A new Cold War?

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We don’t need a new Cold War

The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Feb. 18 2014 and RealClear Politics February 19 2014

We Don’t Need a New Cold War. In RealClearWorld, Colin Robertson writes that the West must develop a partnership with Russia despite differing goals, as the alternative is unacceptable.

Colin Robertson

After the anthems still and the athletes go home, will the enduring picture of the Sochi Olympics be that of Putin and the snow leopard as the precursor to a new Cold War?

That was the warning of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk who last week called on the West to adopt a “proactive policy” in the face of Russian aggression. Humanity, he declared, “may well be on the verge of a new Cold War.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by accusing the West of trying to build “spheres of influence” in Eastern Europe. “Attempts to isolate our country,” argued Lavrov, “inevitably set in motion processes that led to the catastrophes of the world wars.”

The U.S. Intelligence Community in its recent Worldwide Threat Assessment concludes that Russia “presents a range of challenges.” Top U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper says that Russia’s military took an “increasingly prominent role” in out-of-area operations last year, notably in the eastern Mediterranean, Latin America, and the Arctic.

Canada’s Conference of Defence Associations Institute Strategic Outlook 2014 reaches a similar conclusion.

Putin’s 104-point foreign policy doctrine, write authors Ferry de Kerckhove and George Petrolekas, is a “declaration of difference” bent on establishing Russia as one of the “influential and competitive poles of the modern world.” This explains Russian behaviour towards its neighbours: armed intervention in Georgia, cyber-attack on Romania and now interference in the Ukraine.

The West’s relations with Russia have been on a roller-coaster since the end of the Soviet Union. Putin has described the Soviet Union’s collapse as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. In Putin’s view, it is the West that is the disruptive force, imposing on others its system and ways.

The West needs to develop a partnership with Russia,  recognizing it has limits. argues Angela Stent in her excellent new book. Stent says that Putin is determined to make Russia the leader of a new conservative international system with Russia upholding traditional family and Christian values and respecting states; sovereignty. It would begin with a Eurasian Union (as counterweight to the European Union), consisting of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan: the heart of the old USSR.

After Putin granted asylum last year to Edward Snowden, President Obama cancelled their proposed summit. An aggravated Obama broke his customary cool, saying that Putin’s “got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” But he continued, “when we have conversations, they’re candid, they’re blunt, oftentimes they’re constructive.”

Constructive must be our watchword.

The West, including Canada, has to invest time and effort in Russia. Russia matters because of its strategic location, its nuclear arsenal and its ability to support – or thwart – the West in the United Nations and other forum.

We co-operate on counter-terrorism. The Russians are party to the discussions on Syria, Iran and North Korea. They have been helpful in Afghanistan, where assistance is even more necessary as we withdraw.

One of the best Canadian observers of the Russian mind was Robert Ford, our ‘constant diplomat’ in Moscow for 20 years.

Ford noted “the almost psychopathic feeling of inferiority of Russians” and their readiness to hear insults even when none was intended. The Russians, Ford observed, “secretly admire those who stand up to them.” Ford would later worry that Canada’s diplomatic service put too much weight on management skills rather than expertise in foreign affairs and original thinking.

After Ambassador Ford’s retirement, then U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz brought him to Washington for advice.

Prime Minister Harper would profit from reading Ford on both Russia and diplomacy.

Long critical of the President Putin’s “self-serving monopolistic political strategies”, Harper described last year’s G8 meetings as “G7 plus one”, accusing Putin of ”supporting the thugs of the Assad regime.” Foreign Minister John Baird has denounced Russia’s anti-gay laws as “hateful and mean-spirited” and last week sent medical aid to the Ukrainian activists.

Blunt talk and action can be useful tactics as long as they fit into a strategy of constructive engagement with Russia. In addition to the multilateral agenda, we share the same challenges in our North and in stewardship of the Arctic.

Our bilateral entrée starts with Russian Ambassador to Canada, Georgiy Mamedov.

Now the Dean of Ottawa’s diplomatic corps after a decade in Canada, Mamedov is highly experienced: a former deputy foreign minister who negotiated arms control with the United States and helped negotiate the removal of nuclear weapons from the Ukraine. We should be using his knowledge and network.

The West’s relationship with Russia has always been complicated but stretching the uneasy partnership to its limits is essential for peace and security. We don’t need a new Cold War.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.