Staunton, June 14 – Many are concerned about Vladimir Putin’s very public decision to stage a snap exercise of the Russian army, fearing that it may presage new military moves against Ukraine or other countries in the region or that it will intimidate some in the West into backing away from their support of Russia’s current or potential victims.
But these maneuvers may be less immediately significant than many assume – after all, it is now summer and a traditional time for such exercises – at least in comparison with three other disturbing developments that suggest where the Kremlin leader and his authoritarian regime may be heading in the coming days or weeks.
While signs of warning almost by definition may have more than one interpretation given that Moscow may change course or move in a different direction, they are nonetheless worrisome given past and present Russian policies and point to more aggression abroad and more repression at home.
First, Russian film director Nikita Mikhalkov who has often signaled Moscow’s thinking about neighboring countries in the past has declared that China may seize Kazakhstan given that Central Asian country’s domestic difficulties and heightened tensions between Moscow and the West (caravan.kz/news/
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Given that it has long been Moscow’s practice to justify its own aggression by suggesting that its target was in fact about to be occupied by someone else, be it the Baltic countries in 1940 or Crimea in 2014, Mikhalkov’s words raise the disturbing possibility that at least some in the Russian capital are thinking about an invasion of Kazakhstan.
Second, last night, several Estonians with metal detectors found a capsule containing radioactive uranium near Tallinn. What it was doing there is as yet unknown, but there are some dangerous precedents: in April, six Georgians were caught trying to smuggle U-238 and now face trial (versia.ru/nepodaleku-ot-tallina-najdena-kapsula-s-uranom).
What makes the Estonian find so frightening is that it is the kind of thing that Russian officials might use to justify a Russian intervention there, especially since any reports about radioactive materials raise the kind of spectre of a dirty bomb and a loss of control over nuclear materials.
Playing up that theme might lead some in the West to conclude that it would be too dangerous to meet NATO’s Article 5 guarantees to Estonia or the other Baltic states. At the very least, it would muddy the waters – something that has been a central tactic of Vladimir Putin’s hybrid war strategy.
And third, within Russia, there is another disturbing trend: Thugs in St. Petersburg have brutally beaten a blogger shouting that he is “a national traitor, a Jew, and [part of] the fifth column.” Such behavior shows that violence by supporters of the Putin regime, as many have expected, is taking on an anti-Semitic dimension (zona.media/news/2016/12/06/s-krikami).
One can only hope and pray that these signs will not lead in the direction that they appear to point, either because Russians and the West will oppose them or because even Putin might come to realize that pursuing any of these horrific goals would only hasten the end of his regime and himself.