new cold war

A New Cold War May Be Heating Up

photo by Peter Jakobs via Flickr 

Incidents between Russia and Western powers have increased in both volume and volatility, leaving some wary of a new Cold War.

According to the European Leadership Network’s Dangerous Brinkmanship (pdf) report, Russia’s annexation of Crimea has ushered in a new era of brinkmanship between Russia and the West. These incidents have also shown alarming potential for escalating into combative situations.

The Incidents

According to The Guardian, since the annexation of crimea in March there have been over 40 instances of close, and even dangerous encounters between Western and Russian militaries and sometimes civilians.

These instances include (pdf) 150 accounts of Russian planes approaching Latvian airspace, six accounts of Russian planes violating Estonian airspace (as opposed to only 7 accounts between 2006-2013), and 100 reports of NATO intercepting Russian aircraft (three times the amount in 2013).

Some more specific instances of tension between Russia and the west include:

  • An encounter between SAS passenger plane and Russian reconnaissance plane

In this close encounter between a passenger plane travelling from Rome to Copenhagen, a Russian jet which failed to transmit its position almost collided with the jetliner. It wasn’t until the planes saw each other, due to good visibility, that they were able to avert collision

  • Russia’s kidnapping of Estonian security agent

In September Russian troops detained Estonian agent Eston Kohver in an event that escalated tensions between between Estonia and Russia as well as Russia and the United States. Kohver was reported to have been on Estonian territory at the time and was kidnapped using a smoke grenade and held at gunpoint.

  • Hunt for Russian submarine in Swedish waters

Mirroring the submarine hunts of the Cold War, Sweden scoured the Baltic Sea after what military officials believed to be underwater activity indicative of a Russian Submarine. In the end, no submarine was found, but the accusations certainly contributed to the growing concern over a Russian incursion.

The concern

Fortunately none of the incidents outlined in the report have devolved into real military action by either of the parties involved, but such peace is alarmingly tenuous.

Between Russia escalating its propensity for aggressive behavior and NATO ramping up its military presence in the Baltic area, the likelihood of such incidents may only increase–especially since both sides are wary of the other encroaching past their security zones.

What’s of more concern, is Russia’s motivation behind what is seemingly Moscow sanctioned aggressive military action.

According to the report, some possible drivers behind Russia’s recent aggressive behavior may be:

  • Testing the waters

Russia may be testing the waters to ascertain the preparedness and effectiveness of Europe’s defense systems in addition to testing the cooperation between NATO members.

  • Demonstration of force

Aggression may also stem from an effort to demonstrate that Russia is capable of using force to coerce neighboring countries into relenting to Russia’s whim

  • Warning against joining NATO

In regard to Russia’s aggression against Sweden and Finland, such actions may be an effort to deter such countries from joining NATO.

The takeaway

Though the forecast for potentially dangerous encounters between Russian and Western powers is alarming, the European Leadership Network offers some potential guidelines to help quell aggression in the future.

These methods include:

  • Urging Russia to re-evaluate its current tactics through diplomacy

The European Leadership Network recommends that the channels of communication stay open between Russia and the West in order to help quell any confrontation.

  • Exercising military restraint

By establishing very well-defined rules of engagement, escalation may be avoided if the current trends continue as expected.

  • Military transparency

By keeping both sides completely transparent it may cut down on potentially dangerous events much like the near crash between the Russian reconnaissance jet and commercial plane.

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James Pero