This is not a new cold war. This is something different, new and modern. Obama and Putin are enemies who are involved in a struggle nothing like the U.S.-USSR Cold War of the last century.
Today’s world is decidedly more difficult to run. The United States and Russia are not alone. There is also China, the Middle East and a “genetically-modified” Europe.
Obama and Putin do not symbolize two opposing worlds in collision — they have different interests but live in the same world. This is a much more personal conflict than before, the proof being that Putin was in power at the same time as Bush was at the White House, and he didn’t have the same problems then that he is having now with Obama. At the same time, Obama would not have the same obstacles that he has today if there was somebody else in power at the Kremlin. This is why this is a “hot war.” This is a geopolitical and personal war, unlike the totally impersonal one that lasted until the end of 1989.
Putin and Obama can hardly stand to talk to one another; they don’t try to talk, and they don’t acknowledge each other. Ukraine, Syria, Iran and energy — they clashed over everything and never came to an agreement on anything. They never resort to mediation to come to an agreement — Obama wanted to bomb Assad in Syria while Moscow was opposed. At the United Nations, Putin stonewalled every proposal, including giving the green light to all military action. He subsequently advocated, passing it off as his own initiative, the following diplomatic resolution: NATO and the Western coalition would not attack Syria if they handed over their chemical weapons. This proposal was initially made by Secretary of State John Kerry, but the world got the opposite message. There was one additional obstacle, however: By defending Assad, Putin became the bulwark against Islamophobia, passing Obama and the rest of the West off as a bunch of fanatics intent on financing and supporting Assad’s enemies (in other words, the insurgents who established the Islamic State), who turned out to be more dangerous than Assad.
Even relations between Obama and Iran have reached a breaking point. Obama has adopted a soft line and is feeling the pressure in Congress thanks to the Republicans, and Putin has sowed discord — he has taken advantage of the protection accorded to Assad by strengthening relations with Tehran. His sole goal is to limit the United States’ presence in the Arabian Peninsula.
The conflict in Ukraine has not helped the situation. Obama warned Russia not to take drastic action. Putin’s answer was to occupy Crimea and invade Ukraine, effectively imposing a civil war. Europe has played its usual role of tow truck: It followed the United States by imposing heavy sanctions on Russia, but that indirectly hit Europe itself. The hatred between Obama and Putin reached a pinnacle and became evident at November’s APEC summit, where they saw each other and only spoke briefly. The worldwide media remarked that no bilateral meetings took place between the two leaders. At the summit they stood at the sidelines as the current tenant of the Kremlin awkwardly patted Obama on the shoulder. At the ceremony in commemoration of D-Day in June, Obama and Putin avoided each other during the group photo, although they did briefly speak in private. Did anything come of this? Nothing changed in June, nor did anything change in November. Why? Yesterday’s enemies are not those of today.
The “pat failure” is a clear sign of other issues — distance between people is human as well as political. It is personal as well as strategic. Obama and Putin don’t understand each other and they don’t hold meetings to work out their differences. The United States’ focus is on energy independence, which the world will talk about over the next few months. Putin will not stop now as Europe has implemented the sanctions placed on Russia by the U.S., which means that Russia is in serious trouble. Whose fault is it? According to Putin, Obama is to blame. This is a new anti-American rhetoric that has developed, one that has its origins in Moscow. This is in contrast to the new anti-Russian rhetoric, which has existed for some time in the United States. Nobody is considering a nuclear war now, or a long drawn-out Cold War. The war is hidden, but it is there and it will continue this way. It is a hot, personal war. It’s obvious that this is a duel.
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