Largely lost in the media focus on the presidential race, Russia is taking a series of provocative steps that a leading military expert believes are designed to expose NATO as unwilling to defend its own members and ultimately shatter the western alliance.
In just the past few weeks, Russia has reportedly conducted a massive emergency drill involving 40 million civilians, moved nuclear-capable ballistic missiles to an area that puts many European capitals in range, ordered officials serving in foreign countries to send their family members home, and state-run television is repeatedly asking civilians if they are ready for nuclear war.
Is this all just very elaborate propaganda or is Russia about to make a major move?
Retired U.S. Navy Captain Chuck Nash says it’s all about Russia putting pressure on the West.
“This is the continuing pressure that Russia is putting against NATO and the West. Moving the missiles into Kaliningrad, into the oblast there, is a direct pressure/threat/intimidation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the Baltic States,” said Nash.
He says Russia has both the capability and the intent of gathering more of the territory it once held as the USSR. But Nash believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is being strategic in order to build an argument for achieving his next objective.
However, Nash says the real goal, regardless of the territory involved, is to neuter the defense commitments of NATO towards its members.
“Shattering NATO would be Putin’s best opportunity in the relatively few days he has remaining with a weak administration in the U.S.,” said Nash.
Nash says Putin is playing the long game and making life slowly more miserable for his adversaries.
“It’s sort of like a vise. He’s slowly tightening the vise, not to do something so quickly that it would cause an immediate reaction or a harsh reaction,” said Nash, noting that Adolf Hitler tested Europe’s resolve in the 1930s by moving German forces into the demilitarized zone crafted at the end of World War I. Europe’s decision to do nothing gave Hitler all the motivation he needed to push forward with his plan to conquer the continent.
Nash says the slow play also seems to be Putin’s strategy.
“He understands that as long as he doesn’t do anything really dramatic – the only really dramatic thing was re-annexing the Crimea, nothing happened. Now he’s putting the pressure on. He’s continuing to tighten the vise. The U.S. has withdrawn. Our political system appears to be in chaos from a foreign perspective,” said Nash.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, NATO expanded by admitting some former Eastern Bloc nations, including former Soviet republics like the Baltics. While a fundamental bedrock of NATO is it’s Article 5 vow that an attack on one member is seen as an attack on all, Nash says Putin is betting that NATO’s old guard won’t put up much of a fight its the junior members.
“Do they see these newbie NATO countries as true peers, where they are willing to go to war against Russia on the behest of these guys, or does the whole NATO treaty fall apart?” asked Nash.
In the long run, Nash expects Putin to make a regional pitch to NATO members that a partnership among neighbors makes more sense than an alliance with the U.S.
“I doubt there will be overt military action. I think he is continuing to embarrass and show U.S. weakness to cause those fracture lines within NATO to open and deepen,” said Nash.
“He’s trying to shake the resolve of NATO and say to the Europeans, ‘Look, we control your gas. We’re the Europeans. The Americans are taking care of themselves. This thing is a mess. Let’s just get along over here, shall we? That way we won’t have to go to war with each other. I think a lot of the NATO allies would be very amenable to that siren song,” said Nash.
He says Obama administration failures to shore up relations with countries from North Africa to the Middle East are putting Russia in a stronger position and the U.S. getting left behind.
“We’ve withdrawn from the region and [those nations] are looking for who’s going to be the dominant power, who’s got the credibility. Unfortunately, we have unraveled decades worth of good work to have those countries align with the United States. It’s all unraveled in the last eight years,” said Nash.