The New Russian-US Cold War and the Korean Crisis

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 155

Hwansong-15 missile being launched (Source: AFP)

Sergei Rogov (69), pronounced earlier this month, “The crisis between Russia and the United States has reached the level equivalent to a new cold war. This Second Cold War [sic] is somewhat different from the first one, but the overall mode of confrontation and the military standoff along the line separating Russia and NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] is similar in nature.” Rogov is an academician and science chief (former director) of the state-financed Institute of USA and Canada—the main, Moscow-based, Cold War–era official think that advised the Kremlin, the foreign ministry and the military command. The Institute remains similarly influential today. According to Rogov, the confrontation with the US will last a long time, and he does not see any prospect for improvement in relations any time soon. Furthermore, he accused the European Union of provoking this new cold war between Russia and the US by pushing through association agreements with Ukraine and other former Soviet republics “while absolutely ignoring Russian interests.” The EU, Rogov claimed, “initiated a chain of events that led to the new cold war” and dragged in the US, which had not initiated this confrontation. Today, tensions are as high, Rogov asserted, as during the height of the previous Cold War, and serious measures must be taken to prevent “dangerous incidents evolving into a direct military confrontation” (TASS, November 17).

On November 25, an Su-30SM fighter jet intercepted and closely “buzzed by” a US P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine warfare and electronic surveillance jet (based on Boeing’s 737-800 airliner) that was flying in international airspace over the Black Sea. The Pentagon complained the intercept was “unsafe” as the Su-30 came as close as 50 feet from the US aircraft and caused the US plane to experience a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence when the Russian jet crossed close in front. The commander of the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army of the Southern Military District (Uzniy Voyeni Okrug—UVO), Lieutenant General Viktor Sevostyanov, rejected the Pentagon’s complaint: “The Su-30 went into action to prevent a violation of Russian airspace as the US spy plane was only some 10 kilometers from Russian territorial waters. The Su-30 forced the US P-8A Poseidon to change course and fly away. NATO jets constantly fly close to Russia’s southern borders, and the jet pilots of the UVO are in constant battle readiness to prevent any violations.” According to former Black Sea Fleet commander, Admiral (ret.) Vladimir Komoyedov, US spy jets constantly provoke the Russian military by flying over the Black Sea near the Russian border: “They must not fly at all over the Black Sea. No one invited them.” The Russian military seemed to be implying it did the US plane a favor by pushing it away instead of shooting it down (, November 29).

The same day (November 29) the P-8A Poseidon incident over the Black Sea was made public, North Korea (officially, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—DPRK) successfully test-launched a new more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-15, which apparently may be able to hit targets throughout the continental United States. The Russian government officially expressed “deep disappointment” that the DPRK launched the Hwasong-15 “in violation of [United Nations] resolutions and international law.” Moscow further announced it rejects attempts by the DPRK to acquire nuclear state status (, November 30).

But in the true spirit of the new cold war, Russia’s permanent UN representative, Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya, piled the main blame for the North Korean ICBM launch on the US and its allies, “who continuously tested the DPRK’s patience by announcing massive military exercises and imposing additional unilateral sanctions.” While Pyongyang restrained itself for over two months from carrying out additional nuclear/missile tests (perhaps taking that time to prepare to launch the Hwasong-15), the US was making threatening moves, Nebenzya continued, adding, “It is impossible to progress to a political solution of the Korean problem, while the DPRK’s security is threatened and [US] bombers and aircraft carriers are being amassed.” Moscow has called on all sides to stop provoking each other, on the DPRK to stop testing and the US and South Korea to call off military exercises and to begin negotiations—in accordance with the Sino-Russian so-called road map to peace, first proposed last July (, November 30).

Some Russian rocket experts have expressed doubts that North Korea could have already acquired true ICBM capabilities; they believe its present missiles, including the Hwasong-15, can at best reach Hawaii. Others believe it is impossible to know for sure whether or not the DPRK could hit the continental US. Nevertheless, it is clear Pyongyang has already acquired the capability to hit US bases in South Korea, Okinawa and Guam—possibly with nuclear warheads. Russian military experts scorn the United States’ existing missile defense (MD) capabilities as vastly inadequate to guarantee any protection from a DPRK attack, especially by missiles flying at ICBM velocity and possibly deploying primitive decoy warheads while they travel through space on their ballistic trajectory before hitting US territory. Additionally, Russian military experts tend to agree that the “window of opportunity” in which the US could have used military force to “solve” the North Korean nuclear problem has passed: Washington has lost and will be eventually forced to accept Pyongyang as an equal nuclear power. To avoid a possible nuclear war, these Russian analysts argue, the US should withdraw its forces entirely from the Korean Peninsula—even if abandoning its allies could mean that North Korea, through threat, coercion or direct invasion, takes over South Korea (Moskovsky Komsomolets,, November 29, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 30).

Speaking in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected calls from Washington to further tighten sanctions and cut any relations with the DPRK after the Hwasong-15 launch. “Moscow believes sanctions and pressure have been used to the limit, and now is the time to resume the political process and begin negotiations, which the Americans are completely ignoring at their peril,” Lavrov announced (Interfax, November 30). Russian officials seem to agree that the US and its allies in the region are in serious trouble—and this is most likely not that bad from Moscow’s point of view. In the new cold war logic, similar to the old one, the bitter enemy of my enemy is at least a provisional cohort.