Modern Diplomacy
Why We Are Missing the Cold War

When the acute phase of the Ukrainian crisis will pass, the parties will return to negotiations, and Russian-American consultations will again be the centre of decision-making on the future of European security. At the same time, it is obvious that the Americans’ interest now is to make the Ukrainian crisis last as long as possible, so that Russia comes out of it weaker: this will create a different negotiating reality, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

For the past 30 years, a linear logic prevailed in relations between Russia and the West. The 42nd US President, Bill Clinton, described the meaning of it in his column for The Atlantic. “My policy was to work for the best, while expanding NATO to prepare for the worst.” This wording concisely shows the American position: the expansion of Western influence was seen as an instrument of geostrategic dominance from a position of strength, packed in ideas about the spread of the institutions of democracy, liberalism, free exchange, market economics — in general, “in striving for the best.” 

In the 1990s, Russia’s foreign policy strategy was also built on the foundations of “striving for the best”. The first Minister of Foreign Affairs of Yeltsin’s Russia, Andrei Kozyrev, was an active supporter of the pro-Western course. In a series of speeches and publications, Kozyrev actively promoted this point of view, but already at that moment, it became clear that there was a list of Russia’s vital interests that it was not ready to give up, and if pressed, the crisis between Russia and the West could become quite real.

By the end of his term in office, Kozyrev’s rhetoric began to change; the minister began to actively promote the idea that NATO expansion affects Russia’s security interests. This was also noted by leading American analysts, who had shaped the foundations of the Cold War. The author of the doctrine of containment of the USSR, American diplomat George Kennan in his 1997 article for The New York Times, openly called NATO expansion a “fateful error”, saying that such a policy would inevitably lead to a clash with Russia: “Russians are little impressed with American assurances that it reflects no hostile intentions. They would see their prestige (always uppermost in the Russian mind) and their security interests as adversely affected. They would, of course, have no choice but to accept expansion as a military fait accompli. But they would continue to regard it as a rebuff by the West and would likely look elsewhere for guarantees of a secure and hopeful future for themselves.”

One of the greatest American political scientists, John Mearsheimer, wrote in 2003 that states are rational, but each state has its own measure of the ability to rationally assess its environment and adjust its strategy accordingly. Americanists have long recognised that the United States proceeds from a rational belief in its superiority over other countries. If America uses the terms “correct” and “wrong side of history”, on which Russia and China are allegedly located, then Russian rationality comes from something else: there are several major powers in the world that, in terms of military, economic, and social potential, are capable of projecting force and being the centre of gravity for the rest. These countries can become a source of development models in their regions. These centres are scattered across different continents — in a way, “the Titans hold the sky.” Each Titan is responsible for his own “section of the sky” — global stability — and therefore the Titans should not quarrel with each other, because in the event of their collision, the entire sky will collapse. That is why the global architecture of stability is collapsing today.

In a recent interview, US Secretary of State Blinken admitted that the era of post-bipolarity has ended, and the time of global rivalry between Russia and the United States has begun. We will inevitably be forced to observe the excesses of this rivalry in the form of regional crises, and the new system that will take shape as a result of the Ukrainian crisis will be built on mutual hostility. The founding Russia-NATO act of 1997 will probably become a matter of the past, and NATO armed forces will be more actively present in Eastern Europe. The system will be more dangerous, reminiscent of the Cold War. However, that system had fundamental differences from the current moment — then everyone was aware of the cost of a mistake and the risks of a spontaneous escalation of the crisis. During several milestone crises between the USSR and the West, the sides realised that we cannot afford a big war that would lead to total annihilation.

Despite hostility, it is with the United States that Russia will discuss the future contours of European security. Russian-American consultations began a long diplomatic marathon in November-December 2021, when the last attempt at a diplomatic settlement of military differences took place. When the acute phase of the Ukrainian crisis will pass, the parties will return to negotiations, and Russian-American consultations will again be the centre of decision-making on the future of European security. At the same time, it is obvious that the Americans’ interest now is to make the Ukrainian crisis last as long as possible, so that Russia comes out of it weaker: this will create a different negotiating reality. As Vladimir Lenin argued, “to drag out the negotiations, you need a delayer.” Today, it is the United States that plays precisely such a role in the unfolding crisis.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.