Who’s Next? Putin Could Expand His European War Beyond Ukraine

Who’s Next? Putin Could Expand His European War Beyond Ukraine

Even as Vlad the Invader Putin fires his generals and doubles down on his stalled but brutal invasion of , some European countries fear Putin may lash out elsewhere in frustration, and that they could be next.

Though some doubt Putin would, or could, attack elsewhere with nearly 200,000 of his troops currently bogged down in Ukraine, others see Russian military strikes and irregular warfare against other European countries as a way for him to take some pressure off his current war.

It might also be needed to divert attention from growing dissent at home as everyday Russians continue to feel the pain of sanctions and an unpopular war.

Sadly, Putin is in a highly precarious situation, where losing in Ukraine is simply not an option. This creates a dangerous scenario where Putin’s only recourse may be to ‘go big,’ since he can’t just ‘go home.’

Also noteworthy is that to Putin, this is not only about Ukraine.

AP quotes Michal Baranowski, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw office, as saying that Putin “has said right from the start that this is not only about Ukraine,” said, but also “about the eastern flank of and the rest of Eastern Europe.”

But it is also about regaining what Putin sees as former Russian lands and Russian speaking people separated by the fall of the USSR, and the relentless westward expansion of NATO.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said that “ is not going to stop in Ukraine.”

“We are concerned for neighbors , , and the Western Balkans,” he said. “We have to keep an eye on Western Balkans, particularly , which could face destabilization by Russia.”

So where in Europe could Putin strike next?  Well, the most vulnerable would be those who aren’t full members of NATO or the European Union (EU), and like Ukraine not under the NATO protective umbrella.

Potential targets of direct Russian aggression include Ukraine’s small southwestern neighbor Moldova, and Russia’s small southern neighbor Georgia, both formerly part of the Soviet Union and long in Putin’s gunsights.

As AP notes: “Like its neighbor Ukraine, the ex-Soviet republic of Moldova has a separatist insurgency in its east in the disputed territory known as Trans-Dniester, where 1,500 Russian troops are stationed.”

And, in 2008, AP continues, Russia routed the Georgian military in five days of fighting when Georgian government troops tried unsuccessfully to regain control over the Moscow-backed breakaway province of South Ossetia. Hundreds were killed. Russia then recognized South Ossetia and another separatist region, Abkhazia, as independent states while ramping up its military presence there.

As noted earlier, there are also the targets of indirect aggression and irregular warfare, such as the Balkan states of Bosnia, where I served in the 1990s, as well as Kosovo and Montenegro. Here Putin would use Russia’s Slavic little brother Serbia to do its bidding.

AP explains:

It would be hard for Russian troops to reach the Balkans without engaging NATO forces stationed in all the neighboring countries. But Moscow could destabilize the region, as it already does, with the help of Serbia, its ally which it has been arming with tanks, sophisticated air defense systems and warplanes.

The Kremlin has always considered the region its sphere of influence although it was never part of the Soviet bloc. A devastating civil war in the 1990s left at least 120,000 dead and millions homeless. Serbia, the largest state in the Western Balkans, is generally blamed for starting the war by trying to prevent the breakup of Serb-led Yugoslavia with brutal force — a move resembling Moscow’s current effort to pull Ukraine back into its orbit by military force.

But that’s not all. Even some NATO members could be targeted by Putin, including the three small of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Russia’s doorstep.

These relatively unprotected states bordering Russia could be attacked either directly in the hopes that a lightning strike would accomplish a fait accomplis that NATO doesn’t have the resolve to recover, or by Russian political destabilization.

So, the answer to the question of who’s next on Putin’s hit list depends on how things go in Ukraine, and also inside Russia itself.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of American Liberty News.

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