As the White House scrambles to contain the fallout from national security adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation, Russia, the country at the center of the scandal, has chosen to deliberately violate a seminal arms treaty with the United States by deploying intermediate-range missiles on land. It’s unclear how President Trump will respond to the provocation given his optimistic proposals to forge a new, mutually beneficial counter—terrorism relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
To be clear, Russia’s war games have been a long time coming.
“The ground-launched cruise missile at the center of American concerns is one that the Obama administration said in 2014 had been tested in violation of a 1987 treaty that bans American and Russian intermediate-range missiles based on land,” reports The New York Times. “The Obama administration had sought to persuade the Russians to correct the violation while the missile was still in the test phase. Instead, the Russians have moved ahead with the system, deploying a fully operational unit.”
The Times continues:
American officials had called the cruise missile the SSC-X-8. But the “X” has been removed from intelligence reports, indicating that American intelligence officials consider the missile to be operational and no longer a system in development…
Administration officials said the Russians now have two battalions of the prohibited cruise missile. One is still located at Russia’s missile test site at Kapustin Yar in southern Russia near Volgograd. The other was shifted in December from that test site to an operational base elsewhere in the country, according to a senior official who did not provide further details and requested anonymity to discuss recent intelligence reports about the missile.
For years now, the Russians have been testing the waters, seeing how far they can push the envelope before the United States responds. As it turns out, there was no red-line. Former President Obama’s unwillingness to protect allies and defend US interests abroad quickly caught the attention of Moscow, which took full advantage of the global power vacuum. When Russia invaded Crimea, undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, America did nothing. When Russia turned Syria into its own house of horrors, America did nothing. Other than delivering strongly-worded statements from the press secretary’s podium and toying with economic sanctions, the Obama administration did nothing to slow down, let alone stop, the scourge of the Russian imperial bear.
Fast-forward to 2017. The Kremlin believes it has a friend in President Donald Trump, the one man with complete control of the nuclear football.
Putin and his plutocrats in Moscow may be right. So far, the Trump administration has failed to issue a strong response to Russia’s treaty violations.
“We do not comment on intelligence matters,” stated acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “We have made very clear our concerns about Russia’s violation, the risks it poses to European and Asian security, and our strong interest in returning Russia to compliance with the treaty.”
While Toner’s tone may seem somewhat formidable, it hardly inspires the sort of indignation and consternation one would expect from the United States given the gravity of the situation.
Indeed, Russia has blatantly violated an arms treaty negotiated by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the waning days of the Cold War. Signed in December 1987, the treaty, known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, sits at the cornerstone of post-Cold War diplomacy.
“As a result of the agreement, Russia and the United States destroyed 2,692 missiles. The missiles the Russians destroyed included the SS-20,” notes the Times. “The Americans destroyed their Pershing II ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles, which were based in Western Europe.”
But since the rise of Vladimir Putin, the Russian Federation has reawakened the sleeping lion of imperial desire. Since the mid-2000s, Kremlin officials have expressed their reservations about the fairness and viability of the arms treaty, hinting at a newfound willingness to challenge the US-dominated global order.
Despite President Trump’s recent assurances to British Prime Minister Theresa May about America’s “100%” commitment to NATO, the Commander-in-Chief’s statements on the campaign trail have signaled a strong sense of ambivalence about the North Atlantic alliance.