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Augustine C. OhanweSaturday, March 8, 2014
chyinaho@yahoo.com


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BREWING CONFLICT IN UKRAINE: WILL IT RESULT IN A NEW COLD WAR?

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he NATO alliance oversaw the demise of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact resulting in the end of the cold war. But no sooner had the cold war ended than a mild form of a new cold war started in the territory of the former Soviet satellite states and the covert war has continued till date.

The collapse of the Soviet Union unleashed more than a dozen of ‘independent’ states from the clutches of what was perceived as Russian domination. Their release from the Russia’s fold generated the scrambling for the ‘new’ states alliances. The new ‘independent’ satellite states became pretty dames the erstwhile competing blocs courted for friendship. The United States deduction then was that top echelon of Russian Communist Party, its military and intelligent wings were working assiduously to install puppet governments in the new states, leaders that would lean towards Moscow. Based on this theory the US waded in to subvert Russian’s design by propping up new democracies to ally with the West.

The US adventure in the territories of the former Russian satellite states unnerved Moscow. While the US worked hard to gain new democracies, Russia fought back jealously to undermine it. Russian revisionists, after the cold war left their political marks in Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and many others but lost Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania etc. to US dominated NATO. The war to win the political heart and soul of Ukraine and Georgia has continued, though covertly. Both states are strategically important in the geopolitical warfare. Georgia’s pro-US leaning after the death of communism is undeniable. It has become a fertile terrain for covert and overt operations between the US and Russia.

But the unfortunate story is that Georgia and Ukraine suffer from ethnic dichotomy which Russia has exploited to its full advantage. Ukraine is complex in its internal political structure. It is largely divided in its loyalty. Its West is nationalistic while the east is pro-Russia. More so, Ukraine is about 22% Russian, about 11.5 million people. With the prevailing political situation, the central government in Ukraine views ethnic Russians as a huge threat. On the hand, ethnic Russians view the central government in Kiev as oppressor. Under the prevailing political situation Russian speakers in Ukraine might opt for autonomy or join their ‘brothers’ in Russia proper, a move that will exacerbate the domestic political tension in Ukraine.

Like Ukraine, Georgia, has the problem of divided loyalty that has resulted in the quest for secession. Its two regions of Abkhazia and South Osseita have declared independence from Georgia. Spurred by its pro-US leaning and with the perception of getting support from the US, Georgia, in 2008, attempted to reclaim control of its separatist province of South Osseita that has close tie with Russia. Russian troops quickly routed the Georgian military and torpedoed their design and even made military foray into Georgia’s proper. Georgia felt let down by the US. Georgian government was of the feeling that the US shackled its own power in the face of Russian violation of Georgia’s sovereignty

Another foreign policy approach that nearly resuscitated the cold war was when President Bush declared his intention to install nuclear umbrella in Poland and Czech Republic. After the exit of Bush, President Obama was poised to give flesh to the same foreign policy initiative. The US cited Iran’s nuclear intention as the main reason for embarking on the installation of nuclear defensive shields. The fact that both Poland and Czech Republic are situated in the Russia’s backyard provoked the ire of Russia. The then Putin’s defence minister, Sergei Ivanov warned that such hostile US foreign policy would compel Russia to re-examine the defence nature of its strategy to allow Russia re-adjust to Washington’s posture on the global chess board. He went further to warn that Russia would unleash a preemptive strike against unspecified targets. He warned that Russia would deploy cruise missiles in the Russian soil of Kaliningrad, an enclave situated between Poland and Lithuania if Washington went ahead to install the proposed nuclear arsenal in Poland and Czech Republic. When President Putin visited Austria in May 2007, he told journalists that the proposed deployment of nuclear shields in Poland and Czech Republic would be targeting his country. He warned that ‘a new cold war has just begun’. In a separate interview with journalists, he made it crystal clear that Russia would deploy its nuclear war heads, targeting European countries should the US went ahead with the installation of nuclear batteries.

As the atmosphere became tense, former Soviet leaders, Mikhail Gorbachev challenged the US rason d’etre for the proposed deployment and warned of global insecurity such deployment could generate. He accused Washington of harbouring a hidden agenda to build a global empire in the aftermath of the cold war, and in so doing, had sown disorder across the world. With hostile reactions from Russia, the US had to put on hold the deployment of the nuclear issue thereby reducing the race for a new cold war.

In February 2014, Russia carried out its short range nuclear test. The US thought it was a violation of 1987 treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Washington felt that a new cold war was simmering beneath the political surface. The US summoned its NATO allies and expressed its deep concern. The US military analysts are of the view that Russia’s nuke test was not a past time exercise but a design to strike targets in Europe. Will the US conduct its own test in retaliation? The answer falls within the realm of speculation. If it does, it will heighten the fear of a new arm race in a new cold war.

Apart from the above foreign policies that exhibited the potential for a fresh cold war, a new cold war is presently brewing in Ukraine between Russia and the United States. Three months protest has ousted a pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister, Victor Yanukovych from power. While serving as the Prime Minister he turned down internal pressures to look up to the West and NATO. That was the bone of contention why he was pushed out of power. Moscow has blamed the West for the unrest in Ukraine that led to the demise of its Prime Minister. Pro-Russian Crimean called for protection from Russia against the hostile attack from the new government. Russian Foreign Minister has launched its anathema against the policy of the interim government in Kiev, stating that it looked the other way while radicals threatened the Russian speaking Crimean and other parts of Ukraine. But the interim government had countered the allegation stating that Russian was building up excuses to invade his country.

Russia has assured the international community that it would not intervene in Ukraine’s domestic affairs. However it has voiced a flurry of statements expressing grave concern about the plight of Russian speakers in Ukraine.

Based on the allegation that Russians in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine were facing hostile attacks, Russian government voted and empowering Vladimir Putin to protect Russia’s national interest in Ukraine. Russian tanks and troops had to move into Crimea. With the support of pro-Russia troop in Crimea, they occupied strategic positions in Ukraine prompting Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov to order his country’s armed forces for combat readiness because of the “potential aggression” posed by Russia. Ukraine has accused Russia of “invasion and occupation” of Crimea where Russian Black Sea Fleet is based. There is the possibility that Russia might not limit its military incursion in Crimea. It might move south too due to the geographical spread of Russian speaking population in Ukraine.

President Obama has stated that Russian’s intervention in Ukraine infringes international law and warned Russia to pull back its forces. He further reminded Putin that there are “costs” to be paid for its invasion.

Prime Minister David Cameron has criticized Moscow saying that Moscow has “no excuse” for its military intervention in Ukraine and that the “world is watching” British ambassador added his voice stating that his country would require “an immediate and full explanation” for Russia’s military action and its right under the international law.

But Putin does not see his country’s action in Ukraine as a triumph of might over the rules of law. The warning seems to make a hollow in Moscow. Putin feels it is doing the right thing. Neither European Union nor the US would succeed in restraining Putin from its military activities in Ukraine. Russia is suspicious of the US intention in the Crimean peninsula. Russian military analysts see the Ukraine political situation as a part of the West’s global design that would have a zero some political verdict against Russia. Russia sees the US interest in Ukraine as a plan to lure Ukraine into NATO and complete Ukraine’s encirclement, rendering Russia indefensible. In order to counter the perceived threat, Russia’s defence minister announced that Russia has embarked on the expansion of its military presence world wide. Russia’s warship, the CCB-175 is reportedly docked in Havana, Cuba. The warship is said to be equipped with sophisticated electronic device with ship-to-air missiles and 30mm anti aircraft guns. The ship has Russia and Cuban flags hoisted on it.

Moscow has indicated that it is seeking permission for its naval vessels to dock in other Latin American countries, Asia and elsewhere. Does this move not sound the gong of a cold war?

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