To understand why a Trump-Russia connection matters, we need to look past Trump’s tweets, possible collusion and the Mueller investigation, and ask: “why is Russia a threat to the United States?”
In a post-9/11 world where the United States emerged from the Cold War as the victor against the Soviet Union, the view of many Americans is that Russia is a defeated and defanged former enemy. But is that true? As we witnessed in the 2016 presidential elections, Russian intent and success in interfering in the election remains center stage. But was Russia’s 2016 effort to influence and/or disrupt the U.S. election an isolated act? Or, as Mitt Romney suggested in 2012, is Russia “our number one geopolitical foe” that will “fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors.”
A pattern of Russian aggression can be drawn starting with its 2008 invasion and occupation of Georgia. It is a pattern that adds context to Russia’s 2016 election interference campaign. Once we examine that pattern, we see a picture of escalating Russian aggression.
August 2008—During the Beijing Olympics, Russia invades Georgia, an occupation that continues today.
June 2010—The FBI arrests 10 “illegals,” some of whom were receiving messages from Moscow, “to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in U.S.”
October 2012—The FBI charges 11 with “illegally exporting high-tech microelectronics from the United States to Russian military and intelligence agencies.”
March 2014—Russia annexes Crimea from Ukraine, and vetoes a U.S.-backed UN Security Council resolution calling for the “territorial integrity of Ukraine” is vetoed by Russia. Reports suggest that Russia is attempting to hide casualties from Donbas.
March 2014—Malaysian Airlines flight 77 is shot down over Ukraine, killing all 289 crew and passengers. The Dutch Safety Board (DSB) concludes that airliner was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine, and then returned after the shoot-down carrying one less missile. In 2015, Malaysia, a member of UN Security Council, introduced a resolution to create a tribunal to investigate the crash. The resolution was vetoed by Russia.
September 2015—Russian military forces arrive in Syria and continue to back Bashar al-Assad who has used barrel bombs and chemical weapons to kill civilians. Russia has increasingly been using “contractors” to support and fight for Assad in Syria and in 2018 several were killed in clash with U.S. forces.
April 2016—The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDFT ) scrambled its fighter jets 1,168 times in fiscal year 2016, 301 times in response to Russian military aircraft—numbers that are near Cold War levels.
April 2016—Russian fighter jets make aggressive low passes at the USS Cook, a Navy destroyer operating in the Baltic Sea. This is the second time the USS Cook was targeted by fighter jets while operating in the Baltic Sea, when in 2014 Russian forces carried out a simulated missile attack on the destroyer.
November 2016—Russia attempts to interfere in U.S. presidential election which, according to a 2017 U.S. intelligence community assessment, found that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”
April 2017—Russia’s unveils newest Arctic military base known as the “Arctic Trefoil.” The base is latest addition to Russia’s effort to monitor waters off its Arctic coast and gives it a permanent presence in the region backing its territorial claims to the North Pole. The focus on the Arctic by Russia coincides with an increase of military drills in the Arctic including flying jets toward the United States and even conducting a submarine ballistic missile launch.
2018—13 Russians and three companies were indicted by special counsel Bob Mueller for a long-running scheme to criminally interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
2018—Estonia, a member of NATO and the EU, reveals that it has arrested and convicted 10 Russian spies.
- In 2017, a video is released of a spy swap between Estonia and Russia.
2018—Russia launches new RS-28 Sarmat ICBM
- In announcement of the missile launch by President Putin a video was shown with warheads falling on an area resembling the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
2018 Attempted poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer in the U.K.
- Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “highly likely” that Moscow was responsible for poisoning former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
- May said that the poison used to target both Scripals was from the Russian-made nerve agent group novichok.
2018—Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia declares that if the U.S. strikes Russian troops in Syria he cannot exclude war between Washington and Moscow.
2018—Russian Su-27 fighter jet performs an “unprofessional” intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance plane flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.
This chain of events, much of it predating the Mueller investigation, reveals a pattern of escalation by Russia, peaking with Russia’s decision to directly confront the United States in 2016. It is a trend that both President Bush and Obama’s administrations failed to slow, and it is a trend that will continue as long as Trump refuses to even speak ill of Vladimir Putin.
Russia still classifies the United States as its main adversary. We need a policy that acknowledges the threat they pose, not one that rewards them by avoiding confrontation. It is a time to consider Romney’s warning in a new light and to prioritize Russia as a serious threat. We need a policy that directs the military and intelligence community to detect, deter, and destroy any actions aimed at destabilizing the United States. Without such a policy, there is no reason to believe that Russia’s continued aggression and expansion will abate on its own.