NEW COLD WAR

by Milen Radev

The West must speak to Russia in the only language it understands - that of power

In the heat of August, those who managed to eschew the inebriation of Chinese totalitarian Olympics have been pondering whether we were not faced with a new cold war.

Politicians and pundits surmised – as usual, with a months' if not years' delay – that the increased consternation in the West's relationship with Moscow in the wake of its invasion of Georgia could spell a return to the pre-1989 political, economic, military and cultural confrontation known as the Cold War.

That a conflict with Russia of Putin and Medvedev was inevitable could have been predicted by anyone whose memory span is longer than it takes to recall the latest Champions League results. This is because the closed circle of Kremlin masters has been spawned by the KGB and has been fed on a strict anti-Western diet most of their lives.

It is obvious that a regime that came to power with the ballots of panicked citizens fleeing burning housing estates and which organised several armed conflicts against its own subjects cannot be a normal international partner. It is impossible to believe that a regime that organises cold WArNewThe West must speak to Russia in the only language it understands - that of powerhooligan attacks in neighbouring states seeking to exercise their sovereign rights – what the Kremlin did in Estonia – really aims at having good international relations. A regime that methodically violates its own trade contracts and switches off the gas tap on anyone daring to show some political independence – what happened in Ukraine, Georgia and even Belarus – must not be considered a reliable international partner.

The terrible list of violations and abuses perpetrated by Russia can go on. Don't forget the illegal trial against Mikhail Khodorkovsky; the now run-of-the-mill assassinations of intellectuals opposed to the Kremlin – from journalist Shchekochikhin to MP Yushenkov to investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya; and of course the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, who was unearthing evidence from the "kitchen" of the Russian Federal Security Service.

This list is indeed quite long. Add to it Russia's refusal to let Western companies participate in its oil and gas industry in spite of approved contracts as well as its absurd claims on parts of the Arctic Ocean that were accompanied by the now-usual nuclear clatter. And what about the constant arrests and espionage charges against numerous critics of today's regime? The preposterous parody of elections without any real choices, accompanied by physical and administrative violence against dwindling civic groups that still dare voice some opposition? The boy scout-type nationalist organisations like Nashi who are fanatically loyal to Putin and who are being given special training in intolerance to anyone who doesn't speak Russian and is not Orthodox? The persistent and increasing hatred of any "black ass" – the term widely used in Russia to describe peoples who do not belong to the Russian ethnic group?

What else do the Western media and politicians need to understand that the promising bilateral relations with the Soviet Russia of Mikhail Gorbachev and then Russia of Boris Yeltsin have failed to materialise?

The truth is that the new Cold War, as far as Russia is concerned, has been on for years. This sad truth, however, dawned on the Western politicians as late as August 2008.

But things are more frightening still. It is the first time since Afghanistan that Russia invaded a sovereign country that is a de facto Western ally.

Georgia is a state with a democratically elected and re-elected president. It has unequivocally stated its wish to join both NATO and the EU. It has given its input in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is that Georgia, not the Georgia of Yosif Vissarionovich, that Russia is conducting a hot war against now.

As part of that war Russia violates ceasefires and agreements the moment it introduces them, and it plays around with the international community in a manner unseen since the Soviet Union of Brezhnev and Gromyko.

The West, including Bulgaria, has only one choice in its relations with Russia. It must speak the only language that the Kremlin would understand. It is, unfortunately, the language of power. It should do it now because tomorrow will be too late.

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