When the Russian FM asked his British counterpart rhetorically, “Who the fuck are you to lecture me?” he knew what he was doing. Lavrov’s response cuts down to the core of Russian diplomatic mentality, exemplified in the Soviet-era joke about Diplomatic Corps students drafting a response to a hypothetical protest from an African country about the Soviet nuclear submarine violating its territorial waters: the student who prepared an otherwise good note was denied the highest grade because “assholes” should be written as one word.

And in one respect, Lavrov is right: who is that young Jewish British fellow to lecture him? Like France’s, Britain’s superpower status only exists in its hallucinations, and after it outlawed opium, the hallucinations became rather weak. Western Europe is swarmed with Muslim immigrants, drowned in liberalism and laborism, lacks meaningful armies, and depends on Russian oil and gas. Who is it indeed to lecture Russia?

It doesn’t matter that the Russian economy is on a par with the Saudi one, based entirely on natural resources. Poor barbarians have conquered the advanced Rome.

It matters little that Russian military expenditure is 2 percent of US expenditures in nominal dollar terms, and new equipment purchases are hardly noticeable. The credibility of the Russian military threat is based on its nuclear weapons, which Russia is presumably ready to use.

It is not critical that Russia’s allies are poor. They compensate for poverty with roughness, and for the shortage of weapons with the high likelihood that they would use them.

For the effeminate Western world, Russia’s unwavering determination is a deadly approach. NATO may expand whatever it likes, but Venezuela makes a better ally for Russia than all the Eastern Europen countries combined make for America. Poland, Czechoslovakia, or Ukraine would think a million times before antagonizing Russia, but Venezuela admitted Russian nuclear-capable bombers and fleet and expelled the US ambassador on a whim. With such allies as Venezuela, Syria, and Iran, Russia prevails in any diplomatic confrontation with the West simply because, unlike them, the West is afraid of confrontations.

Still more importantly, Russia can succeed in courting China. With a country ruled by a handful of communist bureaucrats, you never know whether China would opt pragmatically for open markets with the West, or for international supremacy in conjunction with Russia.

The Russian KGB/FSB elite learned the lesson of the arms race, and now uses this tool against America. Russia’s minor moves prompt massive American expenses, such as billions of dollars in aid to Georgia and Ukraine. Russia acquires allies cheaply, merely with diplomatic support to rogue regimes and profitable arms sales to them. America buys allies with aid, but paid vassals are contemptuous of the master who is weak enough to offer them money. America often antagonizes friendly countries by moralizing; Russia supports its allies with no moral qualms. In one example, America subverted its close friend South Africa because of the perfectly legal apartheid (the blacks were allocated their own country, Bantustans); it is unthinkable that Russia would subvert a friendly regime over racial issues.

Russia spends frugally on its military. It mostly relies on the PR effect from very small events: patrolling Europe with nuclear-armed bombers, selling weapons to rogue regimes, and developing wonder-arms which would never come to mass production. America’s shows are super-expensive, like the Iraqi and Afghanistan affairs. Russia, even though on diplomatic offensive, maintains a budget surplus while America runs a deficit.

The lack of clear political objectives costs America dearly. Why impose sanctions on Iran instead of cooperating profitably with the oil-rich nation? Iranian nukes are Israel’s problem, not America’s. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost America hundreds of billions of dollars and led to budget deficits—for no good. Billions of dollars of US aid to Egypt and Palestine are a complete waste. Morality in foreign policy is a breach of trust toward one’s own population: the government is elected to maximize the interests of its voters rather than pursue the moral objectives of faraway peoples.

The most important thing to understand about the KGB/FSB establishment is its conservatism. New doctrines are foreign to the Russian security elite. They re-assembled the country from the economic shambles of the Yeltsin era, nationalized much of the oil revenues, control the balance, but have no positive economic program. Likewise, they ended the post-Soviet era feudalism, centralized political power, but have no idea what to do next. Like any nation, Russians are most interested in affluence, then freedom. Both of those objectives align them with the West, but ruin Russia’s traditional political and economic framework. The establishment is not only concerned about its own vanishing role, but also the apparent inability of the Russian economy to rebuild itself quickly into a market system with reasonably fair income distribution.

It took America two hundred years to achieve that end. The Russian situation is worse. America had the huge advantage of relative lawlessness. Extreme corruption was almost as common in nineteenth-century America as in today’s Russia, but vigilantes from slandering reporters to citizens’ committees to lynch mobs succeeded in making corruption both unpopular and outright dangerous. Russia, a strong police state even under Yeltsin, curbs citizen activism, and in doing so opens the way to corruption. The Russian economy is thus more likely to follow in the way of Nigeria than the United States.

Russia’s security establishment has no firm policy yet, but tests the Western response to hardline measures. So far, the response has been pretty encouraging: the West is unwilling to fight the next Cold War. As mammoth oil and gas revenues trickle down the Russian society, the population is economically satisfied and longs for political goals. The only such goal on the agenda is a strong Russian semi-empire. An empire needs a good enemy, preferably a not-too-dangerous one, and Russia engages the West. The KGB/FSB establishment won’t attack the United States; peripheral conflicts suffice. So Russia returns to the old Soviet policy of kindling as many fires on the globe as possible on the cheap. The opposition to sanctions on Iran, weapons supplies to Syria, diplomatic contacts with Hamas and Hezbollah, encouraging Venezuela, and wooing China into separate agreements with Russia serve the goal of troubling the West. A troublemaker automatically becomes a VIP.

Theoretically, it is easy to stop Russia. Its clients must be made to understand that collaboration doesn’t pay. Syria welcomes the Russian fleet? Freeze its dollar accounts. Venezuela hosts Russian strategic bombers? Stop buying oil from there. Russian troops enter Georgia? Supply Georgians with TOW anti-tank missiles. Russians mess in Ukrainian politics (just like the Americans)? Support independence movements in Russia. Russia strikes an alliance with Germany? Stir up anti-Russian sentiment in Germany, such as recollections of the wholesale rape of its women in WWII and the annexation of Konigsberg. Zero tolerance to Russian expansion in any sphere, any issue would not only be efficient on its own, but will also signal to the KGB establishment the impossibility of launching Cold-War-lite. It is critical to check any Russian advances on the spot, not allowing its government any PR benefits whatsoever. Such politics requires an ingenious and strong leader, and is entirely unrealistic.

Other than that, there is really nothing to be done to curtail the Russian diplomatic expansion. Western Europe cannot refuse Russian and Iranian oil and gas. America cannot defend obscure Georgia with its own troops. Germany and France, resentful of the United States for helping them out during the Cold War, cheerfully align themselves with Russia. This trend is less pronounced under Sarkozy, but would resurface under a less pro-American president. The world is returning to its normal bipolarity of Russia-Germany-France versus Britain-America. Given the huge number of Muslim immigrants in Britain, even it could defect to the Russian camp.

Russian expansion is its own worst enemy. One cannot keep peddling expectations forever. Russian people will get used to anti-American, anti-Georgian, anti-Ukrainian, anti-everyone hysteria. Russian government-controlled media have resorted to an easy way of rallying public opinion: they heavily employ the familiar Soviet propaganda molds, down to outright curses and expletives toward hostile foreign leaders. There is a problem with that mold: Russians know about the eventual bankruptcy of Soviet propaganda. Eventually they will become cynical about the imperial propaganda. At that point, the Russian government will need a victorious war; depending on the availability and outcome of such a war, Russian society can turn further inwards or break out of its KGB-imposed policies.

A downturn in oil prices can provide major impetus for political changes in Russia. Without the oil and gas revenues, Russian military, government, and welfare expenditures are insupportable. Russia thus has a tremendous interest in fanning the Iranian conflict and instability in the Middle East generally—that’s besides a sheer pleasure of subverting American policies there. Faced with economic hardships, Russians would behave unpredictably: follow the reformers who promise them the Western-style affluence, brace for US aid, or—if all hope is lost—support the hardliners who promise them at least equality in their poverty.

But so far, welcome back to the Cold War.

the Russians are coming. New Cold War.