Russia has ‘grand designs’ on European domination, Mike Pompeo says

(ABC News 14 February 2019) These comments from America’s top diplomat come amid heightened tensions between the West and Russia, as both Washington and Moscow have pulled out of a Cold-War-era treaty designed to limit nuclear cruise missiles.

In Poland, Mr Pompeo said Moscow’s efforts to divide the European Union, NATO and disrupt western democracies, must be countered through boosting NATO’s presence.

“Russia’s invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, its unprovoked attack on Ukrainian naval vessels this past November and its ongoing hybrid warfare against us and our allies are direct challenges to our security and to our way of life.”

Mr Pompeo made the comments while visiting a NATO forward position in northeast Poland about 70 kilometres from the border with the Russian province of Kaliningrad—a territory wedged between Poland and Lithuania.

Because of Russia’s ongoing involvement in Ukraine, the US and others take seriously the possibility that Moscow may try to open a new front along Europe’s eastern flank, Mr Pompeo said.

Pompeo announces suspension of nuclear arms treaty with Russia

(CNN 1 February 2019) Washington—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Friday that the US is suspending the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key pact with Russia that has been a centerpiece of European security since the Cold War.

“For years, Russia has violated the terms of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty without remorse,” Pompeo said, speaking from the State Department. “Russia’s violations put millions of Europeans and Americans at greater risk.”

“It is our duty to respond appropriately,” Pompeo said, adding that the US had provided “ample time” for Russia to return to compliance.

“We are heading into a direction we have not been in in 40 years: no arms control limits or rules that we are both following, and that is very dangerous,” said Lynn Rusten, a senior director for arms control and non-proliferation at the National Security Council during the Obama administration who is now a vice president at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

US officials and lawmakers have expressed concern that the treaty is allowing China to gain a military advantage, as Beijing is not bound by the INF treaty’s limits on intermediate range missiles that currently constrain the US.

European officials discussing the fallout in the coming months point to a possible increase in Russian cyber activities, including its influence campaigns, Russia is likely to use the US withdrawal as an excuse to deploy systems elsewhere and the certainty of finger-pointing, as Moscow works to assign blame.

“Russia will feel more legitimized to continue what it’s doing now, but also increasing some of its efforts on missile technology and deploying them,” said a European official.

A second European official said that “they will threaten, they will try to divide NATO, they’ll do anything but stay quiet.”

It’s Time to Stand Up to Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine

(Foreign Policy 18 January 2019) Five years ago, Russia rolled into Crimea, orchestrated a swift and one-sided referendum, and annexed the Ukrainian territory. The West was blindsided by the attack and slow to provide any response. As a result, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a second invasion of Ukrainian soil—this one in the country’s east. This attack met stronger resistance, and eventually the West swung into gear to push for a cease-fire and to impose sanctions on Russia. Yet the conflict rumbles on and has killed over 10,300 Ukrainians so far.

Today, the world is facing another challenge. Russia has seized unilateral control of the Kerch Strait, and the West has done nothing. This may tempt Putin—who is already massing forces—to seize even more Ukrainian territory, attempt to subvert the Ukrainian presidential election, or both.

U.S. President Donald Trump is right to say that Putin took Crimea and the West did nothing. But now that Putin may have bigger designs, what will Trump do?

On Nov. 25, 2018, Russian Coast Guard vessels fired on Ukrainian naval ships in international waters in the Black Sea, damaging the vessels and wounding a handful of Ukrainian sailors. Russia then took possession of the ships and imprisoned the sailors.

Putin’s tactics follow a familiar pattern: identify an opportunity to advance his view of Russian interests, mount a limited military operation to exploit that opportunity, and see whether it provokes any serious international condemnation or military response. If not, up the stakes and expand the operation.

In the nearly two months since Russia attacked the Ukrainian naval vessels, there has been almost no international response. As a result, Russia may believe it will face little resistance to further attacks on Ukrainian territory or territorial waters…

Trump’s withdrawal from Syria is victory for Iran and Russia, experts say

(NBC News 20 December 2018) WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria will be hailed as a victory in Russia and Iran and a betrayal among Kurdish and Arab opposition forces that have waged a seven-year war against the Damascus regime, experts and former officials say.

But with Trump’s move to pull out the U.S. troops, Russia and particularly Iran—which sent thousands of proxies and its own elite forces into Syria—stand to emerge as the dominant players in a country that shares a border with Israel.

Trump opted to withdraw U.S. troops despite opposition from nearly every member of his national security team. In an indication of the chaotic, last-minute nature of the move, top lawmakers, administration officials and foreign allies were blindsided by the announcement. Even the U.S. special envoy for Syria, Joel Rayburn, was caught off guard, and had to cancel his attendance at a private event Wednesday morning in Syria just a few minutes in advance, said a source familiar with the matter.

The withdrawal, if carried out, will “provide Iran with solid control over the entire arc of the Levant from Baghdad to Beirut,” said Nicholas Heras, Middle East security fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank.