The events of this week invoked a throwback to Cold War tensions as the United States and Russia once again engaged in a diplomatic row. Russia announced on Wednesday that U.S. embassy staff who have resided in Moscow for more than three years are to return stateside no later than January 31. This move represents a response to the United States’ statement that 27 Russian diplomats and their families must leave by January 30 in order to comply with a new three-year limit targeting Russian diplomats.
This tit-for-tat exchange marks heightened provocations between the two nations as Russia substantially increased its military presence on Ukraine’s borders, drawing alarm from NATO and Western allies. NATO foreign ministers met in Riga, Latvia this past week and discussed possible responses to Russia’s aggressive posture. Some posited that the military build-up means another Russian incursion into sovereign Ukraine is imminent. Putin, for his part, maintains that the former Soviet nation’s military build-up represents a response to perceived Western hostility emanating from NATO’s pending eastward expansion.
During a press conference this week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of the potential for Russian military action, noting that “Russia has stepped up planning for potential military action in Ukraine, including positioning tens of thousands of additional combat forces near the Ukrainian border.” Secretary Blinken alluded also to “intensified disinformation” emanating from Moscow that seeks to portray Ukraine as the aggressor, all of which are tactics employed by Russia prior to its takeover of Crimea in 2014.
The dilemma stems from the United States and NATO’s response to Russian aggression since Ukraine is not yet a NATO member. Members, such as Germany, do not wish to provoke Russia, while the Baltic states feel most vulnerable to Russian aggression. Should another invasion of Ukraine occur, NATO is not obligated to rush to its defense, and members are likely to be at odds over an appropriate response, all the while affording Russia the opportunity to gain more territory and violate the sovereignty of other nations?
Whether or not a Russian invasion is imminent remains unknown, and diplomatic posturing is likely to continue. Putin can most certainly bank on U.S. hesitation and NATO discord in the event of another military conquest.