In an exclusive interview with Spero News, renowned foreign policy expert Paul A. Goble said that the United States and its allies are facing a unique threat from Russia in the person of President Vladimir Putin. While NATO representatives were meeting with their Russian counterparts to discuss issues such as the invasion of Ukraine and recent buzzing of American warships and planes by Russian jets. Goble said that Putin is taking unprecedented risks.

“He is willing to take risks,” said Goble in the podcast, “that no previous Russian or Soviet leader has. These are not things that were true in the Cold War and are being revived. These are really risk things intended to drive and show the world that when confronted by a power prepared to take these kinds of risks, NATO and the U.S. will not respond in any forceful way and therefore to weaken the confidence that the new members of NATO have in the alliance as a defender of their national existence.”

Over the last four years, Goble said, Putin has transformed his government from one of quasi-democratic legitimacy to legitimation by military victory. These attempts at legitimization have increasingly shorter spans of effectiveness, according to Goble, who said that the buzzing of American ships by Russian jets is yet another way “to try to demonstrate to the Russian people that he, Vladimir Putin, is strong, that Russia is a country that has to be taken seriously, and that the West will not respond because the West, his view, is weakened and disordered.”

He noted that ever since Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that the U.S. was well within its rights to shoot down the Russian planes that there have been no further buzzing incidents. Even so, Goble, said “we are at a very dangerous point when the behavior of a Russian pilot may lead a NATO military unit to shoot it down.”

Again, Goble says that Putin seeks to show that NATO is weak. He added that NATO should be beefed up to counter Putin. The incidents of the buzzing planes, Goble said, are a tactic within a broader strategy of improving Russia’s standing in the world. Because it is not influential militarily or economically, Goble said, Russia is resorting to the only leg it has left to stand on: the military.

On April 14, two separate close encounters between the Russian and U.S. militaries but them on a feared crash course. This week, Defense Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said "There have been repeated incidents over the past year where Russian aircraft have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns." He added, "Unsafe and unprofessional actions by a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between the two countries."
 
Two Russian fighter jets flew within 30 feet of the USS Donald Cook in one incident, while in another on the same day a Russian interceptor made a dangerous manuevre around an American reconnaisance aircraft.  Secretary Kerry told CNN Espanol Kerry that the Russian actions could have resulted in the shooting down of the Russian aircraft, He warned that "under the rules of engagement, that could have been a shoot-down, so people need to understand that this is serious business."
 
Senior military personnel have told the media that "the Russians were dangerous but did not demonstrate hostile intent and were unarmed," despite their demonstrably "unsafe and unprofessional" manoeuvres.

Goble has played multiple roles in government. Currently, he teaches a course at the Institute of World Policy in Washington DC. He blogs at WindowOnEurasia.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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