Secret “Russian subs” off Sweden, tit-for-tat sanctions, NATO fighters scrambling to intercept Russian warplanes: relations between the West and Moscow over Ukraine have sparked incidents reminiscent of the Cold War that terrified the world for decades.
Even Cold War doyen Mikhail Gorbachev used the highly symbolic 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall to warn the world was “on the brink of a new Cold War”, adding that “some are even saying that it has already begun”.
And it’s not just former leaders. Finland’s Prime Minister Alexander Stubb also sounded the alarm, saying that Russia’s actions over Ukraine were bringing the world to the “brink of a Cold War.”
But while experts agree that the current situation is extremely dangerous, they say it is very different to when the two nuclear-armed superpowers faced off, seemingly only minutes away from all-out global destruction.
Instead of a Cold War, experts see a period of geopolitical rebalancing after years of the United States assuming the role of sole superpower.
– ‘Expansionist, ideological power’ –
Several factors in the current tension between Washington and Moscow differ from the terrifying limbo that existed between the superpowers until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, experts say.
Firstly, the Cold War was more than a conflict between two competing superpowers, it was a battle of ideology, a battle of ideas, which simply no longer exists, Evseev told AFP.
Quite simply, as unpalatable as Vladimir Putin’s Russia is to the West at the moment, it is a long way from being the Soviet Union that antagonised Washington and Europe for decades.
Seismic changes have also taken place politically and economically since the collapse of the Iron Curtain, making it impossible to talk of a re-run of the Cold War.
Despite sanctions over Ukraine, the Russian and Western economies are deeply intertwined and politically, Moscow and the West work together on several other thorny issues, notably on preventing Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.
– ‘Cold peace’ –
So what do we have if not a Cold War? Camille Grand from the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research says he prefers the term “Cold Peace”.
The West has to realise that it has entered a new period in geopolitics and “stop wasting our time hoping it will go back to normal,” said the analyst.
However, Radchenko points out one similarity with that period in history: the conflict in Ukraine is being “pursued through proxies”.