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What Trump Can Expect from Putin

By       Message Ray McGovern     Permalink
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From Consortium News


President Barack Obama meets with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, Nov. 15, 2015. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice listens at left.
(Image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza))
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In the style of a President's Daily Brief for President Trump:

When you meet with President Putin next week, you can count on him asking you why the U.S. is encircling Russia with antiballistic missile systems.

Putin regarded the now-defunct Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as the key to maintaining the nuclear-weapons balance between the United States and Russia and told filmmaker Oliver Stone that the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in 2001 and the follow-on U.S. deployment of ABM batteries could "destroy this balance. And that's a great mistake."

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For decades, the Russians have viewed an invulnerable nuclear-tipped strategic missile force as a deterrent to a U.S. attack though they have never displayed an inclination to commit suicide by actually firing them.

From this perspective, Putin wonders why the U.S. might seek to upset the nuclear balance by deploying ABM systems around Russia's borders, making Russia's ICBM force vulnerable.

Putin's generals, like yours, are required to impute the most provocative intentions to military capabilities; that is what military intelligence is all about. Thus, they cannot avoid seeing the ABM deployments as giving the U.S. the capability for a first strike to decapitate Russia's ICBM force and, by doing so, protecting the U.S. from Russian nuclear retaliation.

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And, as Putin has made clear, the Kremlin sees U.S. claims that the deployments are needed to thwart a strategic strike from Iran as insultingly disingenuous -- all the more so in light of the 2015 multilateral agreement handcuffing Iran's development of a nuclear bomb for the foreseeable future.

Yet, the U.S.-Russia strategic balance becomes more and more precarious with the deployment of each new ABM site or warship, together with rising concerns at the possibility of a U.S. technological breakthrough. With the time window for Russian leaders to evaluate data indicating a possible U.S. nuclear strike closing, launch-on-warning becomes more likely -- and so does World War III.

Your visit to Warsaw en route to Hamburg for the G-20 summit will shine the spotlight on the threat Putin sees in the deployment of missile defense systems in Poland -- as well as Romania and elsewhere on Russia's periphery.

It is no secret that Russian leaders feel double-crossed by NATO's steady creep eastward, but Russia's strategic planners seemed to believe they could handle that -- up to a point. That point was reached with the Feb. 22, 2014 coup d'etat in Ukraine, which Moscow viewed as one U.S.-backed regime change too many and one that installed a virulently anti-Russian government along a route historically used by foreign invaders.

On April 17, 2014, the day before Crimea was re-incorporated into Russia, Putin spoke of what motivated Russia's strong reaction. The "more important" reason he gave was the need to thwart plans to incorporate Ukraine and Crimea into the anti-ballistic missile deployment encircling Russia.

Putin explained: "This issue is no less, and probably even more important, than NATO's eastward expansion. Incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this."

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ABM: "A Separate Issue"

In his interviews with Oliver Stone (aired on Showtime as "The Putin Interviews"), Putin made the same distinction between the NATO buildup (bad enough) and ABM deployment (more dangerous still), telling Stone the ABM challenge is "a separate issue which no doubt is going to require a response from Russia."

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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