- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A top Russian general said Moscow is looking to amp up its forces “on the Western strategic front” of Ukraine in a chess game with Washington after the Pentagon recently admitted it was considering stationing military equipment in the region.

Gen. Yuri Yakubov made the veiled threat amidst high-running tensions in Eastern European states like Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Ukraine, which share a border with Russia and have expressed concern about Moscow’s military exercises in the region since it annexed the Crimean Peninsula last year.

The general issued the warning on behalf of the Russian Federation’s Defense Ministry in response to news the Pentagon may store military equipment and battle tanks in U.S.-allied countries in Eastern Europe. The American equipment and weaponry would reportedly be enough to supply 5,000 troops.

“If heavy U.S. military equipment, including tanks, artillery batteries and other equipment really does turn up in countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, that will be the most aggressive step by the Pentagon and NATO since the Cold War,” Gen. Yakubov said.

His comments came on the heels of another veiled threat issued Monday by the Russian Foreign Ministry (RFM), which warned the Pentagon there would be “dangerous consequences” if the U.S. stored weapons and hardware in what the Kremlin sees as its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union.

Only hours after Gen. Yakubov’s warning, President Vladimir Putin announced at an Moscow-area arms fair he was adding 40 new missiles to its arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Mr. Putin made a point to boast the new nuclear-armed missiles could “overcome even the most technically advanced anti-missile defense systems.”

There is a real risk of arms escalation between the Pentagon and Russia if this chess match along the border of former Soviet republics continues, said Allen Lynch, a professor of international relations who specializes in Russian affairs at the University of Virginia.

The Russians see the Pentagon’s stationing of military equipment “as jeopardizing their ability to control their own border and there’s a very serious risk of escalation,” said Mr. Lynch. ” Ukraine is an issue the Russians cannot afford to lose on and Putin has made it clear that he’s willing to double down as he did last year. Every action he has taken is designed to demonstrate that.”

In a recent Moscow-based interview with RIA news agency, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov confirmed this, saying, “The feeling is that our colleagues from NATO countries are pushing us into an arms race.”

The Russians are worried President Obama’s weakness on foreign policy may make him more susceptible to overreacting in a crisis – something that makes Moscow nervous and therefore want to build arms and act as a bully, said Prof. J. Michael Waller, a senior fellow for information operations at the Center for Security Policy.

“One of the thing that unsettles the Russians is that, from their perspective, we have the worst type of leader — one that is perceived as weak, but still might panic so that he would overreact in a crisis,” said Mr. Waller. “You have the Russian strategic bomber force entering U.S. and NATO airspace and we don’t do anything. That’s an extremely dangerous move from the Russian side. You have to show resoluteness the same way JFK showed resoluteness in Cuba. Obama is not driving a hard bargain on anything, and the Russians thrive on hard bargaining. From a Russian mentality, there is weak American leadership … When you’re psychologically surrendering, you set yourself up to be bullied even more.”

Since Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine last year, relations between Washington and Moscow have deteriorated to their lowest levels since the Cold War, and both sides have continuously accused one another of violating international agreements including the Minsk Protocol signed in September to halt the war in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

But U.S. officials have expressed concerns that Moscow’s threats may be serious.

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reportedly told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during a visit to his country that he must prepare for an all out invasion attempt from Moscow.

“In Eastern Ukraine, you’ve already seen the flow of, you know, thousands and thousands of tons of weapons, rocket launchers, artillery, surface to air missile sites. Recently, a Russian UAV was downed,” she said in a CNN interview Sunday.

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