From Russia with love

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Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to employees of the Almazov National Medical Center in St.Petersburg, Russia, Friday, March 16, 2018. (Anatoly Maltsev/Pool Photo via AP)

The year was 1989. The Berlin Wall fell, Communism gasped its last breath, and hundreds of demonstrators poured into the streets of East Germany. In Dresden, crowds stormed the stronghold of the Stasi and the KGB. One man stepped out to face the mob: Vladimir Putin. Requesting backup, he was told, “Moscow is silent.” Helpless, Putin watched the Soviet Union dissolve before his very eyes.

Fast-forward to 2018. Now President, Vladimir Putin is rebuilding Russian power, and in doing so, threatens the security of America, Europe and the Middle East. Only two weeks ago, a former Russian spy was assassinated in Salisbury, England. The cause of death? A horror born from the labs of the Cold War–the nerve agent Novichok. Just three days earlier, Putin announced several additions to Russia’s military arsenal. Ranging from hypersonic cruise missiles to nuclear-tipped warheads, these programs are meant to deter NATO action in Europe, and to challenge America’s Aegis missile defense systems deployed in Romania and Japan. But let’s take a step back. The use of a banned chemical agent, and the escalation in Russian arms development, both need some context. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, perpetuating the conflict between Ukrainian “rebels” and the Ukrainian government, and uses its covert intelligence groups to hack ministries in France and Germany, and the DNC in America. Putting it all together, it is clear that Russia is a security threat to mainland Europe and the United States. Putin learned his lesson in 1989. Moscow is no longer silent.

Just look at the Syrian Civil War, now in its seventh year. It has reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble, and razed cities to the ground. Why? Because of regional competition, played out by any number of guns for hire. Turkey seeks to suppress the Kurdish forces, Syrian President Bashar-al Assad will do anything to stay in power, Iran is looking to expand its influence, the U.S. is fighting ISIS while attempting to avoid a drawn-out war, and Russia is becoming the broker-in-chief for Turkey, Iran, and Assad. But recently, Russia has become much more brazen. On Feb. 7, a Kurdish-held oilfield northeast of the Euphrates River was attacked by Russian mercenaries, contracted to the Wagner Group. American artillery fire decimated the attackers. Reports estimate anywhere from 200-600 Wagner casualties. The fact that Russia felt confident enough to cross the Euphrates and enter the U.S. area of operations is cause for concern. And who orchestrated the attack? Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of the thirteen Russians indicted as part of Robert Muellers’s ongoing investigation.

In the face of Russia’s resurgence, how should the international community act? Sanctions are the go-to response, and indeed were implemented three days ago by President Trump.  Similarly, the U.K. chose to expel 23 Russian diplomats after the nerve attack in Salisbury. But sanctions and expulsions pale in comparison to an annexation, proxy wars on two continents, using a banned nerve agent, escalating an arms race and cyber warfare. On the other hand, military responses risk full-blown war. The strategy adopted by affected countries must be cohesive. Good strategy, especially when it involves multiple nations and spans multiple regions, requires good diplomacy. Too bad the U.S. State Department faces a shortage of funding, lacks personnel in several key posts, and just had a major shakeup with Secretary of State Tillerson being replaced by former CIA director Mike Pompeo. And who will replace Pompeo at the CIA? Gina Haspel, who oversaw the torture of prisoners at a black site in Thailand, and then destroyed documentation of that torture. In short, it sure doesn’t look like cohesion and communication are being emphasized, so much as coercion and conflict. That’s simply not good enough. To quote Secretary of Defense Mattis, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.” Well Mr. Secretary, get ready to buy some bullets. Diplomacy is dead in America, and the Russians send their regards.


Shankara Narayana is a contributor for The Daily Campus. They can be reached via email at shankara.narayana@uconn.edu .
 

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