Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

A New Cold War or a Game of Chess?

By Marc GetzoffPublished March 17, 2014

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Russia's assertion of regional dominance in the Ukraine has reached a climax that leaves it up to the U.S to respond. After losing their support of Ukraine, Russia has moved to assert its regional dominance and has left the U.S to decide whether it will play this game of Chess of start a new Cold War.
By Marc Getzoff, 3/17/14

The recent events in Ukraine have completely altered the power structure in Eastern Europe, and this may or may not result in a new explosion of tensions. Russia's desire to expand its regional power in the face of the loss of Ukraine has resulted in a complicated diplomatic issue for the U.S. — either play the game of Chess or start a new Cold War.

Let's back up here. For the past decade there has been growing tension between the U.S. and Russia over both regional and global power. Since the fall of the USSR, Russia's power has weakened and many within the country have looked to strong nationalists like Putin to restore Russian prominence and power. Russia was the main preventer in any UN or multinational effort in Syria. Their backing of Assad restricted the U.S. to simple light funding of certain rebel groups. The South Ossetian War exemplified Russia's desire to reassert itself. Once its military had a chance to act, it moved in and established itself as the dominant regional power. Numerous other accounts of Russia and the U.S. battling over the loyalties and economies of other nations have occurred, yet none so powerful as the one now taking place in Ukraine.

Losing their stronghold of support in the Ukrainian government was a powerful blow to Russian power. It lost the ability to fully exploit Ukraine's dependence on Russia's gas and Ukraine's move to join the EU would result in much greater economic independence from Russia's grasp. At first, this was a game of chess. The EU and the U.S. came out in full support of the protesters and practically overnight recognized them as the legitimate government. Now it was Russia's turn to move. The Russian military occupation of Crimea is both a global statement of Russian power and a desperate attempt to secure its military power. Without Crimea, Russia would lose its naval presence in the Black Sea. However, this new direct action puts the U.S. in an uncomfortable position between Chess and Cold War.

The U.S. must now decide whether it will raise the level of tension into a new Cold War. Russia has made its claim to Crimea through its supposedly "uncorrupt" referendum. The Ukrainian government has mobilized troops in response. In a Cold War, any action taken against the enemy may be deemed appropriate and necessary. This could entail promising military support to the Ukrainians or placing sanctions on most of Russian trade. Hoping to avoid this conflict, the U.S. has placed limited sanctions and has not promised military support. As the tensions between Ukraine and Russia increase, the U.S. finds itself in the difficult position of whether or not to raise the stakes. A New Cold War could be disastrous for the world, leading to violent conflicts and economic sanctions. However, the U.S. must weight this cost with the possibility of Russia continuing to expand its power.