During the Cold War, the US and Russia faced each other in different ways. The Russian Federation is starting some of those old games, partly because it wants to show it can push the United States around. The near collision in the Philippine sea falls in that category. So are the intercepts by the US Air Force of Russian bombers.
These games are dangerous, but they are yet one more escalation from the war in the shadows, one that President Donald Trump seems oddly not preoccupied with. It is almost as if the goal of the present president is not to confront Vladimir Putin, who did put his finger on the scale of the 2016 election. How do we know? Not only did the first part of the Mueller Report tell us this, but Putin said that yes, he preferred Trump during the Helsinki summit.
So why is the Russian Federation going back to its old games? Putin has seen very little pushback from the present administration. There are some strategic goals for the Russian Federation that fit this. The first is a tightening alliance with China. Incidentally, as a Russian destroyer was heading on a collision course with an American vessel, Putin and Xi Jinping are meeting at this time. This was hardly a coincidence.
This does not mean that the Russians are trying to blame the United States. The video released by the US Navy shows the Russian vessel was going at speed. If there were a collision, people on both vessels would have been killed. This includes the Russian sailors sunning themselves on the fantail.
Loss of life is not that much of a concern when you want to emphasize that you will harass the United Staes, for an ally. This, and I am hardly the only one seeing this pattern, is likely the message sent. It is not the Russians harassing in their area of clear influence. This is where the Chinese have a clear sphere of influence. Both China and the Russian Federation want to bring the United States down a few notches. It would be great if the Navy decided the risk of patrols in the Western Pacific was no longer worth the risk. For China, a rising western Pacific power, this is a goal: To drive the US of those waters.
Russia would not mind either, and right now the two countries are increasingly working together. They see the United States as a common enemy that needs to be brought down a few pegs. In other words, we are in the midst of a new Cold War. The United States still seem unable to understand that a reset in US-Russia relations is not going to happen anytime soon. Why? As much as Vladimir Putin says he wants better relations, he does under his terms. They include the United States leaving what he considers essential areas of influence.
This is something that Hillary Clinton understood far better than Donald Trump ever will. This is the reason for the Russians putting their finger on the scale of the American 2016 elections. The encounter on the high seas the other day is part of that continuum. Russia is ready to provoke the United States in ways that would be very familiar to American sailors who sailed the seven seas during the Cold War. These games are also very familiar to Air Force crews who intercepted Russian nuclear bombers in Alaska during that time. The buzzing of Navy ships is not new, just not done for a few years.
We are entering very dangerous times. It will require a steady hand, who understands the risks posed by a resurgent Russian Federation, and to a greater extent China. Both practice a form of asymmetrical warfare that will test the West, and the US in particular.
Jim Sciutto details a lot of this in The Shadow War. If you are not familiar with the rising threat, the book provides an extremely good primer. If you are more familiar, it is a good reminder of where we are. Suffice to say, the present administration in Washington is precisely the wrong people to face the threat. The president is seemingly incapable of dealing with any of this.
I will add. Trump is just an extreme example of this. Since at least 2000 American administrations, risk-averse that they are, have refused to confront an ascendant Russian Federation. The first test did not come with a cyber arrack in Estonia. It actually came in South Ossetia, in the Republic of Georgia. That was a failure from the second Bush administration. Estonia was a stand back. Then came Crimea and Ukraine, under the Obama Administration.
Trump has been a continuum in that lack of action. Moreover, Russian companies have indirectly rewarded American politicians for this. Russell investing heavily in an aluminum smelter in Kentucky is part of it. Incidentally, that facility will provide goods for the Department of Defense. If this is not raising alarm bells in DC, I don’t know what will. Nor is this a partisan issue. Or at least it should not be.
Will we see more Cold War games in the high seas? Yes. Is the framing from the Navy that this reflects less than professional Russian Sailors? I guess that is a nice way of putting it for the home front. However, what we are facing are increasing provocations.these were likely authorized at very high levels. They are not a product of bad navigation or piloting. Russians are testing the limits of less than kinetic force. Granted, a miscalculation could lead to armed conflict. They want us out of their areas of influence in a multipolar world, without firing a shot.