Opinion

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Guest Column

Stark Reality of U.S.-Russian Relations

Unlike Daines, I would approach U.S. relations with Russia in a way that is clear-eyed about the threat that Russia presents

In 2004, I represented COMSUBGRU EIGHT, a U.S. overseas flag command, at the BALTOPS exercise planning conference in Norfolk, Virginia, home of our country’s largest naval base. Among the audience was a cadre of Russian Federation officers, as Russia would be a participant in the exercise. What I presented caused somewhat of a stir: I suggested exploring the feasibility of a joint U.S.-Russian nuclear submarine exercise within the larger BALTOPS exercise framework.

Though U.S. and Russian ground forces had conducted joint exercises before, bringing together our nations’ strategic-level military assets had never happened. After all, each nation’s nuclear submarine force had been a fundamental leg of the “nuclear triad” that had helped keep the Cold War between the Soviet Union and America “cold,” averting war. The idea of such assets intermingling in an exercise in the Baltic Sea was a bold step with, potentially, deep impact.

Though a critic of today’s Russian Federation, I once believed in true rapprochement with Russia and contributed to that end. As a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman, I studied Russian literature – from Dostoevsky to Akhmatova – and the language. In the business sector, I was an engineer based in eastern Russia working on the largest foreign direct investment project in Russia. At the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), I was a post-command exercise manager, with Russia being a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. I’ve traveled to Russia many times, from St. Petersburg to Moscow to Sakhalin Island – though never to meet with Russia’s foreign minister for inexplicable reasons on July 4, after Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, as U.S. Senator Daines.

Unlike Daines, I would approach U.S. relations with Russia in a way that is clear-eyed about the threat that Russia presents to America and the world. I would support our intelligence agencies, with whom I’ve worked, and rebuke efforts to politicize their conclusions.

America’s security in the 21st century depends on being honest about what the Russian Federation has become under Vladimir Putin: an authoritarian oligarchic petro-state that murders journalists, dissidents, and business competitors, invades sovereign nations, interferes in elections, and threatens Western nations with conflict, including nuclear strike.

We need to stop being naïve regarding Russia, before it’s too late. That means, however contrary to the Trump Administration:

• Demand cessation of Russian aggression, including its withdrawal from the sovereign territories it has invaded: eastern Ukraine (Donetsk), southern Ukraine (Crimea), northwestern Georgia (Abkhazia), and north central Georgia (South Ossetia).

• Improve our resiliency against Russian nuclear blackmail. Reestablish the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which the Trump Administration withdrew, fortify missile defense systems, and work to reduce nuclear weapons, globally.

• Firm up America’s commitment to NATO’s Article V, which states that an attack on any NATO member is an attack on NATO itself.

• Fortify America’s electoral processes and critical facilities from cyber attacks.

• Request withdrawal of Russian forces from the former U.S. base in northern Syria, leading to the establishment of a safe zone for our (abandoned) Kurdish allies.

• Defend the Magnitsky Act and apply it towards Russian human rights abuses, including assassinations.

Perhaps these items seem too ambitious to achieve, as several would require Russia’s cooperation. Yet, Russia is fragile, as its economy is overwhelmingly dependent on oil and gas sales.

If America, with its massive energy demand, leads on clean, renewable energy, thereby placing real pressure on the Russian economy, Putin would have no choice but to come to the negotiating table on the widest range of issues.

America ought to have transitioned to clean energy the day after 9/11, as an answer to oil-funded terrorism. Given brazen Russian petro-state aggression, the continuance of oil-funded terrorism, and climate change, the case for it today could not be stronger.

John Mues is a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate.