As members of the U.S. mainstream media obsess over Michael Flynn's phone communication with the Russian ambassador, much more serious provocations are occurring under their noses. Is Russian President Vladamir Putin only testing the new American president, or is the cold war making a comeback?
Russian fighter jets recently buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea, and they've positioned one of their spy ships, the Viktor Leonov about 30-miles off the Connecticut coast near the Groton navy submarine base. At the same time, people in eastern Ukraine are facing their worst fighting in years with newly-emboldened Russian separatists. And the Russians reportedly have deployed a new cruise missile in violation of the 1987 INF Arms Treaty with the United States.
Worried about a resurgent Russia demonstrating increased aggression, some U.S. lawmakers are urging President Trump to do something about it.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson likely raised U.S. concerns when he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the start of the G-20 summit in Bonn, Germany.
After the meeting, Tillerson said he had a productive talk with his Russian counterpart as they sought common ground. But he warned, "where we do not see eye to eye, the United States will stand up for the interests and the values of America and her allies."
Tillerson said he expects the Russians to "work to de-escalate the violence in Ukraine."
But what happens if they don't? Are these simply words, or will the Trump administration take action if the Russians refuse to cool it?
Responding earlier this week to allegations that his administration is too close, or too soft on the Russians, President Trump tweeted,"Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?"
The Russians responded saying they do not intend to withdraw from Crimea because it is part of Russia.
At the NATO conference in Belgium, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, "Russia's aggressive actions have violated international law and are destabilizing." That may suggest economic sanctions against Russia will remain, at least for now.
Mattis urged NATO members to increase their financial contributions to the organization so they may better share the burden of defending Europe. Currently, the United States pays 22 percent of NATO's $2 billion budget.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949 as an intergovernmental military alliance designed primarily to defend western Europe against Russian (Soviet) military aggression.
President Trump once called the organization obsolete because it "wasn't taking care of terror." However, that doesn't mean he wants to abandon it. During a joint press conference with Theresa May, the British Prime Minister said Trump was "100% behind NATO."
This week, Putin criticized NATO, accusing the organization of constantly provoking Russia to draw it into a confrontation with the West. "Attempts to interfere in our internal matters are without end, with the goal of destabilizing the sociopolitical situation within Russia itself," he said.
Putin said for the first time since 1989, NATO recognized Russia as " the main threat to the safety of the alliance, and its containment was stated as the new mission of NATO. With this reason, the latest expansion of the bloc is being carried out… "
Exactly how Trump may respond is unknown at this time. In office less than one month, his Russia strategy is still under development. We may learn more about how the president may proceed after both Tillerson and Mattis report back on the concerns and recommendations shared by America's allies at the NATO and G20 meetings.
Let's pray for wisdom and that President Trump will not act hastily like some of his predecessors who took aggressive actions overseas to deflect attention away from troubling domestic politics.