Russia Security Update: December 1- 9, 2015

Russia confronted NATO with new rigor in the Middle East as NATO took steps to counter Russian power projection efforts. Russia expanded the scope of its operations in Syria, officially claiming its first submarine cruise missile strikes from the eastern Mediterranean on December 8. This step change underscores Russia’s intent to assert its freedom of action to the U.S. and its allies in Syria. Moscow flexed military muscle against Turkey in response to the November 24 downing of a Russian bomber, concentrating airstrikes on Syrian rebel supply routes to Turkey and displaying a man-portable air defense system on a warship in the Bosporus one week after deploying the long-range S-400 surface-to-air missile system to its airbase on the Syrian coast. Moscow also deployed attack and transport helicopters to a Russian airbase near Armenia’s border with Turkey. Russia launched a smear campaign implicating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in oil trade with ISIS, part of its broader information operations aiming to cast its adversaries as obstacles to the defeat of ISIS. NATO pledged new security assistance to Turkey, reportedly including naval, air and air defense deployments. Russia warned that NATO deployments to bolster Turkey’s defenses could undermine efforts to build an anti-ISIS coalition with the West. Russia continues to use aggression to portray itself as a necessary anti-ISIS partner in order to shape the operations of the U.S. and its NATO allies in the region.

Russia’s escalating confrontation with NATO in the Middle East threatens to accelerate Russian-NATO competition globally. The U.S. pledged to impose increasing  costs on Moscow for continued military operations in eastern Ukraine and announced investment in new weapons in response to Russia’s violation of a Cold War-era nuclear arms control agreement. Moscow pledged “retaliatory actions” in response to NATO’s offer of membership to Montenegro on December 2 in order to restore the balance between Russia and the transatlantic alliance and announced its intent to increase security cooperation with neighboring Serbia. Russia continues to project military force against the U.S. and its allies in the Arctic, including with the deployment of S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile systems to the region over the past year. Some NATO members, including France, Germany and the UK, have pursued reengagement with Moscow in response to Russia’s aggressive intervention in Syria. Russia’s simultaneous aggression on NATO’s eastern and southern flanks and posturing as a necessary anti-ISIS partner threatens to divide NATO and divorce the alliance from U.S. grand strategic objectives.