Andrew A. Michta politico.eu 25/7/15
Though it still seems counterintuitive to many, the risk of war in Europe has not been this high since the end of the Cold War. Nor have the leaders of Europe’s largest powers been in this much denial about Vladimir Putin’s political objective — the restoration of Russia’s sphere of influence — or how quickly the war in Ukraine could morph into a larger conflict along the continent’s northeastern flank.
Despite tough rhetoric and repeated warnings to Putin from NATO’s leadership, most of Europe’s capitals and Washington about what would happen should he try to stir trouble beyond NATO’s red line, the overall level of military readiness in Europe to respond to a rapidly escalating crisis remains inadequate. After years of defense cuts, the European allies are now in a situation where they provide barely a quarter of NATO’s military capabilities, with a number of countries unable to operate outside their national territories — a sine qua non of allied response in a contingency.
There can be no denying that Europe’s overall military weakness has played a role in Russia’s calculus, not only during the annexation of Crimea and the escalation in Donbas but already in its 2008 war against Georgia, Putin’s first direct challenge to the normative security order, albeit not yet in Europe itself. Simply put: Weakness invites further aggression.
Putin has been successful in moving forward with his project to reestablish a sphere of Russia’s privileged interest in Eastern Europe in large part because the Western response has been weak and contradictory. With the United States distracted by the unraveling of the Middle East and the growing geostrategic competition with China, dealing with Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has become a European, or rather a German, project, with the United States offering support. Only recently has the U.S. begun to move beyond exercises, offering to move equipment to Poland and the Baltic States.
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The likelihood of Putin moves on Baltics and Central Europe is uncomfortably high