View from London: 'We already have a new Cold War'

Ian Bond served as the United Kingdom's ambassador to Latvia from 2005-7 and was a British diplomat for 28 years.

Today he is director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform (CER) a London-based think-tank that says it is "not affiliated with any government, political party or European institution" and is funded by private donations.

A new Cold War is already happening and it is threatening to turn into a new “Hot” War, claims Ian Bond, speaking to Kira Savchenko in London.

To minimise the impact of the growing tensions between Russia and the West, Latvia may have to revise its policies regarding non-citizens, he says.

“I do feel that for the children of non-citizens it should be automatic that they themselves become citizens rather than having to be registered as such by their parents. I think that is an unnecessary hurdle. That is a small thing, but if I were, a Latvian politician then I would want to think that in a generation or two the institution of non-citizenship would have disappeared.”

The Estonians have handled the ethnic question better that Latvians in the sense that Estonians have accepted that non-citizens can vote in municipal and local elections so that people feel that they have some influence, said Bond.

“Nils Usakovs had been a mayor of Riga, first in coalition and then re-elected in his own right. That said to me that people were actually starting to treat Saskanas as a more or less normal political party. They have made an error in looking too close to Russia in the context of this crisis, in at least some members of the party supported the annexation of Crimea. That made it more difficult for them to become a credible coalition partner in the government.”

The other aspect of the Crimea conflict that is now having a negative impact on the Baltics is Russian media, which is widely watched, said Bond.

Any Russian media has the advantage of economies of scale. The problem for all of the Baltic media companies, whatever language they are broadcasting, is that they are broadcasting to very small audiences, their budgets are small, their advertising revenue is small, they don’t have the ability to produce high-quality entertainment programs… So, it is a very uneven playing field.”

“I know there is a lot of work and thinking going on about how to improve that; whether you could have a common Baltic effort to broadcast better quality programming in Russian. Nobody is quite sure whether it will work and that remains a problem.”

Latvia, being a NATO member, should increase its defense budget to 2% of GDP, said Bond. “The forces that you will have available will be quite small, but what it does do, is to tell your allies that you are serious about defense and that encourages them to try to help you.”

The fear that we have is that Putin thinks he has what the nuclear strategy calls 'escalation dominance' that he can always escalate more than we can. And that is very dangerous.”

“One of the things that kept us alive during the Cold War despite the standoff was that both sides understood that they did not have escalation dominance. Just in case if the message was not clear, both sides exercised their nuclear plans, so that the other side knew: we really meant it. If you have this sort of confrontation, it is better that people know exactly what the other side is likely to do," Bond explained.

"Wars tend to start because people misunderstand what the reaction is likely to be. It is much more important that you signal very clearly and that both sides understand that this is the line… If they do not [signal], there is a possibility of a new “hot” war. The New Cold war… we already have that.”

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