On the brink of a new Cold War?

The Week Middle East - - Front Page -

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”

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