Europe’s tense standoffs with Turkey and Russia
On Europe’s periphery, tensions involving an array of competing countries are rising. The brewing crisis in Belarus has sparked fears of an armed Russian intervention. And a standoff in the eastern Mediterranean is pitting Turkey against Greece, Cyprus and France.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russian forces were ready to enter neighboring Belarus “if necessary,” apparently following a request from embattled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Putin’s remarks were his first public comments on the situation since Lukashenko claimed victory in an election widely viewed as fraudulent. Worker strikes and mass protests have rocked Belarus in the days since. E.U. governments want a national dialogue between Lukashenko and the opposition, but both the Belarusian leader and Putin have dismissed these calls as outside interference from the meddling West.
It’s been a busy week abroad for the Kremlin. Russian and U.S. forces were involved in an awkward armored-vehicle skirmish in Syria. And in Germany, doctors concluded that leading Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, now hospitalized in Berlin after falling ill on a flight from Siberia, had been poisoned. Russian authorities insist they do not see grounds for a criminal investigation, but the Kremlin’s track record on such matters and Navalny’s political stature mean the scrutiny won’t fade anytime soon.
“We expect Russia to join efforts to clear up what happened but at the moment that doesn’t seem to be the case,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told ZDF television Thursday.
Beyond the politicking, sabers are rattling. This week, Sweden stepped up its defense operations in the Baltic Sea in reaction to a perceived uptick in Russian military maneuvers. Swedish television channels broadcast footage of armored vehicles rolling past vacationers on the island of Gotland. Sweden is not a member of NATO; its officials warned of a “deteriorating security situation” as Russian jets and vessels push further afield. The last time it raised its military preparedness to this level was in reaction to the failed 1991 coup against then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
“Extensive military operations are underway in the Baltic Sea region, both from Russia and the West, in a way that in some parts has not been experienced since the days of the Cold War,” Chief of Joint Operations Vice Adm. Jan Thornqvist told reporters.