Russian Dagestan Missile Ships
Russians hovering near Internet cables? (2015)
02:09 - Source: CNN

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Russia's "agressions" raise questions about "a new Cold War," but analysts say it's a war in rhetoric only

U.S. officials liken Russia to the old expansionist Soviet Union

CNN  — 

Call them provocations, aggressions or mere maneuvers, but the actions by Russia echo the bygone Cold War, ended a quarter century ago, analysts say.

Consider this year alone: Russian leader Vladimir Putin announces he’s adding more nuclear missiles and is building a new generation of non-nuclear ones that could strike U.S. soil. Also, Russia’s military intervenes in Syria, more than year after it annexed Crimea in Ukraine.

Then there’s the Russian submarines triggering U.S. alarms as they near undersea cables, the Russian warship in waters off the U.S. East Coast, and this week’s Russian reconnaissance planes in the Pacific flying too close to the USS Ronald Reagan – whose namesake president is credited with ending the Cold War.

It’s enough to raise a question as provocative as Russia’s conduct itself: Are shades of a new Cold War emerging?

“In recent months, press reports and pundits alike have been all too eager to call the current conflict with Russia the ‘Second Cold War,’” wrote American Foreign Policy Council research associate Dmytro Hryckowian.

“Indeed, as Russia threatens anew a nuclear buildup and NATO increases its forces in Eastern Europe, the situation seems to have regressed half a century,” Hryckowian wrote in an August op-ed for U.S. News & World Report.

But the continuing tensions don’t make for “a new Cold War” because the Kremlin today is more interested in territorial expansion and ultranationalist rhetoric than the Cold War dogma of communist revolution, Hryckowian said.

Still, the recent East-West faceoffs have been severe enough for one analysis to warn of “dangerous brinkmanship” in a report about 40 close military encounters between Russia and the West last year.

‘The new Soviet Union’

CNN military analyst Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said Putin is trying to build a “new Soviet Union,” a Cold War reference to Russia, by intervening in nearby countries and countries farther away.

“I think what we’re seeing right now is an attempt by Mr. Putin to go from the strategic defensive to the strategic offense, not only in Ukraine, not only in Syria, but other places like Moldova, threatening Poland, threatening the Baltic,” Hertling said.

“So, you’re going to see continued emphasis by Mr. Putin to go places where Russia has not gone before to strengthen their empire and perhaps even bring back what many people are calling the new Soviet Union,” Hertling said.

Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter declared Russia “a serious challenge” and said its “aggressions” are “a new reality for us.”

“We will take all necessary steps to deter Russia’s malign and destabilizing influence, coercion and aggression,” Carter told the Association of the U.S. Army annual convention. “This is a new reality for us strategically, and it looks like it’s here to stay.”

Carter accused Russia of undermining the sovereignty of neighboring countries and destabilizing European security by annexing Crimea.

Back to a Cold War ‘chess board’

In the Syrian civil war, the Russian military has stepped up its presence by land, air and sea, and Russian officials have contended their weaponry is targeting ISIS extremists and their infrastructure.

“The goal is terrorism. And we are not supporting anyone against their own people. We fight terrorists. As far as I understand, the coalition announced ISIL and other associated groups as the enemy. And the coalition does the same as Russia,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

But some analysts liken the Syria conflict to an emerging proxy war between Russia and the United States, just like in the old days of the Cold War.

“We’re back to the geostrategic chess board, and this is Russia’s move. They put a knight into the Middle East, so to speak. A chess piece. They pole-vaulted over Turkey, and now they’ve got their base established,” said former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark.

U.S. officials have accused the Kremlin of using its military to support Syrian ally and President Bashar al-Assad and targeting anti-regime rebels.

Putin steals Obama’s thunder on the world stage

Russian expansion

In one incident this month over Syria, the U.S. military diverted two F-16s that came within 20 miles of a Russian fighter aircraft.

The diversion is designed to prevent accidents and unintended conflict, said Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, another CNN military analyst.

“What we don’t want to do is pick a fight with Russia. We have never had a hot war with Russia or with the Soviet Union, and we don’t want to do that,” Marks said.

If anything, Cold War rhetoric thrives again.

“I would say even in Poland and Czech Republic and talking to people from those countries, they are concerned about the expansion of Russia,” U.S. Rep. Peter King, a member of the House intelligence and Homeland Security committees told CNN recently. “We have to make it clear that, just as it was during the Cold War, that if we have to, the U.S. and the Western alliance will come together to stop Soviet aggression.”

Opinion: Putin’s Syria moves leave U.S. looking weak