Is Vladimir Putin Attempting To Provoke A Conflict In Europe?

In recent months, rhetoric against Vladimir Putin over the conflict in Ukraine has stepped up. Many in the West are becoming increasingly concerned about Vladimir Putin’s perceived expansionist ambitions and fears are rising that Putin’s ambitions extend far beyond Ukraine. In the last few days, matters have taken a very sinister turn.

In recent days and weeks, we have seen Putin seemingly deliberately increase tensions by sending Russian bombers to patrol the skies along the coast of the United Kingdom. British fighters have been scrambled in a number of occasions to intercept the Russian aircraft. On February 20, Vladimir Putin increased the tension over Ukraine further, saying that “no one should have any illusions that it’s possible to achieve military superiority over Russia or apply any kind of pressure on it.”

Putin added that his forces would always have an “adequate response,” and he vowed to step up an ambitious military modernization, with hundreds of new combat jets, missiles, and other weapons.

Vladimir Putin escalating Conflict in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s comments came shortly after British Prime Minister David Cameron said Russian president Vladimir Putin will suffer “more consequences” and further sanctions if the cease fire in Ukraine fails to hold.

“The truth here is that we have to be clear that we’re prepared to do this for the long term and that Russia should not make the mistake of thinking in any way that America, Britain, France or Germany will be divided or will be weak. We won’t. We’ll be staunch, we’ll be strong, we’ll be resolute and in the end, we’ll prevail.”

Violence has been raging in Ukraine for more than 10 months, and last year, the West allowed Putin to annex the Crimean peninsula. Gen Sir Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander of NATO forces in Europe, said there was a danger Vladimir Putin could try to use his armies to invade and seize NATO territory, after calculating the alliance would be too afraid of escalating violence to respond.

Vladimir Putin has already sanctioned direct action in Estonia, a member of the European Union. Last September, just days after President Obama visited Estonia to provide assurances that NATO would assure its security, an armed snatch squad from Russia’s FSB intelligence service lured a senior Estonian intelligence officer to the woodland, neutralized his escort, and kidnapped him.

Whilst the world’s eyes are focused on the actions of Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, NBC News reports that Vladimir Putin is quietly grasping for new territory in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two separatist territories that split from Georgia in the early 1990s. Putin has signed an integration agreement with South Ossetia, which the Georgian government fears will mean Moscow’s annexation of the region. Abkhazia already signed a similar though less expansive pact late last year.

UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said yesterday that Nato is getting ready to fight back against Vladimir Putin’s aggression, as it poses a “real and present danger” to the Baltic States.

He told of the threat to Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia as Vladimir Putin continues to “test us” by deploying submarines and warplanes near British territory. Fallon continued by saying that Vladimir Putin is as great a threat to Europe as the Islamic State.

“We’ve got to be ready for both. They are both very direct threats to Europe,” he explained.

The U.S. has accused Vladimir Putin of violating a ceasefire agreed between the Russian and Ukrainian leaders last week as fighting has raged around the key strategic rail hub of Debaltseve.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said it was “ironic to say the least” that Russia had produced the motion at the same time as it was “backing an all-out assault” in Ukraine. With Putin sending tanks and armor from Russia into Ukraine, it seems clear that Putin is not worried about either sanctions or direct action by NATO.

As NATO prepares to move troops to the Baltic states and politicians ramp up the rhetoric against Vladimir Putin, it seems that this crisis is a long way from resolution.

[Photos by Spencer Platt/Sean Gallup/Getty Images]