On Monday, U.S. president Donald Trump met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in a long-touted meeting that both leaders claimed was in the interest of de-escalating tensions between the two nations. After their scheduled 90-minute meeting ran long, the two moved to podiums where they delivered prepared addresses to the media regarding the subjects they discussed, though in the American media immediately following the event, the focus has primarily been on the American president’s responses during the following question and answer period alone.
America’s foreign policy regarding Russia has primarily been reactionary in recent years. America has not established “first strike” sanctions against the Russian economy, nor has the Trump administration gone out of their way to establish new sanctions without provocation: in other words, Russia’s behavior, not any leader’s rhetoric, has served as the driving force behind U.S./Russian tensions. As Donald Trump has called for improved relations with Russia, there’s no denying that his administration has instituted a series of new sanctions as a result of Russia’s aggressive behavior, the U.S. participated in multiple missile strikes against assets allied with Russia in Syria, and the U.S. expelled Russian diplomats following the apparent use of a Soviet-era nerve toxin against civilians in the U.K. As a point of fact, the United States has maintained a fairly firm approach to Russia’s hybrid warfare tactics on a national level, even amid Trump’s optimistic claims about improving bilateral relations.
Putin, who spoke first after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, came off as polished and diplomatic in his statements, though the even keel of his delivery (as well as that of his nearly monotone interpreter) did little to convey the weight of some of his remarks — and within the vacuum of the event, one could be excused for thinking of Putin as a strong leader with aspirations for peace. However, outside of that vacuum, with Russian foreign policy as a reference, his remarks sounded more like posturing and even a bit of intentional deceit.
What follows is a brief breakdown of some of Putin’s remarks, along with a brief explanation of how they run counter to Russian foreign policy over recent months and years.
Regarding the tensions between Russia and the United States.
It’s quite clear to everyone that the bilateral relationship are going through a complicated stage, and yet those impediments, the current tension, the tense atmosphere, essentially have no solid reason behind it. The Cold War is a thing of past, the era of acute ideological confrontation of the two countries is a thing of remote past, is a vestige of the past. The situation in the world changed dramatically.
While true that the Cold War is indeed a thing of the past, much of the tension between Russia and the United States comes as a direct result of Russia’s aggressive behavior. Their military annexation of Crimea in 2014 launched a resurgence of tensions and concerns throughout the European continent, their tacit support of Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions helped bolster Kim’s diplomatic and political positioning, their support of Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime despite its continued of use of chemical weapons against civilians and more are clear examples of the “cause” that lead to a degraded relations “effect.” Add to that claims of Russian nuclear submarines using American naval yards as test beds for their stealth capabilities, and Russia’s actions have proven them to be a diplomatic opponent to America and her allies repeatedly in recent months.
Regarding nuclear weapons and orbital defense.
We believe it necessary to work together further on — to interact on the disarmament agenda, military and technical cooperation. This includes the extension of the Strategic Offensive Arms Limitation Treaty. It’s a dangerous situation with a global American anti-missile defense system, it’s (ph) the implementation issues with the INF treaty. And, of course, the agenda of non-placement of weapons in space.
Putin’s remarks about nuclear weapons and space were perhaps the most problematic of the day. Putin’s apparent fervor for a mutual reduction of nuclear arms runs counter to a number of expensive Russian endeavors that have been recently completed or remain ongoing. Despite Russia’s comparatively paltry defense budget, the nation unveiled an entirely new intercontinental ballistic missile just last year. The RS-28 Sarmat (or Satan II, as it’s often called) is a 50 megaton yield missile that deploys multiple warheads as well as dummy-munitions to fool inbound interceptors and is among the most destructive weapons ever devised by man. In fact, it’s destructive yield is really only dwarfed by another recent Russian nuclear program, the Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6 — which is a massive 100 megaton nuclear weapon armed drone submersible that can travel for thousands of miles, lay in wait beneath the surface near the American shoreline and be detonated remotely, creating not only a nuclear explosion that would be twice the size of any ever detonated in history, but one that would also produce a massive irradiated tidal wave that would travel for miles inland.
Putin’s remarks about the “non-placement of weapons in space” also doesn’t ring true with ongoing defense initiatives within the Russian state. Russia has had a space-specific branch of the military since 2015 (and has had previous incarnations of the same for decades). They are actively working to develop the capability to engage with or distract American satellites, including their announcement just last week of a new electronic warfare aircraft they claim can “destroy” enemy satellites in orbit.
In order to accomplish this level of successful cooperation in Syria, we have all the required components. Let me remind you of that.
Both Russian and American military have acquired the useful experience of coordination of their action, established the operational channels of communication which permit it to avoid dangerous incidents and unintentional collisions in the air and in the ground.
Throughout America’s involvement in counter-ISIS operations and support for Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), they have seen repeated violations of borders established between U.S. and Russian troops, including the engagement and utter obliteration of a sizable Russian mercenary force by U.S. Special Operations troops embedded with the SDF. Further, Russia’s repeated attempts at using blatant disinformation and propaganda to discredit American efforts in the region, ranging from using video game footage as “evidence” of America’s support for ISIS to claiming America framed Syria for chemical weapons attacks, have continued to make peace between warring parties in Syria an unlikely outcome.
On election meddling.
Once again, President Trump mentioned the issue of the so-called interference of Russia with the American elections, and I had to reiterate things I said several times, including during our personal contacts, that the Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including election process.
Any specific material — if such things arise — we are ready to analyze together. For instance, we can analyze them through the joint working group on cyber-security, the establishment of which we discussed during our previous contacts.
There is no longer any question from either side of the political sphere in the United States — Russia has taken deliberate action to not only interfere with the natural democratic process of the 2016 presidential election. Further, they have continued to use social media, state-owned media outlets, and other means to attempt to sew social discord within the general American populous. While some continue to debate whether or not Trump’s campaign had any level of awareness or involvement in parts of this enterprise, that debate doesn’t posit that Russia’s efforts don’t exist.
However, Putin addressed the issue as though there remained questions as to whether or not Russia’s government played any role in this (ongoing) endeavor, and in what is sure to garner some chuckles within the U.S. intelligence apparatus, he proposes that Russia play an active role in working to determine if Russia played an active role in, as Putin called it, “so-called interference.” That’s sort of like letting a murder suspect participate in the investigation that brought him to trial.
Featured image: U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hand at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. | AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais