Putin flexed nuclear muscle but the West refuses to recognize a Russian threat

Putin flexed nuclear muscle but the West refuses to recognize a Russian threat
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Vladimir Putin indicated in a recent speech he is not only building many nuclear weapons but also using everything in his arsenal to attack the West.

The weapons he discussed were meant to impress his domestic audience and terrify the West in accord with the Russian strategy of trying to intimidate its interlocutors.


Whether they really exist or are in development, or even science fiction as some allege, these are only a few of the nuclear weapons Russia is building. Putin did not mention low-yield and tailored nuclear weapons for short and intermediate range use that are no less threatening to the West.


Moreover, the accompanying video showed a nuclear cruise missile system that openly violates the INF treaty. So there should be no doubt about Russia’s violations and consequently genuine skepticism as to the utility of “dialogue” with Russia. This is hardly Russia’s only arms control violation.

Since then, he has kept going, launching a test of the new hypersonic missile Kinzhal (dagger) alluded to in his March 1 speech. But beyond that the conventional buildup of the Red Army continues. Moscow already possesses conventional superiority in the Baltic against NATO and is adding to it steadily with new land, sea, air, and electronic warfare capabilities. In the Black Sea and Balkans, Moscow has concentrated whole new armies that are poised either to attack Ukraine or move north if necessary.

And all of its conventional exercises invariably contain nuclear component as well. So the use of weapons tailored to smaller theaters or contingencies cannot be definitively ruled out. At the same time, it was revealed last week that during 2017 Russia launched three hitherto unreported probes against Norway in the Arctic. The Arctic had long been considered a zone of peace and cooperation between Russia and the West, through the Arctic Council.

Neither has there been any letup in the other forms of warfare that Putin is conducting against the West. The poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter, and 21 other citizens of the UK reveals the brazenness and vindictiveness of Putin’s regime and the FSB. It also shows the willingness of the regime to use chemical warfare and terrorism in the West against total strangers. In Syria, Russian brutality has long since been established as a regular operating principle of its combat operations. And meanwhile in Ukraine, Russia is continuing to execute terror attacks and assassinations in Kyiv, Khar’kiv, Odessa and wage economic warfare against Ukraine.

Yet, despite all this evidence (which is only a the tip of the iceberg), Western governments refuse to accept that Putin is at war with them or take appropriate actions to defend themselves against these military and non-military probes. The U.S. still has no information warfare strategy to protect the integrity of its elections or defend against the flood of dirty Russian money flowing into our banks.

This is also true in Europe, where banks have been willing accomplices of organized Russian criminal activities. Russians use banks for money laundering and then subversion or corruption of these countries’ governing institutions.

To be sure, the U.S. military buildup and the signs of a revival of defense consciousness in many European states are positive signs.

The U.S. stance in the Nuclear Posture Review, to thwart Russia’s nuclear threats, is also a good sign. Nonetheless, this is still too little too late. Until and unless Putin faces stronger resistance and retaliation these probes will continue for two reasons.

First, if Moscow can carry out these operations with impunity, that will only emboldens it to continue and to even probe further.

The second reason, however, cuts deeper. Putin’s regime cannot exist without being in a state of war with the West. The Russian aspiration to empire and to a permanent or protracted conflict with the West is the precondition for the regime’s long-term survival as it has long since foregone any effort to reform the country.

We should not entertain fantasies that the Russian economy will soon collapse so that we do not have to bestir ourselves. This belief undermined the Obama administration’s activities. But the evidence shows it is not founded. Putin can go on like this for many years, as long as he has a modicum of growth and willing accomplices in the West and at home. Thus, Western governments bear the burden and hold the responsibility of self-defense against what is clearly a long-term war.

In war, act as if you are at war. We are under protracted attack and should respond accordingly.

Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.