Kennan’s Revenge

American diplomat George Kennan traced the Cold War partly to neurotic insecurity and Oriental secretiveness on the Russian side, and legalism and moralism on the Western side. If Cold War II erupts in Ukraine, it will be because the middle ground of cool calculation of interests, possibilities, and risks remains elusive to this day.

LONDON – Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that gas giant Gazprom would start demanding payment a month in advance for the supplies that it sells to Ukraine. The British newspaper The Observer published, in response, a striking cartoon showing Putin sitting on a throne of outward-pointing daggers, turning off the Ukraine gas tap while saying, “Winter is coming.” The background was bright red, and a hammer and sickle and a skull were planted on Putin’s breast. For some, at least, the Cold War is back.

But, before we drift into Cold War II, we would do well to recall why we had the first one. The end of Communism removed one important reason: the Soviet Union’s expansionist thrust and the Western democracies’ determination to resist it. But other reasons remain.

American diplomat George F. Kennan identified them as neurotic insecurity and Oriental secretiveness on the Russian side, and legalism and moralism on the Western side. The middle ground of cool calculation of interests, possibilities, and risks remains elusive to this day.

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