Will Russia Attack Europe?

In September 2016, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Philip Breedlove, issued a stark warning He claimed that European defence forces were not prepared to withstand a Russian attack

His claim was frightening given the scale of Russian military expansion in the last decade In 2010 Russian President Vladimir Putin embarked on an enormous $700 billion defence programme At a time when its relationships with the rest of Europe are turning frosty, might it be gearing up for a war? Russia has a history of regional colonialism From 1922 to 1991 the country controlled 22 billion km² of Eastern Europe under the Soviet Union banner Today, this area comprises 15 independent states, and several culturally distinct territories that Russia will not cede control of

This includes Chechnya, which Russia controls despite the territory declaring its independence in 1991 More recently, in 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea from the Ukraine, following a controversial referendum, which many in the region believe was in fact rigged Former United States Permanent Representative to NATO, Kurt Volker, suggests that in this instance, Russia was testing the water He argues that the failure of the international community to actively respond, could very well encourage Russia to launch a much greater attack on the continent Others have seen Russia’s behaviour in the Syrian conflict as political positioning in preparation for war

Russia continues to support the Syrian regime, despite its lengthy record of human rights abuses and the opposition of the UN Furthermore, in September 2016, Russia was suspected of orchestrating the aerial bombing of an aid convoys en route to besieged Syrian populations If Russia was behind it, then Putin ordered a war crime despite agreeing to a ceasefire with the US In April 2016 journalists August Cole and PW Singer suggested that this marked the return to great power politics They argue that the Russia-Syria alliance should therefore be read as part of a more sinister, large-scale geopolitical strategy Senior military personnel from Russia’s border nations have also expressed concern, most recently due to Russia stationing extra troops on its Western border as if poised for attack In 2016 Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas said, “We cannot exclude [Russian invasion]They might exercise on the borders and then switch to invasion in hours” In response, in July 2016, President Obama announced that the US was building an armored brigade headquarters and stationing 1000 troops in Poland Journalist Simon Tisdall suggests that this posturing is the start of a second Cold War

During the first Cold War, huge tensions between the West and the Soviet Union grew from World War Two until the Union collapsed in 1991 Tisdall argues that the underlying ideological conflict never really went away Russia’s actions now are therefore just a sign that these latent conflicts have reached breaking point Yet, there is still a question of motivation What would Russia achieve from attacking Europe? Political theorists Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye argue that a state’s authority is no longer defined through objective territorial size

They argue the structures of power are now interlinked with transnational bodies like the United Nations, or non-military factors like economic strength Therefore, military might is no longer an effective or efficient way to amass power Putin’s own comments to the international press have echoed this point In 2016 he came out saying “Russia would attack NATO only in a mad person’s dream” Moreover, just because Russia has the power to attack the rest of Europe does not mean it will

The memory of the Second World War in which Russia lost an estimated 20 million men and over $2 trillion in today’s money Given the horrific scale of loss in living memory, the idea that Russia is looking for more opportunities to flex its military muscles is unlikely There is no doubt that Russia could attack Europe Its recent military activity shows that its aggression should not be underestimated However, the proof of its intentions comes down to how we interpret Russia’s motives and agenda

Until we can know for sure what’s going on in Russia’s elite geopolitical circles, we cannot know whether or when Russia is going to strike

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