According to the Kremlin, nearly all formal communications between the United States and Russia has stopped, highlighting the tension between the two nations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agency RIA that the Russian government did not anticipate the oncoming Trump administration withdrawing funding from NATO, adding, “Almost every level of dialogue with the United States is frozen. We don’t communicate with one another, or (if we do,) we do so minimally.”
John Kirby, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, countered Peskov’s statement, saying that communications have continued as normal despite the tension between nations.
“It’s difficult to know exactly what is meant by this comment, but diplomatic engagement with Russia continues across a wide range of issues,” Kirby told Reuters. “That we have significant differences with Moscow on some of these issues is well-known, but there hasn’t been a break in dialogue.” He went on to state that John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the phone earlier this week.
The Pentagon also made a statement this week that counters the Kremlin’s view on U.S.-Russian relations, citing their common video conferences with Russian military officials dedicated to ensuring the safety of American and Russian military personnel conducting air operations in Syria. These conferences are intended to help ensure U.S. military forces engaging ISIS in the region do not come into conflict with Russian operations in support of the Syrian government in places like Aleppo, where Russian airstrikes have aided in retaking the city for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Tensions between the United States and Russia have been extremely high in recent months. Accusations of Russian hackers swaying the presidential race in Donald Trump’s favor have been linked to Vladimir Putin himself by American intelligence agencies. Sitting president Barack Obama has made a statement regarding possible retaliation for interference in the presidential election.
“I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections that we need to take action and we will at a time and place of our own choosing,” President Obama told NPR. “Mr. Putin is well aware of my feelings about this, because I spoke to him directly about it.”
The accusations prompted a response from the Kremlin spokesman, Peskov, who called the claims “indecent” and demanded proof. “They should either stop talking about that or produce some proof at last. Otherwise it all begins to look unseemly.”
Russia’s Syrian bombing campaign and support of Assad has also stirred the pot recently, prompting one U.S. ambassador to the U.N. to ask Russia and its confederates if they were incapable of “shame.”
“To the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran, your forces and proxies are carrying out these crimes. Your barrel bombs and mortars and airstrikes have allowed the militia in Aleppo to encircle tens of thousands of civilians in your ever-tightening noose,” Ambassador Samantha Power said during a U.N. Security Council meeting that was attended by representatives from each of the nations she addressed. “Three member states of the U.N. contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you. You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?”
As tensions continue to rise, President-elect Donald Trump will be faced with the daunting task of both reinstating formal communications with Russia (if they have indeed lapsed) and doing so in a fashion that doesn’t draw negative attention from liberals and conservatives critical of Trump and his perceived friendliness toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That said, if communications have not actually ceased between the two nations, one must consider the strategic purpose behind the Kremlin making such an announcement. Some could argue it is a part of a continued campaign intended to discredit the Obama administration, coinciding with the effort to aid Trump in the election. A Russia-friendly president could do quite a bit to ease Russian economic woes by lifting or reducing international sanctions put in place after Russia’s military annexation of Crimea in 2014.
When the Kremlin makes an announcement, it should be assumed it was done so with strategic intent. The question remains: What benefit does the Russian government obtain from lying about its communications with the United States?
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