Can there be a war between Russia and the West?

Reports have multiplied about a growing risk if not an impending start of a war between Russia and the West. The harsh and sudden diplomatic rhetoric from both sides after severe complications in Syria has largely contributed to this worrisome atmosphere.

In the West, many officials loudly depicted Russia’s support to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as “war crimes” after heavy bombing on Aleppo (Syria). In Russia, counterparts denounced a vast plot made of deliberate provocations and planned containment against Russian interests everywhere in Europe and the Middle East. Whatever both sides are saying, their usual noisy confrontation that occurs every ten or five years – last time it was about Georgia in 2008 – has turned this time into something more serious.

For instance, the quick deterioration of the diplomatic relations between France and Russia and the continuation of the yet financially counterproductive Western sanctions against Russia because of the conflict in Ukraine have shown the situation has reached a level that’s reminding the Cold War. Despite such a negative overview, one has to remember that many warned about an increasing risk of a war at several occasions between 1991 when the Soviet Union vanished and now. In 1999, when NATO conducted military operations against Serbia, Russia engaged in large shows of military forces.

Media sounded very pessimistic at the time and a number of public figures overtly worried about a possible “World War III”. Eventually, the war didn’t take place because neither the West nor Russia were willing to risk their very existence to save Kosovo and Serbia respectively.  Although the situation today in Syria and/or in Ukraine may be more prone to a war-like incident, the risk of an all-out conflict between Russia and the West is in fact not so high.

Very serious incidents, just one step away from a war, could take place for sure. However as long as the territorial integrity of NATO member countries on the one hand, and Russia’s (including strategic allies like Iran, China) on the other hand remains intact, a war in the strict meaning of the term is unlikely. A radical change in any major country’s political leadership may however force one to reconsider this assessment in the future.