Putin’s shortsighted military play

The hallmark of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to reclaim parts of Russia’s lost empire in Central Europe has been the forceful denial of any Russian government role in the creeping annexation of territory. Moscow has rejected the notion that there is any official involvement of support for the separatists in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, advancing instead the fiction that any Russians present are volunteers acting without coordination with the Russian government.

That story was hard enough to swallow when first told, but Moscow’s credibility has been further eroded by increasingly assertive activity by the Russian armed forces on its borders.

In Europe and in Asia, recent Russian military behavior looks a lot like that of the darkest days of the Cold War, when Soviet forces routinely violated the territory of neighbors, tested their military readiness and signaled a barely concealed disregard for, if not hostility to, their sovereignty.

Putin’s pretensions are not intimidating those neighbors, however. Instead, it is only increasing suspicion of Moscow, pushing European governments to reduce interactions with — and potential dependence on — Moscow, and reinforcing the institutions that Putin seeks to undermine.

In 2014, NATO has conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft, about three times as many as in 2013. Since the week before last, more than two dozen Russian aircraft, including fighters, bombers and tankers flying in four groups, were tracked and intercepted; the flights occurred over the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea.

Military aircraft from eight NATO member states scrambled in response. NATO acknowledged that the Russian planes did file flight plans and used transponders, but complained that the aircraft did not communicate with civilian air traffic controllers, posing a real risk of an accident.

Northern European nations appear to be bearing the brunt of the new Russian aggressiveness. Estonia has accused Russian aircraft of violating its airspace six times this year, three times the number in 2013. Latvia has reported dozens of Russian military vessels near its waters, along with violations of its airspace too. In September, an Estonian intelligence officer was taken by Russian security forces on Estonian territory; Russia denies the charges and says the man, still imprisoned, was in Russia and engaged in spying.

Early last month, Sweden was in an uproar amid reports that a Russian submarine was operating close to Swedish shores. A full search, reminiscent of those that occurred during the Cold War, did not turn up a submarine. Russian planes have reportedly violated Swedish and Finnish airspace in recent months.

Russia is also testing U.S. and Canadian air defenses by sending aircraft along the Alaskan and northern Canadian coasts, prompting scrambles by those two militaries as well.

Japan knows well Russia’s potential for provocation. The Ministry of Defense has said that Japanese Air Self-Defense Force jets have scrambled nearly twice as many times already this year in response to Russian military aircraft as they did a year ago; the number of scrambles is up 73 percent — jumping from 308 in 2013 to 533 this year.

At this rate, the number of intercepts will become the highest number in nearly a quarter of a century.

It is not clear what Russia hopes to accomplish. Putin could be trying to intimidate his neighbors, but that does not seem to be working. The Baltic states are NATO’s newest members and an aggressive Russia has only reinforced their inclination to seek shelter under the trans-Atlantic alliance. The United States and other NATO members have given no indication that their commitment to the defense of these new allies is slackening. The Ukraine fiasco has led NATO to focus on the prospect of an immediate threat in their neighborhood after years of drift — characterized by shrinking defense budgets and attention on more distant problems, such as Afghanistan — and revitalize that organization. At the same time, those European governments are increasingly wary of their dependence on Russian energy supplies and actively exploring alternative strategies to reduce their vulnerability.

The cat-and-mouse game on Japan’s northern borders is antagonizing a government that had hoped to forge a new relationship with Moscow and come to some ultimate resolution of the territorial problem that stands to this day in the way of a complete peace agreement after World War II.

More troubling still for Moscow are future prospects. Russia plans to spend 20 percent of its national budget on defense by 2018. To reach that goal, military spending will grow 18 percent in 2015 and 33 percent over the next two budgets.

But the Russian economy is already being squeezed by Western sanctions imposed as a result of the aggression against Ukraine, and plummeting oil prices will increase the pressure on Moscow.

Putin seems to be betting that the West is a paper tiger, unable to stand up to a Russian government with a focused and hungry eye on its former territories. That bet looks to be an increasingly long shot. Neither Europe nor NATO has folded, and now Russia faces increasingly difficult choices.

  • boonteetan

    Is Abe not emulating Putin when engaging his own navy? One would hope that he would not see China as Putin would see the West. Better not draw the parallel.

    • rossdorn

      Ts, ts, ts…. you think too much!
      As punishment you will now write 100 times:

      Putin/Cina = Bad
      Obama/Abe = Good

      • boonteetan

        You are entitled to your opinion. I adhere to mine. Thanks.

      • rossdorn

        Of course, I am sure you even belong to the majority….

  • Dipak Bose

    The reality is that Russia is not aggressive, but The west is. Russia had the best chance to invade Ukraine on 22nd February this year when a pro-Nazi coup has taken place to oust the elected government of Yanukovich. However, Russia never invaded Ukraine, instead about 4000 Russian speakers in Ukraine were since killed by the Ukrainian Nazis, thousands were injured, cities after cities in east Ukraine were destroyed and more than 100,000 Russian speaking Ukrainians are now refugees in Russia.

    The problem between Russia and the West has started in 1995 when Bill Clinton has initiated a very aggressive policy towards Russia and its allies in the Middle east, India and Yugoslavia, and supported the Jihadis in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Russia is now scared that NATO wants to destroy Russia and take away Siberia; if NATO assures Russia that it wants peace and stability, as George Bush senior did, there will be peace and stability.

    The West must not try to expand into the Former Soviet Union, as the west has tried to do since 1995. Ukraine must not be in the NATO or EU. If the West declare that and ask Ukraine to join the Eurasian Customs Union promoted by Russia, all problem will be solved. It will not cost anything for The West. Russia will not absorb Ukraine either, as Russia has not tried to absorb Belaruss or Kazakstan or Azarbaizan or Turkmenistan (the last three have enormous oil and gas reserves).

    Russia is just scared that USA wants to destroy Russia and take away Siberia; if USA assures Russia that it wants peace and stability, as George Bush senior did, there will be peace and stability.

    The West cannot help Ukraine. The West cannot supply its energy needs, without it people will be frozen to death, when temperature is already minus 10 and it will be minus 30 in February. Millions of Ukrainians work in Russia; they cannot go to Germany or Britain. You need to understand that before 1920 there was no Ukraine. The areas from Odessa to Kharkov was in Russia along with Crimea. The rest of Ukraine was then called Little Russia, except the area which is now. Western Ukraine, which was either a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Poland.

    The solution lies in the hands of Russia only. The West can of course go there in Ukraine and kill millions and turn the country into heaps of ruined buildings, as the West did in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan. The West could not give any reliefs for the people of those countries, and The West cannot give any reliefs for the people of Ukraine either.

    Ukraine is not important for USA, as Canada or Mexico is not important for Russia. However, Ukraine is extremely important for Russia as they are the same people with same religion with same history, as Canada is for USA..

    Prof.Dipak Basu

    • el noble

      I read your opinion and it is missing the real core of the issue. The problem is not between Russia and the European Union or the USA,
      the problem is between Russia and Ukraine. A weak and small nation as Ukraine want to be free of its vassal relation with Russia that kept it poor, vulnerable and weak since its independence. I remember Putin said almost a decade ago that Ukraine is not a country in meeting with President Bush. I think that comment made clear why Ukraine is the victim of a Russian aggression such as Cuba is still the victim of the USA aggression since the Cuban Revolution.

      Putin did not accept that the former president Yanukovych
      sign a free trade agreement with the European Union so forced Yanukovych to cancel it because that agreement put into risk the control that Russia has on Ukraine, but the majority in Ukraine want. Ukraine can prosper outside the Russian control. It is this moment the Ukrainian people started to protest and demanded the agreement with the European Union to be signed. As a result of this Yanukovych was forced out of power by the Ukrainian Parliament and a new government understanding what the Ukrainian people wanted made a policy change that would put Ukraine close to Western Europe.

      So many people said that Ukrainian protests were made
      by the CIA and Neo-Nazis, but they are wrong because after two elections the democratic vote has made clear the same point that is the majority Ukrainian people want a relation with Western Europe so their political and economic interests and success are in and with Brussels not in the Kremlin. Of course Putin could not accept it and decided to annex Crimea using the Russian Army and support a military rebellion in the Donbass with Russian weapon and soldiers.

      What is also surprising is you as Putin think that Ukraine should not be a member of European Union or NATO, specially after this Russian aggression. I want to know why you and Putin think that can say or decide what is good for the majority of the Ukrainian people. Or you have forgotten that Ukraine is sovereign country and the decision of the majority of Ukrainian people are not Putin business and should be respected and their country should not be break into pieces by Russia as we watching now.

      We are in the year 2014, it is not the early 1900s, Ukraine existed since 1991 and Russia has the obligation to respect its territory but as we can see Russia has not do it since Russia is trying to destroy the ability of the Ukraine to perform as a state and get closer to Western Europe. If Russia or Putin or you cannot live with pro-West Ukraine that is your problem and you need to learn to respect other nation and people decision. Or you want to believe that because 100 years ago some part of Ukraine, such as Crimea, was part of the Russian Empire so Russia has the right to claim it, if you think so then China can easily claim one half of the Russian Siberia. I want to know what Putin will do if China presents that claim.

      For information Russian and Ukrainian are not the same people as the current crisis easily has made clear (actually it is an insult for the Ukrainian people to be called that they are the same), so you should start to understand that they are different nationalities and have separate destinies unless you are one of those who think as Putin said before that Ukraine is not a county and somehow just a part of Russia.

      It is funny how the Russian Propaganda has trying to put or make Putin look as a savior, however the majority of Ukrainians and the West know what is the core of the issues, it is not a direct conflict between Russia
      and the West as Putin wants us to believe, it is Ukraine wanted to be free and the free world is supporting it, which is a bad news for Putin who is very angry for that, just look at him during the interview about Ukraine.

      El Noble from Yokohama.

      • rossdorn

        Dear noble,
        I am afraid here: “The problem is not between Russia and the European Union or the USA,” you are wrong.

        When Germany was re-united 25 years ago, maybe that was before your time?, the West/US/NATO made an agreement with Gorbatschov that he would not interfere.
        In return NATO would not try to expand into what used to be the Eastern Bloc.
        But, that is exactly what the West did in Ukraine, as they did before already in Georgia….

        But your comment shows, you are not interested in facts, not in understanding.
        You have an opinion, that is enough for you.

        Well, have a nice day…

      • Starviking

        The problem is that 25 years ago the Eastern Bloc was not defunct, it ended after the agreement on the reunification of Germany.

        As for the expansion of NATO, do you think that nations’ membership should be subject to a veto by an outside power?

      • Dipak Bose

        Suppose there is a coup in Canada and it is taken over by the Muslims, who start killing the English speakers, and they want to join ISIS or any such organization, what will be the reaction of USA?

      • Starviking

        Incredulity would be the response. I think you could add aliens to the situation you just described and it would be just as bizarre.

        And as a side-note: “The Muslims?” You certainly seem to be tarring a large percentage of the Earth’s population with the ISIS tag.

      • Dipak Bose

        I do not know what is your nationality but you have no idea about the history of Russia or about its people.
        There is no difference between normal Ukranian and any normal Russian because Ukrainian language is a dialect of Russian language. Every Russian has at least 25 percent Ukrainian blood. Russian nation was born in Kiev as Kiev-Russ. king of that area Vladimir is considered as a Saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. There was no Moscow at that time, there was no Ukraine either. Ukraine was created by Lenin in 1920 by adding the pure Russian area from Odessa to Kharkov to some areas which are now central Ukraine. North western Ukraine was then a part of Poland (with Catholic religion) and South western Ukraine was then a part of Austro-Hungarian empire (dissolved after the First world War). Crimea was added to Ukraine only in 1954; it is all Russian.
        Poroshenko or Yat are not Ukrainian. Poroshenko is a citizen of Israel and Yat is a Greek catholic.
        That was the reason they easily taken up sword to kill the Russian speakers.
        Thus, it looks like just like Yugoslavia where there was the war between the Catholics Croats and Serbian Orthodox and Muslim Bosnian and Serbian Orthodox. In Ukraine today although the majority are Orthodox, but the Catholics, and Ukrainan Nazis got the upper-hand against the Orthodox and NATO as they did in Yugoslavia is supporting Catholics against the orthodox. Ukranian Nazis are Catholics mainly of Polish origin. It is not a war between Orthodox Ukranian versus orthodox Russian; that is just impossible as they are the same people, but it is a war between mainly Polish Catholics supported by NATO versus Orthodox supported by Russia. It is not without any reason that the son of Zibnew Brezhizhinsky, the national Security Adviser to Jimmy Carter who has created the Islamic Muzzahideens against the Socialist Afghanistan in 1978, is now the US ambassador to Poland.
        Since 1978 NATO supported Islamic killers in Afghanistan in the same way NATO is supporting today Nazis in Ukraine.

    • Starviking

      Ok, Prof. Basu, so your thesis is that because Russia is paranoid that Siberia will be stripped from them, we should just let them do what they want to their neighbours?

      Seems morally unsustainable.

      BTW, “Pro-Nazi”? Isn’t that a bit hyperbolic, especially coming from someone in academia?

      • Dipak Bose

        Ukraine is not just a neighbor; it was a part of the same country Soviet Union and as a result the close links are there in every aspects even today. Russians and Ukrainians are the same people with same religion, similar language and hundreds of years of shared history and the economy. The industry in Ukraine, mainly weapons, tanks, military aircraft cannot function without Russia`s active supplies of components. Millions of Ukrainians are working and living in Russia. Every Russians has at least 25 percent Ukrainian blood. Those who are trying to separate Ukraine from Russia are not Ukrainians; they are Polish Catholics or Hungarian Catholics, or citizen of Israel Poroshenko or a Greek Catholic Yat or the members lof the Ukranian People`s Army of Swovoda who fought alongside Hitler`s invading army.

        NATO has supported Jihadis in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria to destroy these countries. Now NATO is supporting NAZIS in Ukraine to destroy it.


      • Starviking

        Let’s try substituting some other countries into your screed and see how it plays out:

        The Republic of Ireland is not just a neighbour; it was a part of the same country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and as a result the close links are there in all aspects even today. The Irish and British are the same people…etc.

        Do you think the UK should invade the Republic of Ireland?

        As for your last bit about NATO supporting NAZIS – pray tell, where are the NAZIS in Ukraine?

      • Dipak Bose

        I have replied but it was erased out by Japan Times. They all work for the CIA.

  • VerityHeld

    Reality is, Putin is an old-line Soviet KGB operative, whom I for one increasingly suspect of senile dementia.

  • el noble

    It looks like in Russia nobody is manipulated or falsified the real information or news in the media that comes from Ukraine such as the false crucifixion of Russian children and the permanent involvement of Russian troop in the conflict.

    • rossdorn

      Let me spell it out for you….
      As far as this subject goes the US/NATO/West and Russia are exactly the same.

      What I am talking about is the FACT, that the media ALWAYS prints the western lies, never the russian ones.
      So, I suggested, that people read the other side too.
      Of course only the ones that are interested in reality.

      Get it now?

  • Starviking

    Very interesting reply. In the sense that little of what you write can be substantiated.

    I searched for “Ukranian Peoples Army of Swavoda” – no hits.

    I did find a reference to a current fascistic Ukrainian political party, Svoboda. It did dismally in the recent elections, gaining 6 seats out of around 450. That’s a drop from 37 in the last parliament.

    By the way, love the weasel words – a mass public protest is a “coup”?

  • s k

    When they say, its unclear why Putin is doing such…well, I don’t agree…it’s bully against bully…depending upon your alliance…