By Mohammad Mazhari

Russia-NATO dispute may lead to a new Cold War: ex-diplomat

February 9, 2022 - 21:37

TEHRAN - A former Lebanese diplomat says that the ongoing conflict over Ukraine can lead to a new Cold war if the stalemate continues.

“If a political solution is reached, a new Cold War could be avoided,” Massoud Maalouf tells the Tehran Times.

 “But if the stalemate continues or develops into an armed conflict, we will, unfortunately, experience a new Cold War,” notes Maalouf who served as Lebanon’s ambassador to Chile, Poland, and Canada.

While certain Western powers accuse Russia of planning to invade Ukraine, some world leaders have stepped up talks amid the tension.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed hope that war could be avoided as he held talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said they were "in lockstep to address Russian aggression".

Russia currently has more than 100,000 troops massed on Ukraine's borders, amid new Cold War fears.

“The weapons in a renewed Cold War would most likely be technological tools like websites hacking and the spread of disinformation distributed through social media, as well as other tools of artificial intelligence,” Maalouf says.
Following is the text of the interview: 

Q: How do you see the recent escalation between U.S. and Russia over Ukraine? 

A: Since the crisis started three months ago, the concentration of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border has resulted in an escalation of warnings and threats from the U.S. and NATO. Russia accuses the West of trying to expand NATO even closer to the Russian borders. The West, on the other side, accuses Russia of trying to find an alibi to invade Ukraine and threatens Russia with very serious economic and financial sanctions. These dangerous developments are widely covered by the media, which is a normal thing to happen in such a situation. 

After seeing many former USSR countries join NATO, President Putin seems to be determined to prevent Ukraine from becoming a member of this Organization. I personally have no doubt that Putin will do whatever it takes to prevent this from happening.

Q: How could Russia-U.S. escalation affect West Asia? Do you expect formation of new coalitions?

A: Both U.S. and Russia have their respective allies and friends in the Middle East (West Asia). So far, most countries of the Middle East (West Asia) have not yet taken a clear position on the Ukrainian crisis. As long as the crisis is limited to a war of words, no serious development is expected in countries of the Middle East (West Asia). 

I strongly believe that the world does not need more crises. A new Cold War should be avoided at any price. However, if the situation evolves into an armed conflict whereby Russia invades Ukraine and the West imposes harsh sanctions on Russia, countries of the Middle East (West Asia) will have to take a position. It is expected that (Persian) Gulf countries might be asked by the U.S. to provide gas and petroleum to European countries if Russia cuts its supplies to Germany, France, and others. The U.S. has already asked Qatar for that during Emir Tameem’s visit to Washington on January 31st. Israel’s stance will be more problematic since it has good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, the latter of which is home to a significant Jewish community and where Israel has substantial investments, including in technology. This connection explains why Israel’s Prime Minister tried, from the beginning, to play a reconciliation though unsuccessful role between these two countries.

Q: Do you think that the Ukraine crisis is a sign of new Cold War?

A: It all depends on how this crisis will evolve. If a political solution is reached, a new Cold War could be avoided. But if the stalemate continues or develops into an armed conflict, we will, unfortunately, experience a new Cold War. The weapons in a renewed Cold War would most likely be technological tools like website hacking and the spread of disinformation distributed through social media, as well as other tools of artificial intelligence.

Q: Why is the U.S. insisting on entering other powers’ spheres of influence? For example, escalation with Russia over Ukraine and with China over Taiwan.

A: Although Ukraine is neither a U.S. ally nor a NATO member, there are friendly relations between the two countries. We should also note that it is Ukraine that asked to join NATO and not the U.S. that started the process. Ukraine is expressing its pro-Western desire despite the fact that about 20% of its population is of Russian extraction and it shares a more than 2,000-kilometer border with Russia. Of course, the U.S. would welcome such a position on the part of Ukraine because every loss to Russia is a gain for the U.S., and vice-versa.

Regarding Taiwan, the U.S. has maintained strong relations with the island since it separated from mainland China and became an independent state. Within the strong competition taking place these days between China and the U.S., the latter is expanding its influence in the South China Sea, by striking new alliances with Australia in sync with the UK (AUKUS), and by strengthening its military presence in the area. The Biden administration, since coming to power, has also focused on the issues of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, within its declared policy of protecting human rights throughout the world.

Q: How do you read new moves of Iran, China, and Russia in inking strategic partnerships and exercising joint military parades? Is that a reaction to U.S. interventionist policies?

A: It is well-known that Iran, Russia, and China’s relationships with the U.S. are not good. By joining forces through cooperation to create a common front, these countries stand to win some concessions from the U.S., each country within its own interests and priorities. If the Ukraine conflict is not solved peacefully and a new Cold War emerges, it is very likely that these three countries will constitute the backbone of an alliance opposed to the U.S. They will definitely be joined by their traditional allies like Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, among others.

I strongly believe that the world does not need more crises. A new Cold War should be avoided at any price. The escalation has been going on from both sides of the Ukraine crisis to the point where each side has to achieve some of its declared requests. Russia will not let Ukraine join NATO and NATO cannot accept to dismantle its military equipment from former USSR member states, neither can it sign a treaty confirming that it will not expand further eastward as Putin is requesting. Therefore, a solution could be found if NATO declines to accept Ukraine’s membership and agrees to some autonomy for the Russian separatists in the Eastern part of Ukraine, as provided in the Minsk II agreement. This should satisfy Russia, and Putin can then declare victory and boast that he prevented Ukraine from joining NATO. Russian forces will then withdraw from the border. The US and NATO can also declare victory boasting that they defended Ukraine and did not allow Russia to invade it. The Russia-NATO Council, established in 2002, can then be revived and future potential problems could be discussed within this council.

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