Sunday 25 March 2018

Chill winds of history blow again as new cold war heads towards freezing point

A Ukrainian serviceman rides on a self-propelled howitzer near Artemivsk February 19, 2015.
A Ukrainian serviceman rides on a self-propelled howitzer near Artemivsk February 19, 2015.

Hayden Smith

Russia's role in the Ukraine conflict has had a tangible impact on a local basis but it has also had repercussions on a wider scale, chilling Moscow's relations with the West to the extent that some have declared a "new Cold War".

Developments today encapsulated how the crisis is being played out on both a regional and international stage.

Pro-Russian rebels celebrated on the streets of Debaltseve after Ukrainian forces began withdrawing from the besieged town and reports of shelling continued despite a ceasefire coming into effect on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the UK is embroiled in a furious row with the Kremlin after British defence secretary Michael Fallon warned there was a "real and present danger" to Baltic States following the revelation that RAF fighters were scrambled to intercept long-range Russian bombers off the south coast of England.

In response, Russian deputy foreign minister Aleksandr Lukashevich said his words were "beyond diplomatic ethics".

Mr Fallon's uncompromising rhetoric is seen as a signal that Nato countries believe the crisis could escalate beyond Ukraine.

For its part, Russia has always denied helping the separatists, but it has been accused of sending troops and weapons into the country to buttress their cause.

Whatever the truth, the fighting in eastern Ukraine has had an enormous human cost - 5,600 people are estimated to have been killed and more than a million forced to flee their homes since fighting started in April last year.

Russia's motives in allegedly interfering in the affairs of its neighbour may be clear, but what does it get out of incidents like that which saw two of its Bear bombers appear off the Irish and British coasts?

Dr Samuel Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King's College London, told the Press Association: "It keeps you guessing. It gives people something to talk about in a way that is quite useful for the Kremlin," he said.

"Russia can't project force to the same degree. Their best weapon is unpredictability."

Dr Greene said the latest developments suggest relations between Russia and the West are "not going to get any easier".


He added: "If anything Ukraine is not the cause of but a symptom of a much deeper conflict with Europe and Russia."

Dr Greene said the discord hinged on differences in the way that Russia is governed compared with other nations.

He said: "People thought that after the end of the Soviet Union, Russia would become more and more like Europe but it hasn't happened that way. Russia has its own system ... the question is how can these two systems co-exist on the same continent."

Is the world really facing a "new Cold War"? Dr Greene said he did not "make much" of the description, saying the current scenario does not pose the kind of threat as the tensions that followed the Second World War, adding: "The Cold War was about world domination."

However, he said there were parallels to be seen in the "temperature" of the rhetoric, saying that aspects of Russian TV have become "hysterical" about the threat purportedly posed to the country by the West.

He added: "It is mirrored to a certain extent in the West."

Recent developments have prompted calls for Ukraine to be given military aid.

Irish Independent

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