Is There a New Cold War with Russia?

Edward Lucas and Mary Dejevsky, both leading commentators on Russia and eastern Europe, discuss the Georgian crisis and its implications for the West

Daniel Johnson: One thing that struck me about recent events is the interesting juxtaposition of President Medvedev describing President Saakashvili as a political corpse, which I take to mean that he doesn’t really recognise the legitimacy of the Georgian government any more, and US Vice-President Cheney in Georgia announcing that the Russians have got to get out of the third of the country they are occupying. So there’s a complete non-­meeting of minds there, and it does begin to resemble a new Cold War. The question is: how should we be reacting to this situation? Europe has played it very softly-softly?.?.?.

Edward Lucas: The Russians have won the war in Georgia. Now there is the question of whether they will win the peace as well. And so far they think they’re winning, because the reaction from Europe has been pretty weak, and they feel that the trade relations they’ve got with France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary will sustain them.

Mary Dejevsky: Britain?

EL: It hasn’t worked in the case of Britain, but they’ve got a camp in the EU and in Nato which sees Russia as an important partner and has not yet decided to change the way it thinks, and so that hobbles both the EU and the Nato reaction. The Americans have a lame-duck president and are not in any real position to act unilaterally.

Probably the biggest miscalculation the Russians made was to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia because that alienated potential and existing allies in Europe: the Greeks are twitchy about it because of Cyprus, the Spanish are because of the Basque and the Catalans. Most seriously, it alienated the Chinese, and this is after eight years during which Putin has assiduously cultivated the Chinese and tried to build up the Shanghai Co-­operation Organisation [SCO] with the central Asian states as a counterweight to American world power. And finally Russia actually did something, and there’s not just a deafening lack of support from the SCO but a deliberate, very clear snub from the Chinese.

MD: You’ll be surprised to hear that I actually agree with you on one point, which is that the Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was a foolish thing to do because they’d refrained from doing it for 17 years, and they hadn’t even acknowledged their independence as a sort of revenge for Kosovo. They would have been better advised to follow the six-point plan of Sarkozy, and have that as the subject of negotiations.

I don’t think it was a foolish idea of the Russians to want a non­aggression treaty, which they said was in negotiation when all of this blew up, and obviously that would have recognised the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that those entities were somehow different from Georgia proper – what the Russians are now calling “core Georgia” when they speak in English. I was also slightly surprised that, although the response from the British and the Americans was officially very sharp, when you looked at the response at an intellectual level – even in Britain where I think opinion tends to be hawkish towards Russia – there was a much more moderated “on the one hand, on the other” response to the ­Russia-­Georgia fracas.

There was a recognition that this wasn’t your average “Russia racing across the border invading” story, even though it had been reported like that. First of all there was the question of who started it, and I tend to think that the actual start was initiated by Georgia – again, a foolish measure – but when you looked at a map, the idea that the West had vital interests down here and that Russia didn’t was also a strange way of looking at it.

EL: I’m less interested in trying to calibrate the levels of Western wimpishness about this, because in the end nothing has happened in the West that has made Russia rethink. And so whether Britain is jolly cross, really jolly cross, or thoroughly discombobulated about it doesn’t really matter if there isn’t going to be a policy change, and that’s still in the works. It may come, but we’re not seeing it yet.

MD: It’s quite hard to see what a policy change could be.

EL: Yes, and Russia has very successfully got to a position where it’s going to be quite difficult for there to be a policy change. The days when we could say “right, no more IMF money” are gone. That was a big sanction, something the Russians remember as rather unpleasant. And because of the chauvinism of the ex-KGB regime, which doesn’t really care about being in Western clubs, saying we’ll chuck you out of the G8 or the Council of Europe just gets the response “Bring it on”. They don’t mind; it will go down quite well at home.

MD: This is where we do start to disagree. The Russians may have won the war on the ground, but they comprehensively lost the PR war. The Georgian PR effort was absolutely extraordinary and very successful. And the Russians were desperate, when people started talking about a new Cold War, to play down that idea. That was when Medvedev, or the Kremlin, summoned a whole slew of Western television people, very carefully chosen, from the international networks: CNN, al-Jazeera, BBC, Russia Today, and they put an article in the FT. The whole thing was designed to send a message around the world: “We don’t want to be isolated, we don’t want a new Cold War – but if you insist, we’re not scared of it.” And then of course they must have despaired at the headlines, which read “Russia not frightened of new Cold War”. So the whole effort had gone wrong. The Russians are worried about us. Isolation means something to them and they don’t want it.

EL: I think ideally they would like not to be isolated because it offers more chance to pursue their interests if they’re integrated in the world economy, and they can build up either dependence or interdependence, depending on how you look at it; that helps them. If they were sincerely worried about their international image, there are things they could have done. Medvedev could have said: “We absolutely and unconditionally respect the territorial integrity of all our neighbours outside Georgia.” If he’d said that there is and will be absolutely no question about the Crimea, the Baltic states or Moldova, that would have gone down very well. He didn’t say that.

MD: The problem is that when you have the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, standing up in Kiev and saying “we will defend your interests to the hilt”, then the Russians feel, rightly or wrongly, that there is a threat.

EL: There is a core weakness, I wouldn’t say just under Putin but even in the Yeltsin years: the Russians don’t understand that there are things that they do that really terrify their neighbours. They say: “The bad things that happened to you were done by the Soviet Union, we’re not the Soviet Union, so therefore, if we do things that sound a bit Soviet, you’ve got no reason to be scared.”

MD: Yes, I agree with you on that too.

EL: I think they quite enjoy scaring their neighbours, but to some extent I think they do actually want to do some quite bad things to them. When Putin says he’s going to dismember Ukraine, I don’t think he’s saying that as a joke.

DJ: But hold on, what about Georgia? It has been effectively dismembered.

MD: Yes, Georgia has been effectively dismembered, but the idea that the dismemberment of Georgia is something new is actually wrong, because the fact is that these two regions have been separate from Georgia both in their populations and in their loyalties for at least two decades or longer.

EL: Not true. South Ossetia is not a proper country, but a patchwork of villages containing a lot of Georgians, and even more South Ossetians. You had villages, even quite close to Tskhinvali, where you had Georgians living. You had relations so good that Saakashvili, when he was campaigning in the presidential election, campaigned in Tskhinvali. Yes, if he’d done that in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, he’d have been shot dead within minutes. But there was not an Iron Curtain inside Georgia. There is now, and there’s been massive ethnic cleansing. That’s point one.

MD: Yes, but that’s because they felt threatened. Exactly like the Falklands.

EL: OK, I’m not denying that possibly they felt threatened. I’m just pointing out the high degree of integration which has now gone. Secondly, in Abkhazia, don’t forget the Kodori Gorge was under Georgian control, there were a lot of Georgians living in the Gali district, and they will be chased out. Whatever the provocation may have been in South Ossetia, nothing excuses the Russian forces coming into Abkhazia and attacking the ­Georgian-­controlled bit of Abkhazia. That was a clear provocation against Georgia.

MD: The Russians regard that part of it as having been illegally controlled by Georgia, and said that the Georgians had infiltrated back in after there was an agreement that they weren’t going to.

EL: Well, it was previously controlled by a warlord, so it’s surprising that the Russians regard that as better. But I do think we could argue endlessly about the rights and wrongs of the Georgia conflict. The big question is what’s going on in Russia. I see a malevolent and almost mentally unbalanced regime of ex-KGB people and their business cronies who are grossly overestimating Russia’s power and grossly underestimating her weaknesses – many of which are their fault. This Putin-­Medvedev regime is bent on restoring something like the Soviet empire but in an economic form – “Soviet empire lite” – in eastern Europe, and is trying to Finlandise western Europe. I think there’s really strong evidence for all that and I’m not sure the Georgia conflict, although it may be relevant to the first point in that it shows they are nuts, is particularly part of what’s really going on, which is an approach much more to the west than to the south.

MD: I tend to agree that the conflict in Georgia was not sought, necessarily, by either side. It just happened. But when they were accused by the Europeans and many others of behaving disproportionately, the Russian response was to say: “Well, what would you call proportionate? Should we have occupied Tbilisi? Should we have effected regime change?” If Russia was serious about restoring either the Soviet Union or the sort of influence and power that existed in Soviet times, it could have gone further. Your thesis is that that’s what the ex-KGB clique in the Kremlin wants to do, and I disagree because the fact that they stopped where they stopped in Georgia disproves it. Russia has put the enclaves firmly into the Russian sphere, but that’s where it has stopped. And it does recognise Georgia de facto as a sovereign state.

EL: All that proves is that they’re not stupid.

MD: Well, it doesn’t just prove that they’re not stupid because they could have done it. They had the forces to do that and they didn’t. That supports the idea that the Russians, even in the Kremlin, accept the post-­Soviet borders of Russia. There are outstanding disputes: over the enclaves in Georgia, over the treatment of ethnic Russian populations that have been stranded, and that would include the Crimea, a third of Ukraine and the ethnic Russians in the Baltic States. But my understanding of what the Russians are about is that they accept the borders.

EL: It would be ridiculous to say that they want to incorporate everything into a new Soviet Union. That’s not what they’re trying to do and I’m not saying that. What they want is pliant governments in these countries. That can be pliancy as a result of military pressure or as a result of economic pressure. It would have been insane for them to attack Tbilisi, because that would have created a unified national resistance – it would have been a new Afghanistan. What they want is regime change forced by the West. So what they want is now to start bargaining, and say “we’ll do this, that and the other if you make Saakashvili do this, that and the other”.

MD: No, the official Russian position is that what happens inside “core” Georgia is up to the Georgians.

EL: They’re saying that Saakashvili’s a war criminal, and they want to extradite him. That doesn’t sound like saying it’s up to the Georgians.

MD: No, they say that Georgia is an independent state.

EL: The fact that Russian prosecutors are collecting evidence to indict Saakashvili for war crimes, and the fact that they see him as a “political corpse”, and that they don’t recognise him as president – this doesn’t suggest to me that they want normal relations.

MD: But that’s because of something very interesting that’s been going on, which is that the Russian foreign ministry and the Kremlin have learnt from Bush a Western canon of vocabulary about how to describe things. So we’ve got “regime change”, “core Georgia”, “the Kosovo situation”, “humanitarian intervention”, all these terms being used by the Russians to defend their own position, because they think that that’s the language that the West understands. Sometimes it’s difficult to argue with, because they look over to Serbia and they say “Miloševi? – we can do that too”.

EL: The big point is that they feel that they’re on the way back, in all sorts of countries: look at the Baltic states. If anyone had said a few years ago that you’d have the Hungarians – after 1956 and all the rest of it – being one of the markedly pro-­Russian countries in Europe, we’d have thought they were insane. If they’d said that we’d have a former German chancellor chairing a ­Russian-­German pipeline, we’d have thought they were insane.

Western politicians don’t do that: if someone had said that Romano Prodi would be approached and nearly take, and a Finnish prime minister would actually take a job working for a Russian pipeline project – again, they’d have been thought insane. That’s what the Russians are really good at, that’s what’s really working. They had to intervene in Georgia because Georgia was a profound ideological threat to them, because Georgia was a success and one which was operating on a fairly different level.

MD: But Georgia remains an “ideological threat” to them because Georgia has been undermined only to the extent that Saakashvili foolishly overstretched himself and decided to take on the Russians over South Ossetia. But Georgia remains a sovereign state, independent and sort of democratic – not wonderfully democratic, not as democratic as the Americans crack it up to be, but nevertheless democratic.

EL: That’s preposterous. The great threat for the Russians was the Rose Revolution which brought Saakashvili to power, just like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. They hate the idea that ex-­Soviet countries, particularly Slav countries and Orthodox countries, can have a different and successful model to the “sovereign democracy”, “managed democracy” – I call it authoritarian crony-­capitalism – of the Kremlin.

MD: That’s a misreading of the situation. Obviously the Russians have to get used to the idea that the world has changed since the Soviet era, but I think they’ve got as used to that idea as it’s reasonable to expect them to be after 17 or 18 years. And the fact that they do accept that former Warsaw Pact countries or former parts of the Soviet Union are independent states, and are treating them as independent states, represents a huge amount of progress. And I don’t think that they’re trying to recreate any sort of zone.

EL: So why does Medvedev say “this is a zone of privileged interests”? That’s the language guaranteed to terrify these countries.

MD: But it’s the same sort of language that the Americans use when they talk about “the hemisphere”. Why is it wrong for the Russians to say that but not wrong for anybody else?

EL: You’re falling into the classic trap of moral equivalence, because you’re saying that there’s no difference between the Soviet empire and the American empire, therefore what goes for the Americans goes for the Russians. I think there’s an absolutely fundamental difference.

MD: The Americans rather undermined their superiority with the Iraq invasion.

EL: Over the past century America has been a force for good in the world; Russia or the Soviet Union was not. The Western system of rule of law and political freedom has a moral quality to it that authoritarian crony-­capitalism doesn’t.

MD: For me, the world is arranged according to perceptions of geopolitics, real and perceived interests, security and wellbeing of population, but the idea of morality as some sort of universal international standard? No, I simply don’t see that.

DJ: Is it actually in Russia’s interests to be behaving in this way, or is it not going to force the West to look elsewhere for its energy supplies, to turn its back on Russia? They can’t reasonably expect that all their neighbours will become satellites like Belarus. That’s not really going to happen, however much the Russians try to bully Estonia with cyber-wars, or Ukraine with pipeline wars, or Georgia with actual wars. The genie of democracy is out of the bottle, isn’t it? They’re not going to go back to being an old-­fashioned sphere of influence, are they?

MD: There’s an absolutely gigantic misunderstanding and misinterpretation, especially in Britain, more heinously in Britain than in almost any other country except possibly the US, of how Russia is behaving. I don’t think Russia is actually behaving as a wounded empire that wants to restore its influence to where it was when the Soviet Union collapsed. A lot of this thinking is based on the familiar quote from Putin: “The collapse of the Soviet Union is the greatest political catastrophe of the 20th century.”

DJ: He does believe that, though, doesn’t he?

MD: Yes, but that is how huge numbers of Russians perceived it. It doesn’t mean they don’t accept that it is over and that it can’t be reconstituted

EL: I am not saying that they are trying to reconstitute a “hard” version of the Soviet empire. But let’s call them the Russian ruling elite, as a convenient shorthand. I think that they are a bunch of ex?KGB people.

MD: I don’t.

EL: You draw it more widely. They’ve got huge advantages. They’ve got money in a way that the Soviet Union never had money, because Russia is rich now. They are not shackled by Communist ideology, which was very unpopular and didn’t work. They are able to use money against the West, at a time when the West believes that only money matters. If you take, as I think you do, a completely amoral view of international relations, then you really are open to the charge: how do we defend ourselves? If we think only money matters, then what is wrong with a German or British politician being given a large amount of money to do something which is going to be good for the company? Would you see anything wrong, for example, with a British politician leaving government and becoming chairman of Centrica, and then brokering the sale of Centrica to Gazprom?

MD: We do have British ex-­politicians who are involved in the BP enterprise in Russia, TNK-BP, such as its deputy chairman, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the former Defence Secretary and Secretary-General of Nato, so I think that we are already in that territory. Politely you would call it globalisation, and I am not sure that there’s a difference.

EL: People are quite wrong when they say that Putin is great because he is standing up to globalisation, giving Western multinationals a bloody nose, refusing WTO; that is a complete misreading. What Russia loves is the global economy, because it gives them a chance to do things that they could never do in the Soviet era. You can list your shares, you can list Gazprom shares – Gazprom is ­basically the gas department of the Kremlin – on the New York Stock Exchange. It can behave like a quoted company.

MD: I don’t disagree with you, but we made the rules that made that possible.

EL: Yes, and perhaps when we made those rules we didn’t envisage that they would be used by organisations that come very close to being organised crime syndicates.

DJ: Mary, you made the very strong point that Russia has learnt how to use Western vocabulary about human rights and genocide. Edward, you’ve made the point that Russia has learnt how to use capitalism for its own advantage. This prompts a question: is there, and can there be, a new Cold War when the ideological gulf that fuelled the old Cold War simply isn’t there – where they can use our language, use our economic system and there isn’t an equivalent of communism? Is it a misnomer to talk about a new Cold War?

EL: Well, the old Cold War was global. This isn’t global because Russia isn’t strong enough, and there isn’t a global adversary to the West in the way that the Soviet Union was. The old Cold War was military, and this can’t be military except in terms of nuclear exchange, and possibly not even then because the Russian military is so weak that it can barely defeat the Georgians.

DJ: We’re very weak, too, in Europe.

EL: Even so, the Russian troops trying to invade South Ossetia were nearly asphyxiated in the Roki tunnel because the movement control was so bad. The third element is ideology – clearly it’s not communist ideology, but I think that there is a sharp ideological contrast that you can see very clearly if you go to Estonia. You have, on the one hand, a law-governed, Western free market – perhaps too free-market for Mary’s liking, but a kind of hybrid ­European-­Atlantic economic model, lively free press, very strong integration, ardently europhile. And then just across the border on the other side of the Narva river you have no free press, this semi-­fascist system of an extremely dominant ruling party which has huge interests in business and other parts of the public sector.

Now I’m not saying that our model works better. I would like it to work better because I believe in it. But there is an empirical test, and I think that the Russians would argue quite strongly, along with east Asia and elsewhere, that “actually your democracy doesn’t work very well and our model is much better”. There is a great quote from Alexander Shokhin, who used to be seen as rather a reform-­minded Russian business leader, who told the FT: “We have our plan of development worked out until 2015, and in America they don’t even know who the next president is.”

MD: I am probably as much a fan as you of the Baltic states and eastern and central European countries. Liberation was the best thing – they are happy little countries with a sense of their own identity and purpose.

EL: Big countries in the case of Poland.

MD: Right. But what the end of the Warsaw Pact has done for them, or they did for themselves, is spectacular in such a short time. Maybe there were a few borders that ought to have been redrawn by a few kilometres, and maybe we wouldn’t be in the position we are in with Georgia and with the ethnic Russian population of the Baltic states. But the Russians understand that the borders are fixed.

EL: They won’t sign a border treaty with Estonia, though.

MD: The Russians say that Estonia won’t sign a border treaty with them.
EL: The Russians have said we will only sign these documents if you will formally acknowledge that pre-war Estonia’s legal existence has no relevance to this treaty. So they are asking the Estonians to humiliate themselves before them.

MD: As I understand it, the difficulty comes from the other side. You talk of Russia’s strength and wealth, but I think Russia is still incredibly weak. It has got enormous problems down the line; it doesn’t look like it now, but the infrastructure is all Soviet era. It is a catastrophe. The Moscow metro could fall to pieces in the next 10 years; the whole city would simply come to a halt.

EL: But isn’t that a terrible indictment of the Putin regime? Eight years, tens of billions of dollars coming in – the first time in practically the whole of Russian history in which they have had no shortage of money – and the infrastructure is worse than it was when he came in.

MD: But in some ways they have got no expertise to use it. And so they have got no managers, they have got a shortage of technicians, all the people to do this sort of thing; they are only now starting to formulate plans and set up big infrastructure projects – so many airports, so many dams, so many power stations. Maybe they should have done this 17 years ago but what with getting used to the idea that the Soviet Union was over – the idea that central authority is really dissipated around the regions – trying to do anything through the 1990s was completely impossible. So I don’t think we should be too condemning that it has taken them so long to get their act together.

EL: I am a Russophile and I feel sad that the Russians are missing an incredible chance to modernise.

MD: I think they are only just starting to modernise.

EL: We have been hearing that they are only just starting for a long time. For eight years they have had unlimited money, the most
popular political leader I would say they have ever had, all the advantage of the global economy. All they had to do was say to the contractors: “Build us some roads.”

MD: I think that is why Putin wanted to become prime minister, at least for a year or two, so that he was in an executive position to do it.

EL: Instead of which they just stole tens of billions of dollars, flagrantly and shamelessly. We have companies like RosUkrEnergo, a gas company which owns no gas field, no gas storage, no gas pipelines – it goes from nought to $4bn in two years.

MD: Sort of like Enron.

EL: Much worse than Enron, because it hasn’t been found out. It’s not publicly traded so there’s no discipline from the capital markets. At least at the core of Enron was a business model that went wrong. At the core of RosUkrEnergo is buying gas cheap from Turkmenistan, paying nothing to transport it across Russia, then selling it extremely advantageously to the Ukrainians. And we don’t know who owns RosUkrEnergo because the identity of the beneficial owners is concealed by its Western bank. That is an absolute scandal, and it’s the third time this has happened. And we are saying “Oh well, poor things, what can you expect?” I think that’s patronising and terribly unfair on the Russians.

MD: That is because the state and the rule of law are not working properly. And 17 years, it seems to me, is not that long. They had the financial collapse in 1998, they are only just building up from there.
DJ: What about the military threat? This is the thing that is worrying people most profoundly in the West.

EL: There is no military threat.

MD: I agree.

DJ: At least we can agree on that! But is there not a very large amount of money now being poured into military projects?

EL: The main money is going into strategic nukes. The problem with the Russian military is that it’s just as corrupt and inefficient as other bits of Russia: billions of roubles go in, not much comes out. They are supposed to be building a dozen new aircraft carriers – they can’t even repair one. The Russian naval manoeuvres off the Bay of Biscay, which were supposedly the great exposition of Russian naval power, were run with 20 ships. It sounds good – but that was the entire navy. They have only 20 seaworthy major surface ships. What we should worry about a little bit, I think, is the asymmetrical weapons: the Shkval torpedo, the Moskit ship-to-ship missile, the S?400 air defence system. These are things that in a conflict can make a difference to big Western things like aircraft carriers, and so it matters if they are sold to Iran or China.

I don’t think that anybody is saying that Russia would be able to stand up to Nato in a military confrontation – if Nato chose to fight. This is where I disagree with Mary, I suspect: I can see scenarios in which the Baltic states are under threat, they appeal for a Nato Article Five guarantee, and don’t get it because the Germans and the French will say: “The Russians are intervening in the Baltic states to protect their passport-holders whom you are unable to protect, and you have to sort this out with the Russians by yourselves.” And that is a real scenario that real people are talking about right now.

MD: I don’t completely disagree with that; where I do agree absolutely is that the Russian military has had lots of money poured into it, had lots of attention, and it is still an area of total catastrophe, which means that it is not a threat. I do think that there is a way in which the Russian military, even in its catastrophic state, can be seen as a threat, which is because it is so ramshackle, so corrupt, that there is an extent to which bits of it can be out of control. Either they are not under discipline, they don’t respond to orders to do anything, or they act on their own initiative. And some of the accounts of what was going on in Georgia suggest that there was a degree of disorganisation and freelance activity in the Russian military, much as there was in Chechnya. That is a danger. Not a danger to the West, but it is a danger in the periphery because it means that if there is escalating tension, then it comes to blows sooner than it should do because of the lack of discipline.

EL: Does the West have the will to defend itself? What the Russians have realised is that when they shake their admittedly arthritic and rather puny fists in our face, we flinch. The real lesson of Georgia is that they pretty much wiped out a prime Western protégé. That really matters from the point of view of oil and gas, and really matters from an ideological point of view, because this was the only country in that part of the world that was heading towards our kind of democracy. And they have crippled it. I strongly disagree with Mary that Georgia can still function; I think that Georgia is at risk of going into a tailspin. And that was a very interesting test of our resolve and I think we have failed it. And the lesson that Russians take away from this is that although they already have all these problems at home – I completely agree with Mary about that – they can ride on a crest of war fever and triumphalism. For the first time since 1945 the Russian army actually won something.

MD: I don’t disagree. But I do disagree with the idea that it is Russian belligerence and desire to put itself back on the map, that that is the lesson to come out of this. I think that there is a different lesson, which is that the Americans in particular gave encouragement to Georgia and Ukraine to believe that they were being fast-­tracked into Nato. Now, there was no time scale because that wasn’t agreed at the Bucharest Nato summit in April, but they allowed them to believe that they were somehow already under the Western defence umbrella. What happened in Georgia absolutely disproved that, because it showed that the one thing the Americans were not prepared to do was fight. And now you have the borders of the American sphere of influence demarcated, because the Russians have shown how far they will go, which is up to the end of the enclaves and no further, and the Americans have shown how far they will go, which is up to the port of Poti but no further.

EL: I would agree with you that the Nato summit sent a disastrous signal.

MD: I thought it was a good signal.

EL: I think it sent a signal to the Russians that you can attack Georgia and we won’t do anything. It sent a signal to some people in Georgia that they were going to get into Nato anyway, so maybe they could behave rather more boldly than was wise. This has been a demonstration of the weakness of American power.

MD: Absolutely.

EL: I think we are now left with a situation where Nato looks broken, the EU looks broken, the one thing the eastern European countries did think might work, which is a direct relationship with America – which is why Poland and the Czech Republic went for missile defence – even that doesn’t help. Georgia didn’t have Nato, didn’t have the EU, but it did have a direct security relationship with America, and it proved not to count for very much. Now everything is up in the air, we can still prove that Nato means something, we can still prove that the EU means something, that a direct relationship with America means something. If we don’t, we face Russia being able to pick the countries of Europe off one by one. Not necessarily militarily – they can do it by bribing politicians, they can do it by stoking insurrections, they can do it in all sorts of ways. We are comprehensively screwed – we will have lost the new Cold War before we even realised it was happening.

MD: I don’t think we are fighting a new Cold War and therefore it simply shows the limits of what the West is prepared to defend militarily. And it also shows that the post-­Soviet borders have actually endured. And the idea that the Russians want to pick off these states one by one is wrong. De facto, we have established in the past three years, and especially in Georgia in the last month, where the new borders are going to run.

EL: The old Soviet definition of a secure border was one where both sides of it were controlled by the Soviet Union. I think that the Russian definition of a secure border is one where both sides of it are controlled by Russia – and that is what we are getting.

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