After almost a month in office, President Trump was given and failed his first round of tests from President Putin. It should come as no surprise that a newly elected President will come under immediate pressure from adversaries abroad to test their resolve and commitment to various issues. For example, Kim Jong-Un wasted no time before testing the Pukguksong-2, a medium-range ballistic missile that flew nearly 310 miles into the Sea of Japan.
And now, the Kremlin has begun to probe and test Western Europe and the United States in an attempt to better understand President Trump’s policy positions. President Putin wants to know where the push back will be, where can he get away with his increasingly provocative and aggressive foreign policy and where are the no-go areas. Over the past week Russia has done the following:
- Russia tested the SSC-8 missile. This test violated the I.N.F. Treaty which was agreed upon by President Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987.
- Russia buzzed the USS Porter with 3 SU-24 attack jets over the Baltic Sea.
- The Russian intelligence ship, the Viktor Leonov was spotted approximately 30 miles off the coast of Connecticut and Virginia this week.
- In the lead up to the French and German Presidential elections this year Russia has grown increasingly aggressive with its cyber hacking and propaganda campaigns against anti-Russian candidates such as Emmanuel Macron of France.
- And finally, the escalation of fighting in Eastern Ukraine
Russia’s actions in the past week are as much a test as they are a tactic. The Kremlin has repeatedly utilized a strategy best coined as ‘fail fast and fail cheap.’ But instead of failing fast and failing cheap, Russia is succeeding fast and succeeding cheap.
President Putin’s success is due in part because of the relative indifference expressed by the West’s lack of response to any of these probes by Russia. In fact, the only response by the United States has been the deployment of an additional several thousand American troops to the Baltic States, which was initiated under the Obama administration’s watch.
Time and time again Russia has made these low cost bets in an attempt to probe and understand the reactions and behaviors of their targets. When dealing with an ever increasingly dangerous autocratic leader like Putin, any indifference shown by the prevailing powers only serves to bolster Russian foreign policy in the future.