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Russian Poker? Why The New Cold War May Be About To Thaw

Facing potential Second Cold War, participating countries strategize as if playing poker.
Facing potential Second Cold War, participating countries strategize as if playing poker.
Stanislav Kucher

-Analysis-

MOSCOW — The list is long: the scandal around the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, an unprecedented expulsion of Russian diplomats, sanctions leading to the fall of the ruble and a hit on aluminum giant Rusal, retaliatory sanctions, strikes on Syria and over-the-top rhetoric of official Moscow during and after all-the-above crises. Judging by these events, which cry out that we are in full "new Cold War" territory, a kind of turbo poker match is on with the participation of leading Western countries on one hand and Russia and Iran on the other. How will it play out?

For starters, the Americans, British and French have incommensurably more chips. Russians and Iranians have the deck stacked against them, and their constant bluffs do not appear to working. There remain three variants: either Russia turns over the table, or radically changes their strategy, or, having conceded defeat with a smile, leaves the table and goes back to looking to earn a decent living some other way.

I will share with you a quotation that was passed onto me by an old friend, an international lawyer, son of a high-ranking Soviet diplomat who'd served in Washington in the middle of the 1980s. It says a lot and comes from a surprising source: "Our country is large, it has a strong economy, rich resources. So it will somehow survive all these blockades, sanctions. As for Washington's allies that are much more dependent on foreign trade, the policy of cowboy attacks against normal economic relations will affect them much more."

Russian journalist Vsevolod Ovchinnikov — Photo: АндрейОрлов

These words had come from a prominent journalist and TV presenter more than two years after the deployment of our troops in a Middle Eastern country torn apart by a civil war, less than a year after a charismatic Republican president took over the White House, three years before Russia began to seek rapprochement with the West and nine years before the state named the Soviet Union collapsed.

These words from the edition of "International Panorama" in the middle of 1982 came from Vsevolod Ovchinnikov, and they can be easily found on the Internet. The friend who sent it to me, unlike his father, never worked for the state, though neither is an active opponent. He is a successful professional in his sphere, a pragmatist who has always sought to stay out of politics.

No less precious, to my mind, was the brief commentary that he attached to his message: "History repeats. Only now everything promises to happen much quicker."

I completely support this prognosis that is bad news for some and a real sign of hope for others.

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Geopolitics

Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen

-Analysis-

HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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