Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Yes, North Korea definitely remains a front-burner issue, but Russia, with which the United States has never had what one would call warm relations, is presenting us with an array of gestures that arguably rise to the level of crisis.

There's this:

Russia's deputy foreign minister has cancelled a scheduled meeting with Thomas A. Shannon Jr., the under secretary of State for political affairs, the State Department said Wednesday.
Shannon, who is currently meeting with U.K. officials in London, was set to meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov in St. Petersburg on Friday.
According to the AP, Ryabkov said in a statement that "the situation is not conducive to holding a round of this dialogue" with the U.S. 
“We regret that Russia has decided to turn away from an opportunity to discuss bilateral obstacles that hinder U.S.-Russia relations,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement. “We would refer you to the Russian government to explain their decision to cancel this meeting. From our perspective, and as Secretary [Rex] Tillerson has made clear, there are many issues to be discussed. We remain open to future discussions.”

The announcement that Ryabkov would not meet with Shannon came a day after the U.S. Treasury Department added 38 individuals and entities, including two Russian government officials, to its list of those facing sanctions for Russian intervention in Ukraine and Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The decision to widen the list came as President Trump met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the White House.

Nauert defended the sanctions on Wednesday, saying that penalties were in line with longstanding U.S. policy and should not have come as a surprise to the Kremlin.

"Let’s remember that these sanctions didn’t just come out of nowhere," she said. "Our targeted sanctions were imposed in response to Russia’s ongoing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbor, Ukraine."
And, as we mentioned in the roundup this morning, this:

Russia’s defense ministry said Monday that, as a result of the U.S. shooting down the Syrian warplane, it would no longer abide by the 2015 U.S.-Russia “deconfliction” agreement, which was “aimed at minimizing the risk of inflight incidents among coalition and Russian aircraft operating in Syrian airspace.”
“From now on, in areas where Russian aviation performs combat missions in the skies of Syria, any air-born objects found west of the Euphrates River, including aircraft and unmanned vehicles belonging to the international coalition, tracked by means of Russian land and air anti-aircraft defense, will be considered air targets,” a statement from the Russian defense ministry read, according to CNN.
Russian foreign defense minister Sergei Ryabkov also accused the U.S. of helping terrorists by shooting down the Syrian plane.
And this:

 . . . on Monday, an armed Russian Su-27 fighter approached within five feet of an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane in the Baltic Sea.  This was the most dangerous of 35 similar incidents in the area since the beginning of June.  It is also consistent with escalating Russian interceptions of U.S. aircraft in other regions, particularly the Black Sea and off the coast of Alaska.
Pretty much puts the lie to the notion that the Trump administration is cozy with the Putin regime.

There is some solace in the fact that Russia and the US have a history of skilled backing away from the precipice. Remember the stakes everybody, and do what you can to ratchet this down.

UPDATE: A Wired article entitled "How an Entire Nation Became Russia's Test Lab for Cyber War" reveals much about Putin-era Russia's character.

The Cyber-Cassandras said this would happen. For decades they warned that hackers would soon make the leap beyond purely digital mayhem and start to cause real, physical damage to the world. In 2009, when the NSA’s Stuxnet malware silently accelerated a few hundred Iranian nuclear centrifuges until they destroyed themselves, it seemed to offer a preview of this new era. “This has a whiff of August 1945,” Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, said in a speech. “Somebody just used a new weapon, and this weapon will not be put back in the box.”
Now, in Ukraine, the quintessential cyberwar scenario has come to life. Twice. On separate occasions, invisible saboteurs have turned off the electricity to hundreds of thousands of people. Each blackout lasted a matter of hours, only as long as it took for scrambling engineers to manually switch the power on again. But as proofs of concept, the attacks set a new precedent: In Russia’s shadow, the decades-old nightmare of hackers stopping the gears of modern society has become a reality.

And the blackouts weren’t just isolated attacks. They were part of a digital blitzkrieg that has pummeled Ukraine for the past three years—a sustained cyber­assault unlike any the world has ever seen. A hacker army has systematically undermined practically every sector of Ukraine: media, finance, transportation, military, politics, energy. Wave after wave of intrusions have deleted data, destroyed computers, and in some cases paralyzed organizations’ most basic functions. “You can’t really find a space in Ukraine where there hasn’t been an attack,” says Kenneth Geers, a NATO ambassador who focuses on cybersecurity.

In a public statement in December, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, reported that there had been 6,500 cyberattacks on 36 Ukrainian targets in just the previous two months. International cybersecurity analysts have stopped just short of conclusively attributing these attacks to the Kremlin, but Poroshenko didn’t hesitate: Ukraine’s investigations, he said, point to the “direct or indirect involvement of secret services of Russia, which have unleashed a cyberwar against our country.” (The Russian foreign ministry didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.)

To grasp the significance of these assaults—and, for that matter, to digest much of what’s going on in today’s larger geopolitical disorder—it helps to understand Russia’s uniquely abusive relationship with its largest neighbor to the west. Moscow has long regarded Ukraine as both a rightful part of Russia’s empire and an important territorial asset—a strategic buffer between Russia and the powers of NATO, a lucrative pipeline route to Europe, and home to one of Russia’s few accessible warm-water ports. For all those reasons, Moscow has worked for generations to keep Ukraine in the position of a submissive smaller sibling.
While one motive is Russia's refusal to accept that, since the breakup of the USSR, Ukraine is a sovereign nation charting its own way in the world, this kind of funny business has a larger purpose we ought to take heed of:

Yushchenko, who ended up serving as Ukraine’s president from 2005 to 2010, believes that Russia’s tactics, online and off, have one single aim: “to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, to make its government look incompetent and vulnerable.” He lumps the blackouts and other cyberattacks together with the Russian disinformation flooding Ukraine’s media, the terroristic campaigns in the east of the country, and his own poisoning years ago—all underhanded moves aimed at painting Ukraine as a broken nation. “Russia will never accept Ukraine being a sovereign and independent country,” says Yushchenko, whose face still bears traces of the scars caused by dioxin toxicity. “Twenty-­five years since the Soviet collapse, Russia is still sick with this imperialistic syndrome.”
But many global cybersecurity analysts have a much larger theory about the endgame of Ukraine’s hacking epidemic: They believe Russia is using the country as a cyberwar testing ground—a laboratory for perfecting new forms of global online combat. And the digital explosives that Russia has repeatedly set off in Ukraine are ones it has planted at least once before in the civil infrastructure of the United States. 
Russia really doesn't cloak its aims in any kind of ideology anymore. It's just emblematic of a mindset we see a lot throughout human history: nation-states, kingdoms and empires behaving aggressively because they feel their inherent greatness entitles them to.


  1. This is how World Wars get started. Are you ready for the heady days ahead watching it all come down? Hmm, a scant 120 days after this strong Christian man, the glory and power of the fundies took over as CIC. Cheer for Armageddon. Will u be rapturized. Ever y body must get stoned..,,

  2. Is there a point to your comment?

  3. Yes. This is how World Wars get started.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Well, that's certainly true. A large, aggressive nation-state with aspirations to empire finally violates the international order one too many times, and an alliance quickly forms to curb its aims.

    But what "fundies" have to do with Trump - does he have any among his close advisers or White House staff? - or what role he has in this, or what everybody getting stoned has to do with the alarming uptick in Russia's aggression escapes me.

  6. You do too know what fundies have to do with Trump. They are the main reason Trump got elected. They are largely still giddy over him. See Dylan tune for multiple defs of stone.