MOSCOW — Vladimir Pozner was an English-language Soviet propaganda editor in Moscow in 1962, a job that gave him rare access to American newspapers and magazines. That allowed him to follow the Cuban Missile Crisis outside the Soviet media filter, and sense a world at the brink of war.
Mr. Pozner, a longtime Russian television journalist, says he now feels something similar.
“The smell of war is very strong,” he said in an interview on Friday, a day when shelling intensified along the front line in eastern Ukraine. “If we talk about the relationship between Russia and the West — and in particular, the United States — I feel that it is as bad as it was at any time in the Cold War, and perhaps, in a certain sense, even worse.”
Unlike 1962, it is not the threat of nuclear war but of a major land war that now looms over Europe. But the feeling that Russia and the United States are entering a new version of the Cold War — long posited by some commentators on both sides of the Atlantic — has become inescapable.
President Biden hinted at it on Tuesday in the East Room of the White House, pledging that if Russia invaded Ukraine, “we will rally the world to oppose its aggression.” President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia drove the matter home on Saturday, when he oversaw a test launch of nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles that can evade American defenses.
whether Mr. Putin is staging an elaborate, expensive bluff or is truly on the verge of launching the biggest military offensive in Europe since 1945. But it does appear clear that Mr. Putin’s overarching aim is to revise the outcome of the original Cold War, even if it is at the cost of deepening a new one.
Mr. Putin is seeking to undo a European security order created when his country was weak and vulnerable after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and to recreate the sort of geopolitical buffer zone that Russian rulers over the centuries have felt they needed. He is signaling that he is prepared to accomplish this by diplomatic means, but also through the use of force.
The crisis has already brought Mr. Putin some tactical wins as well as perilous risks. Since first mounting a threatening troop buildup on Ukraine’s borders last spring, he has managed to seize Washington’s attention — a goal for a Kremlin that, as in the Cold War, sees confrontation with the United States as its defining conflict. But his actions have also spurred anti-Russian attitudes and further united Europe and the United States against Russia — something that should worry the Kremlin given the West’s still-far-greater global economic and political might.
now looms as the more serious strategic adversary in the long term.
But to Mr. Putin, the fight to roll back his country’s defeat in the original Cold War has already lasted at least 15 years. He declared his rejection of an America-led world order in his speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, warning of “unexploded ordnance” left behind from the Cold War: “ideological stereotypes” and “double standards” that allowed Washington to rule the world while crimping Russia’s development.
This weekend, in one of the many ominous developments of recent days, Russia is skipping the Munich conference — an annual meeting at which Western officials have been able to sit down with their Russian counterparts throughout the prior tensions of Mr. Putin’s rule.
Instead, the Kremlin released footage of Mr. Putin in the Kremlin’s situation room, directing test launches of its modernized arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles from bombers, submarines and land-based launchers. It was a carefully timed reminder that, as Russian television recently told viewers, the country can turn American cities “into radioactive ash.”