Ominous Implications Lurk In Trump, Putin Nuclear Remarks As Russia Cyber Attacks Neighbor
Trump Statement Follows Putin On Nuclear Weapons
Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin and President-elect Donald Trump both made statements about their country’s nuclear arsenals on Thursday. Putin went first. According to the New York Times, Putin told an annual meeting of defense chiefs that Russia is “now” the strongest country,
“We can say with certainty: We are stronger now than any potential aggressor,” he told the meeting. “Anyone!”
He added that Russia nonetheless needs to upgrade its systems to be able to penetrate other nations’ defenses so that Russia will have the unhindered capacity to murder tens of millions with the push of a button,
“We need to enhance the combat capability of strategic nuclear forces, primarily by strengthening missile complexes that will be guaranteed to penetrate existing and future missile defense systems,”
Shortly thereafter, Trump tweeted,
“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”
Related: REPORT: Vladimir Putin And Donald Trump Make Eerie Simultaneous Call To Strengthen Nuclear Forces
Commentators have noted that the pair of statements signals a return to peak Cold War-type arms race and general dysfunction and distrust in bilateral relations between Russia and the US. But one thing no one seems to have noted is that the two statements are different kinds of statements. Russia signaled that its nuclear weapons systems are the best in the world but could be upgraded. Trump signaled that America’s are flagging. Putin showed strength and Trump showed weakness. Putin’s line that “We are stronger now than any potential aggressor” would only be a true statement if the US was no longer a “potential aggressor” because there’s a new situation “now.” Trump essentially agreed.
This is precisely the kind of thing that America’s allies are looking out for: indications of whether Trump will defend America’s alliances and traditional values abroad, or whether he will be Putin’s “useful idiot” as both former CIA director Michael Hayden and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have described Trump.
The apparent coming alignment of Putin and Trump comes at an alarming time for Europe. This week in Ukraine, power companies were knocked offline, plunging hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into darkness, Defense One reported. One company’s director said the company was “99 percent” certain that a hacking or cyber attack had taken out three substations. Officials later identified a shadowy Russian organization as the likely culprit.
The cyber attack coincides with renewed fighting in the east of Ukraine, where Russian backed separatists took over provinces following Russia’s “hybrid invasion” and annexation of Crimea. Putin’s hacking of the US election and his victory over the anti-Assad rebels in Aleppo, Syria have likely emboldened Russia. If Trump is truly Putin’s useful idiot, Russia will have free rein in Eastern Europe for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is not an EU or NATO member, although the EU was making political, economic and security inroads into the country until Russia invaded it in 2014. A united US/EU/NATO front convinced Russia to stop in Ukraine’s east. But if the US under Trump shows it won’t confront Russia, Putin may drive his tank’s on the nation’s capital, Kiev, in the spring of 2017.
If non-confrontation is what Trump is signaling, that the US is no longer a “potential aggressor” to Moscow, the major capitals of the European Union will go into panic mode. They are already staring down domestic existential crises. In 2017, France, Germany and the Netherlands have national elections, and far right populist parties, once fringe groups, have made major gains. Events like the reportedly ISIS-related truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 Monday will empower these parties further. And Europe is scrambling to try to secure their elections integrity after the apparently successful Russian interference in the American presidential election.
If Russia moves on western Ukraine before the elections, and if Trump doesn’t confront Putin, Putin may succeed in shattering the Western alliance into various factions next year. The European Union and NATO could begin to unravel. The influence of a far right white nationalist populist movement, with Putin as its north star and Trump as its most powerful disciple, could run rampant with virtually no powerful opposition, undermining democracy globally.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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