Blog AnalysisRussia Caucasus Ukraine

A new cold war

(B2) Many commentators do not see the outline of a new cold war between the West and Moscow. In NATO as well as in the EU, we also refute it, as if the word was frightening and would once again be dressed up in illusions. Certainly the times are no longer the same. There is no more wall. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which were parties to the Warsaw Pact, are all members of NATO today. Elections are held regularly in Russia and there is an alternative press, etc. Despite everything, many signs exist, persist beyond differences: there is indeed what looks like a 'new cold war'. A Cold War 2.0.

Direct military intervention

First of all, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, as was the intervention in Georgia six years earlier, in 2008, show that Russia has not abandoned its classics: direct military intervention on the European 'glacis' remains in force when Moscow considers its strategic interests compromised. This was the case in 1992-1993 (1), in 2008, in 2014. Today, directly or indirectly, the Russians are present, with men and equipment, in Moldova (peacekeeping forces in Transnistria ), in Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia), in Ukraine (Donbass and Crimea).

Wars by proxies

Then, there are several areas of hot war, where Russians and Westerners confront each other indirectly through proxies: in Eastern Ukraine first, then in Syria (where we saw an American raid bombing troops where were Russian 'privates'). In these areas, Americans and Russians are engaged, more or less discreetly, directly on the ground. But above all, everyone delivers weapons and trains their 'protected'. Like in the good old days of the Ethiopian or Angolan war…

The arms race

Rearmament is in progress. Russia increased its defense budget by 32% in 2018, the military tool becoming the second largest state budget item. While the Americans put a +7% on their defense budget (already substantial) for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Arms exports are increasing in particular in the Middle East: the American share still remains predominant, at 34% of the world market, according to the Sipri analysis, but Russia still maintains its share at 22% (read: Arms sales explode in 2017 in the Middle East and Asia).

Military bases and drills galore

Troops are massed at the borders, just in case. Certainly the number has nothing to do with the first Cold War. But minds and methods have evolved. We cannot compare eras. A military intervention today involves thousands or tens of thousands, whereas 30 or 40 years ago there were hundreds of thousands of men.

The Russians have thus renovated and redeveloped several of their bases, for example their helicopter base near the Latvian border. NATO did the same whether in Tapa in Estonia, or in Amari in Latvia (read: In Amari, the F-16s keep watch… Russian) and massed four battalions in the three Baltic countries and Poland… as a deterrent.

The exercises are multiplying, just to show off the muscles. And we happily flirt beyond the limits of the 'normal' exercise: around 100.000 soldiers for the Zapad 2017 exercise in Belarus, 20.000 soldiers for the Aurora 17 exercise in Sweden, in September 2017, Stockholm then mobilizes nothing less only half of his army.

Chases in the air, on sea and under sea

We play chase on the borders. Russian planes, diverse and varied, fighters and bombers, are brushing against European borders. They remain in the international space but 'have fun' seeing the different fleets of the neighboring countries rise up to meet them. In a single round trip, they cause no less than six or seven alert takeoffs (2). The Westerners respond with a show of force. The marine environment is not forgotten: marine exercises and less visible, underwater chases, (re)become routine. “ It hasn't really changed told me an officer who lived through the first cold war. " The chase between submarines was perfectly common, and in a way codified. We knew their submarine fleet by heart. » It even had the air of chivalrous combat...

The diplomatic battle

The Russian ambition to regain its lost place in international diplomacy is real on the ground. If it remains civilized, it is no less fierce. In a few years, Moscow, which only had two or three points of support on the southern Mediterranean shore, is on the verge of not only recovering all its supports but even surpassing them. Relations with Turkey are stormy, but Moscow and Ankara are 'objective allies' on the Syrian ground. Same in Iran or Lebanon. Russia has achieved the feat of forging strong ties with Israel while maintaining its historic friendships with the Palestinians. It has reconnected with Egypt and Libya (or at least what remains of it). And it is establishing itself in Africa: not only in Djibouti but also, more unexpectedly, in the Central African Republic, while waiting for the Congo, or other countries of black Africa. In this battle with half-strategic, half-economic contours, everyone counts their points and their pawns.

Espionage, propaganda, destabilization

Intelligence and espionage have regained a luster that they had perhaps lost a little, at least in appearance. They are coupled with the classic recourse to the media (Russia today on the one hand, Radio Free Europe on the other), to think tanks and other think tanks… and to new technologies and networks. What was once called propaganda or psy-ops and intoxication operations are now called fake news or strategic communication. It's just a technological update of old ways. The objective remains the same: to psychologically destabilize the opponent or to force him to make a mistake.

Relay in sister parties

The old relay that Moscow found in the communist parties is today attenuated but other relays have been found, undoubtedly less stable, but just as effective in certain far-right parties (National Front for example) or populists. . In Europe, Russia is also seeking to rely on a few so-called 'friendly' countries. They have changed since the time of the first Cold War. It's more like Hungary today. But in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta there is a lot of support, thanks to traditions but above all to the financial power of various Russian companies. This use of capitalistic tools also affects countries like the United Kingdom.

The Washington-Moscow confrontation

Finally, even the ancestral rivalry of the two empires, the United States and Russia, is regaining its luster. Certainly the socio-economic-political context has changed. Russia has converted to a certain… centralized capitalism. The tools of this war have also, in part, changed. But there remain constants… notably the Washington-Moscow confrontation. It is tinged with fog by the troubled attitude of Donald Trump. But it is very real. Russia has chosen to confront the United States directly and, above all, has decided to write off Europe, to neglect it, to despise it. We are no longer at all in the policy initiated by Medvedev at the end of the 2000s which proposed a common security contract between Russians and Europeans or in the various liberalization agreements glimpsed at that time.

Neutralize Europe

Moscow no longer wants to strengthen the European political structure or use it for the purposes of its policy, as it did ten years ago. The spirit and the objective have changed: it is a question of ensuring the 'neutralization' of Europe, of its political construction, in every sense of the term. That is to say, failing to destroy it, to reduce its political effectiveness. Brexit, populist or a-liberal temptations (of the Orban type), brushing against the traditional democratic values ​​of European construction, excessive enlargement... are all Trojan horses, into which Russian politics can infiltrate, or from which it can simply benefit.

Erase the decoys and face a new deal

Europeans must be aware of this new situation. Yes. There is indeed a second cold war at work, a war 2.0. We must not deceive ourselves. Europe must draw consequences from this, solidify its base of values, reduce its factors of division, consolidate in public opinion the idea that union is more useful than disunity (which is not won in view of the latest developments (3)… There is a new strategic situation from which we must draw the consequences. We must manage to keep the door open to Russia, not spoil the chances of a possible dialogue, but not be so naive. , show your strength, measure it, responsibly… but effectively.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) We have forgotten, the war of “independence” between the Transnistrian army (supported by the Cossacks) caused more than 3000 victims (killed and wounded) in 4 months of conflict! That of Abkhazia with direct Russian intervention left more than 6000 dead (military) and between 15 to 22.000 civilians killed, on both sides, in barely seven months of conflict, not counting the thousands of internally displaced people.

(2) A single round trip from the Baltic to the Atlantic coasts causes at least seven alerts: the Baltic Air Policy over the Baltic countries, Denmark or even Germany, Sweden or Norway (depending on the trajectory), the United Kingdom, Belgium or the Netherlands (depending on the aircraft on duty in the common sky), France, Portugal.

(3) The first reaction would be to stop playing the little game of European 'bubble' and finally play fair.

photo credit: Spanish MOD, sports training in Latvia

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).