After no less a person that President Obama said there is no Cold War with Russia, talking heads have been popping up to agree with him. We are not fighting Russia, it’s just a disagreement, just sanctions. No military involved, definitely not a cold war. Putin and Obama are just disagreeing on a few minor details.
Just go back to sleep, nothing happening here.
Now the thought of a Cold War creates certain ideas, it brings back memories for those of us old enough to remember it. It also brings up a lot of history for those who Google it. Images, stories and video of ships or planes trying to ram each other, multimillion dollar games of chicken. Minor nations all over the world turned into proxy war zones.
All terrible enough and hardly something that a sane person wants to live with.
Problem is we live in the 21st century now, have done for over a decade and War is something very different to most people’s ideas of armies of tanks and soldiers fighting each other across Europe or Africa or Russia.
In the 21st century we have many ways of fighting a war, Cold or Hot. We have military and economic, we have social and cultural, we have political, we have cybernetic and we have many more.
Very few of these involve direct or indirect military action. Most in fact happen out of sight and behind the scenes. But they are none the less very real and capable of Defeating or Destroying.
Let me explain briefly what I consider the meanings of Cold War and Hot war in this century:
COLD WAR. Two or more powers who seek to defeat each other over one or more points of contention.
HOT WAR. Two or more powers who seek to destroy each other.
DEFEAT: win a victory over (someone) in a battle or other contest; overcome or beat.
DESTROY: end the existence of (something) by damaging or attacking it.
You can defeat someone again and again, each time winning over a single point of contention. But when you destroy someone they are gone, never to oppose you again. During World War 2 the allies fought to Defeat German but to Destroy the Nazi regime. Big difference.
So a Cold War is fought to achieve a local or specific victory, to overcome a resistance, to force or prevent a change. Last century everyone focused on the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West but there were many examples of nations seeking to defeat each other economically or militarily. How many governments were weakened or overthrown by one side or the other, how many were put into power.
I would make the case that the US via the NSA is in a state of Cybernetic Cold War with most of the world as they spy on and monitor the private and secret data of many nations. China is in a state of Economic and Cybernetic Cold War with the West.
By my definition we have a very real Cold War between the West on one side and Russia on the other. This is being fought through economic warfare, political warfare, propaganda, espionage and threat.
Since the Ukraine started to fall apart, the situation has become a proxy fight for two opposed power blocks. We have the Pro EU, Pro Western regime in Kiev and we have the Pro Russian, Pro Putin Crimea and the separatists in the East of the country.
The first attacks were political, propaganda and economic. Sanctions launched against a handful of Putin's close supporters.
Nothing that anyone took seriously and the source of much humour.
Then step by step more was done, stronger and more widespread sanctions have been applied.
Russian Banks were blocked from access to Western money, Russian arms dealers were blocked from Western markets, Aeroflot was blocked from Western Skies.
Each of these an attempt to defeat Russia and Putin in the matter of the Ukraine, the EU was laying claim to that country and Russia had to be defeated and driven off no matter the fact that all of this is happening on Russia’s borders in a nation with a sizable Russian ethnic and cultural population and very far from the West.
Russia has now reached the point where it is no longer prepared to put up with the economic and political pain and is striking back.
Russia has been defeated many times over the years in many forms of Cold War. They lost the cultural war when Russian’s started wearing Jeans, listening to western music, when the first MacDonald’s and Starbucks opened in Moscow.
Banning MacDonald’s food imports was a small cultural counter attack.
Banning all European food imports is a very significant economic attack. Western food exports to Russia are substantial, £10 billion or so this year and the pain of such a ban will be felt not just in the kitchens of Russia but also in the farms of Europe.
Russia is already reported to be finding alternative sources of imports from other nations not tied to the EU. China and Brazil have both been mentioned.
This has several short and long term impacts that are not being discussed and which are capable of having significant impacts on all of us.
The loss of export is going to hurt Europe’s farmers and food producers in several ways.
Firstly the loss of direct sales, they are losing a big customer which means a loss of cash flow, never something any company wants.
Secondly all of that food that was to be sold to Russia is now surplus, with no time to find new customers overseas all that food is going to end up in the European markets, supply exceeding demand locally so prices will inevitably fall as market completion takes effect.
Now I have seen a number of people comment that falling food prices is a good thing, yes and no. For the households of Europe falling costs is good, particularly as we find ourselves in an economic climate of falling real term income. But we also live in a time when farmers and food suppliers exist on razor thin profit margins, our supermarkets make sure of that. So as prices fall even a little we will see that our food providers will find themselves making a loss on the food they sell.
That leaves us in a situation where either the EU forces the prices back up with food mountains and milk lakes (remember those) or where increasing numbers of our farmers and food companies fail and collapse. Neither case is good, both have long term implications that are very bad for the whole of Europe.
Next we have to look at the effects of this ban on markets and trade structures. If Russia is able to replace European foods with imports from other BRICS nations or other countries then very quickly this will become the new norm. It will take time to set up new import structures outside of Europe but once they are in place they will quickly become permanent, sounding the death knell for Europe’s food exports to the vast Russian market.
This is the sort of thing that can quickly become irreversible and doing so will cause economic chaos in Europe. This food ban in fact will have a potentially far higher impact on the people of Europe than the flying ban.
Speaking of flying. Aeroflot was blocked from European airspace. I have heard several times that Putin is considering banning all European airlines from Russian airspace. This will be a vast act of economic war. Russia as a nation is the largest land mass on the planet. Blocking all European flights from overflying Russian airspace will effectively stop all European flights to the far east that do not go via the middle east and China or across the Atlantic via the US. Look at the map to get an idea of just how big Russia is.
The worlds major airports have a finite capacity. Look at Heathrow and the constant arguments over the need to expand it so more flights can use it. Landing and takeoff slots are booked well in advance, airlines block book and fiercely defend their slots. It is extremely difficult for an airline to gain access to a new airport, there is simply not enough capacity. So were Russia to block all European flights across its airspace the result would be air travel chaos.
Airlines that are focused on flights across Russia will most likely go under, airlines that have enough routes outside of Europe will probably survive if they can handle the financial losses. Long distance air travel prices will increase as demand rapidly overcomes supply, every single air traveler from Europe that wants to reach the far east is now competing for seats with people flying to the US or across the Middle East and then china since this is now the only way to reach Hong Kong or Tokyo without flying over Russia. All the aircraft that are currently flying over Russia (thousands of flights a day) will be grounded; they cannot be diverted to airports that have no space for them.
Combine this with other restrictions to flight paths to avoid overflying war zones.
Prices rise, travel by air along with imports and exports by air become more expensive.
Once food is banned, once flights are banned. Where then, what is the next step. Where do the two sides in this Cold War go, me, I think that once all other trade and travel has been stopped the next step is going to be shutting down the gas pipelines, there will be little left to do other than turning off the gas taps.
By that point both sides are going to be hurting badly, the economic fallout of all of this is going to be savage and it is going to be the people and the small companies who suffer and fail.
Ten billions here, ten billions there and pretty soon it will be serious money, serious enough to push Russia into a closer alliance with the other BRICS nations as it fights for its survival and push the EU ever closer to the US and the IMF as the Euro zones begins to collapse. Two great power blocks glaring at each other across the world, the old one fighting to remain in power and the new one fighting for dominance and its place in the sun without being under the shadow of the West.
These sanctions are attempts to defeat the other, make no mistake, this is a series of battles and the intention of the West is to defeat Russia and by extension BRICS again and again until they no longer pose a threat to the Old Imperial Powers.
Not a cold war. You clearly have no idea what is going on.