Vladimir Putin said on Friday Russia’s armed forces, backed by its nuclear arsenal, were ready to meet any aggression, declaring at a pro-Kremlin youth camp that foreign states should understand: “It’s best not to mess with us.”
Putin told the assembly, on the banks of a lake near Moscow, the Russian takeover of Crimea in March was essential to save a largely Russian-speaking population from Ukrainian government violence. He said continued fighting in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists launched an uprising in April, was the result of a refusal by Kiev to negotiate.
Ukraine, and Western governments, accuse Russia of sending troops and armor to back the separatists in a conflict that has already killed over 2,000 people. Russia denies the charge.
Russia is consuming Ukraine one bite at a time. While the news currently is focused on the rather blatant use of Russian troops in the Donetsk region, you’ll notice the defacto annexation of Crimea has all but disappeared from the public consciousness.
And absent strong US leadership, our Western European allies have no great desire to confront Russia over its actions in Ukraine. So why shouldn’t Putin continue to wage a relatively low cost war? He has sufficient control over his domestic press to suppress any public anger over Russian casualties.
In addition, his willingness to act in Ukraine also sends a very strong message to other nations on Russia’s borders that Russian threats are real, and Western promises aren’t.