Over the past few weeks there have been exchanges of retorts between the US and Russia which remind of the Cold War period. As then, now the US say Russia is a global threat and Moscow, in an effort to ‘charm’ the West, furiously answers that it cannot be blackmailed and will not surrender any of its current positions. Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin last week said things aimed at demonstrating that the US are, in fact, a global threat.
Ever since the end of September, from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly, US President B. Obama said the following: ‘As we gather here, an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa, and threatens to move rapidly across borders. Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness’.
The leader from the White House was therefore listing Russia among the stringent global threats, right after the terrible pandemic shaping up at the horizon and calling for the common effort of mankind, characterising it as being driven by ‘territorial ambitions’. Immediately after that, during the UN global meeting, the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov, responded by incriminating the aerial bombing of the territories under the control of the ISIL state/caliphate in Iraq and Syria by the US and allied air forces, allegedly without a UN mandate. Lavrov finds ‘bizarre’ both the fact that Russia is listed as a second global threat and Obama’s concomitant assertion that the world is ‘freer and safer’. ‘I didn’t understand – said Lavrov – whether he is serious or not and whether was an Orwellian element in it. Because George Orwell invented the Minister of Truth and looks like this philosophy is lingering.’
But the exchange of lines between Moscow and Washington did not stop there. On his way to the summit of European and Asian states in Milan last week (17-18 October), Russian President Vladimir Putin made a short stop in Belgrade where he made relevant statements. On the one hand, he mentioned the sanctions taken against Russia, pointing out in an interview given to Serbian ‘Politika’ daily that ‘Together with the limits introduced against entire sectors of our economy it is hard to call such approach anything but hostile…We are hoping that our partners will understand the recklessness of attempts to blackmail Russia, (and) remember what discord between large nuclear powers can do to strategic stability.’ On the other hand, he accused the US of interfering with Russia’s domestic affairs and also of having caused a civil war in Ukraine this year. ‘What has been happening since the start of the year is even more dispiriting….Washington actively supported the Maidan (protests) and began to blame Russia for provoking a crisis when its protégés in Kyiv through their rabid nationalism turned a significant part of Ukraine against it and threw the country into civil war.’
These statements by Putin were followed by other ones, made on the day before the Milan summit, where he warned that Russia might reduce gas deliveries to Ukraine and that a possible ‘winter’ energy supply crisis from the East to Europe could not be held against Russia.
Under such circumstances – especially after the West’s critical tone against Russian action in Ukraine has been strengthened by the statements made by the US Defence Secretary, Hagel, on the fact that, in spite of its statements, Russia has not withdrawn its troops from the Ukrainian border, or by German Chancellor Merkel who said Russia was not respecting the Minsk agreements, were not a positive foreword to the ‘Normandy’ format meeting (leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine) in Milan at the end of last week. The extended (the British and Italian PMs, as well as the presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission also attended) meeting yielded no spectacular results. Italian Premier Renzi stressed there were still differences of evaluation in what concerned the developments in Ukraine, but did add that ‘We all share the opinion that (Russia’s) role is important in many issues — in fighting against the Islamic State (IS) and resolving other regional crises.’ In other words, Russia was invited, instead of being a ‘global threat’, to become a responsible international actor, capable of bringing its contribution to the consolidation of internationals security. It is equally interesting that Renzi said another opinion had been expressed – that the Russian-Ukrainian border should be secured by deploying there a military mission for that purpose. France proposed that international control on the line of contact between Russia and Ukraine and Germany and France said they were ready to contribute to the action. On the other hand, the Russian press quoted official Moscow statements according to which Russia would join the mission, who wants to offer droned for the surveillance of the border. In other words, the West cannot act in the former Soviet space without Russia’s presence in any such control and pacification missions.
The only thing is that, taking the opportunity, Minister Lavrov added a few more things presenting major importance as to Moscow’s position in the current East-West confrontation. Noting that the West attaches conditions to lifting the sanctions adopted after the annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of Ukraine, the chief Russian diplomat said that Russia was not going to give in on that, that any such strings attached suggested an obsolete colonialist mentality. He said it was impossible in the contemporary world ‘for a branch of this civilisation, somebody on its own or a group of countries to impose their will on others’. Moscow believes that the global order is being reshuffled at present, making a shift from unipolarism to multipolarism, from the ‘American century’ and ‘Western hegemony’ to a world with several poles of power, called to jointly manage global affairs.
So the Russia vs. West clash, having begun with the Ukrainian crisis, continues despite the fact that they are both called to act together against large-scale global threats. A new episode unfolded last week.