U.S. military officials deployed two Predator drones to NATO’s border with Russia this past weekend.
The Pentagon announced the deployment on Monday, and claimed that it would serve to reassure European allies that the U.S. maintains a strong interest in protecting them from Russian aggression, writes Jacqueline Klimas for The Washington Examiner.
U.S. drones to reassure Eastern Europeans
70 airmen from the Texas Air National Guard will be sent to Latvia along with the two unarmed MQ-1 Predator drones. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told the press that the temporary deployment would last until September 15.
The deployment is one way that Washington can underline its “commitment to regional security and safety” said Davis. Governments in Eastern European have been struggling to contain a tide of fear among populations wary of Russian aggression after decades of occupation during the Cold War.
While also proving U.S. commitment to defending its NATO allies, the servicemen will train their Latvian counterparts in drone operations during their time in the country.
Davis denied that the deployment was a direct response to actions from Russia, claiming that no unusual activity had been noted in the past few days. Four F-22 Raptors arrived in Germany last week in another show of the strong presence of U.S. forces in Europe.
Specter of Cold War looms large over Europe
The situation in Europe has been deteriorating since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in April 2014. Moscow’s support for separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine raised fears of another period of Russian rule among Eastern Europeans.
It appears that sanctions are starting to bite Russia, and Vladimir Putin has significantly toned down the aggressive rhetoric that he was using. However the specter of renewed aggression from Moscow has many Eastern Europeans worried, and they are in need of some concrete evidence of U.S. support instead of pronouncements.
Some Eastern European politicians would welcome the deployment of U.S. missile systems and ground troops, but such actions would break treaties and cause escalation. Russia and the U.S. have already been accusing each other of breaking key missile treaties which forbid deployments of medium-range missile systems in Europe.
Putin running out of options in Russia
The deployment of the drones is sure to provoke criticism from Russia, but they will only be in place for two weeks. The Obama administration is presumably hoping that they will put Eastern European minds at rest without causing lasting damage to what remains of relations with Russia.
Vladimir Putin is becoming increasingly desperate for a new way to distract Russians from the economic crisis which is pushing millions of people back into poverty. Falling oil prices, a collapse in the value of the ruble and economic sanctions have pushed the Russian economy into decline, with few prospects for recovery.
The loss of European export markets has forced Putin to look East in search of allies, but cooperation with China is moving slowly. It may take too long for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to be of any substantial benefit to Russia, if it ever happens at all, and the signing of the nuclear deal with Iran looks set to hurt Russia in the short term as Iranian oil floods world markets.
While it may seem that Russia is in decline, that could only serve to make Putin a more dangerous and unpredictable geopolitical adversary. External issues are a great way to distract from problems at home, and provoking armed incidents in Eastern Europe could eventually become a viable strategy for Putin.