Cold War 2.0 Heats Up: Washington Dusts Off Russia "Containment" Plans

The “ceasefire” — if you can call it that — that has been in place in Ukraine since February’s Minsk Accord has fallen apart this week with the fiercest fighting in months claiming dozens of lives and prompting President Petro Poroshenko to launch a media blitz in an attempt to rally the West against what he claims is a renewed offensive by Russian-backed separatists. 

Russian media contends the separatists were only defending themselves after they began to take artillery fire. Ukraine, by contrast, claims its soldiers came under attack by rebel tanks. “We had some storming action by between 500 and 1,000 servicemen of the militants, with a large number of tanks and armored machinery, apparently counting on being able to quickly capture Maryinka,” Poroshenko said.

Now, Ukraine is stepping up calls for Washington to send lethal aid to Kiev, casting the conflict as a war on Western, democratic values. Here’s The NY Times:

In what amounted to a multidimensional confidence-building campaign, President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine tried on Friday to rally international support for his country and to maintain pressure on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, including economic sanctions.


Mr. Poroshenko held a major news conference, gave interviews to foreign journalists, spoke by phone with President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and prepared to welcome two visiting prime ministers to Kiev, Shinzo Abe of Japan and Stephen Harper of Canada..


“We will defend our country, our territorial integrity and our independence by ourselves,” Mr. Poroshenko said in an interview with journalists from a small group of foreign news organizations, including The New York Times. “We have weapons for that. But unfortunately we are fighting with the weapons from the 20th century, from the time of the Soviet Union, against the Russian — most modern — weapons of the 21st century.”


He added, “Here we are defending freedom, we are defending democracy, we are defending European values, and the actual reason of this war is the right of the Ukrainian people to live under European standards, with European values, in the European Union.”

To be sure, this is an opportune time for Poroshenko to appeal to the US and its allies for assistance (which makes last week's Russian "offensive" seem rather convenient). President Obama will attend a G-7 summit in Germany this weekend and will now come equipped with 'evidence' to support calls for stepped up sanctions on Russia. Obama may be seeking to rally support ahead of what looks to be a major strategy shift in realtions between NATO and Moscow. WSJ has more:

Obama administration officials are considering new deterrence strategies to rein in Russian meddling in Europe, in what some say would amount to an updated version of Cold War-era containment.


The proposed approach involves beefing up the militaries of allies and would-be partners and rooting out government corruption, which they see Moscow exploiting to gain more influence.


Some administration officials also want to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to limit Moscow’s orbit. Membership for Ukraine or Georgia remains off the table, but some Pentagon and administration officials are advocating admitting the small Balkan country of Montenegro to solidify the country’s ties to the West and show that Mr. Putin doesn’t have a veto over alliance expansion.


The longer-term measures under discussion, officials say, stem from a recognition that Moscow has refused to moderate its posture after its territorial grab last year in Ukraine, and that U.S. and European attempts at diplomacy and sanctions alone won’t be enough to force a change. Those measures would include stepping up training for European allies to help partner militaries resist the kinds of so-called hybrid tactics—like training surrogate forces and conducting snap border exercises—that Russia has used effectively in Ukraine.


The impetus toward a policy shift also is driven by the conclusion that U.S. steps to reassure regional allies must be bolstered by other measures against possible Russian intrusions.


The Pentagon also is drafting plans for where to position new stocks of military equipment for use in a crisis or for stepped-up training exercises. That would entail additional U.S. troops assigned to rotating duty in the region. But Washington remains opposed, for now, to rebuilding permanent U.S. troop formations in Europe.


The administration is accelerating work on new military technologies to better counter Russian military advances and try to offset advances by Moscow, and deter Russia from using its increasing military prowess.


The policy deliberations are gaining momentum. On Friday, Mr. Carter gathered a group of military leaders in Stuttgart, Germany, to discuss the broader U.S. strategy to Russia..

Inside the White House, meanwhile, the National Security Council is at work on an overhaul of its Russia strategy that formally casts aside the policy of “reset” that dominated Mr. Obama’s first term.

The only thing being "reset" now, it appears, is the Cold War. 

For its part, Moscow says Kiev "constantly" threatens to violate the ceasefire and refuses to engage in constructive dialogue. 

From The Guardian:

“All agreements should be fully implemented so that no one is able to derail fragile progress by resuming military activity,” the Russian foreign ministry wrote on its Twitter feed, quoting minister Sergei Lavrov. “We must know who is shelling communities, thereby violating not only the Minsk agreements, but also international humanitarian law.”


Lavrov blamed Kiev for this week’s upsurge in fighting.


“The February Minsk agreements are constantly under threat because of the actions of the Kiev authorities, trying to walk away from their obligations to foster direct dialogue with Donbass,” he said.

While it's impossible to accurately assess the fluid situation on the ground, what does seem clear is that neither side has the will (or even the desire) to deescalate the conflict.

For Washington, now seems like a particularly inopportune time to begin dusting off Cold War containment policies and ratcheting up the war rheotric with Russia. The US is already engaged in a tense war of words with China over the latter's land reclamation projects in the South China Sea, and all signs point to boots on the ground in Iraq (and eventually Syria) by year end. Once again, US foreign policy now revolves squarely around the projection of military prowess. 

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(a video from The Guardian shows gunbattles in Eastern Ukraine)