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Russia Watcher: Putin Set to Undermine NATO in Baltics

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin is engaged in “an existential struggle” with the West, not only in Ukraine and other close-by former Soviet states, but particularly to undermine NATO in the Baltic nations, a leading expert on Russia and Eurasia said Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation.

Speaking at the Washington think-tank, Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said “there is plenty to worry about” in Baltic countries such as Estonia and Latvia, with their large ethnic Russian populations.

The Russian president “is not adverse to using them to make domestic trouble” in a variety of domains such as cyber and disinformation. This presents “a challenge of dealing with less than full-scale war threats” to NATO in the Baltic.

“How do we deal with these crises short of war?” That, he said, is the question confronting the alliance.

For all former Soviet republics, he said the more assertive Russia “is more prone than before to look less kindly on engagement with the West”

Rumer, the co-author Conflict in Ukraine, said Putin does “not fully control the situation on the ground” in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists are trying to break away from the government in Kiev.

The earlier annexation of Crimea by Russia “was not well thought out” and the fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine has “in a sense backfired.”

For Putin’s Eurasian economic integration program to succeed and keep the European Union at bay, “he needs all of Ukraine. It’s a big gaping hole” without Ukraine being part of the Eurasian Union. A military occupation of the entire country “is most likely a bridge too far” for the Russian armed forces.

“People just don’t want” that integration, even in the areas in Ukraine where the fighting is taking place, he said.

“We’re in a stalemate” politically, economically, and militarily in Ukraine, one that has persisted since the first Minsk agreement to end the conflict was signed in September 2014.

Ukraine itself “is a Soviet construct” with “no living memory” of being an independent state, as is the case with Poland and Hungary, Rumer said.

He estimated that it would take “tens of billions of dollars for years” to rebuild the areas where the fighting has been fiercest. The government in Kiev would need $20 billion to shore up its financial reserves.

U.S. Army

US Army M1126 Strykers parade in February in Narva, Estonia. Reuters Photo 

“For Europe, it is a crisis nobody needs or wants” as the EU struggles with Greek debt and faces an upcoming election in Great Britain that could see London leaving the EU. It also throws into question the union’s belief in its “Eastern Partnership being seen as a way to bring Eastern Europe closer” to the EU.

For the United States, the Ukrainian crisis put to rest the “thought we were done with the Europe Project” that emerged in the late 1990s.

Rumer said no one in Kiev, Moscow, Washington or Brussels could have predicted that the government of Viktor Yanukovych would collapse in February 2014 when demonstrators took to the streets over his withdrawal from negotiations to join the European Union. He said the mass demonstrations signified that people “were fed up with all politicians” from reformers to oligarchs.

China has been a beneficiary of the Ukrainian crisis. “Russia said it is pivoting to the Pacific” and recently signed an energy agreement with China. Rumer added that for the first time Russia is offering Chinese investors majority positions in energy exploration ventures.

  • blanemoore

    I guess John does not know his history of the area or Ukrainian history, it was a nation with a unique identity in the mid 18th century and then gobbled up by Catherine the Great around 1793. Thus, the comment “Ukraine itself “is a Soviet construct” with “no living memory” of being an independent state, as is the case with Poland and Hungary, Rumer said.” is not correct, they very much have a memory of it…

    • Ctrot

      Point take, but 1793 is not “living” memory.

    • Minrover

      Just worth bearing in mind Poland was independant prior to WW2 and during the Russian occupation Britain maintained a free polish government and army into the late 70’s and 80’s

    • AP

      Post WW I, Ukraine was actively discussed as a possible nation-state to be created out of the Versaille conference, alongside Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc. Partly due to Polish lobbying efforts the idea was scrapped. Later Ukrainian forces joined Poland in the 1920 Polish-Soviet War. Poland had agreed to support indpendent Ukraine at that time. However, Pilsudski reneged on the deal. This probably added fuel to later nationalistic, anti-Polish attacks by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (an entirely NON-SOVIET entity).

      Although Ukrainians got a “raw deal” after WWI, there was certainly a well-developed Ukrainian identity that was outside of any “Soviet Construct.”

      I largely agree with the article’s findings, yet it loses some credibility because of this bad misrepresentative of historical context.

  • Secundius

    The only way that Putin can control the Mind Set, is if you let him control the Mind Set…

  • Secundius

    I think the Weakest Link in the NATO Chain-Mail Armor, is Germany…

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  • pete

    Read “The COLDER WAR” by Marin Katusa, it thoroughly describes what Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is up to.

  • Jim Valle

    The more we watch Putin the more we see him taking whole chapters out of the playbook created by Mussolini and Hitler. He’s reverting back to the early Twentieth Century where aggressive regional hegemonic states maneuver to expand at the expense of their neighbors using fellow ethnics located across national boarders as the lever and justification. It worked then because nobody wanted to move energetically to put a stop to it and it’s working now for the same reason. And that mysterious murder in Moscow, so reminiscent of Mussolini’s murder of the Socialist deputy Matteotti and Hitler’s “Night of the Long Knives”. It’s possible we were a little premature in thinking fascism was dead as a working political ideology.

  • Josh

    The longer we don’t stand up to putin the more painful it will be.

    If the west confronted him in crimea it wouldn’t have been as bad as now or if he attacks a NATO country.

  • Secundius

    Once the NATO Shield starts to Crack, Putin’s Won…

  • Secundius

    Germany is a Non-Entity, it lost the will to Fight and Defend in 5 May 2013, when they Lost 54 Soldiers, 3 Policeman and 245 Wounded in the Afghanistan War. That single action, Horrified the German People, and Lost there will in any Now or Future Conflict…

    • Bill

      That number is the total German losses in the entire Afghan War. Not a single action; you should check your source.

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  • Paul

    Your statements and most comments from the West regarding Poland, Ukraine and Russia are naïve. For you this conflict seems to be a nonsense as, for instance, there is no crude oil there. Believe me, the scent of money is the last thing driving this conflict. Poles are still waiting for those war planes promised in 1939, and in 2015 we can’t see any NATO planes either…