Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears late to the party in realizing Russia likely has designs on reoccupying Ukraine as well as other eastern European states that are now U.S. allies and friends. This despite the fact that the Kremlin’s persistent aggressive acts on the borders of its neighbors have been going on for some time.
Ukraine has been the focus of concern for NATO and the European Union. However, other former Soviet Bloc countries feel pressure as Moscow’s threatening behavior towards them appears to have become regular order. So, it seemed odd that in a CNN report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained the United States is “concerned by reports of unusual Russian military activity and the possibility that Russia may be ‘attempting to rehash’ its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.” Standing alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at a State Department press briefing, Blinken spoke as though he was bumping into the subject of Russia’s nearly year-long maneuvers on Ukraine’s border for the first time.
The Secretary of State went further with his comments, according to the official transcript, saying:
“We’re looking at this very, very closely. We’re also consulting very closely with allies and partners. And, as you’ve heard me say and heard us say, we don’t have clarity into Moscow’s intentions, but we do know its playbook. And our concern is that Russia may make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook back in 2014 when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory, and did so claiming falsely that it was provoked. So, the playbook that we’ve seen in the past is to claim some provocation as a rationale for doing what it’s intended and planned to do all along, which is why we’re looking at this very carefully.”
While the U.S. national security team is looking at the situation “very carefully,” The Associated Press reported from the United Nations (UN) that Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, was somewhat evasive about the Kremlin’s intentions toward Ukraine. Answering questions from reporters at the UN, Polyansky responded to one inquiry on Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine. The deputy UN ambassador said, according to the Associated Press:
“Never planned, never did, and never going to do it unless we’re provoked by Ukraine, or by somebody else … There are a lot of threats coming from Ukraine. And don’t forget that the American warships around the Black Sea acting very close. So, every day is a very difficult day to avoid direct clash in the Black Sea. We warned our American colleagues that this is a real provocation”
Polyansky’s comments notwithstanding, the substantial and permanent presence of Moscow’s combat units at Ukraine’s door is what should have the US’s full attention. Howard Altman’s Military Times article, “Russian troop movements show wider conflict is possible, top Ukraine official says,” explains, “Ukrainian officials told Military Times that the gathering of Russian forces, tanks and short-range ballistic missile systems near the two countries’ border could offer the Russians an easy way to escalate an ongoing conflict.”
The Russian modus operandi was seen definitively in its takeover and occupation of Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and as Liberty Nation described in a recent article:
“The ruse under which the Russians sent armed forces into Georgia is now very familiar after Russia annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014. The Kremlin claimed the ethnic Russian population that makes up a portion of the citizenry of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were at risk of being persecuted by Georgians. Consequently, Moscow was obligated to send in ‘peacekeeping’ forces.”
Altman observed, “While US military leaders remain reluctant to discuss the massing of Russian forces, Ukrainian officials were more direct.” The deputy head of Ukraine’s Office of the President for national security and defense, Roman Mashovets, stated, “All available information indicates that the armed forces of Russia permanently sustain a powerful offensive grouping around Ukraine.” Moscow’s forces are in place; all that’s missing is a manufactured provocation.
Furthermore, Russia’s threat to countries with a common border or in proximity to it is not unique to Ukraine. Recently, during a visit to the US, Romania’s foreign minister H. E. Bogdan Aurescu asked Secretary Blinken to “consider boosting the US troop presence on the Black Sea to address flaring tensions with Russia.” According to Joe Gould reporting in Defense News, “Aurescu said allied resources are imbalanced in favor of the north end [Baltics, Poland, and Germany] of NATO’s eastern flank and need to be rebalanced toward the south end [Romania and the Balkans], ‘to build this coherent approach of the East Flank as a whole.'”
It is time that the US take a more forceful leadership position in opposition to the Kremlin’s threatening posture toward allies and friends in the former Soviet bloc. The US national security team has been alerted to the potential danger Russian combat forces present to eastern Europe in recent months. As Aurescu suggested, NATO and the US particularly should re-evaluate the stationing of US troops and other allied resources as a balanced bulwark against Moscow’s aggression based on faux “provocations.” The US should not be late to take proactive measures to discourage Russia from being “provoked.”
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
~ Read more from Dave Patterson.