For the second time this year, tensions in Ukraine are rising as Russia deploys thousands of troops and war materiel on the border. Moscow has repositioned infantry, tanks, and short-range ballistic missiles near the Ukrainian border and threatens to escalate the ongoing conflict in the Donbas region.
Tensions on Land and Sea
Russian officials, however, are adamant that the troop movements aren’t provocative but instead are a response to Ukrainian and Western aggression in the region.
“Never planned, never did, and never going to do it [attack] unless we’re provoked by Ukraine, or by somebody else. There are a lot of threats coming from Ukraine. And don’t forget that the American warships around the Black Sea [are] acting very close,” Dmitry Polyansky, Moscow’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said to reporters.
American and NATO warships have been conducting presence operations in international waters in the Black Sea. After finishing a workup in the Aegean Sea, the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, a sort of naval quick reaction force comprised of American, Canadian, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese warships, sailed into the Black Sea for additional training.
American naval officers participating in these presence operations were clear that NATO had every right to practice in international waters.
“The ability to conduct tactical maneuvering and flex advanced combat capabilities demonstrates the strength of our NATO alliance and provides a bold counterweight to adversarial influence in the European theater. We look forward to continued operations with our NATO allies,” Commander Patrick Chapman, the commanding officer of the USS Arleigh Burke, said in a Navy press release.
But on the other side, these military exercises are seen as provocative. Moscow sees NATO presence in the region as an encroachment on its sphere of influence. Ever since the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin has been obsessed with its “buffer zone,” a series of third countries that would stand in between Russia and another invasion. During the Cold War, that buffer zone was provided by Soviet states, such as Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Belarus. But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the assimilation of some former Soviet states to NATO left Russia exposed, or so the Kremlin seems to believe.
“So, every day is a very difficult day to avoid direct clash in the Black Sea. We warned our American colleagues that this is a real provocation. We have the right to concentrate our troops wherever we want. This is not Ukrainian territory. This is Russian territory. But if you read the threats that are being pronounced in Ukraine against Russia, against Russian territorial integrity, then you will understand that a certain precaution is a logical step in such a situation,” the Russian diplomat added.
This isn’t the first time in 2021 that tensions with Russia have risen. Back in April, Moscow threatened war by amassing large numbers of troops on the eastern border of Ukraine. In addition, Belarus—with the blessing of Moscow and support of Turkey—is weaponizing immigrants to attack the European Union indirectly.
“We don’t have clarity into Moscow’s intentions, but we do know its playbook. If there are any provocations that we’re seeing, they’re coming from Russia,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said about the situation.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.