US State Department prepares for next military confrontation with Russia

Elana Schor | Washington Post

This winter may reveal the next confrontation in the age-old Cold War standoff between Washington and Moscow. The Trump administration will be more closely monitoring Russian advanced weapons, nuclear security and space technology capabilities, according to the text of a new State Department report about Russian military advancements.

Following President Trump’s uncharacteristically harsh recent condemnation of Russia, the new report provides a roadmap for how U.S. government agencies will monitor Russia’s ability to deploy, build and maintain weapons systems and to find technological vulnerabilities. In the case of arms control, for example, it identifies potential areas where Washington might become concerned about Russian advances, and also mentions Russians’ new military doctrine.

The report is meant to highlight Russian military advancements at a time when the U.S. administration has largely ignored them. It comes in the midst of rising tensions between Washington and Moscow as President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly and publicly feuded with Moscow over policy differences. The United States has imposed sanctions on Russia for its alleged role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as other controversial actions.

The report notes that President Vladimir Putin’s government has made several “objective achievements” over the past year and that Russia has “been focused on steps to strengthen its power and legitimacy.” It describes Moscow’s “voluntary” plan to give up “non-strategic” nuclear weapons, provided that the United States and other nations make similar concessions. It states that the United States must “make unilateral cuts in their strategic nuclear forces” if the United States is to counter Russia’s alleged advances.

The State Department report reflects Trump’s willingness to occasionally criticize the Russians, but it also seems to reflect a reduction in pressure on Moscow by his administration’s adversaries.

Igor Panarin, director of the Project on Arms Control and Non-Proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calls the report “a double-edged sword.” On the one hand, he says, the report highlights Russian innovations and advances, which he says the Russians are hoping to market abroad.

“The problem is, sometimes when we get a briefing like this, it’s like walking into a briefing at the Kremlin with people saying, ‘Check this out, it’s revolutionary,’” Panarin said. “Of course, in Russia, we understand this will play a lot better abroad.”

On the other hand, Panarin said that Trump has allowed Russia to get a “free hand” since he and Putin have engaged in a robust trade of insults and demeaning political statements that defuse diplomatic tensions.

“Trump must be benefiting politically” by maintaining strained relations with Moscow, he said. “This helps deflect attention from his problems.”

How the report will be executed is still to be determined. On Thursday, a senior administration official said that the report will “usefully alert our communities about [Russia’s] improvement.”

“The report highlights Russia’s investments in extending its technologies into the space domain and enhancing its military and security space capabilities. It also highlights the ongoing concern about continued Russian activity in cyberspace and the exploitation of secret intelligence operations,” the official said in a statement, adding that the report would “highlight Russian cyber capabilities as an ongoing threat.”

This week, a U.S. judge approved lifting a last-minute injunction blocking the U.S. government from enforcing a different arms control deal with Russia on a site for a space-based observation system that was seized by Moscow in 2014. That deal, which was signed by President Obama, involved the United States replacing a constellations of aging ballistic missiles with missile-defense radar systems, following an update to a 1987 Cold War-era treaty banning intermediate-range weapons.

The Obama administration declined to give Russia guarantees it would not deploy offensive weapons in its new system. Russia reacted by seizing the Krasnoyarsk-based Salyut spacecraft, preventing the construction of the radar system. Since then, Russia has been claiming it may build new missile-defense radars in Australia that would be outfitted with nuclear warheads and capable of attacking targets anywhere in the world.

The new State Department report says that any such deployment would be “legally permissible,” arguing it would violate no existing treaty.

“They’re trying to exploit this space-based treaty because it’s not very

Leave a Comment