Cold Wars are Lovely

Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference at the weekend, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev claimed that Europe was "rapidly rolling into a period of a new cold war".

"Russia," he said, "has been presented as well-nigh the biggest threat to Nato, or to Europe, America and other countries. 

"I am sometimes confused," he went on. "Is this 2016 or 1962?" 

Just a few days earlier in Washington, the director of the US National Intelligence Agency, James Clapper, was giving evidence on "worldwide threats" to the influential Senate Armed Services Committee. 

"I think the Russians fundamentally are paranoid about Nato," he said. "We could be into another Cold War-like spiral here." 

So from both the Russians and the Americans come claims of a renewed cold war. Tensions between Russia and the West are certainly bad. 

The Russian annexation of Crimea initiated the chill which turned frosty over Ukraine and is now getting steadily worse due to very different perceptions as to what should be done about the human catastrophe in Syria. 

So it all looks a little like a new cold war, but is it really one? Nobody should underestimate the depth of the differences between Russia and the West nor the potential danger to which they may lead. 

But hindsight is a funny thing. Commentators and politicians alike prefer the familiar. 

If something can be referenced to a similar situation in the past it appears easier to understand and the policy implications seemingly suggest themselves.

Where is the threat of world war leading to nuclear annihilation? 

Russia, it is said by many in government, potentially threatens the Baltic Republics. 

Nato has got itself in a spin over a supposedly new kind of warfare seemingly practiced by the Russians - so-called hybrid war - blurring the boundaries between peace and conflict. 

It is true that Russia - through its satellite channels, its funding of curious political forces in the West and so on - seeks to create a counter-culture to the prevailing Western view. In this it has had modest success. 

But this is a pale shadow of the propaganda activities of Soviet days, nor are there the legions of the wrong but well-meaning supporters who saw in Soviet communism the salvation of mankind. 

Or, maybe it is just a big dog, lifting up its leg and pissing on its owner's prize flowers just to get a little bit of attention.
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