Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Obsession

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nov. 26, 2015Syria is just one arena where Mr. Putin’s obsessive quest to make Russia great again has fueled instability and reawakened political suspicions and animosities that faded after the fall of the Soviet Union.

A year after invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea in 2014, Russia signed an agreement in Minsk that was supposed to end the fighting. It is now violating that agreement; violence between Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatist forces has reached its highest level since a 2015 cease-fire.

Russia is also engaging in aggressive and dangerous behavior in the air and on the high seas. Last week, British fighter jets intercepted three Russian military transport aircraft approaching the Baltic States. On April 29, a Russian warplane came within 100 feet of an American fighter jet over the Baltic Sea and did a barrel roll over the jet, which could have been catastrophic. Two weeks earlier, two Russian warplanes flew 11 simulated attack passes near an American destroyer in the Baltic….

Anxieties about Russia among NATO members in Eastern Europe had forced the alliance to make plans to deploy four combat battalions of roughly 1,000 troops each in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Two battalions will be American, one German and one British. They aren’t enough to repulse a Russian invasion, but NATO hopes they will deter Moscow from crossing alliance borders. NATO is also proceeding with a European missile defense system intended to protect against Iranian missiles. Last week, a base in Romania became operational and ground was broken for a base in Poland. More and bigger military exercises are also on the agenda.

Mr. Putin has long misread NATO, which was significantly demilitarized after the Cold War, as a threat. His more assertive behavior may produce exactly the reinvigorated alliance he feared, one that is much more serious about military spending despite problems with economic growth, Syrian refugees and political dysfunction.

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nov. 26, 2015 (photo: Office of the President of Russia)