Russian Relations With the West Reach a New Low Amid Talk of a New Cold War

Last Updated 8/28 3:50 PM EST

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the European Union would consider sanctions against Russia along with other unspecified measures during a meeting to be held on the Georgian crisis Monday, at the behest of as-yet unnamed EU member nations. He also was reported to have expressed fears that Russia had designs on Moldova and the Crimea, Of the claims, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov replied that Kouchner had “a sick imagination”.

These are just the latest harsh statements from both sides stemming from Tuesday’s decree by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia. The move has been widely condemned by western governments, with Belarus one of the few nations in the region to praise Russia for the move. Russia also said that China and several central Asian countries had voiced support for their role. The Bush Administration has taken a particularly harsh stance, vowing to use its status as a permanent UN Security Council member to ensure that the breakaway regions remain part of Georgia in the eyes of the world.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the US of deliberately provoking the conflict in South Ossetia, suggesting it may have been with the aim of influencing the upcoming US Presidential election. The White House denied the accusation, adding that it “sounds not rational”.

Adding to the tension is the presence of a large number of NATO warships in the Black Sea, though NATO assured that the exercises had been planned over a year in advance and were totally unrelated to the Georgian conflict. Russia reacted strongly, saying that a US naval build-up in the Black Sea could be seen as a declaration of war.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, part of the Ukraine. A prospective NATO member, the Ukraine has said it intends not to renew Russia’s lease on the port when it expires in 2017. This would end Russia’s naval presence in the city, which has been a key military port for them since the 18th century. Many Russians have disputed Ukraine’s ownership of the strategically vital city, claiming that former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred ownership from Russia to the Ukraine on a drunken whim. Earlier this year, Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov said the transfer was illegal, and would attempt to return it to Russian control through the international court system. During the Georgia conflict, Ukraine threatened to blockade the port and refuse reentry to the fleet, though they eventually relented. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko however has threatened to raise the rental fee for the base in retaliation for the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Also harming relations is the United States’ upcoming ballistic missile defense system in eastern Europe. Poland has agreed to house the base, while the Czech Republic is expected to agree shortly to housing a related radar base. President Medvedev has threatened a military response to the missile shield, and General Anatoly Nogovitsyn warned Poland that the agreement made it a top priority target for a future strike.

Though Russia announced last week that it was suspending all military ties with NATO, they assured that the heightened tensions will not affect a long-standing deal with them regarding the transport of certain supplies through Russia into Afghanistan.

This has led to rumblings that we are witnessing the beginning of a new Cold War. President Medvedev said he did not fear such a possibility, while British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned that Medvedev had a responsibility not to start one.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.