Political Column: Russia’s Aggression, Explained Pt. 2

Guest Contributor

Hirak Mukhopadhyay

Last article, we left off regarding the lingering Russia-Ukraine Crisis, and how it has torn the Ukrainian Republic into two halves, one pro-EU and Ukraine, the other pro-Russia.

Unfortunately, the conflict is ongoing. The Minsk II summit (France, Russia, Belarus, Germany) was initiated to call a ceasefire. But the Pentagon reported on March 2nd, 2016, the same day the first part of this article was published, that 430 Ukrainian troops were killed after the Minsk II agreement was signed. Even though a full ceasefire was part of the agreement, Russia has been “pouring heavy military weapons” into Ukraine, weapons that were being used by the Donetsk and the Luhansk. Russia has a deep commitment to getting the Donetsk and Luhansk freedom from Ukraine, and these puppet states would be obedient to Putin’s every move.

So why does Putin want puppet states to align with him? The main reason is because Russia wants to start a new cold war with the United States, with Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and its allies forming their own alliance to compete with the EU and NATO. Indeed, US-Russia tensions have never been this high since the Cold War. And there is an argument to be made that the
United States and Russia is already engaged in Cold War 2.0.

First, the Syrian Civil War, in its many layers and complexities, has also become host to a proxy war between Russia and the United States, as the United States was helping the Free Syrian Army and Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front against the Syrian Government and the Assad regime, which was then being assisted by Russia. Both sides have scaled back their intervention, and now the fight has been more geared toward ISIS.

Second, Russia still has nuclear weapons, which they could use at any given moment. International law, as scholars Eric Posner, Jack Goldsmith, and our own Stuart Kaufman would point out, are good faith measures and can only do so much. International law does not physically constrain any country from launching a missile.

Third, Russia’s military budget as exploded in recent years, with an $11 billion jump from 2014 to 2015. These new assets are being used to fight in Ukraine and Syria and to conduct provoking military exercises, knowing that NATO is just outside Russian borders. But it also suggests that Russia is prepared for Military conflict with anyone.

Fourth, Russia has been questioning the sovereignty of former Soviet States, claiming the independence agreements for Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, all of whom are now part of NATO, was never legal. It remains to be seen how far Putin will pursue the matter, and if the Russian Federation plans on re-annexation.

Lastly, Russia has begun a communist-style propaganda campaign against the United States in recent years, blaming and chastising the United States harshly for their actions. They accused the U.S. of falsely scapegoating Russia for MH 17 (reports indicate strong evidence that it was Russian-backed rebels), and their media, which is still state-controlled (communism much?), have run stories negatively portraying the United States and their foreign policy, even making comparisons to the “Third Reich”. RT News, another Russian-owned media outlet, is actually international, reporting Russian anti-American propaganda right here in the United States, to influence Americans.

However, Professor Kaufman remains unconvinced.

“The Cold War was a multi-faceted dispute between the West and the USSR. Communism versus Capitalism, technology, and military capabilities, as we saw in Vietnam. All of that is now gone. Putin has no clear economic ideology, just anti-democratic and authoritarian politics. There is no political movement to round up half of the world to be in tension with the other half. The Warsaw Pact is moot. Capitalism won. Nuclear war is all Putin has, and even then, that would be incredibly catastrophic,” Kaufman said.

Tensions are high, but it is unlikely that the US or Russia will return to something as intense as the old Cold War, risking world destruction just because of watered-down geopolitics. Time will tell.

Hirak Mukhopadhyay is the outgoing President of the UD College Democrats.

Stuart Kaufman is the former Director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs in the White House National Security Council during the Clinton Administration and a Professor of Political Science & International Relations at the University of Delaware.

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