No ‘New Cold War’ — Disappointed?

A video screen shows US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Ouistreham International Ceremony at Sword Beach to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion at Normandy, in Ouistreham, France, on June 6, 2014.

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

A video screen shows US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Ouistreham International Ceremony at Sword Beach to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion at Normandy, in Ouistreham, France, on June 6, 2014.

Why is everyone so anxious for a new Cold War?

Is the current conflict with Russia, in which President Barack Obama today announced the newest round of sanctions following the downing of an airliner over Ukraine by Russian-backed separatists, a new Cold War?

The president was asked this by a reporter who’s a veteran of the old Cold War, CBS News’ Bill Plante, who traces his reporting days to the war in Vietnam.

“No, it’s not a new cold war,” Obama replied. “What it is, is a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

Earlier this year, during a speech in Brussels, the president addressed the crisis that was unfolding with Russia’s incursion in Ukraine and occupation of Crimea.

The U.S. and Europe he said, had “united in support of the Ukrainian people. Together, we’ve condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and rejected the legitimacy of the Crimean referendum.  Together, we have isolated Russia politically, suspending it from the G8 nations and downgrading our bilateral ties.  Together, we are imposing costs through sanctions that have left a mark on Russia and those accountable for its actions.  And if the Russian leadership stays on its current course, together we will ensure that this isolation deepens.  Sanctions will expand.  And the toll on Russia’s economy, as well as its standing in the world, will only increase.”

“Understand, as well, this is not another Cold War that we’re entering into,” Obama said in his March 26 address at the Palais des Beaux Arts before an audience of young people born as the Berlin Wall was falling or had fallen.

“After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology,” Obama said. “The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia.  In fact, for more than 60 years, we have come together in NATO — not to claim other lands, but to keep nations free.  What we will do — always — is uphold our solemn obligation, our Article 5 duty to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our allies.  And in that promise we will never waver; NATO nations never stand alone.”

Yet some are eager to paint another narrative, portraying the downing of the Malaysian airliner as a case of “crime without punishment.”

“Had Putin finally gone too far?” Simon Shuster wrote for Time. “As the days passed and the stench rose, the coldly calculating Russian President got his answer: apparently not. While state-controlled media at home buried Russia’s role in the disaster under an avalanche of anti-Western propaganda, leaders in Europe and the U.S. found themselves stymied once again by Putin’s brazenness. ”

“Can the West stop a figure who is determined to uphold the dreary habits of czars and Soviet leaders while projecting Russian exceptionalism and power?” Shuster wrote. “Putin doesn’t have a lot to worry about when he looks at the forces aligned against him. Obama, as the leader of a war-weary nation, has ruled out all military options, including the provision of weapons to Ukraine. Europe is both too divided and too dependent on Russian energy supplies to provoke any lasting rupture in relations. The only option would seem to be the steady ratcheting up of sanctions.”

Notably, Ukraine is not the only boundary that Russia is testing. The U.S. suspects Putin of violating one of most significant arms control treaties of the waning Cold War, with the testing of long-range ground-launched cruise missiles. The 1987 treaty was signed by American President Ronald Reagan and Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev.

You may know you’re in a Cold War when…

For all the ”echoes,” however, the White House maintains that this standoff sure doesn’t feel like that other one:

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