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U.S. & Russia Are on a Collision Course in the Black Sea

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Bloomberg

U.S. & Russia Are on a Collision Course in the Black Sea

Putin is pulling troops back from the land border, but getting more adventurous on the waters.

by James Stavridis

Ukrainians breathed a collective sigh of relief last month when Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would withdraw the majority of more than 100,000 troops that had been shifted to the Russian-Ukrainian border. So did the U.S., NATO and the rest of Europe.

But nobody should be breathing easy: Putin isn’t one to stay on the retreat. So, where should we expect his next provocation? Very likely, the waters of the Black Sea.

Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and carved off the strategically vital peninsula of Crimea, the largest land grab from a sovereign state in this century. Since then, he has supplied money, training, arms and military advisers to separatist forces in the Donbas region of southeast Ukraine.

The recent buildup was probably a signal to the West of how relentless Putin will be on pressuring Ukraine, and of his deep opposition to it joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was also a distraction from his persecution of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, and played well with Putin’s base in Russia, where his approval rating soared during the Crimea annexation. Finally, the buildup allowed the Russian military a pretty effective practice run, in case Putin does decide to roll the dice and invade across the border.

Although one should never underestimate Putin’s ability to surprise his geopolitical rivals, this doesn’t seem like the moment for a full-blown land incursion. Putin is already financially overextended with his overseas adventures. Reconstructing Syria will come with a huge bill. Support to Ukrainian separatists is expensive. He has a great appetite for expensive new weapons (militarizing space, for example). And he remains under significant sanctions from the West.

What he may choose to do instead is look seaward, and consolidate his control over the waters of the Black Sea.

Full story https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-05-06/black-sea-is-the-next-battleground-for-russia-ukraine-and-the-u-s?srnd=opinion