In the old days, when its dominance was threatened, an imperial power would send a warship to shoot a few shells across the bows of any threatening competitor, and that would be that. Nowadays it’s a bit more subtle. In order to show their displeasure with Russia president Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and currently interferance in eastern Ukraine, the West is using sanctions and military maneuvers, the dance of the generals.
Thus NATO has moved some of its assets up towards the former “Iron Curtain” and the US is holding joint military exercises with its EU ally Romania. It is unlikely that Putin is concerned by these military messages. After all Romania and Poland are now part of the EU. But, Moldova and Ukraine are not part of Europe and that is what Putin sees as a threat. He will do almost anything to prevent the eastern border of the EU from moving further eastwards into what he perceives as his area of influence. He is not so much resurrecting the USSR as trying to regain the old Russian Empire. Since the current eastern border of the EU stops at Belarus and Moldova, these are the next countries that are no doubt on Putin’s little list.
But, first, must come Ukraine, and Putin has moved his troops up to the border of Ukraine. The recent incident at Slavyansk where three supposedly pro-Russian militiamen guarding a checkpoint were killed, has all the earmarks of a set-up. In the middle of the night a supposedly Ukrainian nationalist group attacked the pro-Russian guards, and as well as killing three set several vehicles on fire. The news reporters happened to be there. What a perfect excuse for Putin to send in his troops to protect the pro-Russian militias from Ukrainian “terrorists.”
Then there is the pro-Russian enclave of Transnistria, that has declared its independence from Moldova. Moldova was originally a part of Romania called Bessarabia, that was taken over by Russia in the 19th century. When the USSR collapsed, Moldova declared its independence, although it was prevented from rejoining Romania. But, the mainly Russian speaking people tothe east across the Dniester river refused to become part of Moldova. They formed a pro-Russian strip between Moldova and Ukraine, that no doubt Putin has his eyes on. If he can annex Transnistria, he can in effect surround Ukraine, from the west as well as the east. Any Russian general worth his salt will be whispering “Pridnestrovie” in Putin’s ear, what the Russians call Transnistria. And if Putin decides to move into Transnistria, after a referendum of course, what can the West do to prevent him. It’s a chess game in which Putin owns the board.