As Russian and U.S. forces continue to overlap in Syria and European border areas, one expert warns rising tensions could unintentionally lead to war between two of the world’s most powerful countries.

Matthew Rojansky is the director of the Kennan Institute, which is dedicated to improving American expertise and knowledge of Russia and other countries in the region. He cautions Russia will increasingly act out as U.S. and other NATO nations station military forces near Russian borders. And, he says, the provocation on Russia’s part is at least partly intentional.

“They want to sit across the table from the US and be treated as an equal,” Rojansky says. “They want us to get past our disagreement over Ukraine where they are simply going to keep the territory that they have. They don’t want to be punished for that with sanctions and isolation and by raising the ante, raising the risk on military confrontation, including the nuclear issue – they are rattling the nuclear saber – forces us back to the table with them, whether we like it or not.”

Two years ago, Russia became subject to a wide array of sanctions in response to its annexation of Crimea and interference in Ukraine. Since, its economy has suffered and has not grown as it might have otherwise, although Rojanksy says it could start to grow again next year.

This weekend, President Barack Obama is attending the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland where world leaders will discuss sending more troops to Russian borders in response to perceived threats. The Alliance will deploy four battalions – about 4000 soldiers –  to the Baltic States, as a message of defense, as move Rojanksy says is more symbolic.

“It’s never going to be able to stop an armed Russian attack on the Baltic states if they decided to. It is designed to reassure the Baltics, it’s there as a political symbol that says hey, NATO, article V, mutual defense is for real. If the Russians were concerned, we would know about it.”

Check out our interview to learn how Vladimir Putin sees both pros and cons to the UK’s exit from the European Union.

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