How did we get from trade disputes in Ukraine to nuclear threats in Severodvinsk?


The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, apparently by Russian-trained separatists using a Russian missile launcher. The US government’s determination that Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 by testing ground-launched cruise missiles. Increasingly stringent US and European economic sanctions against Russia’s government and key areas of the country’s economy. Troubles in and around Ukraine are straining relations between Russia and the United States and raising the prospect of a new Cold War. Fear is fueling actions on all sides, even leading Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, in a speech on the country’s July 27 Navy Day, to laud new nuclear submarines being built at Severodvinsk, saying they will be a reliable deterrent against any threat: “We see the presence of a nuclear potential can cool the fervor of any aggressor located at any point in the world.”

How has the East-West relationship moved from a November 2013 dispute over economic trading partnerships to veiled threats of nuclear weapons use just nine months later? Many Western observers begin their analysis with Ukraine’s internal problems, of which there are many. But the current tensions have their origins in the ending of the Cold War, as US Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock and others have observed.