Russian Spy Row: Prelude to a new Cold War

Mohammad Jamil

MORE than twenty-seven European and NATO countries have announced mass expulsion of Russian officials and suspected spies in a coordinated response to Britain’s claim that nerve gas attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter was ordered by the Kremlin. It appears from this wording that Britain resorted to harsh actions without any substantial or concrete evidence in the investigation. On Thursday, Russia announced that it would close the US Consulate in St. Petersburg and kick out 60 American diplomats in response to expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States and a number of other countries. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the move wrong and said that “Russia’s response will be guided by the principle of reciprocity”, which had been the hallmark of Russian diplomacy.

Since emergence of Russian-Ukrainian conflict, many said that a new Cold War had started; however, the escalation of tension between the Western countries and Russia in recent days is fraught with serious dangers. The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused British PM Theresa May of exploiting the issue to strengthen her weak hold on power, and also accused the West of using Russia to unite the divided West and recompose itself politically and militarily. According to a report a senior British official said that the UK shared unprecedented degrees of intelligence about the Salisbury nerve agent attack as part of its international drive to secure the biggest diplomatic offensive against Russia since the end of the cold war. For the first time these intelligence assessments were shared with senior ministers and officials in EU and at NATO over the past two weeks.

European countries have been accusing Russia of intervention in Ukraine, whereas they were equally responsible for throwing the unfortunate nation into turmoil by intervening on one pretext or another and plunge the world in greater disorder and chaos. It is not just the Ukraine they have pushed into turbulence; they have been on this rank adventurism quite too often not in the distant past. Their maddening geopolitical and strategic designs and regime change projects made Libya and Syria slipping down and down in a quagmire. One wonders over the outcry of western chancelleries, media and think tanks that they all are indulging in so hypocritically and so unabashedly over the Ukrainian crisis. In fact, they have had the pioneering role in stirring the crisis. It was their incitement, prompting and their money that had triggered the massive street protest in Kiev that finally led up to the ouster of Ukrainian present Viktor Yanukovych.

Had the Ukrainians been left alone, they would have sought the way out of the political imbroglio precipitated by the deposed president Viktor Yankovych impetuous walkout from the done deal of trade association with EU and join instead Russia-led customs union. Of course, President Putin has no hand to show clean either. No sophistry whatsoever can help him to demonstrate innocence in the saga of Crimean Peninsula’s secession. In the venture, Russian agent-provocateurs were definitely involved. But with what face, western capitals slapped him for what they themselves had been engaged in Ukraine so blatantly? Illegitimacy against illegitimacy has become rule of the thumb there. After Russia had annexed Crimea in March 2014, US president Barack Obama and European leaders had slapped toughest sanctions on Russia’s energy, arms and finance sectors in retaliation to Russian involvement in Ukraine.

It appears that President Trump’s policies and rhetoric would unite Russia and China. In several recent policy statements, President Trump suggested “China, along with Russia were major rivals, which, together with rogue regimes and terrorist organs, challenge US economy, interests and values. In confronting these dangers, unmatched power is the surest means.” Last month, Trump signaled that Washington was prepared for a full-blown trade war between the world’s biggest trading partners by slapping punitive tariff on Chinese imports in January and considering a bigger fine over China’s alleged theft of intellectual property. Since he came to office, Trump has challenged China’s claims in the South China Sea, increased the US military presence in Australia, and deepened US military ties with other nations in a region he decided to term the Indo-Pacific. The defence analysts and global affairs watchers believe the rivalry between the world’s most dominant superpower and its fastest rising one will continue to escalate. The first cold war was emblematic of a rivalry between the two blocs – the Soviet Union and its satellites and democratic countries of the Western world under US leadership.

However, the current US-China rivalry lacks the global support, as Trump’s cold war rhetoric does not receive reverberation from America’s traditional allies in the West. Of course, China vows to uphold the non-aligned policy, therefore it has not indicated its desire to align itself with Russia, as least for the time being. However, in the event President Trump continues with his tirade against China and comes up with harsher tariff measures; or tries to create hurdles in China’s “One belt One road initiative” and opposes CPEC, it could roil US-China relations. The Chinese-led institution, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, has created a sense of frustration in the US and the West, as they view it as an alternative of the World Bank. Anyhow, China is unstoppable.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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