Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cabinet have always had a clear agenda: to heighten Russia’s influence of the “near abroad,” the countries that make up the former Soviet Union. Even before Putin, foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev of Russia claimed that “Russia reserved the right to intervene in the former Soviet republics,” even though that simply isn’t the case.
Since the Cold War, they have been careful to garner influence through economic means, but recently their influence has turned increasingly militaristic.
On both April 11 and 12, Russian jets performed simulated attacks on the destroyer U.S.S. Cook in international waters, at one point flying within 30 feet. Then, only two days later, a US Air Force Boeing 707 was on a routine route over the Baltic when a Russian jet performed a high speed barrel roll over the top of it, coming within 50 feet. These are brazen acts of aggression by Russia to protect the international land they believe they control.
Unfortunately, under the current administration, the response to these provocative actions has only amounted to strongly worded condemnation. Secretary of State John Kerry said that “It is reckless. It is provocative. It is dangerous.” The U.S. European command echoed those sentiments, saying the actions were “unsafe and unprofessional.”
The US also lodged formal diplomatic complaints, but the Russians quickly shrugged them off. Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov stated that “Russian pilots undertook a maneuver that was in accordance with all the necessary safety rules.” On April 18, President Obama spoke on the phone with Putin, but according to White House press spokesman Josh Earnest, “[The recent aggression] did not come up in the call between the two presidents.”
These exchanges of words feel very similar to what happened in Ukraine, which began with aggressive Russian tactics and ended with Russia annexing Crimea.
Russian ambitions, however, are not limited to military maneuvers. Right now, Moldova is on the edge of a democratic collapse, and Russia is ready with relief money. In another instance, Russia consistently prevents American surveillance over land near Poland, in blatant disregard of the US-Russia Open Skies Treaty.
It is our duty as Americans to stand up for freedom, democracy, and international law. We are not only allowing Russia to taunt the American military, but also the countries that fought for freedom and democracy around the Baltic Sea. The current administration needs to properly react to the growing aggression of Russia, instead of complacently letting them arm Iran with missiles.
If we don’t act now, Russia’s aggression will only get worse.