Cold War memories were instantly rekindled Oct. 17 when reports emerged of suspected Russian submarine activity in Sweden’s coastal waters. Speculation was rife in the media and the blogosphere — it was a submarine, a mini-sub, some sort of underwater vehicle. While the Swedish Navy fanned out searching for contacts, other Baltic countries made searches of their own.
No confirmed sign of any Russian activity, however, had been reported by Oct. 24, but there was no question nerves were frayed and suspicions high.
Russia’s heightened aggressiveness has been on display for most of the year, notably in Crimea and Ukraine. But President Vladimir Putin’s military forces have been more antagonistic elsewhere, especially around Russia’s eastern borders. Hundreds of aviation incidents have been reported, from buzzing US and NATO warships at sea to territorial incursions in Europe, North America and around Japan. Less reported are provocations at sea, but professionals confirm the Russians are no less reticent there than in the air.
Many of the countries that feel most threatened by Putin’s behavior also find themselves with diminished military forces, the result of post-Cold War drawdowns and rough economic situations.
The world security situation remains volatile, and 2014 has seen the rise of several hitherto unexpected threats, most notably the Islamic State.
But whether a resurgent Russia prompts the West to alter strategic and tactical planning or increase defense spending remains to be seen.
“It changes as you get closer to the Russian border,” observed Jorge Benitez, a NATO and European analyst with the Atlantic Council in Washington. “You have the allies furthest away — France, the UK, Spain, Italy — not really changing their defense budgets yet.