In recent international politics there is often talks of a new Cold War, pitting the Russian federation led by Vladimir Putin, and the West, comprising of NATO and the European Union.
It’s been the source of sanctions and conflict and continues to have a large role in the way Russian Politics and Economics operates, and as such, any discussion of the New Russia of Vladimir Putin should merit discussion of why this has occurred.
In part, this is down to the Zeitgeist feeling surrounding the Expansion of NATO and Russia in the 1990’s and 2000’s, which has left a feeling of injustice in Russian international psyche.
Let’s go back to the focus on the Defence treaties of the early Cold War, The Soviets had the Warsaw Pact, and the various members of the West joined together in NATO in 1949.
It has been expanding ever since, most importantly in 1999 and 2004 where it took on many former members of the Eastern Block.
This is seen as a source of contention for Russia, who argue that since the Cold War ended, that there was no need for NATO. It’s expansion has been seen as encroachment on Russia and this is particularly a sore point given that expansion occurred during a very desperate and weak era for Russia.
When Russia is weak, the West take advantage to the detriment of the Russian federation, at least in the Russian psyche…
With that in mind we should look at the Crimean Crisis, which came to a climax in March 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea.
The crisis began over a debate in Ukraine, over the signing of an Association Agreement with the European Union. Which many saw as the first step towards EU membership for Ukraine, though this is contested.
When Russia annexed Crimea, after holding a referendum, Putin could claim victory threefold: he protected Russia’s prestige, discredited Western democracy by claiming popular support, and had unexpectedly gained a victory against the block that had, the decade prior, encroached on Russia’s buffer zone.
Retaliatory sanctions sought to weaken Russia, who, in turn blamed the West for being hypocritical and only trying to expand further. In response, they put more faith in Vladimir Putin as the premier who had made the West look incompetent. Sanctions succeeded in weakening R ussia, but not in weakening Putin.
Was the West really trying to take Advantage of Russia?
It’s more complicated than that, let’s look at Poland.
Poland left the Eastern Block in 1989, and although has integrated well into Western framework, it has not conformed to the monolithic entity that swallowed up former allies, as Russia seem to believe. In fact, NATO expansion seems to have occurred at the behest of former Communist countries who were looking for reassurances against future Russian reassertion.
In one instance I have heard the relationship between a Russia and a number former members of the Eastern Block being contrasted to the situation between Britain and Ireland in the twentieth century. The English never remember, the Irish never forget.
Poland has continued to assert their own unilateral abilities in both global policy and in the EU. They had just gained their freedom from one super-block, they seem reluctant to throw themselves into another.
But that is irrelevant to Russia. History can be made into anything you want it to be if you can convince enough people, and Putin has suceeded in doing that. Seeing this episode as a great betrayal is a defining point of Nova Russia and continues to shape their actions.
Picture Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2014-03-09_-_Perevalne_military_base_-_0162.JPG