Russia’s Next Land Grab Won’t Be in an Ex-Soviet State. It Will Be in Europe.
Former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili believes that recent reports of a new Russian policy demanding international naval ships to notify the Kremlin of journeys along the Northern Sea Route 45 days in advance, may indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning another land grab similar to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
The Russian government has defended its new Northern Sea Route policy, which is incredibly restrictive of what foreign ships are allowed to do and states that vessels that violate it may be “eliminated” under “extreme” circumstances, by describing it as a necessary response to “the more active naval operations in the Arctic of various foreign countries.” This reminds Saakashvili of Putin’s language before the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and its intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
According to Saakashvili, Putin is considering another land grab, not because it will give Russia a significant strategical advantage, but because it will boost Putin’s declining popularity at home. The former Georgian president believes that since “Putin’s violations of laws and norms in Russia’s ‘backyard’ no longer seem to shock the world,” he will go after a country outside of the former Soviet Union. However, this will not be a NATO member, as Putin will want to avoid a direct confrontation with the alliance. Instead, Saakashvili predicts that Putin will orchestrate a land grab “in a remote Arctic enclave or on a small island” belonging to Finland or Sweden, two EU member states that are not part of NATO.