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The Cold War is not back with us. Not yet. But there’s more than enough to be concerned about in relations between the G7 and new new kid on the block, Vladimir Putin. The media seems to be reporting the individual bits, but, as usual, it lacks much analytical focus. So let’s try at least to string things together. Here is what I would call the “worry list”:
Now that last one is something that next to no one in the U.S. is covering, but it’s very important and potentially at least as likely to lead to confrontation between the United States and Russia as the missile deployment questions. Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president (who hails from Vyborg, in current day Russia) has painstakingly put together a plan for resolution of the Kosovo situation. Russia is sure to reject this plan, because it does not return Kosovo to Serbia, but instead features managed autonomy for the ethnically Albanian region. After all this is played out, it’s quite possible that the Russians will side with their historic Serb allies, and the Western Europeans and the United States with the Kosovars. A potentially explosive situation in the Balkans.
This will also be bad news for the post-Soviet “Near Abroad,” especially nations like Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and Georgia, which are likely to suffer from a more “robust” assertion of Russian interests. Georgia is particularly vulnerable. Indeed, Georgia has emerged as Russia’s whipping boy – it takes the blows that the Kremlin would like to direct at the West.
In today’s Times (London), Putin gives a jarring interview.
“I am not President of the Russian Federation to bring our country to the brink of catastrophe, on the contrary,” he said at the start of an interview on Friday night that continued until nearly midnight.
“Of course, I am a pure and absolute democrat,” he said. “But you know what the problem is – not a problem, a real tragedy – that I am alone. There are no such pure democrats in the world. Since Mahatma Gandhi, there has been no one…”
Mr Putin argued that “an arms race is unfolding”, but blamed the US for starting it by quitting the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, planning to deploy missiles in outer space and developing smaller nuclear weapons. He cautioned that “we do not want to use our resources” for an arms race and that “we will find an asymmetric answer”, pointing missiles at Europe or declining to cut conventional forces near Europe. “Of course, we are returning to that time” when Russian missiles were aimed directly at Europe, he said. Nor did he offer hopes of gentler treatment for Russia’s neighbours with whom he has picked recent fights.
In sum: I am not surprised by the recent bellicose rhetoric of Vladimir Putin, and I don’t consider it to be empty. Rough seas ahead.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.
The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”
Pairs of moose-dung earrings sold each year at Grizzly’s Gifts in Anchorage, Alaska:
An Alaskan brown bear was reported to have scratched its face with barnacled rocks, making it the first bear seen using tools since 1972, when a Svalbardian polar bear is alleged to have clubbed a seal in the head with a block of ice.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”