When the Berlin Wall fell many believed that with it the Cold War also ended. Fast forward 27 years and the aforementioned assumption appears to be quite wrong. Just like during the Cold War, the west and Russia are clashing using “proxy” countries as settings for their battles. In the first conflict they were Vietnam, Korea, Cuba and so on, today they are Ukraine and Syria. Once again two powerful behemoths are trying to show the world who is the strongest by projecting their long shadows over smaller countries.
Russia already has quite the naval presence off the coast of Syria, but is currently sending even more ships, causing a massive stir in Europe and among NATO members. The Admiral Kuznetsov, the largest Russian aircraft carrier, along with other ships, has been travelling from the Baltic to the Mediterranean causing concerns as to what was the purpose of a planned increase in Russian naval presence in Syria. The general consensus among the NATO countries was that the Kuznetsov would have been used, yet again, to bomb the city of Aleppo, causing even more civilian deaths.
Russia has been heavily criticized for the nature of its involvement in the Syrian conflict, especially for the side it picked in the war and the targets of its raids: the side is that of Bashar al-Assad, the current president of Syria, and the target is ISIS, along with thousands of rebel forces fighting against the Syrian government. Trouble starts exactly here, with NATO, especially the US, in favor of the fall of Assad’s regime (although a regularly elected regime) and Russia in favor of the Syrian government, if only because, from a strictly political point of view, Assad is a legitimate leader victim of violent, ISIS backed, rebel forces in the country. In the background, as usual, the battle for prominence in the region between the west and Russia, a script already seen in the past.
Today’s protagonist in this ongoing encore of the Cold War is Spain. The NATO state was being heavily criticized and pressured by its fellow members for having planned along with the Russian fleet a refuel stop in the city of Ceuta. Obviously the other NATO nations were not pleased bye the news and started, “indirectly”, pressuring Spain in order to prevent the fueling stop from happening. The reason being that, as mentioned above, helping Russia get to Syria would mean helping Russia kill civilians in Syria.
We will never know if Spain, “tied” to its duty as a NATO member, would have prevented Russia from refueling, because Russia itself canceled the planned stop ahead of time. Amid rising tensions in the Mediterranean it appears clear that it is becoming increasingly hard for some countries to fully commit to common political and diplomatic agendas when domestic interests are at stakes. Some countries in Europe, Spain and Italy for example, are finding themselves increasingly closer to Russia as far as the Syrian conflict is concerned: from heavy criticism of Turkey after the Russian jet incident, to criticism of the mobilization of soldiers in Lithuania and economic sanctions to Russia. Some NATO countries are not willing to get dragged into an ideological and strategic warfare between America and their closer neighbor, choosing to follow their immediate, especially economic, interests. In this case that means leaving Putin alone and reap the economic benefits of a powerful and “sanctionless” Russia.
In conclusion, I stand by my words: this is Cold War II. But who belongs to which side is still debatable…