This New Cold War Mirrors The Past

by | Jul 5, 2024 | Opinion

By Zoltán Kész and Levente Nagy-Pál

On the night of October 5, 2022, the residents of Kyiv heard strange buzzing sounds overhead, followed by explosions. The experience for the civilian population was not much different from what the citizens of London may have felt in 1944 when Hitler began bombing the British capital without any strategic purpose.

The people of Kyiv had no idea that night that a new alliance was sending deadly drones that would fundamentally shape world politics for decades to come. A new kind of “Cold War” had begun.

Iran immediately denied supplying the Shaahed-136 drones to Russia for the Kyiv attack. Russia remained silent, knowing it was only a matter of days before the wreckage would reveal the truth of Iran’s involvement to the world.

RELATED: ROFF: Biden’s Problems Aren’t Just Beginning – They’ve Been Here All Along

A cold war isn’t necessarily hands-off. It’s about pinpricks and taking sides.

The international community was quick to react to the attack. Experts knew of Iran and Russia’s increasingly close ties, especially in the trading of military technology. It was assumed that the technology transfer would be primarily from Russia to Iran, not vice versa. Yet here it was: a theocratic Iran, openly hostile to Western civilization, forming a close alliance with Russia, which casts itself as a champion of Christianity and even persecutes practicing Muslims within its borders.  So, too, does Xi’s China, another pillar of this alliance since signing a 25-year cooperation agreement with Tehran.

As political and military analysts pondered this alliance, Putin’s men continually searched for partners to help replenish Russia’s depleted military resources. The Russian military and economy were not prepared for a prolonged war, and the Russian reserves were exhausted within a few months. Urgently needing military supplies, Iran was not the only partner considered. North Korea and China were also Russia’s potential allies.

North Korea under Kim Jong Un’s regime is more isolated than ever, with its economy finally bottomed out and its people enduring starvation. For North Korea, Russia is a valuable partner with whom they trade their only exportable goods — simple artillery shells and Kalashnikov rifles. The Russian military, unable to succeed with integrated complex military technology on the Ukrainian front, reverted to the Soviet doctrine of overwhelming the enemy with sheer quantity.

North Korea’s friendship with Russia goes back to Soviet times. Though the relationship took a hit after the North Korean bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 as part of a ploy to harm the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a move which forced Moscow into the corner of the West in attending the games, a line between Moscow and Pyongyang remains open today.

The Chinese relationship is more complex. Henry Kissinger considered the rapprochement between China and the United States one of his greatest achievements. This resulted in China turning against the Soviet Union and pursuing a unique economic and political path.

 By the 1990s, this led to a radical transformation in the global power structure. Russia became increasingly subordinate to a more stable China. The Russians hoped that access to the most modern Chinese military developments would allow them to technologically match the rapidly advancing Ukrainian forces bolstered by Western support.

However, Xi Jinping only minimally provided what Putin requested, sending significant quantities of drones and radio-electronic equipment, not heavy armaments. This limited support was still sufficient for the Russian army to become strong enough by the summer of 2023 to stop the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, albeit at a high human cost.

The Western liberal democracies’ media extensively covered the aid and weapons packages sent to Ukraine. However, the news often overlooked the quantity of arms supplied to Russia by its allies. China, as it usually does in world history, acted very cautiously. Despite Ukrainian President Zelensky blaming and accusing China at the Singapore Security Forum, the new Ukrainian weapon systems would stand no chance against the advancing Russian troops in the spring of 2024 without Chinese drones.

In addition to arms supplies, Russia aims to expand the conflict with political actors, civilians, or mercenaries from its allies or perceived allies. Early rumors suggested Syrian fighters would join Russian troops, but no regular forces have been seen. As of February 2024, Ukrainian authorities identified a total of 141 Syrian mercenaries fighting in Ukraine. From a communication and propaganda perspective, many mercenaries arrived on the Ukrainian front from NepalIndiaformer Soviet republics, the Central African RepublicKurdistanLibyaCubaSerbiaSomalia, and BelarusThe Lebanese Hezbollah was also mentioned as sending fighters to Ukraine, but the organization categorically denied this. Meanwhile, Ukrainian sources reported that Hezbollah members might be training foreign mercenaries contracted by the Russian Ministry of Defense, primarily drone operators.

The new world order echoes the past

Russia’s goal is clear. They aim to establish the same web of international alliances that the Soviet Union systematically built from the 1920s onwards. The similarities between the past and present alliance network is unsurprising. However, there have been surprises for the West which manifested in three ways.

Putin Activating BRICS

By 2024, it became evident that Putin intends to use BRICS for his political purposes. During the 2024 Russian presidency, the alliance strengthened further by including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and Ethiopia. The Saudis, along with China, conspicuously rejected President Zelensky’s call for a Peace Conference in Switzerland in June 2024. The accession of these countries took the West by surprise.

What’s Old Is New

The Francis Fukuyama theory of liberal democracy’s triumph and that of a multipolar world order have both failed in the decades since the Cold War. The 21st-century political map is not organized by cultural identity but instead by the reformation of 20th-century Cold War alliance systems, with minor adjustments.

Cominform Reloaded

It appears that Putin has imposed his outdated Cold War mindset on the world, building a new alliance system that includes EU and NATO member Hungary, former Soviet republics, significant Arab and Islamic countries, including Iran and its alliance, Sunni Palestinian terrorist organizations, and countries in the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

Putin has long recognized the West’s identity crisis and internal division, while the West has failed to see or make sense of the dangerous new alliances forming around Putin and Xi Jinping. Liberal democracies think about the world in four-year electoral cycles and must constantly shift focus to domestic affairs, while democracy’s opponents hone their imperial vision decades in advance.

The West perceives only tiny hints of this, such as when the Kremlin hosted a Hamas delegation in Moscow in October 2023, just after Hamas’ barbaric attacks on Israelis two weeks prior. The Hamas assault on October 7th shifted the coverage of US and European media away from Russia’s war in Ukraine and mumblings about a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The timing was strange, and not likely a coincidence.

The block forming against Western interests includes Islamic fundamentalists, Orthodox Christian Russia, Confucianist China, the tribal-religion-based Central African Republic, Chad, and atheist North Korea. Putin can maneuver on the global chessboard much faster than Western democracies, and so he does.

Meanwhile, the United States and Europe are drifting further apart. US allies fear that if Trump’s foreign policy aligns with what is said at his rallies, a new world order absent the United States is a foregone conclusion. The world has seen this before, in the period between 1918 and 1939.

History has shown time and again that a foreign policy with no care for strategic alliances cannot last. Will the United States take the road of slow decline and lose its future markets to Eastern autocratic states, or will it offer leadership to its Western partners?

The world’s fence-sitters need a clear understanding of the paths available to them so that they can align in whichever way serves their interests. The American people and their dueling political leaders, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, must consider that this new era of strategic alliances demands decisive action from the United States. A new Cold War has begun, and every power player must choose a side, lest it be chosen for them.

Zoltán Kész is a former member of Parliament from Hungary. He is now the Government Affairs Manager at the Consumer Choice Center

Levente Nagy-Pál is the CEO of the Brussels-based Prosum Foundation 

NEXT: TOURE: What People Don’t Understand About Trump’s Immunity

AMP America

Get Amp’d in your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to get videos, articles, and more sent right to your inbox daily. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This