Opinion: UK-Russia naval flap shows Putin is on edge


Things got a little tricky when the Defender entered Crimean territorial waters. The Russian military claims to have fired warning shots through the bow, then 11 minutes later two Su-24M bombers dropped bombs on the way to the ship. No damage was done. But the signal has been sent.
And if there was any doubt, the Russian state news agency TASS and Russian television proclaimed it as part of a Western plot to surround and undermine Russia, describing the action with startling details – part of the Kremlin line suggesting Russia’s most aggressive actions. are simply defensive maneuvers to safeguard its interests.
Sharp but false, according to the British Navy, which claimed no shots were fired at the ship and no bomb dropped in its path – although more than 20 Russian planes did buzz above. It turns out that Russian artillery exercises had already been announced at some distance.
If there had been gunfire directed at the British warship in the Black Sea, they would have been the first since the Crimean War in 1854 – at the very time when the term “red lines” was coined by the famous British war correspondent William Howell Russell in his dispatch to The Times of London, referring to the lines of British troops in red tunics confronting the cavalry of the Russian hussars. Years later, Russia seeks to draw a new set of lines.
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Britain was demonstrating that most of the world still views Ukraine as the rightful owner of Crimea, whatever territory the Russian armed forces were able to seize seven years ago and continue to hold. Indeed, the British Ministry of Defense declared that the trajectory of its warship was part of a “routine transit” from the Ukrainian port of Odessa to Georgia via Ukrainian waters. There even happens to be a ferry route from Odessa to Georgia, although it avoids the southern tip of the Crimean Peninsula well.
In April, the United States revealed that it was even considering sending its own warships to the Black Sea, just to prove that it would in no way consider ceding this entire waterway to Russia as its own. own backyard.
For years, China has been doing its best to claim its own nostrum mare (“our sea”), status for the South China Sea by recapturing and strengthening dozens of islands there. In fact, to prove that this is not acceptable, the British sent their newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and her entire carrier strike group across the South China Sea in April, just to show that its waters are open to all military personnel as well as to commercial expeditions. As UK Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace has observed, he is exercising his right to freedom of navigation.
So why all this Sturm und drang if it could easily get nasty enough? Much of this would appear to be due precisely to the red lines which are highly contested and which Putin, as well as China in its own maritime disputes, seem fairly clear in establishing and maintaining. A few weeks before this month’s G7 summit with US President Joe Biden in Switzerland, Putin was already telling the Russian Federal Assembly: “I hope no one will think of crossing the ‘red line’ when it comes to Russia. We will determine for ourselves in each particular case. case it will be fired. “
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So, is Putin on edge? Or does he just want to show Biden and the West who is really in charge after the summit, and establish who is indeed in control of all the red lines surrounding Russian interests? Or is it just Putin’s post-summit posture? Most likely, all of the above.

It is certainly not a very good position for the world as we wait to see how Russia plans to react regarding Ukraine, Syria, Turkey, Iran and the nuclear deal currently under intensive negotiation in Vienna. , in Austria. The West, and in particular the United States, still needs Putin to behave. Fortunately, Biden has NATO allies, especially the British, very much behind him. Britain, at a most opportune moment, appears to have embarked on an aggressive new military policy. The Royal Navy says the dispatch of its Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier strike force is the country’s most powerful naval deployment in a generation.
And none of this is put off by the Biden administration. Ukraine is also showing courage by organizing a joint naval exercise with NATO forces in the Black Sea from June 28 to July 10. Of course, any sense that the country might be heading for NATO membership, joining the three Baltic republics of the Soviet Union and most of the former Warsaw Pact military alliance, is calculated. to send shivers down Putin’s back.
And that’s not necessarily such a bad message. Indeed, Putin’s own spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declared the day after the Biden-Putin summit that it would be a “red line” for Moscow, as well as an action plan for them. first steps towards joining the alliance. Putin needs to see that the Atlantic alliance is united and firm in the face of any intimidation he may initiate. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tours NATO allies, most recently Germany, then France, to demonstrate America’s backbone. Blinken observed that the United States needed its allies to support a “rules-based international order”.

The problem, of course, is that Putin – not to mention Chinese Xi Jinping – is doing his best to establish his own international order based on his rules. If this is simply a test of which side is bigger and stronger, then the United States and its allies simply need to stand together with even greater determination.

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