Alexander Golts, the deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal, was quoted in The Moscow Times recently saying, “The Kremlin can take pride in the fact that, after directing every imaginable threatening statement at the West for the past 10 years, Europe and the U.S. are finally taking it seriously.”
Many in Russia believe the Kremlin created the crisis in Ukraine and with the West in order to deflect attention from the domestic economy and to appeal to an innate, rabid nationalism in the Russian population. Moscow needs an enemy and America is an easy target. I have written before on this site that the U.S. arming Ukraine would only fall into Vladimir Putin’s game plan. So far, the chessboard has gone in the Kremlin’s favor. The Russian narrative is working — it’s working in Russia that is. Mr. Putin’s popularity remains sky high. Moscow just opened a military theme park on the city outskirts to promote patriotism and the feeling that Russia cannot be defeated. However, now the chickens may be coming home to roost and the long-term consequences may not be good for Moscow.
Large-scale exercises recently were conducted by NATO in the Baltic Sea, landing troops only 100 miles from Kaliningrad, the home of the Russian Baltic fleet. NATO is parading armor through the Baltics and other Eastern European countries such as Poland. Western airpower is being built up in the region and now there is talk of permanently stationing NATO tanks and armored vehicles in former Soviet territory.
The United Kingdom’s defense minister, Michael Fallon, warned Russia that the exercises being held in the Baltic Sea were “not a game” and that Britain “would not be intimidated by Russia.” It seems that the Kremlin’s announcement of adding 40 more nuclear missiles to its inventory awaken the sleeping defense giant in the West.
Now concerns of a new arms race between the West and Russia are very real and front-and-center. With the weak and feckless Obama administration winding down, Moscow must realize a more hawkish president may be waiting in the American wings and could do wondrous things with a Republican Congress to revitalize the American economy and her defense spending.
AFP quoted Yury Ushakov, Mr. Putin’s top foreign policy aide, as saying recently, “Russia is trying to react to possible threats with some sort of means but that’s it … We are against any arms race because it naturally weakens our economic capabilities … In principle we are against it.”
Mr. Putin is a master at escalation and de-escalation. It remains to be seen if Russia will attempt to head off an American arms buildup by making nice. America and Europe have also announced they are preparing additional sanctions against Russia if the Ukrainian conflict worsens. These could include severe financial measures and could be targeted against Russia’s energy sector as well, which could have devastating consequences. The previous arms race didn’t end well for the Kremlin.
The ball is in Russia’s court, it seems. However, with other geopolitical hot spots flaring, such as the South China Sea, it seems a given that America will re-arm conventionally.