“They are very concerned about their adversary next door,” said Gen. Raymond Thomas, the head of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), at a national-security conference in Aspen, Colorado, in July. “They make no bones about it.”
The “they” in question were various Eastern European and Baltic nations. “Their adversary”? Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Thomas, the commander of America’s most elite troops—Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets among them—went on to raise fears about an upcoming Russian military training event, a war game, known as “Zapad” or “West,” involving 10 Russian Navy ships, 70 jets and helicopters, and 250 tanks. “The point of concern for most of these eastern Europeans right now is they’re about to do an exercise in Belarus…that’s going to entail up to 100,000 Russian troops moving into that country.” And he added, “The great concern is they’re not going to leave, and…that’s not paranoia…”
Over the last two decades, relations between the United States and Russia have increasingly soured, with Moscow casting blame on the United States for encouraging the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine a year later. Washington has, in turn, expressed its anger over the occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the Russo-Georgian War of 2008; the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine after pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych was chased from power; and interference in the 2016 US presidential election. There have been recriminations on both sides over the other nation’s military adventurism in Syria, the sanctions Washington imposed on Moscow in reaction to Crimea, Ukraine, and human-rights issues, and tit-for-tat diplomatic penalties that have repeatedly ramped up tensions.