For the first time in four months, Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama spoke on the phone. Putin made the call to discuss Iran, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Syria, and violence in Ukraine.
“The leaders discussed the increasingly dangerous situation in Syria, and underscored the importance of continued P5+1 unity in ongoing negotiations to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” announced the White House.
But as Putin pressed Iran and Syria, Obama concentrated on Ukraine. The 16-month old war is still occurring in the east with over 6,000 dead. Russia and Ukraine signed peace agreements in September 2014 and February 2015 in Minsk, Belarus. Both times, Russian soldiers and pro-Russian rebels broke the agreements almost as soon as the countries signed the papers.
“President Obama reiterated the need for Russia to fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements, including the removal of all Russian troops and equipment from Ukrainian territory,” stated the White House.
The West implemented sanctions against Russia’s financial, energy, and military sectors after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014. The European Union recently extended sanctions against Russia until January 31, 2016, since Moscow fails to comply with the Minsk agreement.
As the situation continues to worsen, NATO countries in eastern Europe want more defense help from their allies in case Putin targets them next. But Russia threatened retaliation if America places tanks and weapons near Russian borders.
“If heavy U.S. military equipment, including tanks, artillery batteries and other equipment really does turn up in countries in eastern Europe and the Baltics, that will be the most aggressive step by the Pentagon and NATO since the Cold War,” declared General Yuri Yakubov, the Russian defense ministry official. “Russia will have no option but to build up its forces and resources on the Western strategic front.”
Last year, Vice President Joe Biden and NATO leaders promised protection and security, with little concrete results. NATO countries welcomed the news of American weapons and tanks to protect them from a possible Russian invasion.
“We think that at least part of it [Abrams and Bradleys] will be in Lithuania and we are in a process preparing our military infrastructure, so it could be used for such pre-positioning,” claimed Juozas Olekas, Lithuania’s defense minister, adding:
It is almost ready. We have been in talks with our American allies that it would be purposeful to locate the equipment here on permanent basis, in order to increase our security and support the soldiers stationed here. If the decision is taken, it will be very positive for our security.
It is the first time America has increased its presence in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The U.S. will spread weapons and 5,000 troops in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Poland. All of these countries were once Soviet states or satellite states.
Putin frazzled the world when he told world officials he owns the right to place missiles in Crimea. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), five countries, including Russia, may plant “nuclear weapons anywhere in its territory.” However, the United Nations and NATO still consider Crimea a part of Ukraine. To make matters worse, Putin announced the plan to buy 40 more intercontinental ballistic missiles. This caused NATO to review its nuclear weapon policy.
“There is very real concern about the way in which Russia publicly bandies around nuclear stuff,” explained a NATO diplomat. “So there are quite a lot of deliberations in the alliance about nuclear [weapons], but it is being done very slowly and deliberately. We need to do due diligence on where we are.”