Even under the best of circumstances, the relationship in the Balkans between Russia, on the one hand, and the EU and the United States, on the other, is bound to be contentious. However, decisionmakers on both sides can craft policies to dial tensions down and pursue common interests where they do exist.
Major military exercises are never a simple routine but carry important political significance. This is the case with the recent Russian military manoeuvres of Zapad 2017, which took place in Belarus as well as in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad – bordering the territory of two NATO Baltic States – on 14-20 September. The exercise was closely monitored by European and US military and political elites and caused considerable concern in Poland and the Baltic states.
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Nel suo libro “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (ed. italiana “Voci dall’inferno: l’America e l’era del genocidio”, Baldini Castoldi Dalai, 2004 ), che uscì nel 2002 e vinse il Premio Pulitzer l’anno successivo, Samantha Power condannava l’inazione degli Stati Uniti nel prevenire o fermare alcune delle peggiori stragi etniche del ventesimo secolo. Come, però, lei stessa…continua a leggere
Since 2014, Russia has mounted an extensive, aggressive, and multi-platform attempt to use its military and the threat of force as instruments of coercive diplomacy, intended to divide, distract, and deter Europe from challenging Russia’s activities in its immediate neighbourhood.
The main elements are threats of potential military action, wargames which pointedly simulate such operations, the deployment of combat units in ways which also convey a political message, and intrusions close to and into European airspace, waters and even territory.
The actual impact of these policies is varied, sometimes counter-productive, and they depend on coordination with other means of diplomacy and influence. But they have nonetheless contributed to a fragmentation of unity within both NATO and the European Union.
‘Heavy metal diplomacy’ is likely to continue for the immediate future. This requires a sharper sense on the part of the EU and its member states of what is a truly military move and what is political, a refusal to rise to the bait, and yet a display of convincing unity and cross-platform capacity when a response is required.
Predicting Russia’s future is a perilous exercise. Many, indeed perhaps most, of those who have ventured to make such predictions in the past have erred in one way or another. At the moment the danger of getting things wrong is perhaps particularly high since quite a number of short-term uncertainties with long-term consequences for the European continent – in both Russia and the EU – could make the next few years, let alone the next decade, radically different. From regional wars, refugees and their impact on the EU, to the falling oil price and Russia’s infatuation with military power as a quick fix to its foreign or domestic policy problems – the strategic environment is not simply unpredictable, but dangerously volatile.
Russia today poses a greater foreign policy and security challenge to the United States and its Western allies than at any time since the height of the Cold War. Its annexation of Crimea, war in Ukraine’s Donbas region, and military intervention in Syria have upended Western calculations from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. Russia’s intervention in Syria, in particular, is a stark reminder that Russia is a multi-regional power—as much by intent as by geography.
Under- or overestimating Russia’s capabilities—and those of Russian President Vladimir Putin—can lead to dangerous policy miscalculations and strategic surprises. If the United States and its allies are not to be continually surprised, we will have to put more resources behind understanding what is happening inside Russia, as well as analyzing the complex of Russia’s interactions internationally. We need a more holistic approach if we are to succeed in identifying workable policy solutions.
Russia’s military momentum
Putin’s current challenge is to maintain the military momentum Russia first gained with its war against Georgia in August 2008, and to keep taking the West by surprise, as it has in both Ukraine and Syria. Russia may, however, be coming to its limits for conducting larger-scale military operations. In Ukraine, part of the impetus for dampening down the conflict over the last several weeks—along with securing sanctions relief and pocketing gains on the ground—is that the war in the Donbas region has been relatively costly in the context of Russia’s partially-implemented rearmament program, which did not really begin until 2011. The current Russian economic downturn, created by a confluence of plummeting energy prices and Western sanctions, has squeezed Russia’s defense budget. Indeed, Western sanctions (enhanced in the wake of the 2014 shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner by Russian rebels) hit Russia just as the efforts to reinvigorate Russia’s defense industry hit their stride, depriving Russia of access to critical foreign technology and budget revenues.…continua a leggere