US and NATO Economic and Military Provocations Push Putin to Expand Arsenal

Amid increasing military and economic provocations from the West, the Russian government has made it clear that such escalations will not go unmatched.

On Wednesday, European Union members states agreed to extend economic sanctions against the Kremlin for another six months until the end of January.

“Representatives of the 28 governments agreed on Wednesday in Brussels to prolong the trade and investment curbs, two EU officials said on condition of anonymity under EU media rules,” Bloomberg reports. “Final confirmation of the move is due June 22, they said.”

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The sanctions “bar financing for major Russian banks, ban the export of sophisticated energy-exploration equipment, and prohibit the sale of weapons and some civilian goods with military uses.”

The punishing sanctions were imposed by the United States and EU to reprimand Russia for its alleged interference in Ukraine. The extension was announced against a backdrop of a seemingly reinvigorated arms race between the Cold War powers.

Responding to the news this weekend that the U.S. Pentagon is planning to send heavy munitions to Russian border states, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday announced he would be adding more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to the country’s nuclear arsenal this year.

“We will be forced to aim our armed forces … at those territories from where the threat comes,” Putin said during a speech at the country’s “Army 2015” military showcase for arms dealers and defense contractors, which was held at a military theme park outside of Moscow.

Experts and anti-nuclear activists say that Russia is being forced to respond to military pressure from the U.S. and NATO.

“The U.S. government put its military at Russia’s door step,” said Sister Megan Rice, a Plowshares activist who was jailed for two years trespassing at the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons plant, in a statement Wednesday.

And Alice Slater, an activist with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Abolition 2000 coordinating committee, agreed that Russia’s announcement is not a surprise given the current standoff.

“What’s going on here is we’ve pursued an aggressive posture, expanding NATO right up to Russia’s border, moving troops into eastern Europe, walking out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and planting missiles in Turkey, Poland and Romania,” Slater said. “Now quite predictably, Russia is pushing back.”

Then, criticizing mainstream coverage of the regional tension, she added, “Some people don’t see it because Russia has been demonized in much of the media.”

Though it smacks of Cold War temperament, former CIA analyst Paul Pillar explains that the current imbroglio between NATO, the U.S., and Russia is different in key ways from the Soviet era. In a column published at Consortium News on Wednesday, he writes

A fundamental and longstanding question underlying all of this is exactly what the United States would be willing as well as able to defend in response to any Russian aggression, or to serious military moves dressed up as something other than aggression. 

Questions were asked during the Cold War about whether Americans would be willing to risk New York or Washington to save Bonn or Paris. Such questions become all the more difficult to answer reassuringly when the subject is Riga and Tallinn rather than Bonn and Paris. The Article Five commitment in the North Atlantic Treaty still exists, but the imagined circumstances in which it could apply today, which might begin with little green men sneaking across a border, are far different from an imagined pouring of Red Army hordes through the Fulda Gap. 

Closely related to all this is how attitudes toward NATO obligations have evolved within member countries. In a new Pew poll, when asked “If Russia got into a serious military conflict with one of its neighboring countries that is our NATO ally, do you think our country should or should not use military force to defend that country?” majorities in three of the most important European allies — Germany, France, and Italy — responded “should not.”

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