Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Why Georgia is not start of 'Cold War II'

Despite tensions over missile deals and NATO expansion, the West's ties with Russia are far more nuanced than in Soviet days.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 22, 2008


Two weeks into the Georgia crisis, Russia maintains leverage, adroitly playing a great game of obfuscation and tit-for-tat – both militarily and diplomatically – with a disunited West struggling to determine whether this is a new cold war.

Skip to next paragraph

Vladimir Putin's idea of the 21st century appears different from that described by President Bush in calling for Russia to withdraw. As NATO officials this week fought to show strong support for Georgia without irreparably damaging ties to Russia, the "new world order" described by Mr. Bush's father as the Soviet empire collapsed seems a faint memory.

Yet while Russia's action has been termed a new cold war, that concept doesn't capture the dramatic global changes since Mikhail Gorbachev disbanded the Soviet Union in 1991, say diplomats and Russian area specialists. In a more globalized world, Russia is at once a competitor, a partner, and an opponent.

"It is the greatest challenge for any statesman today to see what is the right priority," says Pierre Hassner, a Paris-based scholar ofEast-West relations. "Is it Iran, Russia, the price of oil, terrorism? It may in some ways look like the cold war again – but the context today is blurred past recognition."

This week, rhetoric and emotion escalated: As Poland and the US signed a missile shield deal Tuesday, Moscow said Russia "will be forced to react, and not only through diplomatic means" – and is hosting Syria's president today to discuss further military cooperation.

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said this week it will no longer be "business as usual" with Moscow, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Tbilisi defied Russia threats over NATO expansion and said Georgia will "one day" be a member. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shot back that "NATO is trying to make a victim of an aggressor [Georgia] and whitewash a criminal regime."

Muddled view of Moscow's intent

1947: Truman pledges US support to any country threatened by communism.

1948: The US and Britain airlift supplies into a Berlin blockaded by the USSR.

1950: Communist N. Korea invades S. Korea; the US enters the Korean War.

1961: Communist East Germany erects Berlin Wall to prevent travel westward.

1962 US spots Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy orders a naval blockade. After tense negotiations, the Cuban missile crisis is defused.

1965: Vietnam War: The US enters the Vietnam War to prevent the spread of communist control to South Vietnam.

1979: The USSR invades Afghanistan. The US funds jihadists to drive them out. The Soviets leave in 1988.

1989: Berlin Wall falls.

1991: After a failed coup against Gorbachev by communist hard-liners, the USSR collapses.

Source: 'War Since 1945,' by Jeremy Black; CNN; 'The Cold War,' by John Lewis Gaddis. Compiled by Corinne Chronopoulos.

Cold-war snapshot