War as a game? Check.
Foreign leaders as caricatures? Check.
Sightings of Russian invaders? Check that too.
Yup, welcome to the new Cold War.
The relationship between Russia and the West, fraught by any measure, this week devolved into something looking more like a ridiculous Cold War parody film from the 1960s than any sort of modern diplomatic arrangement.
Related: Why Putin May Be the Lesser of All Russian Evils
On one hand, there was Russian President Vladimir Putin, practically smirking at the news that his proxy fighters in Ukraine had driven government troops out of the contested city of Debaltseve.
To the soldiers who were injured and killed under rocket and artillery fire even while in full retreat – by weapons plainly provided by Russia – Putin offered the sort of consolation one might toss off to the loser of a football game: “It’s always tough to lose. But life is life; it just goes on. No need to dwell on it.”
On the other hand, there was the release, in Germany, of a documentary supposedly detailing Putin’s early years as a KGB agent in East Germany. Among the supposed revelations: Putin used to be a drunk, lazy, fat, wife-beating incompetent, who resorted to plastic surgery in order to create his current persona that highlights fitness and vigor.
Related: Vladimir Putin: 17 Things You Never Knew About Him
God only knows what’s true, what’s exaggerated, and what’s completely false in the movie’s hash of accusations. That it should arrive now, at a time when heightened tensions guarantee extra public interest, should inspire at least more than usual skepticism.
As if things weren’t weird enough already, the British government reported Thursday that, for the second time in less than a month, it had to scramble fighter jets to intercept nuclear-capable Russian bombers that were spotted flying off the coast of the United Kingdom.
One British paper even reported a citizen’s (otherwise unsubstantiated) claim that she had seen the Russian planes flying over British land. The former head of the Royal Air Force, Sir Michael Graydon, told the media that the UK is now “at the mercy” of Russian air power.
Russia, despite its obvious aggression in Ukraine, and its refusal to admit its involvement there, is not currently at war with the West. Actual proxy war, though, is about a trigger-pull away.
There’s more than a strong argument that Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine needs to be driven back, as well as punished economically. But inflaming public opinion unnecessarily in an already volatile situation has a distinctively Strangelovian feel.
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