VLADIMIR Putin may exploit Christmas and take military action while the West is "distracted" as the crisis over Ukraine continues to escalate, an expert fears.
Tensions in Eastern Europe appear to show little sign of cooling as Putin threatened a “military-technical” response if the West does not stop being “aggressive”.
Moscow has constantly blamed the West for the tensions and has stationed tens of thousands of troops within reach of the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Putin said: “What the US is doing in Ukraine is at our doorstep, And they should understand that we have nowhere further to retreat to. Do they think we’ll just watch idly?”
Isabel Sawkins, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, told The Sun that it’s possible Putin may intensify the wargames and rhetoric while the West is “distracted” over the holidays.
She said: “Russia doesn’t celebrate Christmas at the same time as the West does because they operate on a slightly different calendar.
“So for the next few weeks, Moscow will go about its business as normal.
“All we can do is hope that Putin doesn’t sneak in and do any further damage at a time when people in the West are celebrating Christmas with their families and loved ones.”
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Sawkins added that the current political climate in Europe created an “opportune” moment for Putin to escalate the rhetoric.
Germany, a powerhouse in Europe, has a new Chancellor after Angela Merkel left office following a 16-year tenure, while the Omicron coronavirus variant sweeps across the continent.
But, the expert believes that Putin doesn’t want to jeopardize the potential of having a future relationship with the West despite Moscow's narrative.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington is working with its allies to address “Russian aggression” with diplomacy in a bid to de-escalate rising tensions.
Sawkins wasn’t wholly critical of President Biden’s approach but said developments in Russia had “slipped through the US’ net”.
She said: “I don’t think Biden has been as engaged in the conversations and developments as he should’ve been from the very beginning.
“The US has been distracted by Covid, events in the Pacific region, and the withdrawal from Afghanistan so Russia has slipped through the net.”
'SLIPPED THROUGH THE NET'
She called on the president to continue engaging in diplomacy with Moscow until the line of conversation is exhausted.
Last week, EU leaders along with the US that sanctions would be imposed if Russian troops invaded Ukraine.
Leaders said: “Any further military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe cost in response, including restrictive measures coordinated with partners.”
Diplomats touted that new measures could include targeting Russian oligarchs and cutting banks from the SWIFT network – which is considered the “lifeblood” of international money transfers.
Officials in Washington are reportedly considering sanctions that could affect smartphones, key aircraft, and automobile components, a Biden Administration official told Reuters.
It’s feared that Russia could cut gas exports if the West slaps sanctions onto the country, which could send energy prices surging.
Sawkins said: “Punishing the people of Russia doesn’t seem fair when you are punishing citizens for the actions of their leader and his elites.
“If the West decides to punish Russia, then it ties in and feeds the Russian narrative that Moscow is a victim. Essentially, the West would be playing into Russia’s propaganda hands.”
Fears continue to grow that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could cause World War 3.
Yuliia Laputina, Ukraine’s minister for veterans affairs, told Sky News: “If Russia will invade you know, you should also take care about the Balkans.
"What Russians are doing now in Serbia – they try to provoke a situation in the Balkans.
"But we also take into account [the beginning of] World War Three."
She added: Yeah. Because geopolitically, it looks like this is a possible scenario. So… we should pay attention to the Ukrainian issue because of the security of the continent.
"This – the spreading of war in case of Russian invasion to Ukraine – will be much wider than Ukraine."
Russian-backed militias have reportedly deployed “suicide squads” in Ukraine as they try to locate and destroy covert military bases.
The Russian navy has added the Knyaz Oleg and Novosibirsk nuclear missile submarines to its growing fleet.
During the commissioning ceremony, Putin proclaimed that both vessels constitute a “formidable strike force”, according to the TASS news agency.
And, in one drill, Russia flexed its military muscles by dropping a tank out of an airplane with just a parachute.
Last month, officials in Moscow claimed to have successfully tested its lethal, high-speed Zircon hypersonic missile.
The warhead can travel at around 6670mph and hit a naval target located more than 400km away.
In 2018, Putin said the Zircon missile could hit almost any point in the world and evade an America-built defense system.
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