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Ian Bremmer For The Straits Times

A wild card in the Ukrainian conflict

Published on Aug 13, 2014 11:22 AM
A Ukrainian soldier preparing to refuel his armoured personnel carrier near the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Monday. Tougher sanctions won't change Russia's approach to Ukraine because Mr Putin is determined that it will eventually become the crucial addition to his "Eurasian Union". -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Russia and the West are continuing down a path towards increasingly dangerous confrontation without an exit in sight. Fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify in coming weeks, and ever more onerous American and European sanctions, likely by next month, will weigh more heavily on Russia's economy. Even as tensions escalate, this is not (yet) a new Cold War. There are two main reasons why.

First, the United States and Europe will never care as much about Ukraine as Russia does. More importantly, Russia is not the Soviet Union. It lacks the USSR's ideological appeal, global military muscle, and network of foreign allies. Russia simply cannot project power on a global scale.

There is, however, one development that could make a new form of Cold War much more likely. In the still improbable event that China decides to align its interests much more closely with Russia's, the risk of great power confrontation would rise quickly and substantially. More on that in a moment.

Russia's conflict with the West over Ukraine will grow more dangerous. Tougher US and European sanctions won't change Russia's approach to Ukraine, because President Vladimir Putin is determined that this country will remain in Russia's orbit and eventually become the crucial addition to his "Eurasian Union", an economic alliance that now includes Kazakhstan and Belarus. Mr Putin would like to build this trade pact into a political and military union.

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