The Kremlin has dragged the West into a new cold war.
The Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the Valdai forum at Sochi in October 2014: “The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards.”
If we translate this declaration from the language of the Kremlin into one we can all understand, it reads: “The Cold War must end with a new Yalta, and Putin, like Stalin and Churchill in their times, must have the right to draw the borders of foreign states onto the map.”
Having understood that no one is offering him a place at the table of a new Yalta, Putin began his cold war against the Euro-Atlantic alliance. The Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev specified the course his superior had taken in an interview to the daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta in 2014: “The Cold War with the United States never ended, it has continued since 1945.”
Putin started the war from a poor position: he does not have the five-million-soldier army of the Soviet Union, the financial situation and economy are weakening year by year, Moscow is losing influence fast because it is no longer a positive example – either politically, socially, technologically or morally. There are no allies who share his values to form a separate block. This is the main way that Putin’s cold war differs.
Therefore, Putin is forced to bluff and raise the stakes time and again, although he has a bad hand.
Ideology of the Cold War
Vladimir Putin has no ideology. He is an officer of the Brezhnev era by nature and nurture, a product of the Cold War era, an era of two super states.
This is why the ideology of “the second cold war” that has emerged in the halls of the Kremlin is a collection of archaic, geopolitical, imperial and clerical theories.
Moscow is the Third Rome
According to this theory, Russia is the stronghold of values and morals built on the Orthodox faith. Gayrope has drowned in dissipation. Its purpose is destroying Russia—the last bastion of Christian values.
Eurasianism as Russia’s “Separate Road”
Russia is not Europe or Asia but a completely separate “state-continent” that is largely in Asia’s sphere of influence. Yet, the Eurasian Union Russia is presenting as an international project is really a hidden extension of Russia’s current pseudo-federation that would cover the majority of the erstwhile empire’s territories.
The Theory of the “Russian world”
According to this concept, all states where Russian is spoken belong to the Russian world. It is presumed that the Russian-language territories of neighbouring countries are endeavouring to re-join Russia, and Russia must take them under its maternal wing.
Vladimir Putin announced in an interview for the film Crimea: The Way Home in March 2015 that the Russian government was prepared to elevate their level of nuclear combat readiness: “We were prepared to do this.”
Putin is bluffing in this matter as well, as he has reduced the level of nuclear readiness, something that was not done in the days of the Cold War. As of 1 September 2014, the respective number of nuclear weapons that Russia possessed was one nuclear warhead more than the US. On the other hand, Russia was lagging behind in view of the number of TELs, as it has 266 units less than the US. Because of that, Russia launched an extensive programme to renew its TELs.
It was decided to replace the new modern Topol-M missiles with the Yars complex, which features four supersonic nuclear warheads.
The development of two essentially new land-based strategic missiles is underway; these are Rubezh (MIRV-equipped missile complex intended to be mounted on TELs or into a silo, or, more probably onto rail platforms) and Sarmat (super-heavy missile, successor of the Voyevoda missile).
General Polkovnik Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy on Geopolitical Affairs, and Vladimir Dvorkin, Doctor of Technology, who headed the 4th Central Research Institute of the Ministry of Defence until 2001 (the institute studied the issues of developing and using nuclear weapons), claim that in a situation where the US launches a global flash attack “there would be no comparison of potential, no strategic parity, because only about twenty MIRVs/MARVs are able to fly from us to the US, but all one thousand and five hundred of their units can reach us. All the missiles they launch will reach us; we have nothing to stop American warheads.”
Therefore, General Polkovnik Ivashov thinks that the only escape from this situation is repeating the 1962 scenario and delivering extremely accurate weapons near the borders of America. This is the purpose behind Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu’s official visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba at the beginning of 2015. Among other things, they discussed allowing Russian warships to enter the ports of those states, and Russia signed an intergovernmental agreement so that the warships of the Russian navy could enter the ports of Nicaragua on the basis of a simplified procedure.
Two Borei-class ballistic missile submarines – Vladimir Monomakh and Alexander Nevsky – were taken to the submarine base at Kamchatka (Rybachiy, Vilyuchinsk) to shift nuclear weapons closer to US territory in December 2014. Both are equipped with 20 Bulava intercontinental missiles.
Finally, on 9 November 2015, Russian TV channels showed a clip of a meeting with Putin, where defence matters were discussed and images of the classified Status-6 system were displayed. It is obvious that information marked “top secret” cannot accidentally leak to the mass media. So, it was a planned move, and the purpose was to scare the Western states.
Development Status-6 displayed on slide 3 is supposed to destroy important economic objects on the enemy’s coast causing irreparable damage to a state’s territory (it creates radioactive pollution over a wide area).
Experts immediately recalled the unguided Soviet T-15 nuclear torpedo with a 100-megaton charge (this was the idea of the academician Sakharov) designed in the 1950s to attack objects on the US coast. The idea was discarded back then.
The academician Andrei Sakharov proposed to reanimate the idea behind the T-15 in 1961: the torpedo would have exhausted all energy in its accumulators in reaching the coast, and sunk to the bottom, then turning into an intelligent bottom mine. The torpedo fuse was in stand-by mode to receive signals from planes or ships. Researchers estimate that exploding several warheads in specific locations at the deep faults of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean should cause a powerful tsunami at least 400–500 m high on the US coast.
In other words, the Kremlin presented slide 3 and announced its intention to keep the US at bay by organising a nuclear hit on the east and west coast.
Full Combat Readiness
In recent times, constant “unannounced exercises”, extensive ones at that, have displaced regular planned military exercises in Russia.
It is clear that an extensive “unannounced exercise” is the best cover for a flash attack according to the rules of Russian (Soviet) military science on the basis of which tactic and strategic surprise are the main objective to be pursued.
The Russian army that was made combat ready in 2008 during the Caucasus Frontier 2008 exercise invaded Georgia unexpectedly and without presenting an ultimatum.
On 26 February 2014 Vladimir Putin ordered three field armies, anti-air and space defence, airborne forces, strategic rocket forces and military transport air forces to be made combat ready for an “unannounced exercise”. This included 150,000 servicemen and a large amount of technology. Under the pretences of an exercise, Russia led additional forces – the little green men – to the Crimea in secret without warning, and no foreign observers were invited to the location.
As the crisis in relations with Western states deepened, “unannounced exercises” spread all over the country, and a year later in March 2015 Russia launched an “exercise” that involved the North, Baltic and Black Sea fleets, the West and South military district, airborne forces and, additionally, the East military district, in case the country should be attacked from the aquatic area of the Pacific Ocean.
Military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer estimates that “unannounced exercises” on the western front, on European seas and in European airspace – where Russia is deliberately ignoring existing security and trust measures – are potentially a direct military threat just like during the Cold War, or maybe even a worse threat because the rules of the game and the parties’ intentions are much more ambiguous than they were then. The consequence is that we have a situation where both parties of the new standoff are starting to observe one another’s planes and ships more closely, and will try to intercept them. The probability of conflict will rise high and bad timing may cause clashes to escalate uncontrollably.
Lessons Not Learnt in the Cold War
Putin dragged the Western states into the second cold war, and the war started according to the Kremlin’s terms and conditions. The Western states are making resounding declarations but Putin is taking over European territories in cold blood.
What has happened? It feels like the main reason for the Western countries’ weakness is a lack of world-class leaders. The US has no Ronald Reagan, there is no Margaret Thatcher in Europe.
When Soviet air defence shot down a civilian South Korean plane with 300 people on board in 1983, only one resounding declaration was made: the US President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the “evil empire”.
However, there were plenty of specific actions: the US deployed the Pershing-II medium-range ballistic missiles with a flight time to the European part of the Soviet Union of 5–7 minutes, and air-based cruise missiles to the territory of West Germany, Great Britain, Denmark, Belgium and Italy.
In parallel, the US started producing neutron weapons: artillery shells and warheads for short-range Lans-type missiles. Additionally, the US started developing an orbital missile defense programme (the Star Wars programme).
These extensive programmes laid the basis for the economic downfall of the Soviet Union—until then Moscow had (with great difficulty) maintained an equal number of nuclear weapons—and Moscow no longer had the means for an adequate counter strike in space.
Today we need to consider the following. The Kremlin is spending a total of 20 trillion roubles (4.5–5% of the GDP) in the framework of a programme for the modernisation of the armed forces by 2020, and is endeavouring to reach two goals with this. Firstly, it wants to renew its extremely out-dated military technology. Secondly, it wants to push NATO into increasing military expenditure, presuming that it will cause dissatisfaction in a number of states and create discord within the Alliance. Playing with controversy is the favourite pastime of the Kremlin and its strong tactical side. Economic weakness pitted against economic strength—an asymmetrical countermove.
This is the reason why it would be useful for Estonia to make an example of its military expenditure and convince states that did not learn the lessons of the Cold War, to increase their military expenditure so that Moscow would cool down. If you want peace, prepare for war.
The Russian historian Vassili Klyuchevsky wrote that history is not a schoolmarm or a minder: it does not teach anything but punishes for the lessons you do not learn.
Lilia Shevtsova, a well-known Russian political scientist and senior researcher at the Brooklyn Institute (US) highlights another important aspect: “The Soviet Union was able to survive due to its confrontation with the West. But post-Soviet Union, Yeltsyn’s or now Putin’s Russia survives due to integration with the West, due to forming a source of wealth inside the EU, the “fifth column” and the sphere of influence. […]
It is impossible to cope with Putin’s Kremlin, restrain and restrict the room of his manoeuvres only by imposing economic and military sanctions on Russia. […] Everything can be changed if the European Union begins to remove the cancerous tumour inside it.”
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.