The new ‘red lines’ on Russia’s western frontier - GulfToday

The new ‘red lines’ on Russia’s western frontier

Russia Troops

Russian soldiers sti atop a combat tank near the Russia-Ukraine border. File Photo

The Russia-Ukraine standoff is not exactly between the two countries, but it is one between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) led by the United States. It is an echo of the old Cold War between the then two superpowers, America, and Russia, in the post-Second World War era. When the Cold War dissolved with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, it seemed logical that NATO should have been dissolved too. But it was not.

As the former Soviet bloc countries in East Europe crumbled, these countries joined the European Union (EU), which was an economic and political arrangement. But gradually, America and its NATO allies expanded the NATO sphere of influence to include the former communist countries of east Europe. And NATO reached the borders of Russia. This is the root of the conflict and tension between West Europe and Russia. Russia employed a counterstrategy by trying to reassert its influence in Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia. The West and Russia began to play their old shadow game in these countries of supporting leaders who supported either Russia or the America-led West Europe. Then Russia moved into Crimea, a part of Ukraine and supported pro-Russia secessionist groups in two of the regions there. It was an attempt to break Ukraine.

Now, Ukraine and NATO are complaining that Russia is amassing troops on the Ukrainian border and that it could attack Ukraine. United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken issued the warning: “Should Russia follow the path of confrontation, when it comes to Ukraine, we’ve made clear that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high impact economic measures that we have refrained from pursuing in the past.” Blinken was speaking after the NATO foreign ministers’ conference at the Latvian capital, Riga. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that NATO countries mobilizing the military would imply crossing a red line. “You asked about Ukraine, where are these red lines? They are above all in the creation of threats to us which could come from (Ukraine).”

Meanwhile, America and Russia did what they have been used to do in moments of tense standoff. The US asked Russian embassy staff in Washington D.C. whose visas have not been extended to leave by end of January and a few more at the end of June. Russia in retaliation had asked American embassy staff in Moscow who had completed three years in their Russian posting to leave by the end of January. There is an intense speculation that Russia could be launching a military offensive against Ukraine, and that Americans are preparing to supply weaponry to Ukraine to defend itself.

These exercises of tough talk, tough diplomatic measures with talk of a possible conflagration is what has punctuated the US-Soviet Union relation during the Cold War. Does it make sense for these old protagonists to reenact their gestures of war which they did not ever up ending in fighting? Whatever else it does not do, it does create an intensely negative atmosphere in global politics at a time when the world is facing an unhappy economic situation, a pandemic that refuses to go away, and above all the global challenge of climate change.

After its failure in Afghanistan, NATO countries seem to be returning to their old ideological battlegrounds. The NATO has not fought a war in Europe since the Second World War.

It is unlikely that it will do so now. But both Russia and its allies on the one hand, and America and its allies on the other, are shaking their fists in each other’s face. But it makes no sense to do so.

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