As the Ukraine conflict inches toward a cease-fire, NATO leaders emerge from a historic summit with a renewed sense of purpose, and also an element of traditional mission of deterrence against aggression from its east. For now at least, it does not mark the start of a new cold war but more likely a new cold peace between East and West. After more than 20 years of moderately stable relations, it is no longer business as usual. NATO now enters a new phase in its evolution with military reconfiguration in Europe and draw-down in Afghanistan.
As NATO reinforces its eastern frontiers, Russia will secure its position in eastern Ukraine, either through direct or indirect control. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has no other option but agree to a cease-fire and avoid the risk of a military humiliation by Russian troops and eastern-Ukrainian separatists. Despite western moral support and some material supplies, real military assistance remains highly unlikely during the current conflict. Furthermore, Poroshenko faces parliamentary elections on October 26 and needs a working majority and effective government to accelerate desperately needed reforms in Ukraine. Continued conflict will only undermine Poroshenko and Ukraine's future. Just as critical for Poroshenko's credibility is emerging from the cease-fire with some face-saving elements. In addition, with winter soon approaching, Poroshenko must secure Ukraine's energy needs.
The Ukrainian conflict provides a wake-up call to the complacency of many western European states on security matters. Despite the near present impossibility of Russia invading NATO soil, the concerns of its new eastern members seem largely vindicated and real. With vivid memories of Communist rule, an increased NATO presence remains critical for citizens of the Baltic states with sizeable Russian minorities. In particular, as Russian President Vladimir Putin continuously vows to secure and protect their interests wherever.
After emerging from two world wars and millions dead, Europe overcame historical animosities to create a united Europe. Despite the recent crisis, Europe still evolves peacefully through ballots and not bullets. Although more than 20 years have passed since the end of the Cold War, limited trust and the inability to overcome mutual threat perceptions largely prevails between East and West. The status quo of troubled relations will endure for the foreseeable future.
Despite the Malaysian airline tragedy, Putin has largely shaped the pace and momentum of the Ukraine conflict. He has proven an effective chess player on his own doorstep. With a seat at the United Nations Security Council, a nuclear arsenal and territory that spans several time zones, Russia retains significant global influence but pales when compared to the Soviet Union. Contemporary Russia largely remains a formidable regional player with a limited ability to project real power and concrete reach beyond the former Soviet perimeter. Furthermore, it is plagued by internal challenges that impair its development outside the military realm. Increased western sanctions can only complicate matters. As a competent strategist, Putin is clearly aware of this but will do whatever it takes to consolidate dominance and influence in Russia's near abroad and what it considers its rightful sphere of influence.