Russia in Europe: April 30, 2016

Russia continued to aggressively posture against NATO in the Baltic and Black Sea regions while presenting itself as a responsible regional actor and victim of alleged western provocation. The first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council since June 2014 failed to make concrete progress, and the Russian Minister of Defense accused NATO of provocative troop deployments in Eastern Europe. Russia continued to conduct a campaign of information warfare against the Baltic States paired with political pressure and military provocation. The efforts aim to provoke ethnic strife and undermine the stability of regional governments. Russia’s actions prompted the Latvian government to ban access to a major Russian news outlet. Similarly, the Estonian Internal Security Service accused Russian intelligence services of increasing subversive activity against the Baltic States. Russia aggressively targeted U.S. military assets in the Baltic region, deployed to support NATO member states and regional partners.

Russia’s aggressive responses to U.S. military exercises in the Black Sea region indicate its willingness to escalate tensions in that theatre. Russian exercises in the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, its formal recognition of the border with South Ossetia, and the South Ossetian announcement of a planned referendum on joining Russia may lay the ground work for formal Russian annexation of the occupied Georgian region. Russia also escalated tensions with NATO-allied Turkey after a Russian court in Crimea banned the governing bodies of the Crimean Tatars, the Mejlis, due to their alleged extremist activities. Turkey condemned the action and promised to continue to support the “just struggle” of the Crimean Tatars. Russia’s military aggression in the Black Sea region is encouraging regional actors to increase military cooperation. The Presidents of Ukraine and Romania met to discuss Ukrainian cooperation with a proposed NATO Black Sea flotilla comprised of ships from Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania and potentially supplemented by Georgian and Ukrainian vessels. Russia’s continued military aggression against NATO partners is designed to intimidate vulnerable European states and to undermine the unity of NATO and the European Union.

By Franklin Holcomb