As “welcome” as a bone-chilling blast from a mid-March nor’easter, more bad news continues to blow our way out of Moscow, minimizing the possibility of a springtime thaw in U.S.-Russia relations.
And I’m not talking about any of the U.S. domestic issues that have been in the headlines lately, such as charges against Russian FSB intelligence operatives for hacking Yahoo email accounts.
Nor am I talking about matters you’re already aware of — such as the scene in Syria where Russian President Vladimir Putin is backing the Damascus regime in the civil war, or the unsettling situation in Ukraine where a Moscow-backed insurgency is tearing the country apart.
This news goes beyond that:
Arms Control: The Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed publicly the suspicion that the Russians were violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty that limits nuclear-capable missiles in Europe.
The Joint Chiefs vice chairman, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, recently told Congress that the Russians have “deployed a land-based cruise missile” that violates that INF treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
Bringing the matter closer to home, Selva said that the new Russian missile poses a threat to members of the NATO alliance, which would, of course, include U.S. forces based in Europe.
Occupation of Georgia: Most people don’t realize it, but Russian troops are still in the “breakaway” Georgian province of South Ossetia almost a decade after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war.
News this week is that Moscow plans to integrate the rebel forces of South Ossetia — which Moscow recognizes as an independent state (along with the Abkhazia region of Georgia) — into the Russian armed forces.
Besides violating the internationally-recognized sovereignty of Georgia — a country friendly to the United States — the move further projects Russian power into the Caucasus, a region that borders the Middle East.
Taliban and Afghanistan: As you know, we’ve been fighting in Afghanistan since shortly after 9/11 — almost 16 years now. It’s one of our longest wars and we’re still battling the Taliban and other violent Islamist extremists there.
It turns out that Russia is now involved with our enemy, the Taliban, according to our commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, who made the disclosure in troubling congressional testimony last month.
Moscow, it seems, claims that working with the Taliban could bring peace to Afghanistan; it might also strengthen the anti-ISIS campaign in Afghanistan since the Taliban may be more capable of dealing with ISIS-K (ISIS-Khorasan) than Kabul’s forces.
Nicholson sees the Russian assertion as a self-serving “false-narrative,” according to an interview in West Point’s publication, CTC Sentinel. His view is that Moscow is trying to undermine “U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts in the region,” writes the Voice of America.
Of course, as in Syria, Russian involvement in Afghanistan gives Moscow leverage to advance its national interests in South Asia and Central Asia, an area of longtime strategic importance to Russian rulers.
Except, maybe, on its own terms
This piece originally appeared in the Boston Herald