The Trump administration has successfully managed to replace Russia with China in the ongoing narrative of election hacking and economic and geopolitical aggression, a shift that was underlined by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Tuesday morning when she declared that China was engaged in an “unprecedented effort” to “influence American Opinions”. But just because Russia has lost its place as the primary object of election hacking doesn’t change the reality that the US is enmeshed in a modern redux of the Cold War as the US and Russia threaten to leave longstanding arms control treaties amid a scramble to develop next-generation weapons like the hypersonic missile.
And as Russian and US diplomats met in Geneva on Wednesday to try and settle a dispute pertaining to a watershed arms control agreement called the INF (which each side has accused the other of violating), one senior Russian official warned that the ongoing hostilities between the two nuclear superpowers risked unraveling the decades-old arms control regime in its entirety.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said during an interview with the Financial Times that “complete malfunction of the American system” meant key treaties could lapse and leave nuclear powers “without constraint in the event of a conflict.”
In recognition of Russia’s annoyance at being accused of trying to assassinate former intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Ryabkov dismissed allegations that Russia tried to hack the Netherlands-based headquarters of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, saying these accusations would only further increase tensions.
Mr Ryabkov said Moscow would not be swayed by Dutch, British and US claims that its agents had also sought to hack into the computer network of The Hague-based Office for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons as it investigated the attack on Mr Skripal.
“If some believe that this makes an impression on Russia and somehow causes Russia to hesitate, then that is a very wrong conclusion. On the contrary, a consolidated effort to pressurise Russia only diminishes chances of any real engagement towards resolution,” he said.
While the US media blasted Trump for purportedly looking “weak” next to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting earlier this year, Ryabkov asserted that any good will fostered by the summit was immediately squandered when the US posed another round of sanctions over the summer. These sanctions are dangerous, Ryabkov said, because they are getting in the way of negotiations over renewing the ‘New START’ treaty, which is set to expire in 2021. That treaty saw both sides agree to reduce their deployed nuclear arms by half.
But any signs of an opening with the Trump administration following the meeting quickly evaporated, Mr Ryabkov said. The administration imposed additional sanctions on Russia in August for breaching the international chemical weapons convention and the US Congress is considering further penalties over election interference.
“Even the very initial, even rudimentary sign of prospects of continuous dialogue were immediately torpedoed by those who don’t believe in any future of the American-Russian relationship,” said Mr Ryabkov. “We have a situation that is much, much worse than even during the most heated moments, or rather the coldest moments, of the past.”
Meanwhile, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that was adopted in the 1990s (though it was never formally adopted by the US Senate) is already a lost cause.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, agreed in 1996 but still not ratified by the US Senate, was “already lost,” he said.
Mr Ryabkov brushed aside suggestions that Russia’s reputation had taken a damaging hit in the west over the Skripal affair.
As of now, Russia doesn’t see the West as merely a rival – it sees the West as an adversary.
“We do not believe that the broader west…are friends with us. Rather, we see the west as an adversary that acts to undermine Russia’s positions and Russia’s perspective for normal development,” he said. “So why should we care so much about our standing among adversaries?”
As Express reminds us, Russian President Vladimir Putin has already unveiled a range of prototype nuclear and hypersonic weapons that he said could evade Nato ABM defenses in Europe. These weapons include a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear powered underwater drone, and a hypersonic missile that can be deployed by a nuclear submarine. The US is testing a hypersonic missile, but it’s not expected to be ready until 2021, while Russia expects to deploy its hypersonic weapons one year earlier.
But even if Russia and the US allow ‘New START’ and the rest of the arms control framework to expire, to some extent, it doesn’t really matter: Because the next generation of weapons will be able to easily surpass the ABM defenses that have been a hallmark of containment in Europe and Asia since the Cold War.