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What’s between the lines of NATO defence ministers’ belligerent rhetoric?

June 22, 2015, 19:45 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
NATO headquarters in Brussels

NATO headquarters in Brussels

© AP Photo/Olivier Matthys

MOSCOW, June 22. /TASS/. A Cold War between Russia and the West is in fact well underway, although it is different from the one observed in the Soviet era, Russian analysts believe. It is in this context that one should consider the latest belligerent statements by the US and German defence ministers and the European Union’s decision to prolong sanctions against Russia. However, they see explanations for the United States’ belligerent rhetoric in internal political factors, while the European countries have no chances of conducting their own policy, independent from the United States.

The US and its NATO allies proceed from the assumption the acute differences with Russia will last long, and they are determined to stick to a "strong and balanced" approach to Moscow, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said last Sunday on the eve of a week-long tour of Europe. He claimed that the alliance must use a "two-pronged approach" in relations with Russia because, he said, the United States continued to hold out the prospect that Russia under Vladimir Putin and later would not return to what he described as a "forward-looking course."

"We would like to be on peace terms with Russia, but the security situation has changed and it is forcing us to upgrade the defence alliance. It is better to talk to Moscow from the position of strength," Germany’s Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the daily Bild in an interview.

A day earlier the EU Council met in session at the foreign minister level to have prolonged the operation of anti-Russian economic sanctions by another six months, till January 31, 2016.

"On the one hand, a hard line is a characteristic feature of US foreign policy," the deputy chief of the European Security department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, Dmitry Danilov, has told TASS. "But the fact that such statements are being made these days does mean that the United States sees no practical successes on the Ukrainian settlement track, while it is precisely such a settlement that Washington regards as crucial to the outlook for changing its policy towards Russia."

Danilov believes that the internal political situation inside the United States should be borne in mind: the US Administration feels it has to follow a hard line in the political-diplomatic space, for it is prone to continued fire of criticism from the Republicans and the Congress.

"NATO’s military and political course was mapped out back last September, at the alliance’s summit in Wales, when a decision was made to reformat military activities and to reorient the collective defence against a hypothetical threat allegedly coming from Russia. In a situation like this the defence ministers are unable to depart an inch from the warmonger’s vocabulary. It is an entirely different matter that military policies set the Western countries’ common political vector. But the risk this vector may grow strong enough to cause a decisive influence on NATO’s overall course does exist.

The United States has demonstrated its intention to the Europeans quite clearly. Europe was told in very unequivocal terms to formulate its stance regarding the sanctions.

"The Europeans find it rather hard to shrug off US influence. Also, there is a certain force of retardation. For quite obvious reasons the EU countries follow the well-trodden path of sanctions-oriented logic and political inertia they have chosen for themselves. Small wonder the European Union has preferred to prolong the sanctions. But the question remains: does the European Union have its own strategy of leaving the space of sanctions, and even if it does, to what extent will it be able to do that independently, while the United States’ policies remain unchanged. Danilov believes this is hardly possible. In the meantime, the United States is entering into a pre-election period, so the chances the Obama Administration may opt for some constructive moves look bleak.

"The United States over the coming 12-18 months will be seeking a balance of hardline approaches and self-restraint, so the Europeans will have very few chances of making any decisions on their own at all."

All key features of another Cold War are already in place: "starting from an economic war and information war to belligerent, confrontational rhetoric," Danilov said. "However, in contrast to the previous Cold War period the point at issue for the time being is not that of a looming military-political confrontation. True, the potentials of mutual deterrence are getting stronger. But there exists the understanding that the risks, including military and political ones, are so great that there have to be some safety catches."

Any improvement of relations between Russia and the West will be possible only in the context of tangible shifts in settling the Ukrainian crisis. In the meantime, this possibility looks highly questionable, he concluded.

"The vision of an improvement of relations with the West has changed. Now it will pretty much resemble what it was during the Cold War years," a member of the Foreign and Defence Policy Council, Fyodor Lukyanov, has told TASS. Over the previous two decades Russia and Europe were drifting towards each other institutionally. These days any improvement of relations would be tantamount to concluding technical agreements to defuse certain tensions, the way it was done in the Soviet era. "The situation will be put under external administration, but no fresh chances of a fundamental improvement of relations will emerge."

"Russia last year said that it disagreed with the existing world order and its rules and demanded their revision. It challenged the West, and the West accepted the challenge the way it understands it," Lukyanov said.

There will be another Cold War, but a very different one from its predecessor that lasted for 45 years, he forecasts. Isolation and self-isolation are ruled out for economic reasons.

"This or that form of containment tactic will continue to be employed on the Western side. This state of affairs is bound to last," he said.

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