Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing an international investment forum yesterday when a reporter asked him about rumors of United Nations troops possibly being deployed to Ukraine. While this question was probably staged in advance by Putin, his response was considerably more confrontational and threatening than his previous comments on the subject. Putin warned that having foreign troops staged inside of Ukraine would be a “red line” for his country and could result in “a strong response.” He also invoked the possibility of the United Nations staging advanced weapons systems in Ukraine, in response to which he might similarly deploy hypersonic missiles that could reach western European capitals in a matter of minutes. Needless to say, tensions are running rather high in the region at the moment. (Associated Press)
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday sternly warned NATO against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying it represents a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response.
Commenting on Western concerns about Russia’s alleged intention to invade Ukraine, he said that Moscow is equally worried about NATO drills near its borders.
Speaking to participants of an online investment forum. Putin said that NATO’s eastward expansion has threatened Russia’s core security interests. He expressed concern that NATO could eventually use the Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes.
Putin made a thinly veiled reference to his country’s new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, capable of reaching speeds of Mach 9. He pointed out that these missiles could reach “those who issued orders” in only five minutes. The implication here is that Russia wouldn’t be satisfied with simply attacking any United Nations troops that were stationed in Ukraine and would also attack the nations providing the troops.
How much of this is serious and how much is simply bluster from the Kremlin is difficult to say. I’m fairly sure that Russia would like to avoid direct, armed conflict with the west as much as possible, but I don’t think we can entirely rule out the possibility of at least some sort of military action if Putin feels he’s being backed into a corner.
The threat of deploying next-generation missiles is also noteworthy because the United States is currently in a weaker position than usual when it comes to advanced weaponry. Russia has already conducted successful tests of its Zircon cruise missiles, including one on Monday of this week. China has similarly launched hypersonic missile tests and demonstrated that they can reach targets anywhere on the globe. But America’s LRHW hypersonic missile system isn’t scheduled for its first test launches until next year. The Russians and the Chinese have gotten out in front of us in this arms race and we’re still playing catch up.
That doesn’t mean that Putin would seriously seek to take advantage of the situation by launching a global conflagration. But the situation does give both Russia and China some temporary leverage. At the same time, it seems rather unlikely that the UN would actually deploy troops into Ukraine that close to the Russian border, particularly if the United States wasn’t taking the lead on the matter. It would be an obviously provocative move that could lead to serious international consequences even if the conflict was restricted to eastern Ukraine.
For now, Putin continues to insist that he has no plans to invade Ukraine and this is all just fearmongering on the part of western nations. But Putin invaded and took over the Crimean Peninsula seven years ago and never paid any sort of significant price for those actions. Should we really take him at his word now? We’re only a few months out from the official end of our last war at this point. Personally, I’m not in much of a mood to see us start another one over Ukraine.