It is obvious by now to the West that Russia’s annexation of Crimea is there to stay. Vladimir Putin’s grip on the former Ukrainian peninsula will not be dislodged by any penalties including sanctions; nor will they cause the 35,000 troops he has parked on Ukraine’s borders to vanish.
US President Barack Obama responded Wednesday, March 26 with an address to his NATO partners: “Our freedom isn’t free, and we have to be able to pay for the assets, the personnel and the training to make sure we have a credible NATO force and an effective deterrent force,” he said. “Everyone is going to have to make sure they are engaged and involved, and I think that will help build more confidence among member states.”
Far from treating this speech as a challenge, Moscow did not bother to reply.
The Kremlin also ignored the accusations of Western leaders and senior NATO generals that Russian was massing troops for further encroachments to eastern Ukraine, Estonia and Moldova on the pretext of protecting Russian minorities.
NATO spokesmen charged Wednesday, March 27, that large numbers of Russian paratroopers are conducting military exercises along the Ukrainian border geared towards the takeover of airfields and airports.
In the view of one NATO source, Putin knows that another power grab in Ukraine would likely mean more Western sanctions, but he may see the “major geo-strategic victory as worth the cost.
Putin doesn’t regard NATO as a military threat
According to DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, Russian troops have not assumed the kind of formations that would indicate further invasions are planned.
This is not because Moscow fears military repercussions. As seen from the Kremlin, President Obama may sincerely mean his pledge to stand behind endangered allies, but NATO is short of the full array of military assets – personnel and funds – necessary for taking on the Russian military.
Indeed President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron this week turned down a proposal to station a new Western division of 3,000 troops in Germany as a counterweight to the Russian concentrations around Ukraine.
Moscow’s move on Crimea met a longstanding Russian ambition to strengthen its military presence on the Peninsula and the Black Sea, as back-up for actions to promote its interests in the Middle East and offset the seven American military bases in Romania and Bulgaria.
Of the three most important, one is in Romania: The big Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, 25 miles northwest of the Black Sea city of Constanta where the US has set up structures for accommodating 1,500 pilots and combat personnel.
This base reached full operational capacity Friday, Feb. 28, the day of the Russian invasion of Crimea.
Putin is satisfied with Crimea as a counterweight to US bases
Two US facilities are located in Bulgaria: the Graf Ignatievo Air Base, about 10 km north of Bulgaria’s second largest city of Plovdiv; and the Bezmer Air Base not far from the western shore of the Black Sea.
The Kremlin’s strategic planners see these bases as part of US planning to reinforce its foothold on the Black Sea, as a forward launching pad for intervention in the Caucasus and Caspian region if it become necessary to defend their oil fields and pipelines.
They also view them as part of the US-Israeli deployment in readiness for an attack on Iran’s nuclear program which Moscow estimates was planned to come from the direction of the Caspian Sea.
With the entire Crimean peninsula, with all its air and sea ports, under Russian control, the Kremlin feels it is in good enough military shape to withstand any new American moves in East Europe or potential interventions in the Middle East and Caucasian regions.