After Joe Biden came to power, he made the biggest mistake a US President can commit in the 21st century- start Cold War 2.0 with Russia. The Biden administration has deliberately redesigned the Cold War era. He has brought back the era of bloc politics, American sanctions and Russian retaliation. Eastern Europe is once again becoming the battlefield of US-Russia competition and tensions are escalating time and again in regions surrounding Russia’s borders.
But what is Biden’s Cold War 2.0 doing? Is it helping Washington? We don’t see that happening. Neither is it helping the US stop a bigger danger in China’s rise, nor is it improving American stature. Is it helping Biden punish Russia? Well, no. To be blunt, Cold War 2.0 is helping Russia regain the stature it lost after the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union.
The bigger question here is if the world needs a Second Cold War between the US and Russia, or more specifically, if the US needs a Cold War 2.0? For that, we need to understand how the First Cold War ended. The USSR was defeated and it collapsed into several Republics, including Russia. The biggest consequence of the Soviet collapse was that Moscow lost its “privileged sphere of influence,” in the form of Eastern Europe.
Another big consequence of the big Soviet collapse was Russian isolation. The West was initially hopeful that Moscow would incorporate the Western-styled Democratic system. But soon it realised that Russia’s system is fundamentally different from the Western world. On the other hand, Indo-Pacific powers like India, Japan and South Korea kept growing closer to the US and while New Delhi shared warm ties with Moscow, it got progressively closer to the United States.
Thereafter, European powers like France and Germany moved ahead with reticence towards Russia. The history of the Cold War behind them and Russia’s inability to change itself in a post-Soviet world compelled Germany to treat Russia as diplomatically untouchable. France, on the other hand, started following a policy of limited engagement with Moscow especially under the leadership of present President Emmanuel Macron.
Russia and the US remained ideological foes. For whatever reasons, Moscow did not dismantle its authoritarian structures and institutions. Yet, Russia never emerged as a tangible threat to the US. If the US decided to remain indifferent towards Russia, there was practically nothing much that the Kremlin could have done to harm American interests.
Now, what is Biden’s Cold War doing? As we claimed, it is helping Moscow gain its Soviet-era stature. Firstly, it is paving way for interaction of Russia with European powers.
The Ukraine-Russia conflict showed how France and Germany have realised that they must take care of their own security interests, independently of the White House policies. So, while Biden was provoking Ukraine to lock horns with Moscow, Paris and Berlin had no qualms in searching for a diplomatic solution with Russia.
Similarly, in the Indo-Pacific, Biden is taking the attention away from Russia. So, countries like India and Japan find it beneficial to interact with Russia. New Delhi and Tokyo understand the perils of a Russia-China combination howsoever superficial it may be. So, Russia is also coming closer to the Indo-Pacific powers. The process of growing proximity between Russia and Indo-Pacific powers is therefore only getting accelerated with Biden’s accession to power in the US.
Finally, Biden’s powerplay is reactivating the main venue of the previous Cold War- Eastern Europe. Till now, there was a clear drift in the region towards the EU. In fact, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has often been described as Europe’s last dictator. Most other Eastern European nations have either joined the EU or have been at least trying to join the Brussels-based intergovernmental bloc.
Eastern Europe was clearly losing interest in Moscow. If Biden is really the ace diplomat that he claims to be, he should have left the region as it is and let smaller nations drift Westwards. However, the US President has unnecessarily provoked Eastern European nations against Russia. This has allowed Moscow to retaliate against Western manoeuvres. So, Moscow gets a fresh opportunity to use a mixture of threats, fears and inducements to allure some Eastern European nations all over again.
Biden’s tussles with Putin has allowed Russia to show its military muscle against Ukraine. And given the inherent divisions in the Western world, Ukraine did show signs of engaging Russia at a diplomatic level. Biden shouldn’t be surprised now if Putin starts making sudden inroads into Eastern Europe.
Let’s be very clear- Russia lost the first Cold War. So, it has nothing to lose and everything to gain. If big powers find it beneficial to engage Russia in their self-interest and any small powers turn towards Moscow, it will be a win for Putin and a loss for Biden. In no case is Putin going to lose, because he has nothing to lose in the first place.
Biden is igniting an unnecessary scuffle with Russia, and if the US loses anything in this imprudent face-off, the sitting US President would be the only person to be blamed.