Staunton, March 23 – Those in Moscow who appear ready to welcome a new cold war with the West and boldly proclaim “we can repeat” Russia’s past victories apparently have forgotten the two earlier periods of cold war between Russia and the West cost Russia enormously and don’t understand that a new one will do the same, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
This past week as Russian commentators have considered the exchange of statements between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, ever more of them have talked about “a new ‘cold war,’” in most cases without any experience of or knowledge about what such conflicts cost Russia (mk.ru/politics/2021/03/23/cena-kholodnoy-voyny-kuda-zavedet-protivostoyanie-baydena-i-putina.html).
“’A cold war,’” the Russian economist continues, “in the Russian case designates a period of unfriendly relations between our country to ‘someone else,’ namely the West to which Russia historically and culturally belongs” but with which there are conflicts about pride and self-respect.
As “Russia is only part of Western civilization,” Inozemtsev says, “the state of ‘a cold war’ affects it much more strongly than on the rest of the world.” That can be seen in the cold wars between Russia and the West. “At a minimum” over the last two centuries, there have been three such conflicts. None of them have ended well for Russia.
The first began in 1830-1831 “when after the suppression of the Polish uprising, Russia began to be considered in Europe an outcast. The second occurred after the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union took steps against European countries that prompted the great Western powers to respond with containment.
And the third, “in which we now are embroiled,” began with Russian wars in Georgia and Ukraine and “the color revolutions” which Moscow viewed as the work of the West and with “a new arms race,” albeit one so far at least “more a parody” of past such races than a real one in its own right.
These three “cold wars” have certain things in common. First, “all of htem began in conditions when Russia felt ‘a lack of respect’ by ungrateful partners and supposed itself sufficiently strong and successful” to respond in ways that were certain to lead to broader conflicts.
Second, all involved a Russian attempt to move in a Western direction, most recently by the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. And third, and this may be the most important, all had an extremely negative impact on Russia’s economy because they isolated its economy from the world’s, something current Russian rulers should reflect upon before welcoming a new one.
Russia’s share of the world’s GDP rose from 4.4 percent to 5.4 percent between 1700 and 1820 before falling to 4.3 percent after the first cold war. It only grew again after Russia opened itself to the West. In the second cold war, the Soviet Union saw its share of world GDP fall from 9.57 percent in 1950 to 7.66 percent in 1989.
Since 1991, Russia’s share of world GDP rose from a low point of 0.7 percent in 1999 to 2.6 percent in 2008, the last pre-cold war year, before falling again to 1.7 percent in 2020, Inozemtsev says.
The problem now is that “the state of ‘cold war’ with the West over the last 200 years has appeared for Russia quite natural and therefore it doesn’t frighten people much today.” But if one considers what it does to the country, one can see why Moscow should very much want to avoid falling into a new one.