Russian support of the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War and the Ukraine Crisis are driving the US, Europe, and the Middle East to treat Russia as an enemy, which is evaluating the risk of a nuclear world war. From the Russian perspective, however, the Ukraine Crisis and Western criticism of Russian intervention in Syria fits nicely into the Cold War narrative of US provocation. The Putin government frames both situations as necessary responses to NATO expansion, Western interference in the domestic affairs of other nations, and US efforts to overthrow unfavorable governments.
The West sees the Ukraine Crisis as a confrontation made necessary by dominance while Russian support of the Assad regime is seen as a destructive move to support a regime that provoked a civil war for the sake of maintaining power. Although the Putin governments claims all its policies were made necessary due to Western meddling, the West believes Russia planned these events long before Western reactions to developing situations justified current Russian policies. Both sides will say they are confronting the other for provocations, yet neither will confront the underlying grievances that drive the antagonist relations between the West and Russia.
With that in mind, these deepening conflicts between major world powers did not start a few years ago nor are they solely rooted in current disagreements. Whether these conflicts were engineered or predictable reactions to the leaders of the US, and Russia pursuing their perceived interests, what really matters is how to confront and resolve these conflicts. Instead of obsessing over who is to blame for these current to the International Community threats and further provoking each other, it is more important to recognize why these conflicts have just now emerged as serious crises.
Since the world emerged from the Cold War, the International Community has emphasized the need to foster positive relationships and the development of the global economy. By engineering an International Community where there was a mutual interest among all governments to sustain peace and stability, the hope was that armed conflicts could be avoided. What happened was that legitimate conflicts of interests and grievances were repressed when they needed to be confronted in a constructive manner.
Where maintaining the status quo benefited the United States and its powerful European allies, rogue nations like North Korea and Iran quickly realized the desire of world powers to avoid armed conflict afforded them an opportunity to improve their influence within the International Community. Observing the appeasement of rogue nations, as well as efforts to avoid confrontation and armed conflict at all costs, Moscow saw opportunities to improve Russia’s position as a global power by defying the will of the United States and the International Community.
Because legitimate grievances from the Cold War were ignored, leftover Cold War sentiments have been revived by political leadership to foster distrust between the Western and Russian Peoples. Fixated on their resentment of efforts by groups like the CIA to engineer coups, for example, the Russian People are quick to overlook the wrongs of their own leaders in order to criticize the US government. Thanks to the misbehavior of the CIA and NSA as exposed by the Edward Snowden revelations, the Putin government has been able to act with impunity from public outrage in Ukraine and Syria by framing its actions as a response to Western provocation, even though the West sees Russian actions as provocations.
Due to increased competition from the economic woes of the Great Rescission, civil unrest as exemplified by the Arab Spring Revolutions, and the inability of Western militaries to cope with all global crises, the leaders of Russia saw an opportunity to resolve their Cold War grievances in a way that favors them the most. In other words, leaders, who are stuck in a Cold War mindset, believe they have been able to seize upon strains in the International Community to assert their influence and use fear of conflict to empower their nations. Unfortunately, the current Russian leadership does not appear to respect the devastation of nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, the only means to avoid armed conflict at this point is the embrace of cold war polarization. By their very nature, cold wars are wars of attrition where proxy wars, like the Syrian Civil War and the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, are used to weakened competitors. In order to win a cold war, the victor must outlast its opponents, which the US did during the Cold War by building a network of allies larger than that of Russia. As this approach can take decades, there is a need to resolve the grievances fueling such conflicts far quicker. This requires global leadership to move beyond provocative posturing and confront deeply entrenched grievances between the West and Russia.
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