August 18, 2014

Russia: Two Tests for Obama

Putin is taking advantage of news distractions and Obama’s golf game.

Now that the situation in Iraq has grabbed the world’s attention, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is taking advantage with a number of moves designed to test U.S. strategy, diplomacy and resolve.

In separate convoys, Russia sent “humanitarian aid” and armored personnel carriers to the Ukrainian border. While many of the trucks loaded with aid supplies were practically empty, the fate of the armored personnel carriers (APCs) was less clear as they proceeded across the Ukrainian frontier at a breach in the border fence. Ukrainian claims to have destroyed part of this column of APCs were dismissed as “fantasies” by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov. He denied the invasion occurred, but reporters for the UK Guardian newspaper claimed over 20 vehicles crossed the border.

The incursion comes at a time when Russian-backed rebel forces have lost their advantage in the fighting, routed from the countryside and generally holed up within the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. Putin’s dreams of restoring the old Soviet empire might begin in Ukraine, but after the Crimean annexation this spring he’s finding Ukrainian resistance more stout. Ukraine perceived the humanitarian convoy as a Trojan horse and stopped it.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration finally got around to admitting that Russia is testing the R-500 cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) prohibiting cruise missiles with a range from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Unfortunately, while that information was known in classified circles for years, it was withheld from the Senate as they debated and passed New START in 2010. The White House had a “reset” to maintain, after all.

“We are asking Russia to return to compliance with the [INF] treaty in a verifiable manner,” said Rose Gottemoeller, a State Department official charged with arms control and international security. As The Wall Street Journal opined last week, “Arms control … works when it isn’t needed among U.S. friends, but it fails with adversaries who can’t be trusted.” Obviously, the State Department forgot to “trust but verify.”

Furthermore, both Russia and China are developing anti-satellite space warfare weapons as well, Gottemoeller added. That’s proof of the level of trust both nations deserve.

While Barack Obama is vacationing and golfing, though, one congressman is demanding action. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, introduced a bill that would penalize Russia for the INF violations as well as authorize development of our own intermediate-range missiles and install ground-based missile interceptors in Europe.

Barack Obama has had what’s described as a “working vacation” and returned to Washington Sunday night for one day of meetings with Joe Biden and other advisers before resuming his holiday on Martha’s Vineyard. There’s no denying we’re in the midst of an Obama tenure that’s been shooting bogeys on key foreign policy issues, and our enemies have taken notice.

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