Russia’s military right now is on high alert, in the middle of a five-day snap-inspection in the lead up to next week’s massive war games there with Mongolia and China — the largest such military exercise involving Russia since the end of the Cold War.
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called the upcoming Vostok-2018 war games “unprecedented in scale, both in terms of area of operations and numbers of military command structure, troops and forces involved.”
This is only the latest development in increasing U.S. tensions with Moscow over the last two years.
Just this week, Facebook and Microsoft all announced they’d shut down or seized hundreds of “inauthentic” accounts and domains associated with the Russian military. Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential elections also remains the subject of a federal investigation, and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a range of new weapons in March, including underwater nuclear drones.
China, which is sending roughly 3,200 troops to the exercises, has also been aggressively expanding its military program.
A Pentagon report last week outlined the new technologies and strategies being employed by a country that is also in the throes a major — and escalating — trade war with the United States. The Trump administration has slapped tariffs on Chinese imports and suggested potential secondary sanctions over Beijing’s refusal to stop buying Iranian oil after Trump’s sanctions on Iranian oil are reimposed in November.
Indeed, Russia and China have improved their relationships in trade and security in recent months, with increasing the number of these military exercises (which has been on a steady uptick since 2012) and progressively expanding their scope.
Analysts have long worried the Trump administration’s adversarial stance on China and inconsistent stance on Russia — deemed as a threat in the president’s National Security Strategy, but treated with deference in many ways — will serve to bring the two giants of the east closer together, causing an east-west bifurcation.
The Trump administration’s relationship with Russia and its strategy to a country that is deemed a “competitor” in both Trump’s Nationals Defense Strategy as well as the Nuclear Posture Review has troubled lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
President Trump has spoken fondly of President Putin, even calling for Russia to be allowed back into NATO (from which it was booted after its illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea) shortly before meeting with Putin in Helsinki in July. Since then, the Senate has been trying to figure out what the two men said or agreed upon in that closed doors meeting, only to be repeatedly stonewalled by the administration.
On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and Banking Committee held simultaneous hearing on U.S.-Russia relations, the former trying to figure out what the Trump administration’s Russia strategy is, the latter hoping for answers on whether Putin had any financial assets in the United States.
The Banking Committee came away almost entirely empty-handed:
The SFRC also failed to get anything tangible out of its two witnesses other than the strategy on Russia abeing sanctions (and maybe more sanctions).
What it did glean was that that at no point in Helsinki did Trump and Putin agree to a timeline on negotiating two key weapons treaties: START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
In the context of weapons development in Russia, which is increasingly working in concert with China, this is especially unsettling to disarmament advocates.