Russia and the West are at odds, but this is not a new Cold War
It is undeniable that the current state of affairs leaves much to be desired. “We certainly are in the lowest period since the end of the Cold War, there's no doubt about it," said David Kramer, the head of Freedom House, and a former top official at the US State Department. Meanwhile, Aleksei Pushkov, the Russian State Duma lower house Foreign Affairs committee chief, has noted that “even during the Soviet times we had more links with the United States than today.” However, poor relations do not necessarily equal to a new Cold War.
The character of Russia-US relations (and Russian-Western relations in general) is best described as situational. Ever since Russia established an autonomous foreign policy, periods of cooperation have been by replaced by periods of great distress and vice versa over and over again. Such relations are inherently unstable due to the ever-present irritants preventing cooperation from flourishing. For instance, there are numerous recurring, highly contentious issues such as: NATO expansion in Eastern Europe, Russian actions in the former Soviet space, US anti-ballistic missile defense plans and concerns over human rights in Russia as well as a variety of other issues.
However, there is potential; the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, a major diplomatic crisis, was followed by a reset in the U.S.-Russia relations, which resulted in the new START treaty, mutual cooperation in regard to the problem of chemical weapons owned by the Syrian regime and an array of other instances of successful cooperation.
Current tensions on the global arena cannot be described as a new Cold War. There is no superficial or substantive resemblance to the Cold War period. Russia does not lead a bloc of nations nor does it promote strong ideological claims. There is no arms race and superiority of the US military strength remains uncontested. Despite the complexity of the current crisis, there are also no substantive reasons to define current relations within the framework of a Cold War level of antagonism.
Recent crises are a logical result of the combination of three major factors: deep insecurity, overlapping national interests and security policies shaped by the Cold War. The US and Russia once again serve as the most indicative examples of the abovementioned factors, especially insecurity. The US, with its near-perfect geopolitical position (maritime power surrounded by two oceans and two close allies – Canada and Mexico), is notorious for developing military capabilities and making questionable decisions on a global arena due to its insecurity. Thus, one may only imagine how insecure Russia must be, surrounded by NATO, Japan and China, sharing borders with more than a dozen countries, and almost no real political and military allies. The geopolitical position of Russia is quite unfortunate and “enemy at the gates” notion is an inherent feature of Russian consciousness for a good reason.
Together the aforementioned three elements formed the current crisis, and there are countless more to come. This is a recipe for disaster; deeply insecure states implementing Cold war influenced policies to pursue their national interest contradicting the interests of the other party.
There is a need to realize the importance of working long-term Russia-West relations to ensure stability and security in the world. Russia may be a regional power and an undesirable partner for the West, however, its involvement is imperative to the solution of a number of global problems such as terrorism, nuclear arms proliferation and other global challenges.
This is not another Cold War. This is merely a single crisis among many; unless, as Dmitry
Baryshnikov (Senior Lecturer at School of International Relations, Saint-Petersburg State
University) commented, to achieve stable relations we “take every available opportunity to
negotiate, explain our respective views, define our national interests and establish the common ground for acceptable compromise.” Until then, the character of Russia-West relations is likely to remain situational.