage of the nervy neighbors and trying to soothe their jangled nerves through connectivity with NATO. This way it is increasing its influence in the Euro-Atlantic world.

Another squeeze on Russia is on the economic front. In their effort to strangulate Russia financially, oil glut was manipulated to drastically reduce the oil prices so as to reduce Russian oil revenue earnings and correspondingly weaken the ruble. Value of the ruble vis-à-vis dollar has fallen by 45% and has collapsed to a historic low. Currently USD 1 fetches 61.87 rubles. Consequently, Russia went into recession and it is feared that if this trend persists, Russia might face a “deep recession”, as has also been mentioned by Andrea Mont anion, Director of Global Business & Economics at the Atlantic Council. He also mentioned that fall of crude oil prices from USD 100 per barrel to USD 50 was a contributing cause of Russia’s economic crisis. According to Standard Bank economist Tim Ash, Russia needs to enforce “far reaching structural reforms urgently” to stabilize the economy. With yearly capital outflow of $125 billion, liquid foreign currency reserves of only $200 billion, and total foreign debts of $200 billion, Russia would run out of dollars and bankrupted in next two years.

In order to offset dangerous imperialist designs of cutting off credit to Russia to undermine the ruble and bankrupt Russian economy, China has come to Russia’s rescue. It threw a financial lifeline by signing series of economic related agreements in November 2014, which included railways and infrastructure development in Russia’s Far East region. It has signed $400 billion worth 30-year deal to buy Russian gas. Beijing has bolstered trade ties in the fields of energy and manufacturing and plans to achieve the target of $100 billion despite ruble crisis. China has proposed moving away from dollar and financing China-Russia trade using Chinese currency. Idea is to complement each other’s economy.  With $3.89 trillion currency reserves, China is in a strong position to bailout Russia.
Russia has also been availing opportunities elsewhere to enhance its business sphere. Establishment of nuclear facility in Egypt and energy deals with Turkey are few examples to quote. Russia has consented to sell Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan. Notwithstanding that introduction of Silver or Gold based currency will be in the best interest of the Russian economy, Russia is seriously mulling over the prospect of introducing government exchange rate for the ruble. These steps are being taken to strengthen Russia’s influence on all fronts. A good example of growing security and trust in Russia was illustrated by the Greek Premier when he recently mentioned Russia along with China as a possible bail out partner.
In the wake of growing antagonism between Russia and the US led west, what is important to understand is that the sole super power has lost ground after 9/11 while Russia and China have gained ground. Russia under Putin has begun to reassert its authority in the global politics. Russia in close cooperation with its strategic partner China has the potential to rise again as a leading player of the world in the future. The US military and NATO have been roundly defeated by the ill-clad and ill-equipped Afghan resistance forces. Claims of their invincibility lay in tatters. Not only the US economy has yet to fully recover from the 2008 global recession despite discovery of shale oil, together with military misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, Europe too is in dire economic crisis. EU is divided over the US policy of sanctions against Russia. Germany, France and Italy opposed it. While capitalist system which is highly pro-rich has failed to provide relief to the humanity, the US carved international order has made the world more turbulent and violence prone. 1% rich controls over 50% of world resources, thereby widening the gulf between rich and poor. The US triggered war on terror which is Muslim specific has alienated the Muslims. The economic pendulum has shifted from the west to the east where China is emerging as an economic giant and a budding super power. 21st Century belongs to Asia. Obama administration has decided to shift its strategic pivot to Asia-Pacific to militarily encircle China with the help of Japan, Australia and India.

In the backdrop of unresolved Palestine and Kashmir disputes, continuation of aggressive policies by US backed Israel and India, destruction of so many Muslim States by the US-NATO forces, Middle East getting engulfed in foreign manipulated sectarian war; unfairness of US controlled UN, unjust US conceived world order and international system of justice, demonization of Islam, the Muslim countries are getting distrustful and fed up of the US imperialism. Muslims holds the US responsible for their afflictions and are fast getting restive as is evident from mushrooming of militant groups and phenomenal growth of religious extremism. Although the divided Muslim world is in no position to confront the military might of the western world, time is not far when the Muslim masses pushed against the wall may rebel against the US installed puppet regimes and either opt for an independent course of changing the capitalist system with Islamic system or opt to collaborate with Russia and China to bring down US imperialism.

In the wake of growing Russo-West rivalry and the US New World Order (NWO) aimed at turning the world into a globalized village duly controlled by the neo-cons and the corporate, cornered Russia is looking for an opportunity to spearhead the global tussle, but does not possess the capability to fight the US led west militarily. The best way forward for Moscow is to confront the US imperialism ideologically. To this end it will have to chalk out a NWO which is more just and humane. Sole emphasis on conservatism may not produce the desired results. The ‘Left’ will have to fall in step with the ‘Right’ in which the opponents of the US carved unjust NWO in the Third World will have to be taken on board.
Although China is economically much stronger than Russia, it alone is not in a position to bring a change at global level since its overall strategy is so far defensive, and its ideological influence is confined to its own country. Notwithstanding that China is fully aware of Indo-US dangerous plan to encircle it; China is not likely to change its national policy from defensive to offensive till the completion of its 4-point modernization program by 2025. It knows that its 40% liquid assets are lying abroad, which the US can block. Hence the onus for change at global level hinges upon Russia. China can however act as a harbinger for the Russian drive to change the world order. China-Russia managed SCO, which is the most vibrant organization in Central Eurasia, needs further bolstering and expansion by inducting other regional countries like Pakistan, India, Iran and Mongolia. BRICS and Bank of China are other economic platforms that can checkmate ‘Asia Pivot’ strategy and deflate dollar. Construction of economic corridor linking Kashgar with Gawadar Seaport will also go a long way in strengthening this vital region and helping China to emerge as a super power.

Unless the US and NATO decide to carry out a drastic change in their unjust, arrogant and destructive policies against the Muslims, and bridles its imperialist ambitions, the envisaged hypothesis may come true sooner than later. Such a happening would prove catastrophic for the west. Whatever be the case, a new cold war between the two erstwhile antagonists is gathering steam. Chinese aid to Russia is likely to further intensify US-China rivalry in coming times. Despite slightly lowered GDP, China will go all out to rescue Russia from its economic crunch since implosion of Russian Federation would have adverse impact on China’s internal order and would make the task of USA to subdue China a bit easier. On the whole, while the world is in turmoil, events are moving towards confrontation between bigger powers. If Ukraine is a fuse of war, Central Asia is a massive munitions depot. If not defused in time, it will lead to cataclysmic explosion.

The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran/defence analyst/columnist/ author of five books, Director Measac Research Centre, Director Board of Governors TFP.



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