Cold War II

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Cold War II,[1] also known as the Second Cold War, New Cold War,[2] Cold War Redux,[3] Cold War 2.0,[4] Colder War,[5] and Little Cold War[6] is a term that refers to the renewed ongoing tensions, hostilities, and political rivalry that intensified dramatically in 2014 between the Russian Federation on the one hand, and the United States, European Union and some other countries, on the other hand.[7] Tensions escalated in 2014 after Russia's annexation of Crimea, and military intervention in Ukraine.

The original Cold War was a geopolitical struggle between the so-called Western world, with the United States in the foreground, and the Soviet Union and its communist satellite states. It lasted from the mid-1940s to 1991, and the term "Cold War II" implies a continuation of the struggle between NATO and Russia. While some notable figures such as Mikhail Gorbachev warned in 2014, against the backdrop of Russia–West political confrontation over the Ukrainian crisis,[8] that the world was on the brink of a New Cold War, or that a New Cold War was already occurring,[9] others argued that the term did not accurately describe the nature of relations between Russia and the West.[10] While the new tensions between Russia and the West have similarities with those during the original Cold War, there are also major dissimilarities such as modern Russia's increased economic ties with the outside world, which may potentially constrain Russia's actions[11] and provides it with new avenues for exerting influence.[12]


The 15 Republics of the Soviet Union
Pop. in
Russian SFSR 147,400,537 17,075
Ukrainian SSR 51,706,742 604
Uzbek SSR 19,905,158 447
Kazakh SSR 16,536,511 2,717
Byelorussian SSR 10,199,709 208
Azerbaijan SSR 7,037,867 87
Georgian SSR 5,443,359 70
Tajik SSR 5,108,576 143
Moldavian SSR 4,337,592 34
Kirghiz SSR 4,290,442 199
Lithuanian SSR 3,689,779 65
Turkmen SSR 3,533,925 488
Armenian SSR 3,287,677 30
Latvian SSR 2,680,029 65
Estonian SSR 1,572,916 45
USSR 286,730,819 22,402

The Cold War confrontation between the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc took place from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. It arose after the allies of World War II, led by the Marxist–Leninist Soviet Union and the democratic capitalist United States and United Kingdom, defeated the Axis powers. Though the allies had had several wartime conferences regarding cooperation during and after the war, relations between the capitalist and communist powers soured after incidents such as Soviet territorial claims to Turkey, the Greek Civil War, the 1948 pro-Soviet coup d'état in Czechoslovakia and the Berlin Blockade. Military alliances formalized the division between the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc, as NATO united the Western Bloc countries in a military alliance in 1949 and the Eastern Bloc established the similar Warsaw Pact in 1955. Though the Warsaw Pact and NATO never engaged in open warfare, the two sides fought several proxy wars and backed competing political movements throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Throughout the period, relations between the two sides ebbed and flowed between acute crises and rapprochement (détente). The Cold War definitively ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991.[14][15][16]

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, each of the fifteen Republics of the Soviet Union became independent states.[17] Though the fall of the Soviet Union exacerbated the Nagorno-Karabakh War and led to internal conflicts such as the Georgian Civil War, many of the post-Soviet states also managed to peacefully transition into independence.[18] The Russian Federation emerged as the sole legal successor to the demised Soviet Union, thus ensuring its de facto dominant role in the resultant Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance of most of the ex-Soviet states, and in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance. Russia inherited the USSR's UN Security Council permanent membership seat as well as most of its military nuclear capacity, but it only inherited the territory within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic's borders, which had never before been borders between independent states. Relations between Russia and the West, already significantly thawed in the final days of the USSR, warmed further during the 1990s, as Russia appeared to move towards democracy and the free market.[19] Boris Yeltsin served as the first President of Russia, and the West generally supported Russian President Boris Yeltsin's successful 1996 re-election over Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.[20] In 1999, former KGB officer Vladimir Putin became Prime Minister of Russia. Putin made the reestablishment of a strong Russian state his top priority, and crushed internal enemies such as Chechen rebels and dissidents.[20]

Vladimir Putin (pictured aboard battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy), at the helm of Russia since 1999, in 2005 famously described the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century which left tens of millions of Russians beyond the borders of Russia.[21]

With the Cold War over, political scientists looked for new paradigms to understand world politics.[22][23] In 1992, Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man, in which he argued that all states would eventually adopt liberal democracy. The next year, Samuel P. Huntington published his essay The Clash of Civilizations, in which he posited that civilizations were destined to compete based on their cultural and religious identities.[23] Huntington placed Russia at the core of the Orthodox civilization, while NATO and a few other countries comprised the West. Huntington's thesis continues to hold influence among many, although other political scientists reject his ideas.[23] In Russia, many struggled to accept the end of the political union of the USSR; the term "near abroad" came to refer to the other post-Soviet states, with the implication that Russia had certain "rights" in the near abroad.[24]

Top ten military expenditures in US$ Bn. in 2013

During April 2006, the American neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan, the husband of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, wrote in The Washington Post that Russia and China may be the greatest "challenge liberalism faces today": "The main protagonists on the side of autocracy will not be the petty dictatorships of the Middle East theoretically targeted by the Bush doctrine. They will be the two great autocratic powers, China and Russia, which pose an old challenge not envisioned within the new "war on terror" paradigm. ... Their reactions to the "color revolutions" in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan were hostile and suspicious, and understandably so. ... Might not the successful liberalization of Ukraine, urged and supported by the Western democracies, be but the prelude to the incorporation of that nation into NATO and the European Union—in short, the expansion of Western liberal hegemony?"[25][26]

Between 1999 and 2013, nine countries that had been either Warsaw Pact members or part of the Soviet Union, chose to join both the European Union and NATO. Russia voiced deep concern over this NATO enlargement and was particularly opposed to NATO's expansion to the Baltic states.[27] In addition to seeing the expansion of NATO as a threat, many Russian leaders also saw the expansion of NATO into Russia's former sphere of influence as an insult to Russia's status as a great power.[28] Russia also voiced concern over the United States national missile defense plans, as it saw both the NATO expansion and the US missile defense program as a potential threat to Russian national security.[27] In 2012, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia and First Deputy Minister of Defence, Nikolay Makarov, said that if the United States were to deploy an anti-ballistic missile shield in Poland and Czech Republic, Russia would respond by deploying Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad.[29] After a four-year stint as Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency and began to promote a new brand of ideology known as Putinism, which promotes conservative Russian values and opposition to the West, particularly the United States.[20] By the early 2010s, polls from the Levada Center showed that Russians viewed the United States, Georgia, and the Baltic states as Russia's greatest enemies.

In December 2012, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. would seek to counter Russian proposals for creating a Eurasian Economic Union of former Soviet states: "It's not going to be called that [Soviet Union]. It's going to be called customs union, it will be called the Eurasian Union and all of that, but let's make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it".[30] On September 12, 2013, in the context on Barack Obama's comment about American exceptionalism during his September 10, 2013, talk to the American people while considering military action on Syria, Putin criticized Obama saying that "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation."[31]

In October 2014, Putin delivered his Valdai club speech, which sharply criticized the Western powers' foreign policy and actions, especially those of the United States, who, in his opinion, "having declared itself the winner of the Cold War", had taken steps that threw the system of global and regional security as established after World War II "into sharp and deep imbalance": "The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty <...>. This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests. If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition."[32]

The RF and NATO: End of cooperation and military build-up[edit]

Following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, several former members of the Warsaw Pact and three post-Soviet states (light green) joined NATO (green), a move that alarmed Russia (orange).[27] The other post-Soviet states (yellow) are also shown on the map.

Relations between NATO and Russia, established in the early 1990s, began to appreciably deteriorate prior to 2014,[27] due to Russia's displeasure with the NATO expansion and Putin's Russia being increasingly assertive in what it refers to as the near abroad.


The Russian Air Force strategic bomber Tu-160, pictured being intercepted by an RAF Tornado F3 (below), is to carry up to 12 new long-range Raduga Kh-101 (X-101) cruise missiles

On 1 April 2014, in response to the Ukraine crisis, NATO decided to "suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia".[33]

In spring 2014, the Russian Defense Ministry announced it was planning to deploy additional forces in Crimea, annexed by Russia shortly prior, as part of beefing up its Black Sea Fleet,[34] including re-deployment by 2016 of nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-22M3 ('Backfire') long-range strike bombers, which used to be the backbone of Soviet naval strike units during the Cold War but were later withdrawn from bases in Crimea.[35] The move alarmed NATO: in November 2014, NATO's top military commander US General Philip Breedlove said that the alliance was "watching for indications" amid fears over the possibility that Russia could move any of its nuclear arsenal to the peninsula.[36] In December 2014, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said this would be a legitimate action as "Crimea has now become part of a country that has such weapons under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons."[37]

At the NATO Wales summit in early September 2014, the NATO-Ukraine Commission adopted a Joint Statement that "strongly condemned Russia’s illegal and illegitimate self-declared "annexation" of Crimea and its continued and deliberate destabilization of eastern Ukraine in violation of international law";[38] this position was re-affirmed in the early December statement by the same body.[39]

A report released in November 2014 highlighted the fact that close military encounters between Russia and the West (mainly NATO countries) had jumped to Cold War levels, with 40 dangerous or sensitive incidents recorded in the eight months alone, including a near-collision between a Russian reconnaissance plane and a passenger plane taking off from Denmark in March 2014 with 132 passengers on board.[40] The 2014 unprecedented increase[41] in Russian air force and naval activity in the Baltic region prompted NATO to step up its longstanding rotation of military jets in Lithuania.[42] Similar Russian air force activity in the Asia-Pacific region, relying on the resumed use of the previously abandoned Soviet military base at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, in 2014, was officially acknowledged by Russia in January 2015.[43] In March 2015, Russia's defense minister Sergey Shoygu said that Russia's long-range bombers would continue patrolling various parts of the world and expand into other regions.[44]

In July 2014, the U.S. formally accused Russia of having violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing a prohibited medium-range ground-launched cruise missile (presumably R-500,[45] a modification of Iskander)[46] and threatened to retaliate accordingly.[46][47] In early June 2015, the U.S. State Department reported that Russia had failed to correct the violation of the I.N.F. Treaty; the U.S. government was said to have made no discernible headway in making Russia so much as acknowledge the compliance problem.[48] The US government's October 2014 report claimed that Russia had 1,643 nuclear warheads ready to launch (an increase from 1,537 in 2011) – one more than the US, thus overtaking the US for the first time since 2000; both countries' deployed capacity being in violation of the 2010 New START treaty that sets a cap of 1,550 nuclear warheads.[49][50] Likewise, even before 2014, the US had set about implementing a large-scale program, worth up to a trillion dollars, aimed at overall revitalization of its atomic energy industry, which includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers and construction of such sites as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico and the National Security Campus in south Kansas City.[51][52]

At the end of 2014, Putin approved a revised national military doctrine, which listed NATO’s military buildup near the Russian borders as the top military threat.[53][54]


In early February 2015, NATO diplomats said that concern was growing in NATO over Russia's nuclear strategy and indications that Russia's nuclear strategy appeared to point to a lowering of the threshold for using nuclear weapons in any conflict.[55] The conclusion was followed by British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon saying that Britain must update its nuclear arsenal in response to Russian modernization of its nuclear forces.[56] Later in February, Fallon said that Putin could repeat tactics used in Ukraine in Baltic members of the Nato alliance; he also said: "Nato has to be ready for any kind of aggression from Russia, whatever form it takes. Nato is getting ready."[57] Fallon noted that it was not a new cold war with Russia, as the situation was already “pretty warm”.[57]

In March 2015, Russia, citing NATO's de facto breach of the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, said that the suspension of its participation in it, announced in 2007, was now "complete" through halting its participation in the consulting group on the Treaty.[58][59]

Early April 2015 saw the publication of the leaked information ascribed to semi-official sources within the Russian military and intelligence establishment, about Russia's alleged preparedness for a nuclear response to certain inimical non-nuclear acts on the part of NATO; such implied threats were interpreted as "an attempt to create strategic uncertainty" and undermine Western political cohesion.[60] Also in this vein, Norway’s defense minister, Ine Eriksen Soreide, noted that Russia had "created uncertainty about its intentions".[61]

In June 2015, an independent Russian military analyst was quoted by a major American newspaper as saying: “Everybody should understand that we are living in a totally different world than two years ago. In that world, which we lost, it was possible to organize your security with treaties, with mutual-trust measures. Now we have come to an absolutely different situation, where the general way to ensure your security is military deterrence.”[62]

In late June 2015, while on a trip to Estonia, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the U.S. would deploy heavy weapons, including tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery, in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.[63] The move was interpreted by Western commentators as marking the beginning of a reorientation of NATO′s strategy.[64] It was called by a senior Russian Defence Ministry official ″the most aggressive act by Washington since the Cold War″[65] and criticised by the Russian Foreign Ministry as "inadequate in military terms" and "an obvious return by the United States and its allies to the schemes of ‘the Cold War’".[66][67] On its part, the U.S. expressed concern over Putin's announcement of plans to add over 40 new ballistic missiles to Russia′s nuclear weapons arsenal in 2015.[65] American observers and analysts, such as Steven Pifer, noting that the U.S. had no reason for alarm about the new missiles, provided that Russia remained within the limits of the 2010 New STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), viewed the ratcheting-up of nuclear saber-rattling by Russia′s leadership as mainly bluff and bluster designed to conceal Russia′s weaknesses;[68] however, Pifer suggested that the most alarming motivation behind this rhetoric could be Putin seeing nuclear weapons not merely as tools of deterrence, but as tools of coercion.[69] Meanwhile, at the end of June 2015, it was reported that the production schedule for a new Russian MIRV-equipped, super-heavy thermonuclear intercontinental ballistic missile Sarmat, intended to replace the obsolete Soviet-era SS-18 Satan missiles, was slipping.[70] Also noted by commentators were the inevitable financial and technological constraints that would hamper any real arms race with the West, if such course were to be embarked on by Russia.[62]

The Spearhead Force[edit]

On 2 December 2014, NATO foreign ministers announced an interim Spearhead Force (the 'Very High Readiness Joint Task Force') created pursuant to the Readiness Action Plan agreed on at the NATO Wales summit in early September 2014 and meant to enhance NATO presence in the eastern part of the alliance.[71][72] In June 2015, in the course of military drills held in Poland, Nato tested the new rapid reaction force for the first time, with more than 2,000 troops from nine states taking part in the exercise.[73][74] Upon the end of the drills, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the Spearhead Force deployed in Eastern Europe would be increased to 40,000 troops.[75]

Russia–West confrontation over Ukraine[edit]

Overview of Russia–Ukraine relations[edit]

Warships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet (including the flagship Moskva), based in Sebastopol since 1783

Kiev, the capital of modern Ukraine, had been the capital of the medieval Rus' state as well as the seat of the primates of the Russian Church. Most of the territory that currently belongs to Ukraine was within the Russian Empire by the end of the 18th century, after the partitions of Poland and the Treaty of Jassy (1792). The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, constituted in 1922, and Ukraine's 1991 declaration of independence contributed to ensuring the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of that year.

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union's demise, Ukraine and the Russian Federation experienced tensions regarding the status of Crimea, which had been transferred by the central government of the USSR from Russia to Ukraine in 1954, and issues related to the status of the Black Sea Fleet. However, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum defused the dispute, as Ukraine gave up its nuclear stockpile in return for assurances from Russia, the USA, and the UK that Ukraine's security and integrity would be upheld. The bickering between the two countries over the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet was settled by the 1997 Partition Treaty on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (1994–2005), who strove to maintain peaceful relations with Russia,[76] did not seek re-election in the 2004 national ballot, which featured Putin's favorite Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko, supported by most Western governments. After two rounds of voting, on 23 November 2004, the Central Election Commission declared Yanukovych the winner, but accusations of fraud led to a series of protests known as the Orange Revolution. The Orange Revolution increased tensions between Putin and Western countries, as Putin saw the Orange Revolution as a product of Western machinations and a foreshadowing of an assault on his regime.[20] Finally, the Supreme Court of Ukraine ordered a re-run of the second ballot and the new election was won by Yuschenko. Yuschenko pursued the policy of European integration and aspired to NATO membership, but NATO chose not to offer membership to Ukraine, as many Western leaders sought to avoid inflaming tensions with Russia.[77] Yanukovych won the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election, and announced a new policy of non-alignment.[77] Ukraine continued to maintain ties with both Russia and the European Union; in 2013, about a third of Ukraine's foreign trade was with the EU and roughly the same proportion was its trade with Russia.[78] The Yanukovych government negotiated the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement. However, Yanukovych, under pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin, refused to sign the agreement.[79] Yanukovych's decision sparked a series of protests known as the Euromaidan.

2014–15 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine[edit]

See also: War in Donbass
Pro-Russian protests in the city of Donetsk, controlled by the Donetsk People's Republic, 9 May 2014

The Euromaidan protests led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, which had major implications for Ukraine in both domestic politics and foreign relations. After several violent clashes, in February 2014, Yanukovych was impeached and removed from office by a vote of the Ukrainian parliament.[80] Following Yanukovych's removal, an interim government took power, and May 2014 presidential election saw pro-Western businessman Petro Poroshenko elected President of Ukraine. In June 2014, Poroshenko signed the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement, which his predecessor, Yanukovych, had rejected in 2013. The Euromaidan and Yanukovych's removal from power led to pro-Russian unrest in Eastern and Southern Ukraine starting in February 2014. Following this unrest, Russia conducted a stealth invasion of parts of Ukraine, sparking an international crisis. In March 2014, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea held the referendum, thereby declaring its secession from Ukraine, and shortly thereafter signed a treaty to join the Russian Federation. The annexation was not recognized by the overwhelming majority of the world community and provoked the imposition on 17 March 2014 of the first round of sanctions against Russia by Canada, the United States, and the European Union.

The term "Cold War II" gained currency and relevance as tensions between Russia and the West escalated throughout the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine followed by the Russian military intervention and especially the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014. By August 2014, both sides had implemented economic, financial, and diplomatic sanctions upon each other: virtually all Western countries, led by the US and EU, imposed restrictive measures on Russia; the latter reciprocally introduced retaliatory measures. Besides, Russia was barred from a slimmed-down June 2014 G7 summit in Brussels that had been planned as a G8 summit to be held in Russia.[81][82] Also, the Australian government explored the option of disinviting Putin to the November 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane, to which Putin was eventually invited and did go but was reported to be frozen out or outright rebuked by some other leaders.[83][84] On the eve of the summit, the host, Tony Abbott, accused Putin of "bullying" Ukraine and trying to "recreate the lost glories of Tsarism and the Soviet Union";[85][86] meanwhile, Putin was reported to have "ordered a Russian military flotilla of four ships to sail to the Queensland coast, adding to the surreal Cold War atmosphere".[86]

Several countries (green), many of which are NATO members, introduced sanctions on Russia (blue) following the 2014–15 Russian military intervention in Ukraine

In August 2014, the ITAR-TASS news agency cited the senior Russian law-maker Aleksey Pushkov as saying that Russia’s relations with the United States had become worse than in the 1970s and had no prospects for improvement.[87] Ukrainian President Poroshenko raised the possibility of holding a referendum on joining NATO.[88]

In December 2014, Ukraine renounced its policy of non-alignment, provoking harsh reactions from Russian leaders, who strongly oppose Ukraine's potential membership in NATO.[89]

Tensions in other ex-Soviet countries[edit]

Besides Ukraine, several other ex-Soviet and ex-communist countries continue to be flashpoints in the tug-of-war between the West and Russia.[88] Frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova have been major areas of dispute,[88][90] as both countries have breakaway regions that favor annexation by Russia.[91] The Baltic Sea and other areas have also caused tension between Russia and the West.[88][92] The Crimean crisis sparked new worries that Russia might try to further remake the borders of Eastern Europe.[93]

Georgia and the Caucasus[edit]

Political map of the Caucasus region

Since the mid-2000s, Georgia has sought closer relations with the West, while Russia has strongly opposed the expansion of Western institutions to its southern border. Georgia has a long connection with Russia, as it was a republic of the Soviet Union, and became part of the Russian Empire in 1801. In 2003, the Rose Revolution forced Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign from office. Shevardnadze had been the leader of the Georgian Communist Party when Georgia was one of the republics of the Soviet Union, and Shevardnadze led Georgia for most of its first decade of independence.[94] Shevardnadze's successor, Mikheil Saakashvili, pursued closer relations with the West.[95] Under President George W. Bush, the United States sought to invite Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. However, Georgia's potential membership in NATO ran into opposition from other NATO members and Russia.[27][96] Partly in response to the potential expansion of NATO, Russia initiated the 2008 Russo-Georgian diplomatic crisis by lifting CIS sanctions on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Though considered to be part of Georgia by the United Nations, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have both sought to secede from Georgia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and both are strongly supported by Russia.[97] The Russo-Georgian War broke out in August 2008, as Georgia and Russia competed for influence in South Ossetia. Russia was strongly criticized by many Western countries for its part in the war, and the war heightened tensions between NATO and Russia.[27] The war ended with a unilateral Russian withdrawal of forces from parts of Georgia, but Russian forces continue to occupy parts of Georgia. In November 2014, a Russian-Abkhazian treaty was met with condemnation from Georgia and many Western countries, who feared that Russia might annex Abkhazia much like it annexed Crimea.[98] Georgia continues to pursue a policy of integration with the West.[99] Georgia holds a strategic position for the European Union, as it gives the EU access to oil in Azerbaijan and Central Asia without having to rely on Russian pipelines.[100]

Besides Georgia, the other two Caucasus states, Armenia and Azerbaijan, have also been a part of the rivalry between Russia and the West. The two countries are long-time rivals, and have a long-running dispute regarding control of Nagorno-Karabakh.[101] Armenia has close ties with Russia, while Azerbaijan has close ties to the United States and Turkey, both of which are members of NATO.[101] However, NATO also ties to Armenia, and both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been speculated as potential future members of NATO.[102] Armenia negotiated an Association Agreement with the European Union but, similar to Ukraine, Armenia chose to reject the deal in 2013.[103] The next year, Armenia voted to join the Eurasian Economic Union,[104] the Russian-backed free trade zone that seeks to rival the European Union.[105] However, Armenian leaders have also worked towards a free trade agreement with the EU.[104]


Transnistria is a breakaway territory in Moldova

Much like Ukraine, Moldova has experienced internal debates between those favoring closer ties to the West (including joining the European Union) and those favoring closer ties to Russia (including joining the Russian-backed Eurasian Union).[88] Also like Ukraine, Moldova was a part of the Soviet Union; though Moldova was a part of Romania prior to World War II, it was annexed into the Soviet Union in 1940. In May 2014, Moldova signed a major trade deal with the European Union,[100] causing Russia to apply pressure on the Moldovan economy, which relies heavily on remittances from Russia.[106] The 2014 Moldovan parliamentary elections saw a victory for an alliance of pro-Western integration parties.[88] Moldova is also home to a breakaway region, known as Transnistria, which forms the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations along with Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.[88] In 2014, Transnistria held a referendum in which it voted to join the Eurasian Economic Union,[88] and Russia has strong influence over the region.[97] A build-up of Russian forces on the Ukrainian-Russian border caused NATO commander Philip Breedlove to speculate that Russia might attempt to attack Moldova and occupy Transnistria.[107]

Baltic states[edit]

The Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, all three of which are members of NATO, have warily watched Russian military movements and actions.[88][92] All three countries, within the Russian Empire prior to 1918, had been annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and Russian leaders were particularly distressed by their accession to NATO and the EU in 2004.[108] In 2014, the Baltic states reported several incursions into their air space by Russian military aircraft.[88] tensions rose as Russian intelligence forces crossed the Estonian border and captured Estonian intelligence officer Eston Kohver.[92] In October 2014, Sweden engaged in a hunt for a foreign submarine that had entered its waters; suspicions that the submarine was Russian have caused further alarm in the Baltic states.[109] The tensions in the Baltic and other areas have led neighboring Sweden and Finland, both of which have long been neutral states, to consider joining NATO.[108]

In early April 2015, British press publications, with a reference to semi-official sources within the Russian military and intelligence establishment, suggested that Russia was ready to use any means—including nuclear weapons—to forestall NATO moving more forces into the Baltic states.[110][111]

Other European countries[edit]

The Russian leadership under Putin sees the fracturing of the political unity within the EU and especially the political unity between the EU and the US as among its main strategic goals.[112] Russia seeks to gain dominant influence in former Eastern Bloc states that are culturally and historically close to it, corrode and undermine Western institutions and values, manipulate public opinion and policy-making throughout Europe.[112]

In 1999, Russia opposed NATO's bombing of Serbia, seen by Russia as a cultural younger brother,[113] during the Kosovo War.[27] Russia strongly opposed Kosovo's independence from Serbia. As the West supported Kosovo's independence, Russia later used the "Kosovo precedent" as justification for its annexation of Crimea and its support of breakaway states in Georgia and Moldova.[114][115]

In November 2014, the German government publicly voiced its concern about what it saw as efforts by Putin to spread Russia's ‘sphere of influence’ beyond former Soviet states in the Balkans in countries such as Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia, which could impede those countries' progress towards membership in the European Union.[114][116]

A series of Europe's far-right and hard Eurosceptic political parties such as Bulgaria's Ataka, France's National Front, Italy's Northern League, Hungary's Jobbik, have been reported to be courted or even funded by Russia.[117][118] Russia’s ideological approach to this type of activity is opportunistic: it supports both far-left and far-right groups, the aim being to exacerbate divides in Western states and destabilise the EU through fringe political parties gaining more clout.[119] The success of these parties in the May 2014 European elections caused concern that a coherent pro-Russian block was forming in the EU parliament.[120]

In early January 2015, public protests in Hungary broke out against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's perceived move towards Russia.[121] Previously, his government had negotiated secret loans from the Russians, awarded a major nuclear power contract to Rosatom, and made parliament give a green light to Russia’s gas pipeline project in contravention to blocking orders from Brussels.[122]

In early April 2015, the Polish border guard sources were cited as saying that Poland was preparing to build observation towers along its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad;[123][124] the move was linked by the mass media to prior official vaguely-worded confirmation,[125] in December 2013, of Russia′s putative deployment of its advanced modification of nuclear-capable Iskander theatre ballistic missiles in the exclave′s territory,[126] as well as more recent, March 2015, unofficial reports of the same nature.[127]

Tensions in other regions[edit]

Apart from tensions in Europe, Russia and the West have also competed for influence in other regions, including the Greater Middle East and Central Asia. In opposition to the United States, Russia is a major supporter of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War.[128] Russia strongly opposed Western actions in both Libya and Iraq.[129] The West and Russia (as well as China) have competed for influence in the five post-Soviet Central Asian states in what has been called "the New Great Game."[130][131][132] However, both Russia and the West have supported efforts to fight Islamic militants in Central Asia.[133] Russia has also attempted to project its military and economic influence into Latin America, an area with which the US has close economic and political ties.[134][135] Russia and NATO countries have also laid claim to territory in the Arctic.[136] Norway has urged NATO to be prepared for potential tensions in the region.[137] NORAD fighters have been scrambled to respond to Russian aircraft near Canadian airspace in the Arctic.[138]

Ideology and propaganda[edit]

The original Cold War matched up the mostly-democratic capitalist Western Bloc with the nominally Marxist-Leninist Eastern Bloc. While the ideological divisions of the Second Cold War are less stark, Russian President Vladimir Putin has presented Eurasianism[139] and "Putinism" as an alternative to Western ideals.[140] Putinism combines state capitalism with authoritarian nationalism.[140] Putin's central goal is restoring Russian strength, and he views Western countries as untrustworthy partners, particularly for the West's actions in the 1990s.[140] Putin and Russia as a whole lost respect for the values and moral authority of the West, creating a "values gap" between Russia and the West.[141] Putin has promoted his brand of conservative Russian values, and has emphasized the importance of religion.[142] Gay rights have also divided Russia and the West, as the United States and some European countries have used their soft power to promote the protection of gay rights in Eastern Europe.[143] Russia, on the other hand, has hindered the freedom of homosexuality and earned support from those opposed to gay marriage.[143][144]

Russia funds international broadcasters such as RT (formerly known as Russia Today), Rossiya Segodnya (including Sputnik), TASS (formerly known as ITAR-TASS), and other networks and newspapers.[145] The Russian government also funds several domestic media networks, and the majority of Russians get their news from state-owned television networks.[146][147] Russia has been accused of funding web brigades that make pro-Russian comments on social networks and the comments sections of media websites.[148][149] Both Russia and NATO were said in 2014 to be engaged in a propaganda war.[150]

Russian state-controlled media played an important role in shaping attitudes towards the Euromaidan and the 2014–15 Russian military intervention in Ukraine,[151] and Russian media has been particularly critical of the United States.[20][152] Russia's freedom of the press has received low scores in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders. In 2014, President Putin signed a bill that limited foreign ownership to no more than 20% of any Russian media firm, further tightening state control over Russian media.[153] The Russian government also blocked a number of internet-based media outlets.[154] Russian mass media officials such as RT editor Margarita Simonyan argued in 2014 that Russian-owned channels sought to provide an "alternative" as a counterbalance to Western media.[155]

In 2014, the British TV producer with a decade-long experience in the Russian television, Peter Pomerantsev, wrote: "The new Russia doesn’t just deal in the petty disinformation, forgeries, lies, leaks, and cyber-sabotage usually associated with information warfare. It reinvents reality, creating mass hallucinations that then translate into political action. <...> The invention of Novorossiya is a sign of Russia’s domestic system of information manipulation going global. <...> The point of this new propaganda is not to persuade anyone, but to keep the viewer hooked and distracted — to disrupt Western narratives rather than provide a counternarrative."[156]

In January 2015, the UK, Denmark, Lithuania and Estonia called on the European Union to jointly confront Russian propaganda by setting up a "permanent platform" to work with NATO in strategic communications and boost local Russian-language media.[157] On 19 January 2015, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said the EU planned to establish a Russia-language mass media body with a target Russian-speaking audience in Eastern Partnership countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, as well as in the European Union countries.[158]

Buildup of espionage efforts[edit]

Russian espionage activities in the West under Putin had been reported to have reached the height of the Cold War levels years before the Ukraine crisis, according to official sources.[159][160][161] The US and its major allies had been aggressively building up their intelligence-gathering capabilities since the attacks on 11 September 2001, with the US intelligence budget having since doubled by 2013.[162]

The investigation report published by Newsweek in December 2014 found that Russian spying activity in Europe had returned to levels not seen since the Cold War; moreover, the investigation claimed that Russia had reintroduced the Soviet intelligence practice of so-called ‘influence operations’, whereby both Westerners and Russians resident outside Russia would be doing Moscow’s bidding.[163]

In January 2015, the former CIA Director James Woolsey said that employing the so called "illegals", non-official spies posing as US citizens while being Russian nationals, remained a favorite tactic of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service to obtain trade and financial secrets in the US, especially about the energy sector.[164]

In April 2015, the allegedly Russian government-sponsored cyber-hacking and espionage aimed against the US government computer systems, was reported to have increased significantly.[165]

Trade and economy[edit]

Tension rose between the leaders of the BRICS (pictured) and Western states at the G20 Brisbane summit (15–16 November 2014), over Russia's military intervention in Ukraine[83][85][166]
Nominal GDP of the 7 Largest NATO Economies and Russia[167]
United States 17.4 54,596
Germany 3.9 47,589
United Kingdom 3.1 45,653
France 2.8 44,538
Italy 2.1 35,823
Russia 1.9 12,925
Canada 1.8 50,397
Spain 1.4 30,278

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation moved towards a more open economy with less state intervention. Russia became an important part of the global economy.[168] In 1998, Russia joined the G7, a forum of eight large developed countries, and Russia was a founding member of the larger G-20. In 2012, Russia joined the World Trade Organization, an organization of governments committed to reducing tariffs and other trade barriers. The opening of the Russia economy allowed greater economic interaction with the West and other areas, and the political tensions between Russia and the West have often influenced economic activities.

These increased economic ties gave Russia access to new markets and capital, as well as a political clout on the West and other countries. The Russian economy is heavily dependent on the export of natural resources such as oil natural gas, and Russia has used these resources to its advantage. Meanwhile, the US and other Western countries have worked to lessen the dependency of Europe on Russia and its resources.[169] Starting in the mid-2000s, Russia and Ukraine had several disputes in which Russia threatened to cut off the supply of gas. As a great deal of Russia's gas is exported to Europe through the pipelines crossing Ukraine, those disputes affected several other European countries. While Russia claimed the disputes had arisen from Ukraine's failure to pay its bills, Russia may also have been motivated by a desire to punish the pro-Western government that came to power after the Orange Revolution.[170] Gas exports by Russia came to be viewed as its weapon against Western Europe.[12] Under Putin, special efforts were made to gain control over the European energy sector. Russian influence played a major role in canceling the construction of the Nabucco pipeline, which would have supplied natural gas from Azerbaijan, in favor of South Stream (though South Stream itself was also later canceled).[118] Russia has also sought to create a Eurasian Economic Union consisting of itself and other post-Soviet countries.[139]

While Russia's new role in the global economy presented Russia with several opportunities, it also made the Russian Federation more vulnerable to external economic trends and pressures.[11] Like many other countries, Russia's economy suffered during the Great Recession. Following the Crimean Crisis, several countries (including most of NATO) imposed sanctions on Russia, hurting the Russian economy by cutting off access to capital.[171] At the same time, the global price of oil declined.[172] The combination of Western sanctions and the falling crude price in 2014 and thereafter, which was widely seen in Russia as a US–Saudi plot against it,[173] resulted in the ongoing 2014–15 Russian financial crisis.[172] As a way to get around Western sanctions, Russia and China signed on a $400 billion deal which would supply natural gas to China over the next 30 years. Russia and China are also constructing a Moscow-Beijing High-speed rail train, which would cut the time taken for the trip to only 2 days, in an attempt to create more jobs. In 2014 Beijing and Moscow signed a 150 billion yuan central bank liquidity swap line agreement to get around American sanctions.[174]

See also[edit]


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