A New Cold War? Yes And No

Soviet T-72 tanks parade in Moscow's Red Square, November 7, 1983
Soviet T-72 tanks parade in Moscow’s Red Square, November 7, 1983 (Thomas Hedden)

Shirley Bassey reminds us that we all come full circle sometimes:

The word is about, there’s something evolving
Whatever may come, the world keeps revolving
They say the next big thing is here
That the revolution’s near
But to me it seems quite clear
That it’s all just a little bit of history repeating

Tension between the United States and North Korea, Russian involvement in Western elections, talk of a nuclear arms race and the use of phrases like “disinformation” — the present day has an aura of déjà vu. Like we’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, to paraphrase Ms Bassey.

Many are referring to our time as another Cold War. As an historian, I can’t help but wonder if this is an appropriate comparison? Read more “A New Cold War? Yes And No”

What’s the Point in Talking to Putin?

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Voronezh, August 5, 2014 (Kremlin)

If Donald Trump is hoping a good talk with Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany on Friday will sort out East-West relations, he is probably mistaken.

David Kramer, who served in the George W. Bush Administration, argues in The American Interest that dialogue means little if your partner is unreliable.

Why America and Russia Are Closer to Confrontation in Syria

American sailors direct an EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Atlantic Ocean, November 16, 2015
American sailors direct an EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Atlantic Ocean, November 16, 2015 (USN/L.A. Preston)

Russia has suspended a military hotline it maintained with the United States to avoid clashes in Syria and warned that it may shoot down any “flying objects” west of the River Euphrates.

The escalation comes after an American fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday that was attacking rebel ground forces supported by the United States in the vicinity of the Tabqa Dam. Read more “Why America and Russia Are Closer to Confrontation in Syria”

Trump’s Team Was Desperate for Back Channel with Moscow

Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend, the American commander in Iraq, speaks with President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, in Baghdad, April 3
Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend, the American commander in Iraq, speaks with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, in Baghdad, April 3 (DoD/Dominique A. Pineiro)

The Washington Post reports that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of the president’s top advisors, proposed setting up a secret back channel with the Kremlin in December during a meeting that was also attended by General Michael Flynn.

According to The Post, Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, reported to Moscow in a cable that was intercepted by American spies that Kushner had suggested to him using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the back channel.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

You think? Read more “Trump’s Team Was Desperate for Back Channel with Moscow”

Why Russian Resets Keep Failing

Presidents Dmitri Medvedev of Russia, Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic and Barack Obama of the United States share a toast, Prague, April 8, 2010
Presidents Dmitri Medvedev of Russia, Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic and Barack Obama of the United States share a toast, Prague, April 8, 2010 (White House/Pete Souza)

In short, if it wasn’t one thing, it would have been another.

It didn’t have to have to be a gas attack. It could have been a stray Russian shell in some Ukrainian city, a dead exiled opposition leader on the streets of a Western capital city, a major hacking attack against a critical American target, a crucial NATO ally “flipped” by a Russian disinformation campaign or a released set of Trump e-mails.

It could have been Donald Trump waking up one day to realize the Russians aren’t interested in destroying the Islamic State so long as IS distracts the Americans and grinds down anti-Assad rebels.

It could have been when Trump tried to rally Moscow to support a new round of sanctions or military threats against North Korea.

Perhaps Trump’s bromance might have ended with a shooting incident over Finnish skies or maybe he’d have changed his mind if Russian troops showed up in Libya to prop up Moscow’s increasingly favorited local strongman, Khalifa Haftar.

The fact is, on a long enough timeline, he would have changed his mind or faced an all-out revolt from his cabinet, his generals and his party. Read more “Why Russian Resets Keep Failing”

Trump Builds Kleptocracy as Evidence of Russian Collusion Piles Up

Jared Kushner listens as his wife, Ivanka, speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and American president Donald Trump outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17
Jared Kushner listens as his wife, Ivanka, speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and American president Donald Trump outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Evidence of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians continues to pile up.

Previously, Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, was forced to step down for failing to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador in Washington, Sergei Kislyak.

Now we know both Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, met and spoke with Kislyak as well. We don’t know what they discussed.

We have also learned that Kushner — who is nominally in charge of everything from Israeli-Palestinian relations to government modernization — met with Sergei Gorkov, a former Russian spy and the head of Vnesheconombank. We have no idea what they talked about either. Read more “Trump Builds Kleptocracy as Evidence of Russian Collusion Piles Up”

Trump Seeks to Allay Russia Criticism with New Ambassador

Former ambassador Jon Huntsman gives a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, April 29, 2014
Former ambassador Jon Huntsman gives a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, April 29, 2014 (ImageLink Photography/Dennis Kan)

Former China ambassador Jon Huntsman is the latest Russia hawk to join the Donald Trump Administration.

If confirmed by the Senate, Huntsman would succeed John F. Tefft as the American ambassador in Moscow.

Other appointments sure to trouble the Kremlin include Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Advisor Herbert Raymond McMaster and the White House senior director for Europe and Russia, Fiona Hill. All have been critical of Vladimir Putin.

Their elevations may be a way for Trump to allay criticism of ties between his advisors and Russia. Read more “Trump Seeks to Allay Russia Criticism with New Ambassador”

It Seems Everybody Around Trump Was Talking to the Russians

Donald Trump
Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015 (Michael Vadon)

Was there anyone on Donald Trump’s campaign not talking to the Russians?

The latest news is that Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States in September, when he was serving as foreign-policy advisor on the presidential campaign.

We don’t know what the two discussed, but we do know that Sessions lied about the conversation taking place.

During his confirmation hearings, he was explicitly asked by senators if he had been in contact with Russians — any Russians — during the campaign. Sessions said “no”. Read more “It Seems Everybody Around Trump Was Talking to the Russians”

Trump Doesn’t Understand Why Deal with Russia Eludes Him

Donald Trump
Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015 (Michael Vadon)

Donald Trump blamed the news media on Thursday for making it impossible for him to do a deal with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

“Putin probably assumes that he can’t make a deal with me anymore, because politically it would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal,” the American leader said.

Trump is marred by allegations that Russia interfered in last year’s presidential election to help him. Read more “Trump Doesn’t Understand Why Deal with Russia Eludes Him”