Why Russia is buzzing NATO

So yes, a version of the Cold War is returning, but its rules and parameters aren’t clear. A defining aspect of the Cold War was that, for the most part, deterrence kept each side from meddling in the other’s sphere: The U.S. and NATO stood by during the uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Putin wants a similar kind of tacit agreement with the U.S. now.

He gave an idea of his approach to defending Russian interests in a question-and-answer session with foreign Russia analysts in Sochi last week:

True, the Soviet Union was referred to as ‘”the Upper Volta with missiles.” Maybe so, and there were loads of missiles. Besides, we had such brilliant politicians as Nikita Khrushchev, who hammered the desk with his shoe at the UN. And the whole world, primarily the United States and NATO thought: this Nikita is best left alone, he might just go and fire a missile, they have lots of them, we should better show some respect for them.

So Putin may see testing NATO as a form of shoe-banging. The danger of this new Cold War is that there is complete disagreement between Russia on one side and the U.S. and European Union on the other as to the dividing lines are and the rules of the game.