New cold war?

INTERESTINGLY, the West’s differences with Russia of late have prompted a little too many concerns about a new Cold War. And every time it has been the West not Russia that has had to remind the world of how much the international political order has changed for such a déjà vu.

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Published: Wed 18 Jul 2007, 9:04 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:55 AM

Also, since President Putin’s outburst in Munich in February, Moscow has been the leading role player in the growing standoff, steadily exploiting geopolitical developments to up the ante in its favour. But the British government’s expulsion of four Russian diplomats for Moscow’s refusal to extradite killed former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko’s suspected killer puts a new spin on the confrontation. Putin’s government is bound to react harshly, especially since it can leverage international law to justify its expected ping-pong response. The Russians have the right to refuse under the European Convention on Extradition 1957.

London’s compulsions, too, are understandable. Not only are they investigating a very sensitive murder case, but one where the modus-operandi involved radioactive poisoning that had the potential of putting many, many more lives at risk. However, domestic concerns aside, the bilateral political friction will most likely play more into Putin’s hands (who is serving out his last term) than Brown’s (who has just been ‘installed’). Already warning of serious consequences, Russia will no doubt expand the playing field, and direct the ill-will towards concerning issues like Iran and Kosovo.

But the worst hit, of course, will come to Russia-UK business relations. The latest episode is bound to take some shine off the increasing bilateral economic cooperation. Even when the tit-for-tat makes way for saner elements to prevail, international diplomatic precedent dictates that official relations will be put in the freezer for some time to come.

Interestingly, though, the Kremlin’s use of the word ‘Russophobia’ to describe the West’s growing list of concerns with Russia goes to show how well Moscow is exploiting international realpolitik to bend popular opinion in its favour. Clearly this is not the last Putin’s Russia will assert itself on the international polity. What it wants is apparently at-par treatment from the world’s most prominent powers. And with their own fortunes dipping as Putin is raising Russia’s, they might just find themselves giving concession after concession as Moscow’s chessplayers hold onto the initiative in the middlegame.

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