Russian President Vladimir Putin just upped the ante significantly today by issuing what I’d consider a veiled threat against NATO-member Estonia.
According to Reuters, a Russian diplomat expressed concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia, and then compared it to Russia’s concerns about its ethnic minority in Ukraine, which was their justification for invading and annexing Ukraine.
It was clearly a veiled threat against a member of NATO. The question is why.
There’s been concern for a while about other moves Putin might make against other former (coerced) members of the Soviet Union. Estonia is one of those.
Outright annexation might or might not be a possibility – it depends on the specific country, as Russia would be more loathe to invade a NATO country than it would a non-NATO border-state like Ukraine. The assumption being that NATO would have no choice but to respond with military action against an invasion of one of its member states.
At the same time, a separate Reuters story reports that Russia is fomenting a separatist movement among Serbs in Bosnia.
And, the threat to the rest of Ukraine is hardly over. There are continuing concerns that Putin’s next move may be to take over part of all of Ukraine.
Putin could also try piecemeal moves that would still increase Russian influence, but fall short of acts-of-war big enough to provoke a significant western response. Not that it’s clear that the US or Europe would lift much of a finger if Putin grabbed the entirety of Ukraine, but he could also simply grab strategic parts of eastern Ukraine, including specific facilities and resources, while leaving the region still a part of Ukraine.
As for Estonia, while a Russian land-grab is (one hopes) unlikely, clearly Putin has decided to up the stakes. In part, he might be trying to weasel some kind of concessions out of the Baltic countries. He might also be trying to scare the US and Europe into backing off of countering him further on Ukraine. I.e., push me too far in Ukraine and I’ll grab Estonia.
Either way, Putin doesn’t seem terribly deterred at the moment.
If this isn’t a reignition of the Cold War, then what exactly is it?