Putin response to Trump's olive branch is a continuation of his aggression

Institute for the Study of War:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has kept international attention riveted on Russian operations in Syria while escalating military deployments and political operations across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Putin’s global strategy relies on creating the impression that a U.S. challenge to Russian expansion would be met with a conventional military or even nuclear Russian response. Putin aims to present the incoming administration with the false dichotomy of partnering with Russia and allowing Putin to operate with impunity or going to war.

Putin has not changed his approach following the U.S. election despite the conciliatory tone struck by President-elect Donald Trump. He has instead continued to make forward military deployments and used increasingly aggressive rhetoric. Russia announced a massive new deployment of some of their most advanced anti-aircraft systems to Syria the day after the president-elect expressed his hope for a "strong and enduring relationship with Russia" during a phone call with the Russian president.[1] Putin has continued to act to ensure that the incoming administration must negotiate any U.S.-Russia reset on Russian terms. The Russian president intends to cement Russian military presence in strategically significant areas and compel the incoming administration to accept Russian faits accomplis at the expense of U.S. interests. Putin will be able to diminish U.S. influence globally even before Trump takes office if the outgoing and incoming administrations do not resist him.

Putin has used Russian military operations in Syria as cover to deploy highly capable air force, anti-aircraft and naval units into the Middle East. He is already using these capabilities to limit U.S. freedom of operations in the eastern Mediterranean. Russia has continued to build its network of anti-air missile systems, and deployed an additional seven advanced S-300 units along the Syrian coast on November 15, 2016. Putin has also deployed advanced naval capabilities. Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, deployed to Syria with much fanfare. The ship itself brings no meaningful additions to Russia’s military capabilities in the theater and primarily functions as a propaganda tool. Highly-capable vessels that do enhance Russia’s ability to challenge U.S. and NATO forces in the Mediterranean accompany it, however. The Pyotr Velikiy and Admiral Grigorovich, as well as three submarines, provide Russian forces off the Syrian coast with advanced offensive cruise missile capabilities, naval air defense systems and anti-ship missiles.[2] All of these systems in combination allow Russia to establish an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone over much of the eastern Mediterranean and Syria. These systems constrain the operations of US forces. American aircraft can either operate according to Putin’s desires or risk a military confrontation with Russia.

Constraining American activities is the primary purpose for most of these deployments. ISIS, al Qaeda, and affiliated opposition groups have no air or sea forces and extremely limited anti-aircraft capabilities. Putin is fighting on behalf of the Assad regime and with the Iranians, so their aircraft are allies rather than threats to Russian troops. These advanced anti-aircraft and anti-ship systems can only be directed against American forces or those of America’s NATO allies or Israel. The Kremlin itself stated that these systems are meant to play a “deterrent role”.[3]

Putin has also increased the intensity and tempo of military deployments in the Baltic region, heightening Russia’s military posture and signaling his intention to continue challenging the U.S. and its NATO allies in Europe. Moscow announced on November 21, 2016 that it would permanently deploy Iskander-M tactical ballistic missiles to the European enclave of Kaliningrad along with additional S-400 anti-air missile systems.[4] Russian forces in Kaliningrad will also receive the Bastion-P anti-ship missile system, which was recently shown to have land attack capabilities.[5] These deployments follow the June 2016 overhaul of the Baltic Sea Fleet leadership, as well as efforts to provide the fleet with advanced surface vessels.[6]
I think Putin is taking advantage of Trump's naive approach in much the same way he did with the Obama administration and their "reset" of relations.  He has his objectives and he is not going to change them based on warm words from the West.  He will continue to push and see what he can get away with.  It is his objective to return to the cold war era where Russia like the Soviet Union will have more ability to operate and thwart US objectives.


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