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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:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Hours per day that a death-row inmate in China wears hand and ankle restraints:
A multidisciplinary team detected cardiac arrhythmia in the works of Beethoven.
There was a run on cases of 5.56mm M855 green-tip rifle bullets, after the White House moved to ban their manufacture and sale because they can pierce police armor.
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“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”