Exactly 43 years ago, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, otherwise known as SALT II. Today, the mutual relations between the two superpowers continue to deteriorate as Russia continues its brutal assault against Ukraine. Artur Wróblewski, a lecturer at the Łazarski University in Warsaw, tells us how does today’s crisis compare to that of the Cold War era.
Mr Wróblewski believes that the international situation and the tensions between Russia and the West are comparable to what the world experienced in the 1970s, but not as bad as in 1961 or 1962, when the world stood on the verge of nuclear war.
He believes that what we are seeing now is a calculated series of escalations by Russia. Putin knows his days are counted, at least in the sense that he is not getting any younger, and he is trying to leave a mark.
Russians are realising that they wasted the last 20 years, achieved practically nothing noteworthy in terms of technology etc., and now is the final chance they have to try and rebuild their power or be left behind. Now, taking into account the political climate, the situation is comparable to the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, a result of the same imperialistic logic of the Kremlin rulers.
Somewhat surprisingly, Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov recently announced that Russia wants to extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II), as if it could be treated as something entirely disconnected from its actions in Ukraine. Mr Wróblewski said that it is a good sign because it shows the Russians still are capable of acting rationally. But just as the US never ratified the earlier SALT II treaty, signed in 1979, precisely because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Failure to implement mutual disarmament resulted in the arms race picking up pace. This arms race eventually bankrupted the Soviets, because they could not keep up with it. Mr Wróblewski said that Russia will always lose in the race against the West and that this time the West will not allow for the separation of the issue of disarmament and the war in Ukraine.
Peskov’s call for disarmament appears a single voice in a cacophony of anti-Western sabre-rattling in Russian media. The US also realises it might need Russia to balance another enemy: China. One of the reasons the US withdrew from a lot of disarmament treaties is because China is not a party to them. The US and Russia disarming while Chinese power grows, and India may soon become another power makes little sense for them.