Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The new Cold War

You have to hand it to the Russians: they're awfully good at destabilizing continents. Thanks to Vladimir Putin's seizure of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, America's most isolationist president since Herbert Hoover and Europe's most pacifist leaders ever are finally making a show of force at the fault line between Moscow and the Western world.

15,000 troops from 22 nations are taking part in war games this month, in the Baltic Sea and in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Romania, countries ruled for 45 years from Moscow but freed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. During that long occupation, the three Baltic countries were seeded with large populations of Russians, who still speak the language and whose sympathies of course lie with Moscow. It is just such a Fifth Column that makes Putin's occupation of eastern Ukraine possible.

Of course 15,000 is a pathetic number; NATO is merely sending a message to the Poles, the "Balts," and the Romanians that it has their back. Putin can and probably will double down, just as Stalin doubled down when the US resisted his attempt to take over West Berlin in 1948. That's how cold wars begin, and if the last one -- 1948-1990 -- taught us anything, it's that cold wars occasionally turn hot.

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