The dark clouds gathering this summer between Moscow and the West have some experts concerned that the world is on the brink of a new cold war. They point to two flash points. One, the ex-Soviet state of Georgia, is largely driven by Moscow's fear of NATO expanding into its traditional sphere of influence. The other is a proposed US missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe. Russia has promised to retaliate - possibly by basing nuclear-capable bombers in Cuba, according to an unofficial news report quoting unnamed top security officials last week.
"It's no longer just rhetoric, it could start to get quite serious," says Dmitri Trenin, an analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "The message being put out by Moscow is that the West needs to realize that it's approaching a line, beyond which there could be a real showdown."
But Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, has a plan to arrest the slide by creating an alternative to NATO. Though it has yet to gain traction in the West, Mr. Medvedev's plan, announced in Berlin last month, has been much discussed in the Russian media. In short, it would redesign Europe's security system from the bottom up - but this time, Russian would participate as an equal partner and founder of the new bloc. Russian experts are dubbing the concept "EATO" - Euro-Atlantic Treaty Organization - a big-tent security grouping that would replace NATO - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - and say it is likely to become the signature foreign policy theme of Medvedev's presidency. It would also, say supporters, remove the main irritant in Russia's relations with the West today.
Unlike the former cold war, Russian officials argue, today's growing rift between Moscow and the West is not based on irreconcilable ideological or geopolitical hostility. The main problem, they say, stems from the West's failure to work with Russia to re-imagine global security architecture following the USSR's collapse. Confidantes of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev say that US leaders reneged on pledges to build a "new world order" after Soviet troops withdrew from Eastern Europe and the Communist military alliance - the Warsaw Pact - was disbanded.
"Gorbachev made deep concessions to the West in order to break out of the vicious cycle of the arms race. But later, when Russia was going through a painful economic transition and we needed support, the West turned away," says Andrei Grachev, who was a Kremlin adviser and Gorbachev's presidential spokesman at the time. "Despite promises that had been given to us, the West decided to use [Russia's weakness and economic turmoil] in order to expand NATO to the east. I believe that the anti-Western moods present in Russian society today can be explained by the fact that the West treated Russia as a vanquished enemy," rather than a potential partner, he says.
The sorest point is the inexorable advance of NATO into the USSR's former sphere which could soon see inclusion of the ex- Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine. Little has come from past attempts to develop a NATO-Russian partnership, and Moscow views the Western alliance as a cold war artifact that unites European countries against Russia. …