Putin Sets the Stage for the Incoming U.S. Administration

Russian President Vladimir Putin has kept international attention riveted on Russian operations in Syria while escalating military deployments and political operations across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Putin’s global strategy relies on creating the impression that a U.S. challenge to Russian expansion would be met with a conventional military or even nuclear Russian response. Putin aims to present the incoming administration with the false dichotomy of partnering with Russia and allowing Putin to operate with impunity or going to war.

Putin has not changed his approach following the U.S. election despite the conciliatory tone struck by President-elect Donald Trump. He has instead continued to make forward military deployments and used increasingly aggressive rhetoric. Russia announced a massive new deployment of some of their most advanced anti-aircraft systems to Syria the day after the president-elect expressed his hope for a "strong and enduring relationship with Russia" during a phone call with the Russian president. Putin has continued to act to ensure that the incoming administration must negotiate any U.S.-Russia reset on Russian terms. The Russian president intends to cement Russian military presence in strategically significant areas and compel the incoming administration to accept Russian faits accomplis at the expense of U.S. interests. Putin will be able to diminish U.S. influence globally even before Trump takes office if the outgoing and incoming administrations do not resist him.

Putin has used Russian military operations in Syria as cover to deploy highly capable air force, anti-aircraft and naval units into the Middle East. He is already using these capabilities to limit U.S. freedom of operations in the eastern Mediterranean. Russia has continued to build its network of anti-air missile systems, and deployed an additional seven advanced S-300 units along the Syrian coast on November 15, 2016. Putin has also deployed advanced naval capabilities. Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, deployed to Syria with much fanfare.  The ship itself brings no meaningful additions to Russia’s military capabilities in the theater and primarily functions as a propaganda tool.  Highly-capable vessels that do enhance Russia’s ability to challenge U.S. and NATO forces in the Mediterranean accompany it, however. The Pyotr Velikiy and Admiral Grigorovich, as well as three submarines, provide Russian forces off the Syrian coast with advanced offensive cruise missile capabilities, naval air defense systems and anti-ship missiles. All of these systems in combination allow Russia to establish an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone over much of the eastern Mediterranean and Syria. These systems constrain the operations of US forces.  American aircraft can either operate according to Putin’s desires or risk a military confrontation with Russia. 

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