Cold War Two

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US Secretary of State John Kerry has fired a fusillade at Russia for sending its troops to Ukraine’s Crimea region. Mr. Kerry was unusually blunt, condemning Moscow’s action as a “brazen act of aggression” and warning that Russia risked losing billions of dollars if the west decides to impose tough trade sanctions.

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As the rhetoric heats up, some analysts have boldly predicted that Crimea could touch off another Cold War, one that could again plunge the world into a state of political and military tensions.

Back then, America and the Soviet Union played a dangerous game, pushing each other to the brink of nuclear war but always stopping short of pushing the doomsday button.

The world let out a sigh of relief when the Berlin Wall came down in 1991, signalling an end to almost six decades of superpower confrontation.
Now Cold War Two looms on the horizon.

Russia, in what could have been a knee-jerk reaction to the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych, sent in masked troops to seize vital installations in Crimea. The newly installed government in Kiev, which had west-leaning inclinations, sounded the distress call.

The US and the European Union responded with warnings to Russian President Vladimir Putin to recall his troops in Crimea. But Mr. Putin is not expected to heed the warnings.

Moscow has been edgy since mass protests in Kiev drove out Mr. Yanukovych after he doused a growing popular clamor for Ukraine to join the European Union.

Mr. Putin is not about to hand Ukraine to the west on a silver platter. There are ethnic Russians living in Crimea, and Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based in Crimea. The stakes are simply too high.

But what are the consequences of Russian boots in Ukrainian soil?

Russia’s standing in the G8

The most immediate fallout is Russia’s standing in the G8. The group of the world’s leading industrial giants has scheduled a summit in Sochi, Russia, in June, but the events in Ukraine has cast a dark cloud on the meeting.

Britain and France have announced they will not attend the preparatory meetings for the summit, while the US and Canada are threatening to boycott it altogether.

“If Russia wants to be a G8 country, it needs to behave like a G8 country,” snapped Mr. Kerry, reflecting Washington’s tough stance.

Mr. Putin “may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business, American business may pull back, there may be a further tumble of the ruble,” Mr. Kerry further warned.

In a 90-minute phone call last week, US President Barack Obama had ratcheted up the pressure on Mr. Putin, telling him the presence of Russian soldiers in Crimea was a “breach of international law.”

While the west ponders its next move, the Kiev government has called up its military reservists as it prepares for a possible confrontation with Russian forces. And here is where the greatest danger lies. A single spark—an accidental encounter or even a brief exchange of fire—could ignite a full-blown war that could have global implications.

If that happens, the superpowers could find themselves being pushed to the brink, with no chance of backing off.

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