Russia is no Iraq and Putin is no Saddam...are we heading towards a revival of the cold war era?

The resounding victory of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in the recently held Duma elections was a sort of a referendum for Putin and his style of functioning for the last eight years. Putin, undoubtedly, has emerged a victor. His anointment of Dmitri Medvedev as the new Presidential candidate in next year’s elections also makes sure that the legacy of Putin and his policies are here to stay. This might be good news for Russia – and many of its allies – but certainly not for the US.

With the disintegration of USSR in 1990s and the subsequent end to the Cold War, the world had gone through a dichotomy of feelings – relief on one hand, and paranoia on the other. Relief, because the end of the Cold War meant a virtual annihilation of a possible nuclear clash between the two giants (US and USSR). The sense of paranoia however persisted as the end of Cold War also meant that the world became unipolar with the US emerging as the sole superpower and entering into prolonged of war-mongering – something that they never dared to during the cold war era due to USSR’s categoric and strong stance against such imperialistic activities. For the rest of the world, therefore, peace was a by-product of Cold War. In fact, to sustain this current unipolar state, the US, through its foreign policies throughout the 90s, did everything possible to make sure that the new reincarnation of USSR – Russia – never stood on its feet again. On a parallel front, Russia’s prescribed form of liberalisation, privatisation of the state-owned enterprises and exchange rate policies, created a new generation of oligarchs who completely drained Russia of its resources. So while Russia bled, the rich oligarchs became richer through their organised racket, which kept on siphoning money from Russia.

Fortunately though, all these came to a gradual halt and took an abrupt U-turn with the sudden ascent of Vladimir Putin, an erstwhile KGB spy. The Putin era marked the beginning of a virtual repair and overhaul of Russia to what it is today. To be honest, the resurgence of Russia has been nothing less than dramatic! From the verge of bankruptcy, this mercurial country literally came up to have a forex reserve of more than USD 300 billion in 2006 and annual FDI inflow of USD 30 billion plus in the same year. Russia’s external debt, which was its main concern, has also come down to less that 40% now, while the inflation has stabilised to less than 10%.

All this has been possible because of Putin’s initiative to curb the downslide of Russia by strangulating the oligarchs and by giving a new lease of life to two of Russia’s major levers – arms and oil trade. It is through these two, along with a certain amount of export of metals, that Russia is trying to call the shots today. Piggy-backing mainly on these, the GDP is nearing a trillion dollars.

But the ascent of Russia means that the rivalry, which was in hibernation for quite sometime, is well on its way back. While with many of the Central Asian countries – starting from Ukraine to Georgia (who are still woefully dependent on Russian gas to see them through the chilling winters) – Putin, has never missed an opportunity to play around with the gas prices, he has not even spared Western Europe on the same, adding to the displeasure of the US. Also, for the last few years, Russia has been only second to the US when it came to export of arms. No wonder, most of the sale of such weapons happened to states that are not too friendly to America. Be it Iran, Syria, Venezuela or China, Putin wholeheartedly supported them by essentially following the American philosophy of ‘business first’. Thus, with increasing GDP and economic leverage, came the effort to get back lost ground. Putin started making himself heard in most meetings of the UN Security Council or G-8. Racing against all opposition, Russia has also continued to supply uranium to Iran for its ‘civilian’ nuclear purposes. At the same time, American efforts to create Anti-Ballistic Missile shields in Poland and Czech Republic have further aggravated the tension between the two, as Putin sees this as an aggressive posture on the part of the Americans. The Russia-UK relationship has also hit an all-time low in many years.

All this clearly indicates that Putin is aggressively trying to revive Russia’s lost glory. All this also means a beginning of a neo Cold War phase for the world at large. While Putin is not really an angel, after almost a decade and a half of American dictatorship in the world, this new phase might be a welcome change, ushering in global peace. In the given scenario, it would be interesting to observe how the US attempts to contain Putin’s aspirations of regaining Russia’s lost glory, as it very well knows that Russia is no Iraq and Putin is no Saddam!

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