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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Isolation of the Russian Bear Makes for a Very Dangerous Bear

By Douglas V. Gibbs
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A country's business is the country's own personal business.  Sovereignty is a good thing.  However, we do live in a world with technology, and with that technology comes a certain kind of globalism that may not be what the leftist collectivists of the world desire, but it does make for a world that is much, much smaller.  Therefore, since we are all on the same playground, the need for countries to play nice is more important today than it has ever been.  Yet, what we are seeing right now with Russia, China, and Muslim aggression is a movement of strategies and geopolitical positioning that resembles the 1930s, right before the world burst into a devastating world war.

Russia's activities are among those that have been disconcerting.  The annexation by Russia of South Ossetia and Crimea, along with their invasion of eastern Ukraine, would be considered acts of war to the greatest generation (and there likely would have been a strong response).  Russia has also been aligning with Islam, which has placed itself at odds with The West.  But, today the snowflake in the White House named Barack Obama may see it as unacceptable, but considers it none of our business; leaving Russia, for the most part, alone to do whatever it wants.

Concerns over President Putin’s Russia are high when it comes to the northeastern corner of Europe.  Russia is seen as a threat to Poland, and the smaller Baltic States to the north (Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia) - which brings into the discussion the NATO alliance. . . an alliance originally created to protect Europe from potential Russian aggression during the age of the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

Russia's 2014 ousting from the G8 summit was a sign that Europe and the U.S. are doing what they can to distance themselves from Russia, reinforcing the message that Russia is no longer seen as an ally.  Russia is not considered an aggressor who must be watched closely.

Sanctions have been imposed upon Russia, but Russia has not backed down.  The Russian Bear still holds tight to South Ossetia and Crimea, and continues to march her troops through eastern Ukraine.  Russian propaganda is also in full swing, spreading distrust and potential chaos.

In early July the NATO members had a meeting.  The 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, was a highly anticipated event, particularly after the bad news of “Brexit” (Britain's vote to depart from the European Union).  The hope was that the collectivists of the West would come together, sing together, and hold hands in blissful unity.

At the summit, while ISIS remained a voiced concern, Russia was discussed as a greater concern.  The summit’s priority outlined a handful of major security challenges to the Alliance, listing Russia (first) and ISIS (after Russia) as the two most concrete threats among the many broader ones.

Russia's aggression ranking higher than the ISIS terrorist attacks sent shockwaves through the world.  A bulk of the discussions during the summit evolved around the threats emanating from Russia, and its testing of EU and NATO borders. The list of Russia’s indiscretions as seen by NATO is long and damning.
  • The annexaton of Crimea
  • Deliberate destabilization of eastern Ukraine
  • Large-scale exercises contrary to the spirit of the Vienna Document
  • Provocative military exercises near NATO borders
  • Active military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric
  • Repeated violations of NATO Allied airspace
  • Military intervention and significant military presence and support for Syria
  • Military presence in the Black Sea
In response, NATO announced it will
  • Send military reinforcements eastwards to support Poland and the Baltic States
  • Maintain presence in Afghanistan
  • Continue efforts in Syria
Russia calls NATO's plans, “Acting contrary to the objective interests of maintaining peace and stability in Europe and the need to combine the capabilities of all responsible international parties against very real modern challenges, the alliance has focused its efforts on containing an illusory ‘threat from the East,’” as stated by the Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova after the NATO summit.

“Exaggerated attempts are being made to demonize Russia in order to justify the military measures taken by the bloc and to draw public attention away from the destructive role of the bloc and some of its allies in provoking crises and fanning tensions around the world.”
The Russian side’s interpretation of the NATO statements trickled down into the Russian media. “NATO ignores terror threat coming from south, demonizes Russia instead” read Russian media headlines. “Don’t you think it’s illogical that NATO pays great attention to unreal Russian threat instead of for example dealing with real danger like ISIS?” asked a Channel 1 Russia correspondent at a press briefing with Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary General.

The Warsaw summit was not silent about the threat of Islamic terrorism.  “NATO must respond to many different challenges at the same time” stated Mr. Stoltenberg at the press briefing, justifying Russia’s appearance on the Communique next to ISIS, “at our summit we made important decisions to continue to play a key role in fight against international terrorism.”

Following the NATO summit in Warsaw was the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in Brussels on July 13th. The NRC was created in 2002 as a “mechanism for consultation, consensus-building, cooperation, joint decision and joint action” where the “individual NATO member states and Russia have worked as equal partners on a wide spectrum of security issues of common interest.”

Since the beginning of Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014, however, NATO and the NRC have suspended their work with Russia. Thus the July 13th meeting held some promise that while the NATO officials were unwilling to back down, they were also open to resolving the differences with Russia.

The meeting, however, seemed only partially successful. According to Mr. Stoltenberg when it came to Ukraine there was “no meeting of minds”.

“Ukraine was the first item on our agenda and this is important because Russian actions in Ukraine have undermined euro-Atlantic security. [NATO] Allies and Russia have profound and persistent disagreements on the crisis. There was not a meeting of minds today.”

At the NRC meeting Mr. Stoltenberg also stressed the importance of NATO’s decision to sustain their military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2016 with approximately the current troop levels, and their intentions to continue to fund Afghan security forces until 2020. According to Mr. Stoltenberg Afghanistan’s president Ghani made new commitments to carry out major reforms in Afghanistan.

As NATO increases its military presence along the Russian border, and both sides continue to conduct their military exercises on opposite sides of the same borders and waterways, a "shot heard around the world" may be forthcoming.  Accidents and incidents happen.

Russia says that out of this the opposite of what they are being accused of is happening.  Russia is not happy with NATO's expansion. It had been agreed that NATO would not expand into former Soviet member and satellite states during the negotiations for Germany’s reunification.

James Goldgeier wrote, "When politically convenient, many Russian elites have dredged up the notion of such a promise to argue that they were betrayed in the settlement that ended the Cold War in Europe, thereby justifying Russian pushback, including the invasion of Ukraine, against the U.S.-led security order."

However, NATO has since extended memberships to ten post-Soviet states and satellite states. In 1999 Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO. In 2004 Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined NATO. Moreover, Georgia and Ukraine have established partnerships with NATO and are undergoing major reforms to meet the requirements for membership. This major NATO expansion into Europe’s east has come up as an important issue of disagreement between NATO and Russia.

And so the tango becomes more vigorous, and threatening.

One thing is for sure.  When two forces press against each other, separated only by a fragile partition that more resembles a balloon full of air than anything concrete, eventually the balloon will burst.

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