Truth about ‘Cold War’ threat

As tensions continue to flare between the powers, you might think Australia is far enough away to keep out of it.

But the federal government issued a heavy statement condemning the nerve agent attack on former Kremlin spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

At the same time, experts have warned that Australia is not immune from an incoming second Cold War.

So what can we expect to happen to us?

AUSTRALIA WEIGHS IN ON UK-RUSSIA FLARE-UP

The Turnbull government yesterday issued a strongly worded statement condemning the nerve-agent attack on a former Kremlin spy.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the government is “gravely concerned” by the weapon, adding that they “share the UK’s outrage” over the attack.

“Australia condemns the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances,” they said. “There is no circumstance that justifies the use of such indiscriminate, abhorrent weapons.”

In a joint statement, Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop said the government is ‘gravely concerned’ about the nerve agent attack.

In a joint statement, Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop said the government is ‘gravely concerned’ about the nerve agent attack.Source:News Corp Australia

The extraordinary statement comes as former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia continue to fight for their lives after being poisoned with a Russian-made military-grade nerve agent. A police officer who was one of the first responders, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, was also affected by the poison and is critically ill in hospital.

British Prime Minister Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the UK in response, accusing Moscow of being behind the attack.

Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop today reaffirmed that Australia stands in solidarity with the UK, and supports Ms May’s response.

“We support her Government’s commitment to ensure a full investigation and efforts to bring those responsible to justice. The Australian Government also supports the UK Government’s right to take retaliatory measures, including its decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats and to call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council.”

Britain’s move to kick out the diplomats hasn’t been seen since the Cold War.

“This will be the single biggest expulsion for over 30 years,” Ms May told the House of Commons, adding that it would “fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the UK for years to come”.

Military personnel wearing protective coveralls work to remove a vehicle connected to the nerve agent attack.

Military personnel wearing protective coveralls work to remove a vehicle connected to the nerve agent attack.Source:AFP

Likewise, world leaders in France, Germany, the US and Britain have today issued a joint statement condemning the attack.

Moscow continues to deny any involvement.

ARE WE REALLY ENTERING A NEW COLD WAR?

The Russian Embassy in the UK appeared to confirm the onset of a new Cold War via Twitter, ominously tweeting: “We are not afraid of cold weather.”

Earlier this week on A Current Affair, international security experts said Australia will need to brace itself.

Professor of international security and intelligence studies at ANU John Blaxland said the Cold War is “effectively back on”.

“(Putin is) effectively saying to the UK and to others, including countries like Australia, ‘Don’t mess with me — I’ll get you,’” he said.

Likewise, RMIT professor of human security and international diplomacy Joe Siracusa said the poisoning of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in 2016 could have happened on our doorstep.

“It could have happened in Canberra or Sydney or Melbourne airports,” he said.

“Putin is a former Soviet agent and he can’t get it out of his blood. And so he continues to make moves like this mainly to demonstrate power.”

But not everyone agrees.

Dr Benjamin Zala, a research fellow at ANU’s Department of International Relations, told news.com.au that despite Australia’s statement against chemical weapons, it is unlikely to be perceived as much of a threat.

“Australia’s response, whilst being the appropriate one, is unlikely to ruffle Moscow’s feathers too much,” he said. “Russia will be more concerned about the response of British allies that have important trading relationships with Russia and influence in the rest of Europe — both France and Germany are key.”

He stressed Australia does not face a direct threat from Russian espionage, and that the European continent is Russia’s priority battleground right now.

Does Australia need to worry about a war with Russia? Not overly.

Does Australia need to worry about a war with Russia? Not overly.Source:AFP

Dr Zala was also sceptical of claims that the world is heading towards a second Cold War.

“We are a long way from the kinds of dynamics that we saw during the Cold War between the Western and Eastern camps from the late 1940s to the late 1980s,” he told news.com.au. “This period was characterised by an all-out ideological competition that spanned the entire globe; today we are simply witnessing the return to more traditional great power competition over status and influence.

“There is no higher struggle for ideological supremacy today — just rather old-fashioned jostling over what are perceived as competing interests.”

His views are similar to an opinion piece Foreign Policy published earlier this week, entitled “I Knew The Cold War. This Is No Cold War” in which Harvard international relations Professor Stephen Walt rejected the comparison.

“The current situation is bad. But to call it a “new Cold War” is misleading more than it is enlightening,” wrote Prof Walt. “If one compares the two situations more carefully, what is happening today is a mere shadow of that earlier rivalry.”

He said describing today’s troubles as a new Cold War downplays the role bad policy decisions have played in bringing the US and Russia to their current tense levels.

Despite our close ties with Britain, Australia does not need to worry ... yet.

Despite our close ties with Britain, Australia does not need to worry … yet.Source:AAP

He stresses the Cold War was a competition between the two most powerful countries in the world — the United States and the Soviet Union — and two opposing ideologies — liberal capitalism and Marxism-Leninism.

It was a war waged on every continent in the world, including several nuclear crises, proxy wars, tens of thousands of hydrogen bombs and millions of casualties.

“While regrettable and maybe even dangerous, what is happening today is a very different animal,” he says.

It’s worth noting Prof Walt’s piece was published on Monday, before Ms May expelled the Russian diplomats from the UK.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

So, is it time for Australia to panic? Not quite.

Tensions between Britain and Russia will likely continue to rise. Ms May announced that neither British ministers nor the royal family would be attending the football World Cup in Moscow this year, and that all high-level bilateral contacts with Russia have been cancelled.

But Dr Zala says Australia’s role is unlikely to be a significant one.

“Australia is likely to play a fairly marginal role in these particular tensions,” he said.

“Our support for the UK will be of no surprise to Moscow, and even measures such as an increase in the existing sanctions that we have placed on Russia since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 will have mostly symbolic rather than a material effect.”

@gavindfernando | gavin.fernando@news.com.au

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