A central theme in the 2016 Republican presidential primary debates has been the grandstanding and posturing of several candidates on how they would 'handle' Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin.
Putin, often with a flare for the dramatic, has placed the restoration of the Soviet 'Empire' as one of his key foreign policy goals -- a goal often seen as a direct conflict to American interests.
Continuing his showmanship, Putin has flexed his political muscles this week in a display of not-so-subtle warnings to the West.
Putin Plays Yearly 'Ace Card' as Temperatures Drop
Russian political and military strategy has always revolved around the cold Russian winter. When things start going badly for them, digging in and waiting for the temperatures to drop is the go-to strategy.
With almost a level of glee, Russia Today reported that the Ukraine has less than four days worth of natural gas, fuel necessary for heating homes.
Ukrainian reliance on foreign energy places them in a position of folding to Russian demands as the crisis drags into the beginning of its third year.
While the U.S. has largely backed the Ukrainian position during the crisis, the cold winter seems ready to hand over a foreign policy embarrassment.
Unexpected Cruise Missile Technology Surprises NATO
In the past week, Russia has launched at least 26 cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea against Islamic State targets in Syria -- completely destroying at least 11 separate targets.
NORAD-chief Adm. William Gortney tried to emphasize the cruise missile threat last spring, yet was largely ignored until the West actually got its first glimpses into the missiles in action.
NATO strategy had considered Russian missile technology to be obsolete, Cold War-vintage equipment prior to Russia's involvement in Syria. This assumption was shattered -- especially since the West had not detected the attacks, either through intelligence or observation, until after they were carried out.
'Accidental' Leak of New Nuclear Torpedo Design
Given what seems to have been a clearly staged leak of information, the West has been shown a clear picture into the new nuclear strategy of the Russian Federation--trading missiles for torpedoes.
With a range of up to 10 thousand kilometers, these nuclear torpedoes are designed to create "assured unacceptable damage" to enemies by showering coastal targets with radiation.
This leak might be a complete red herring attempt to mislead the West, but it shows that the Russians are taking a more active role in maintaining military parity--even if by deception.
'Boots on the Ground' in Syria
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has called on all Muslim nations to take a stand against the Islamic State, stating that no one has the right to remain neutral.
The Chechen Republic, a vassal of the Russian Federation, has been constantly under the threat of Islamic extremism, with rebel forces actively supporting and training the Islamic State in Syria.
Kadyrov has asked Putin to allow the Chechen ground forces to fight in Syria.
This is the best of all worlds for Putin. The U.S. has been leery of further Russian involvement, yet Putin intends to maintain its presence in Syria -- once a Cold War ally and the only remaining post-Soviet military outpost outside of Russia.
Chechnya's move gives Putin the ability to further occupy and exert control in the region, while being able to 'hide' behind the actions of a semi-independent state.
Will the Next President 'Really' Talk Tough to Putin?
Russia flexing its military muscle might demonstrate that they have no patience for being treated in a petulant or patronizing manner.
For the next four years, our president will have to bridge the divide, a divide largely caused by foreign policy failures over the past two decades.
This won't be done with blustering rhetoric, but only by a genuine respect between superpowers.