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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 — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
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.
Estimated number of people who watched a live Webcast of a hair transplant last fall:
A rancher in Texas was developing a system that will permit hunters to kill animals by remote control via a website.
A man in Japan was arrested for stealing a prospective employer’s wallet during a job interview, and a court in Germany ruled that it is safe for a woman with breast implants to be a police officer.
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"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."