Putin Takes His Wacky War Games One Step Further
Putin Takes His Wacky War Games One Step Further. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently disappeared from public life for 10 days. But on Wednesday he took the stage in Moscow to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula – and even sang along with the crowd to the Russian national anthem as rock bands and Russian singers performed. The celebration was, by itself, an act of defiance directed at Western powers, including the European Union and the United States, which view the Russian takeover of Ukraine as a serious breach of international law. Yet rather than just thumb his nose at the international community by celebrating the takeover in Red Square, Putin took things a few steps further. The Russian Northern Fleet, put on alert this week as part of a massive war games exercise, was joined by additional units of the Russian armed forces – which together formed an increasingly large show of force that has stretched across the breadth of the Russian Federation.
Most surprisingly, Putin deployed bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Crimea, and delivered nuclear capable missile systems to the Russia-controlled Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea.
The decision to send nuclear capable bombers to Crimea is not, at this point, surprising. Since last year, various high-ranking Russian officials have publicly pressed the case that Russia is within its rights to do so.
The decision to deploy nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad feels a bit more provocative. This is particularly so after a Russian government-backed documentary that aired this week featured Putin asserting that he had been prepared to put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert if Western nations reacted more aggressively to the invasion.
Kaliningrad is a somewhat remarkable artifact of the Cold War. Legally a part of Russia, Kaliningrad Oblast is just under 6,000 square miles of land sandwiched between Poland on the South and Lithuania on the east. It has access to the Baltic Sea, but no direct overland connection to Russia proper that doesn’t cross the borders of at least two other countries.
It is also hundreds of miles closer to European capitals, such as Warsaw, Berlin, and Prague, than any other territory controlled by Russia. That makes the decision to send nuclear-capable missiles there something Russia’s neighbors will watch closely, and likely with alarm.
Putin, for his part, was an enthusiastic participant in Wednesday’s celebrations in Moscow.
“We understood that in terms of Crimea it was not a matter of just some territory, however strategically important it is,” he said.“It was a matter of millions of Russian people, our compatriots, who needed our help and support.”
Putin delivered those remarks shortly before taking the stage and singing the national anthem into a microphone next to longtime Russian pop star Larisa Dolina. The event drew an estimated 110,000 people.
Not long afterward, officials in Lithuania said, fighter pilots with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization intercepted a group of Russian fighter jets and transport aircraft. The aircraft were flying – with identifying transponders deactivated – close to the borders of NATO member state Latvia. You can take Vladimir Putin's picture off the milk carton today.The Russian president reappeared in public for the first time in 10 days on Monday, attending a meeting with the president of Kyrgyzstan in St. Petersburg. The Russian leader deflected reporters’ questions about his whereabouts, saying only, “It’s boring without rumors.”Putin’s reappearance coincided with several reports sure to raise tensions among his neighbors. Putin put Russia’s Northern Fleet, as well as associated airborne troops and other military units, on full alert as part of a readiness drill aimed at potential conflict in the Arctic, a region where Russia has become more assertive in recent months. Also on Monday, Russian media released a documentary film about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last year. Putin reveals he’d been prepared to put his considerable nuclear forces on alert at the time.
"We were ready to do it,” Putin said in the interview in the film. “I talked with colleagues and told them that [Crimea] is our historic territory, Russian people live there, they are in danger, we cannot leave them.”
One of Russia’s pretenses for invading Crimea and for supporting an ongoing armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine was the ostensible threat to ethnic Russians living there.
Putin also directly accused the U.S. of organizing the Maidan uprising which, early last year, ended with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country. “Formally, the opposition was primarily supported by Europeans, but we knew very well ... that the real puppeteers were our American partners and friends. It was them who helped prepare nationalists (and) combat troops,” he said, according to CNN.
In the film, Putin is reportedly forthright about his personal involvement with the invasion of Crimea, saying he ordered it personally and managed it throughout. At the time, the Russian president made public statements in which is claimed, falsely, that Russia had sent no troops to Crimea, and that the thousands of armed men in insignia-free Russian uniforms who appeared throughout the region were independent actors.
The announcement of another major military exercise, and the admission that he was prepared to take the initial steps toward a nuclear response over Crimea, will no doubt crank up the tension in Europe, where Russia’s neighbors have become increasingly nervous about the Kremlin’s increasingly aggressive posture. Last week, the president of the European Commission called for the creation of a Pan-European army designed specifically to serve as a counterweight to Russia.
Putin’s Dead Soldiers Are Evidence of His Deceit: Many Russian soldiers are dying in the fighting in Ukraine, according to the deputy secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This blunt declaration makes it increasingly difficult for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to maintain the claim that the Kremlin has no involvement in the ongoing conflict on its border.“Russian leaders are less and less able to conceal the fact that Russian soldiers are fighting – and dying – in large numbers in eastern Ukraine,” Alexander Vershbow said at a conference in Latvia on Thursday, adding that NATO believes the deaths are making the conflict increasingly unpopular among Russians. The fighting in the eastern part of Ukraine, which began last year after Russian troops invaded the country’s Crimean peninsula, has dropped off dramatically since a ceasefire agreement as reached last month. Yet skirmishing continues, particularly in the area between rebel-controlled territory and the city of Mariupol, widely seen as the next target of the Russia-backed rebels.
In recent days, evidence has been accumulating that the Russian people are starting to question their government’s claim that any Russian soldier fighting in Ukraine is doing so as a volunteer – and while on vacation from standard duty.
In a powerful story published on Tuesday, Vice media reporter Lucy Kafanov interviewed the parents of Russian soldiers whose dead bodies, with wounds that could only have been sustained in combat, were returned to their hometowns. Certificates accompanying the soldiers’ bodies claimed the men had been killed at a “point of temporary dislocation.”
Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent Russian news outlets still in operation, published an interview earlier this week with a Russian soldier – a tanker – who suffered grisly wounds after his unit was deployed to fight in Ukraine, he said.
On Thursday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that continued efforts by Russia to prevent Ukraine from maintaining control over its sovereign territory – particularly its border with Russia – would result in an increase in the financial sanctions that Western countries have imposed on Moscow over the past year.
The restoration of Kiev’s control over the border is critical, Blinken said. “Unless that happens and until that happens, Russia will always have, and President Putin will always have, the possibility to turn up the dial any time he wants,” said Blinken, “sending weapons in, sending men in, materiel in, and reigniting the conflict.”
Blinken said that failure to allow Ukraine to control its own borders would prevent any lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. “The choice is clear, and it’s up to President Putin,” Blinken said.
The Kremlin, for its part, remains defiant. The U.S. recently announced it would be sending a few hundred troops to Western Ukraine, far from the fighting, to help train Ukrainian soldiers.
Kremlin officials on Thursday condemned the move as a “provocation” that could further inflame the situation in Ukraine. Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Thursday that the U.S. trainers threaten Russia’s security.
“Kiev authorities and all the Ukrainian people should think about the possible consequences of such steps,” he said. “It is evident that they are not trying to bring peace to the country,” Lukashevich concluded. - http://finance.yahoo.com/news/putin-takes-wacky-war-games-110000532.html
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