On the brink of a new Cold War?
Is our Foreign Secretary insane, wondered Michael Burleigh in the Daily Mail. Unless Boris Johnson wants to bring on World War III, the last thing he should be suggesting is a no-fly zone in Syria. Russia’s economy may be no bigger than Italy’s but its armed forces, boosted by the vast sums President Putin has devoted to them, are awesome. In the Mediterranean, it has ships armed with missiles; in Syria, it has installed the most advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. And should the US and UK try to stop him bombing Aleppo, Putin will use them. Having stood by as the US toppled one regime after another in the Middle East, he has no intention of deserting his chief ally in the region. Syria’s President Assad neatly summed up their position in a recent interview, said The Daily Telegraph. The war in my country, he ventured, is just one theatre of confrontation “in a new Cold War”; America’s main goal is to preserve its “hegemony over the world, to prevent anyone else being a partner in the political and international arena”. Floating the idea of a no-fly zone was foolish all right, said Simon Tisdall in The Guardian, but Boris did at least draw attention to a key question of our times: “what to do about Russia”. All very well for US Secretary of State John Kerry to break off bilateral talks in protest at Russia’s aerial attacks on civilians in Aleppo – that has just led an “unabashed” Putin to up the ante. He has scrapped a US-Russian pact to reprocess excess plutonium; has deployed short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles in Russia’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad; has ramped up the cyberwar with America; and, most provocative of all, has talked of reopening military bases in Cuba and Vietnam. And for this mess, we have to thank Barack Obama, said The Washington Times. The tipping point was when he vowed to depose Assad if he crossed “a red line” by continuing to use chemical weapons. Assad did, Obama “blinked” – and then and there, his enemies knew that he was determined to stay the course of least resistance. “Men with evil intent have his number.” Obama’s problem has been his “chronic reluctance to project US power abroad”, said Roger Boyes in The Times. “The basic rule of global hegemony is you have to use power, or lose it.” But Obama thought he could talk Putin into behaving nicely. Trying to integrate Russia into the Western system was actually a brave experiment, said Ivo Daalder in the FT. It failed because integration is precisely what Putin fears. “It would undermine his control of the Russian system. He needs the antagonism of the West to protect his standing at home.” We must now accept, said Thomas Graham in Foreign Policy, that Moscow can neither be fully defeated nor “become a friend and fellow democracy”. In future, the West must steer a strategic path between cooperation and confrontation; responding with a show of force if, say, Moscow threatens a Nato ally, but being less eager to promote pro-Western change in Moscow’s backyard. That is the lesson the next American president needs to learn.
Putin with Kerry: “unabashed”