United States sending Vladimir Putin and Russia a message, “watch your step.”
Observers of President Trump on Russia need to look past the President’s comments and rhetoric and review his administration’s actions, subtle or otherwise.
The Trump administration has condemned Russia at the United Nations, demanded return of the Crimea and withdrawal from Ukraine, warned that sanctions will be maintain on Russia until they live up to their obligations, forward deployed American forces to Central Europe, and conducted a recent Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) test to send Russian President Putin a message.
In my recent post entitled, “Mr. Trudeau, Canada needs F-35s to deter Russian nuclear warfighting strategy,” we discussed Russian nuclear doctrine and violations of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Key to this issue is Russia’s secret deployment of the nuclear-capable, road-mobile, SSC-8 Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) with a range of 2000 kilometers, in violation of sections of the treaty. Now we likely have more proof of Russian nuclear cheating in the release of Iodine 131 first referenced in the atmosphere in Northern-most Norway. Since then it, has been found in the air in several countries in Europe. Iodine 131 is a product of a nuclear fission reaction and is either the product of a nuclear weapons test, or the leak or explosion of a nuclear reactor and took place in early to mid-January 2017. President Donald J. Trump was inaugurated on January 20th 2017, so the event occurred just prior to a change in government.
Now there is a nuclear reactor facility on the Kola Peninsula and there are lots of Russian nuclear powered submarines based in the region that could have faced a reactor problem. But the most likely source in the Russia’s Arctic is near the old Soviet era-nuclear test facility at Novaya Zemelya on the Arckhangelsk Oblast. The area is remote and a good place for a covert nuclear weapons test in violation of international obligations. There are unconfirmed reports that the United States is dispatching a ‘sniffer’ aircraft to the region to collect air samples which contain trace elements that are the product of nuclear fission and fusion explosions as has been done in the past with North Korea. Without question, the United States is likely reviewing satellite photos for telltale signs of a covert underground nuclear test. There will likely also be a review of seismic activity to look for signs of an earthquake which might actually be an underground nuclear test. Needless to say there will be a scanning of the electronic and signals intelligence of the United States and its allies including Canada for indications of a nuclear test.
Even in a controlled atmosphere like a nuclear reactor leak or explosion or a lost nuclear-powered warship there would be a press story. In a nuclear incident there is panic, and people would make noise that the intelligence services and the press would find and report on. But this has been very quiet. At the end of the day, there is the old intelligence test of what else could it be? Given Russian behavior, strategic interests, and the importance of its nuclear arsenal to its great power position in the world, it is very likely they are in the process of renewing their nuclear arsenal. Without its nuclear weapons, Russia is a Eurasian land-power with residual air and sea capability. With nuclear weapons and a modern strategic deterrent Russia is a great power and even demi-superpower. Given that Russia is modernizing all its military capabilities, it is not a stretch, knowing what we know, that they are renewing their nuclear forces to match their warfighting nuclear doctrine. The SSC-8 GLCM is certainly not being tested and deployed in isolation, there are likely other weapons in development.
Keep in mind President Trump has made several statements about renewing the United States nuclear deterrent and it now appears he has reason to make those assertions. There may well be a reason that the United States conducted a recent ICBM Test of a Minuteman III outside of Iran, North Korea and China. As they have put others on notice, the United States was sending Vladimir Putin and Russia a message, “watch your step.”