The tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between the West and Russia are correctly framed as formalizing the New Cold War, but they don’t really amount to anything of tangible significance since envoys are only useful inasmuch as both sides “want to tango”, which clearly isn’t the case any longer.
A lot has been made in the Mainstream and Alternative Medias about the tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between the West and Russia, which are correctly being framed as formalizing the New Cold War that has been ongoing for quite a while now but became undeniably obvious in 2014. This series of reciprocal events in and of themselves is symbolic in that sense and was clearly premeditated by the West in order to provoke Russia’s mirror reaction, which they then planned to reversely exploit as “evidence” to their electorates of Moscow’s “malign intentions”. The West’s seemingly collective psychosis over the Skripal case is nothing more than a “publicly plausible” front for calmly executing the “deep state’s” strategies and not the unexplainable hysteria that it’s been attributed to by some sources.
Quite rightly, all of the West’s actions are very disrespectful to Russia and designed to damage its international prestige, to say nothing of their psychological warfare function in tempting Moscow’s decision makers to overreact. Thus far, Russia has reasonably responded in kind and is expected to continue doing so, but it’s nevertheless highly insulted that its esteemed diplomats were expelled on the basis of supposedly being “undeclared intelligence agents”. While it’s true that all spy agencies the world over have at one time or another embedded assets within their nation’s diplomatic missions and that this is actually quite common tradecraft, it’s unclear whether all of the individuals who were expelled were truly “deep cover” spooks. The same, to be fair, can also be said about those whom Russia reciprocally expelled too.
It should be clarified at this point that individuals operating within embassies as “undeclared intelligence agents” aren’t usually sneaking into secret facilities and doing James Bond-like shenanigans, but are more often than not just handlers of in-country assets (who actually do the “dirty work”) or analysts of some kind, thereby making them less ominous and “dangerous” than the media would portrays them as. That said, the sort of operatives active in Russia might have moved beyond the stage of collecting & analyzing intelligence and into the one of carrying out destabilization missions such as organizing “opposition” figures and even terrorist groups. It can only be speculated at this point what they may or may not have been up to, but in any case, they were removed from Russia as a reciprocal response that probably carries with it an unstated security function as well.
Having gotten the most “scandalous” part of this episode out of the way, it’s now time to consider whether any of this is actually a big deal or not. The MSM and Alt-Media have different reasons behind why they’re both hyping this up, and like it was written earlier, this truly does carry with it a certain historical-thematic significance in belatedly symbolizing the diplomatic beginning of the already-ongoing New Cold War, but it really doesn’t matter much beyond that. Diplomatic envoys have a constructive use in bettering bilateral relations inasmuch as both sides “want to tango”, which clearly isn’t the case any longer after the West made it obvious that it has no desire whatsoever to strengthen ties with Russia. Apart from Russia’s energy cooperation with some of them, there really wasn’t much of a relationship to begin with, so there’s hardly any “love lost”.
Of course, it would be ideal if “cooler heads” in the West prevailed and the “deep state” didn’t have such a disproportionate degree of influence over these countries that it could compel their elected governments to execute its will, but the cold reality of the situation is that some of the NATO states decided to “stick together” and make a dramatic show out of exhibiting “solidarity” with the UK. Russia, out of respect for itself and its diplomats, merely did the same thing to its rivals as was they did to it, but this just means that it won’t be Moscow that takes the first step in any future rapprochement (however long it may be before that happens). Diplomatic ties between the two sides are now broken beyond any realistic hope of repair for the foreseeable future, and economic and civil society ones will consequently suffer as a result.
If there’s any “silver lining” to all of this, it’s that President Putin should be convinced by now that his post-election “olive branch” to the West has been shamelessly rejected and that he therefore has nothing to lose by playing the “bad guy” that the Mainstream Media has made him out to be. What’s meant by this is that Russia might finally shed all of its deeply held reservations (influenced to a large extent by a lingering “inferiority complex” and the pecuniary interests of the powerful liberal-globalist oligarchy) and proudly put its national interests before what it previously used to consider to be its “collective” ones with its “Western partners”. President Putin might therefore beunleashed in his fourth and final term in office, which could also see him cleaning house by removing obstructionist influences from his government as he steadily reforms the entirety of Russian society per his campaign promise.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for Regional Rapport in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.
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Andrew Korybko is Moscow-based political analyst, journalist and a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. His other areas of focus include tactics of regime change, color revolutions and unconventional warfare used across the world.