Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments are at TheNation.com.) This installment continues last week’s focus on the extraordinary US-NATO build-up of military forces—on land, sea, and in the air—on and very near Russia’s borders, the opening of, as Cohen terms it, “NATO’s Eastern Front.” The size of the build-up, and its proximity to Russia, had no precedent during the preceding 40-year Cold War, leading Cohen to ask if this is already something more than “Cold War,” a mobilization for real war. US and NATO officials have recently made clear this is only the beginning of what will be a very large-scale and permanent amassing of military power on the new Eastern Front. And Moscow, while remembering the German invasion of 1941, is reacting accordingly by mobilizing its own forces on its Western territories and promising more “counter-measures.” Even though the alleged threat of ongoing “Russian aggression,” which Washington and Brussels officials cite as justification, clearly does not exist, no critical questions about the NATO build-up have appeared in the American mainstream media, only applause and calls for “more and bigger military exercises,” as a New York Times editorial put it.
Meanwhile, a final, desperate attempt by Germany, France, and Russia is being made to save the seemingly doomed Minsk Accords, designed to bring about a negotiated end to the civil war and US-Russian proxy war in Ukraine, as Cohen reports. An emergency phone conversation between the leaders of those countries with Ukrainian President Poroshenko seemed intended to urge him to enact legislation long overdue by Kiev. But besieged by ultra-right forces threatening to overthrow him if he moves to enact the necessary legislation, Poroshenko seems unwilling or unable to do so, raising the possibility of another “revolution” in Kiev. Cohen speculates that fear of an even more nationalist government coming to power may be behind the urgent attempt to save the Minsk Accords. Indeed, both the NATO military build-up and the economic sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 are still directly related to the Ukrainian crisis, which remains the political epicenter of the new East-West confrontation.
Cohen and Batchelor end by recalling that it was 30 years ago that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan agreed to a new political and strategic approach, which soon, they thought, ended the Cold War: a mutual agreement that henceforth both sides would pursue military build-downs, or “mutual security,” instead of the decades of mutual build-ups. That historic opportunity, Cohen points out, has been lost. He also points out that in recent interviews, Gorbachev, while critical of Putin in other respects, says that if he had still been in the Kremlin in March 2014, he too would have acted to bring Crimea back into Russia, where it had been for centuries. Gorbachev’s statement confirms Cohen’s thesis that any established Russian leader would have pursued the annexation of Crimea—or “reunification with Russia,” as is said in Moscow—not only the demonized Putin, considering the uncertain upheaval in Kiev in February 2014.