WASHINGTON – Russian President Vladimir Putin has begun to react to subtle U.S. military deployments in the periphery of Russia.
The U.S. has sailed an Aegis anti-ballistic warship into the Black Sea, and the Pentagon announced Tuesday that U.S. troops would be sent for exercises in Eastern Europe to reassure allies on Russia’s border.
In an act deemed by the Pentagon as “provocative,” a Russian Sukhoi-24 fighter jet repeatedly buzzed the U.S.S. Donald Cook as low as 500 feet over a 90-minute period April 12 as the U.S. warship trolled the Black Sea in international waters near Crimea.
With enhanced Russian military presence in Crimea, the prospect of further provocations against ships and military aircraft from the U.S. and its partners of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is expected to increase, sources say.
In turn, such an episode would only increase Russian surveillance of Western military assets, possibly affecting their ability to conduct normal reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering operations.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is considering the deployment of up to 10,000 ground troops to Poland to show U.S. commitment to allied security in the area.
After a meeting with Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Poland would play a major role in the NATO buildup of troops in Eastern Europe “under U.S. patronage.”
Signaling a change in overall strategic defense policy, Hagel said the U.S. needs to “re-pivot back to Europe from Asia to confront “Russian aggression” in Ukraine.
One of the options for the U.S. is to move a 4,500-member combat brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, to Europe.
A forward contingent already is on the ground in Poland to oversee what may become a series of military exercises with NATO allies in the region. It’s a response to Putin’s apparent intention of taking over all of Ukraine and possibly other areas of Eastern Europe where there is a concentration of ethnic Russians.
The prospect has prompted concern among NATO countries in the region, which have assessed that the Russian military is stronger than all of their militaries combined. Consequently, the NATO members are hoping the U.S. will increase its presence to confront what they consider “Russian aggression.”
Regional sources have told WND that Putin’s motive is to set up buffer zones against the eastern encroachment of NATO, as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia seek to join the Western alliance.
Putin, however, has reacted forcibly, in 2008 with the Russian invasion of Georgia and now the movement of Russian special forces into Crimea. The annexation of the peninsula came after a disputed referendum of its citizens, which are predominantly ethnic Russian.
The sources believe Putin will remain assertive in his determination to set up buffers while keeping out elements of NATO. For that reason, the Russian president last week reacted forcibly against the deployment of NATO anti-missile defenses, including the U.S.S. Cole, an Aegis-equipped missile warship, near Crimea.
Putin views the moves as a threat to the nuclear defenses of southwestern Russia, which include Crimea for the first time in Russia’s strategic doctrine.
The Cole actually was to head to the Ukrainian city of Odessa for a port call but canceled due to demonstrations and after Putin referred to the U.S. deployment as a threat.
The U.S. warship reportedly then pulled out of the area and headed toward Turkey and Georgia.
Russia expert John Helmer said that the use of the ships in the Black Sea is of particular concern to Putin.
A U.S. warship, the U.S.S. Mount Whitney, was in the Black Sea during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, to assist Putin in counter-terrorism activities. But it also secretly monitored Russian reaction to demonstrations in Ukraine at the time that led to the ouster of its pro-Russian president.
The Mount Whitney is described as a floating headquarters for NATO strike forces aimed at Russia. It was present in the Black Sea during the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia.
The ship has the capability of intercepting signals intelligence and listening in on Russian command communications.
According to Helmer, who said he was quoting European military observers, the actual purpose of the Mount Whitney during the Olympic Games was to monitor how far Putin’s attention was distracted by the Olympics “while the U.S. worked to transform the situation in Kiev, overthrowing the government of (Ukrainian) President Viktor Yanukovych, if it could.”
Putin was distracted by the Olympics, the Europeans believe, and so he was taken by surprise by the Feb. 21 coup in Kiev, prompting him to act first in Crimea to create the buffer against NATO.