Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he was rebuilding Russia’s military might as he aggressively sought to restore fear of Moscow during a decade of saber rattling and spending on conventional and nuclear modernization. In actuality, he simply awoke the sleeping giant. Now, Moscow is desperate to put the genie back in the bottle, but it can’t under President Trump and his policies of making America’s military great again. The Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” buildup; history may not be repeating itself but it could by rhyming.
As always, if you want to understand what the Kremlin is thinking, watch the Russian press and the propaganda will tell you all that you need to know. In this case, state media outlets are screaming for the START Treaty to be renewed.
“Russia confirmed its readiness at the highest level to extend this treaty without any preconditions and, moreover, to do it urgently. This position remains in force,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov declared recently, wrote Russian state news agency TASS.
“It was officially brought to the notice of the American side by a diplomatic note at the end of last year in accordance with those statements, which the Russian president had earlier made on this score,” Ryabkov said.
The effort by the Russian side to influence American foreign policy on the nuclear issue is multifaceted and coordinated.
“New START is one of the most important and, unfortunately, one of the last agreements that not only regulate the amount of weapons but also provides for certain stability in Russia-US relations,” former Russian Ambassador to Washington Sergei Kislyak told the newspaper, added TASS. “This is why we are ready to extend it. The US, however, doesn’t have a clear view on the matter. It has been maneuvering, speaking about the need to engage China, though Beijing has already refused to do it,” he added.
Washington seems to be reveling in Moscow’s frustration and in no hurry to move forward, preferring to let the tension build as the possibility of a nuclear arms race, one Russia cannot afford, becomes more real. American negotiators want Russia’s help to bring China on board, which Washington sees as the real threat to U.S. security.
“Beijing has taken a position of principle; it will not join the treaty unless Russia and the US reduce their arsenals to a level close to that of China,” Leading Researcher with the Institute of International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations Viktor Mizin explained, added TASS.
President Putin has played a weak hand very well since he turned against the West during the George W. Bush administration and decided to put Russia first. Putin has used the threat (and reality) of Russian aggression to build support at home, strengthen Russia’s border regions which were damaged with the fall of the Soviet Union, and to restore Moscow’s influence on the world stage. The old adage goes something like this — even bad publicity is good publicity. Putin got the world’s attention.
But now the Kremlin, faced with Trump’s very real threat to massively invest in America’s deterrence, now has to sustain the possibly unsustainable — compete in an arms race restarted by its own actions. Just as the Syria campaign is becoming an expensive expedition as the war drags on and Turkey enters the fray, building out and maintaining the next generation of nuclear force may not be something the Kremlin is capable of in the long run, at least with regard to engineering a successful outcome for Russian policy, as oil prices decline and Russia faces a severe demographic decline.
Even the Washington Post, a propaganda outlet which never fails to take the position which opposes the best outcome for the American people, crowed in a recent editorial — “Putin wants to extend arms control. What’s Trump waiting for?”
And therein lies the brilliance of President Trump as a foreign policy negotiator…Russia, and the world, is afraid he might actually do what he said he would do — make America great again.
L Todd Wood is a USAFA grad, former tier one special operations helicopter pilot, and emerging market debt trader, who has conducted business in over 50 countries. He is a former national security columnist for The Washington Times, and has contributed to Fox Business, National Review, Breitbart, The Moscow Times, Zero Hedge, Newsmax and others.