Russia: Vladimir Putin 'is an opportunist' says Diggins

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Russia could attack the weaker EU and NATO members if faced with a national crisis, Express.co.uk was told. It comes as the country’s defence minister on Monday said its military will form 20 new units in the country’s west to counter what he described as a growing threat from NATO. Sergei Shoigu made the announcement at a meeting with top military officials, and pointed to a growing number of flights by US strategic bombers near Russia’s borders, deployments of NATO warships and increasingly frequent and massive drills by alliance forces.

He charged that such actions “destroy the international security system and force us to take the relevant countermeasures.”

He said: “We will form another 20 units and formations in the Western Military District until the year’s end”, adding that the military units in Western Russia have commissioned about 2,000 new pieces of weaponry this year.

Professor Julian Lindley-French, an internationally recognised strategic analyst and advisor in defence argues that President Vladimir Putin “could be tempted” to attack those countries that sit at the margins of NATO and the EU who are weaker than the organisation’s main members.

The veteran analyst has recently co-authored the book, ‘Future War’, exploring how the US and Europe might consolidate their military forces in the face of increasing threats from the likes of Russia and China, as well as handling new and cutting edge techniques of conflict.

He said Mr Putin was more than aware of Europe’s “strategic illiteracy”, and that he might take advantage of it should the country face a domestic crisis.

Prof Lindley-French told Express.co.uk: “Putin is very aware that Europeans in particular have become strategically illiterate when it comes to risk of force in international relations.

“So many European leaders simply are wholly uncomfortable with the fact that force still has a part to play in international relations, and deterrents and defence are built upon it.

“And although there have been modest increases in defence budgets since 2014, in relative terms there is still a decline.

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“Russia isn’t a threat to the likes of Britain, France or Germany because it wouldn’t conceive of attacking the big powers.

“But at the margins of NATO, or the EU, around the Arctic belt, the Baltic states, through the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean, Russia could be tempted if it was in a domestic crisis or going on an adventure.

“The regime is built on a narrative of nationalism, a narrative of Russia being a victim or the West, of being threatened, if you have the force and the opportunity because Europe has weakened its defences, there might come a point when Putin is tempted to use it.”

Many of the regions Prof Lindley-French spoke of contain former Soviet Republics, a number of which Russia continues to have close ties with, like Belarus.

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In a bid to flex its military muscles, earlier this year Mr Putin piled Russia’s western border with Ukraine in Crimea – which it annexed in 2014 – with 100,000 troops.

Nothing came of the move, but Prof Lindley-French says exercises like this are intended to gauge a country’s future ability to defend itself.

In Belarus, Russia has come to President Alexander Lukashenko’s aid after the EU and other Western countries slapped tough sanctions on the country.

This was after Mr Lukashenko was accused of hijacking a Ryanair flight containing opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich, who has since been jailed.

Russia has defended Belarus, with analysts suggesting Moscow stands to benefit from Belarus’ further estrangement from the West.

The country described the uproar over the flight being apprehended as “shocking” and accused the West of having double standards.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook: “It is shocking that the West calls the incident in Belarusian airspace ‘shocking’.”

It has since given President Lukashenko two $500million (£352m) loans.

Mr Putin and Lukashenko met over the weekend for talks.

The Russian leader treated him to a yacht tour in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

‘Future War and the Defence of Europe’, written by John R. Allen, Frederick Ben Hodges, and Julian Lindley-French, is published by Oxford University Press and out now.

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