Illustrating the hard and limited options President Obama has for protesting Russia's occupation of Ukrainian territory, the Defense Department announced Monday it will cancel all military-to-military engagements with Russia.
The decision to end cooperation with Vladimir Putin's government comes as his troops gather on the Ukrainian border and inside the Crimean Peninsula. It also undermines a long-time U.S. policy objective to deepen engagement with Russia's military and security agencies.
Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement Monday night that "in light of recent events in Ukraine" the Pentagon has "put on hold all military-to-military engagements between the United States and Russia." Kirby said this would include "exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences."
The White House has already canceled preparations for a G8 Economic Summit scheduled for June in Sochi, Russia the site of last month's Winter Olympics. The Daily Beast reported Sunday that Obama is also canceling a series of bilateral meetings with Russia and was preparing tailored economic sanctions against Russian officials.
But the decision for the Pentagon to freeze the U.S. relationship with Russia undermines key U.S. policy for years to strengthen ties with its Cold War adversary. As Real Admiral Kirby pointed out the "Department of Defense finds value in the military-to-military relationship with the Russian Federation we have developed over the past few years to increase transparency, build understanding, and reduce the risk of military miscalculation we have."
This burgeoning relationship has meant that in recent years U.S. military inspectors have been able to access Russian nuclear weapons storage facilities, Russian chemical stockpiles and scientific institutes affiliated with a suspected Soviet era biological weapons program because of arms control agreements.
In 2009, President Obama created a presidential level commission with Russia that has facilitated the interaction between the heads of the U.S. and Russian militaries and civilian defense officials as well.
"For the moment this certainly puts on hold, or has reset, the arms control agenda with respect for our Russian friends," said Thomas Moore, a former senior Republican professional staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.