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Back to the Cold War



In 1980 Ronald Reagan expressed his idea of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union in one short sentence: “We win, they lose.” Twelve years later, his immediate successor at the White House, George H W Bush, was satisfied that the task had been accomplished: “A world once divided into two armed camps now recognises one, sole and pre-eminent power, the United States of America.” The cold war was officially at an end.

That period too is now over. Its death knell sounded on the day Russia had had enough of “losing” and realised that its ritual humiliation would never come to an end, with one neighbouring country after another being persuaded — or bribed — into joining an economic and military alliance against it. Obama, speaking in Brussels in March, stressed that “Today, NATO planes patrol the skies over the Baltics and we’ve reinforced our presence in Poland. And we’re prepared to do more” (1). Vladimir Putin, addressing the Russian parliament, observed that this was part of the “infamous policy of containment” that the western powers had pursued against Russia since the 18th century (2).

However, the new cold war will be different from the old one. As Obama pointed out, “unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.” The latest confrontation is not between an American superpower, drawing the imperial assurance of a “manifest destiny” from its religious faith, and an “evil empire” castigated by Reagan for its atheism. On the contrary, Putin is appealing with some success to Christian fundamentalism. On annexing Crimea, he suddenly remembered it was the place “where Saint Vladimir was baptised … adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”

In other words, Moscow will not allow Ukraine to become a rear base for its enemies. The Russian people, inflamed by nationalist propaganda that is even more extreme than western brainwashing (and that’s saying something), won’t have it. Meanwhile, in the US and Europe, the supporters of rearmament are raising the stakes, with warlike declarations and a host of assorted sanctions that only increase the determination in the enemy camp. “The new cold war may be more perilous,” warns Stephen F Cohen, one of America’s leading Russia experts, “because, unlike its predecessor, there is no effective American opposition — not in the administration, Congress, media, universities, think tanks” (3). The well-known recipe for every kind of trap…

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique.

Translated by Barbara Wilson


(1) Speech by Barack Obama in Brussels, 26 March 2014.

(2) Speech by Vladimir Putin to the Russian Parliament, 18 March 2014.

(3) Address to the annual US-Russia Forum in Washington DC, 16 June 2014, reproduced in The Nation, New York, 12 August 2014.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

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