Russia's bullying provokes pushback

by DR. PETER BROOKES November 6, 2016

It's pretty darn hard to come up with good news on foreign policy these days considering the severely unsettled state of the world. And while I use the phrase "good news" loosely, I may have actually stumbled upon some regarding Russia.

Don't get too excited, but the Bear's bullying is proving counterproductive.

Of course, Moscow's muscling shouldn't be a surprise. Russian President Vladimir Putin laid out his foreign policy in a 2007 Munich security conference speech where he railed against the United States, NATO and the post-Cold War world order.

He put this policy into motion with the 2008 invasion of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Despite a cease-fire agreement to end the conflict, Moscow still illegally occupies about 20 percent of Tbilisi's territory today.

In 2014, Russia seized Crimea and ignited an insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Years of war have meant widespread destruction and the deaths of several thousand - not to mention the tragic shoot-down of a civilian Malaysia Airlines flight with nearly 300 aboard.

Last year, Putin intervened in the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar Assad with an air campaign, rescuing the Damascus regime from defeat. An end to the conflict, which has taken nearly 500,000 lives, is nowhere in sight.

Moscow has also ended or violated security pacts such as the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaties signed with NATO and Washington. And so on.

But the West is pushing back - finally.

Militarily, the United States is reportedly sending troops to Poland for duty (with others) at the Suwalki Gap near Russia's heavily-militarized exclave of Kaliningrad, a slice of land nestled between Poland and Lithuania.

Other NATO members are stepping up, too: The United Kingdom is sending forces to Estonia; Canada is deploying soldiers to Latvia; and, Germany is sending tanks to Lithuania to bolster frontline Baltic states, according to press reports.

Last week after consultation with fellow NATO states, Spain denied a Russian flotilla, led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the right to refuel in a Spanish port on its journey en route to Syria.

Perhaps most interesting are the actions of non-NATO members, Sweden and Finland. Though oft-debated NATO memberships probably aren't in the cards for Stockholm and Helsinki just yet, at least getting into the NATO game is on the table for these Nordic states.

Both countries are doing more now than ever with NATO, putting aside long-standing, iron-clad neutrality toward Russia, due to Moscow's aggressiveness in the Baltic Sea and along Finland's border.

In addition, Western, punitive economic sanctions on Russia are still in place over Crimea and Ukraine; the situation in Syria won't increase the likelihood of them being lifted, either.

This is not what Putin expected from his ideology of intimidation. There's no question: Russia respects strength - and a policy of resolve and deterrence will likely help stabilize relations with Moscow.

Sure, Putin's Russia is still ambitious, assertive, anti-West, revisionist, opportunistic and nationalistic but - borrowing from Lenin - Moscow is starting to understand that when it gives a "push," it won't get just "mush" from the West.

Where might we be today if we'd figured that out before now?

Dr. Peter Brookes is a Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation and is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He writes a weekly column for the New York Post and frequently appears on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR and BBC. He is the author of: "A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Rogue States." Mr. Brookes served in the U.S. Navy and is now a Commander in the naval reserves. He has over 1300 flight hours aboard Navy EP-3 aircraft. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; the Defense Language Institute; the Naval War College; the Johns Hopkins University; and Georgetown University.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

Twitter: @Brookes_Peter

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