Staunton, March 25 – Suggestions that Moscow and the West are heading into a new cold war have led many in both places to consider how the last cold war originated, with many in both places giving prominent place to George Kennan’s 1946 “long telegram” in which he outlined his proposal for containment of the Soviet Union.
But like Kennan 40 years later, an increasing number of Russian commentators are saying that containment properly understood would not necessarily have led to the cold war that existed between the two super powers because it was always based on the idea of giving Moscow a choice.
If the Soviet government behaved badly as far as the West was concerned, the West would increase pressure on it; but if it behaved better and especially in more cooperative ways, Kennan observed many years later and many Russian commentators now say, the West would respond in kind.
But that is not what happened, Russian commentators like Aleksandr Bartosh of the Academy of Military Sciences and Viktor Kremenyuk of the Moscow USA and Canada Institute say. Instead, Washington early on viewed containment as a road map to destroy the Soviet system as such (nvo.ng.ru/gpolit/2021-03-25/1_1134_strategy.html).
Discussions about the origins of the post-World War II cold war will continue, but the current ones in Moscow are less about what happened in the late 1940s than about what may occur in the immediate future, as Bartosh makes clear in his latest Novoye voennoye obozreniye article.
According to the Russian analyst, the Biden administration in its March 3 foreign policy doctrine is moving away from the idea of containment as originally conceived to a more forward-leaning policy of forcing Russia and other opponent countries like Iran and North Korea to change in fundamental ways.
Bartosh argues that this shift is about restoring US primacy in international affairs or at a minimum primacy over its Western partners for the looming competition with China which is viewed entirely differently than Russia, Iran and North Korea. There, a more classical understanding of containment appears to be in place, he suggests.
“An analysis of Biden’s statements,” he continues, “shows that Washington as before intends to combine two basic elements of military-force policy, ‘defensive’ (containment) and ‘offensive’ (force).” And while “containment is a strategy of keeping things as they are, force is a strategy for changing the status quo.”
When applied to Russia,” Bartosh says, “both strategies presuppose the conducting of an extremely aggressive line directed at undermining our development, freezing it, creating problems in foreign relations, provoking domestic instability, and undercutting values which unify Russian society.”
All this, he argues, is intended to lead to a situation in which a weakened Russia will fall “under external control.” Economic sanctions will be the primary means, but military force and the Internet will also play key roles in this campaign, and Moscow must be ready for them, recognizing that the US again has redefined containment as a means of cold war against Russia.