An Update on Russian Belligerence

The Vladimir Putin regime does not allow any grass to grow under its feet. There may be plenty of problems in the world, but the Putin regime–ever industrious–never hesitates to try to add to them.

We have, for example, a purported threat by the Russians to use “nuclear force”  in order “to defend its annexation of Crimea.” Additionally, the Russians “warned that the ‘same conditions’ that prompted it to take military action in Ukraine exist in the three Baltic states, all members of Nato.” To be sure, there is no source cited for this threat–British newspapers are famous for passing off anonymous claims that somehow fail to materialize or get picked up by other news outlets–so, it is entirely possible that this is badly-sourced nonsense. The concern, however, is that this alleged bluster is of a piece with other actions on the part of the Putin regime that serve to make the planet nervous:

From his command post burrowed deep into a mountain of quartz and slate north of the Arctic Circle, the 54-year-old commander of the Norwegian military’s operations headquarters watches time flowing backward, pushed into reverse by surging Russian military activity redolent of East-West sparring during the Cold War.

“I am what you could call a seasoned Cold Warrior,” the commander, Lt. Gen. Morten Haga Lunde, said, speaking in an underground complex built to withstand a nuclear blast. As a result, he added, he is not too alarmed by increased Russian military activity along NATO’s northern flank.

“It is more or less the same as when I started,” said General Lunde, who began his career tracking Soviet warplanes as a Norwegian Air Force navigator in the early 1980s.

After a long hiatus following the December 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when Moscow grounded its strategic bombers for lack of fuel, spare parts and will to project power, President Vladimir V. Putin’s newly assertive Russia “is back to normal behavior,” General Lunde said.

Last year, Norway intercepted 74 Russian warplanes off its coast, 27 percent more than in 2013, scrambling F-16 fighters from a military air base in Bodo to monitor and photograph them. This is far fewer than the hundreds of Soviet planes Norway tracked off its coast at the height of the Cold War. However, last year’s total was a drastic increase from the 11 Russian warplanes Norway spotted 10 years earlier.

In Norway, a country that takes pride in championing peace — witnessed in its brokering of pacts between Israelis and Palestinians and its awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize — what General Lunde called the “new old normal” has come as a jolt. It has set off debate over military spending and highlighted how quickly Mr. Putin has shredded the certainties of the post-Cold War era.

I am pleased that General Lunde is taking all of this is stride, but we may be forgiven for being more than a little concerned that the Russians are doing their best to act more and more like their Soviet predecessors with each passing day. One hopes that the Putin regime understands and appreciates the dangers associated with this behavior–dangers that include the accidental ignition of a brand new war in Europe–but then, once upon a time, we were also hopeful that the Putin regime would understand and appreciate the dangers associated with annexing Crimea and fomenting unrest in Ukraine. And look how hopes were dashed.

You know, it really would have been nice for President Obama to talk about all of this with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg when the latter was in Washington. Alas . . .

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