Apparently, Secretary of State John Kerry “doesn’t agree” with Marine Gen Joseph Dunford’s opinion that Russia poses an ‘existential threat’ to the U.S. national interests, a senior department official said Friday.
During his appointment hearing to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Dunford told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that if they “want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”
As it became later known, the General’s opinion is not in line with John Kerry’s opinion. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the Secretary of State “doesn’t agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China, quite frankly.”
However, Toner acknowledged the fact that Dunford is “expected to provide his views, his assessment on which nations or entities pose a threat to the United States. And that’s his job.”
Putin’s erratic policy vs. Obama’s weak policy
Apparently, Mr Kerry seems to forget the kind of strategy Russian President Vladimir Putin follows. Putin’s strategy is sudden and irrational. And the proof of that is his decision to order Russian troops to take over Crimea in 2014 as well as his ongoing efforts to tear apart Ukraine with the help of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.
This kind of erratic policy raises certain concerns as well as poses direct threats not only to the neighboring states but also to Europe as a whole. It is also worrisome that the remarks by Mr Toner might serve as a ‘confirmation’ for the Russians that the White House still sticks to the ‘soft’ diplomatic strategy in handling Russian threats. And while the strategy is widely called as too ‘weak’, this kind of ‘confirmation’ might encourage Putin to not change the direction and keep threatening the U.S. as well as the entire Europe with its nuclear weapons.
Mr Kerry also seems to forget Russia’s plans to add 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal, which Vladimir Putin announced at the opening ceremony of Russia’s military ‘Disneyland’ almost a month ago.
Mr Kerry himself then said it was concerning and could force Russia and the West return to the international hostility of the “Cold War.” He also added that this kind of announcements from “the leader of a powerful country” are not acceptable.
Moscow and Washington are still cooperating on global issues
Confirming Kerry’s position on not considering Russia as an ‘existential threat’, Toner told reporters that U.S. officials have been “very frank” with the Kremlin on areas on which both sides disagree, including “calling out Russia for its involvement in eastern Ukraine in terms of troops, in terms of command and control, in terms of heavy equipment.”
“Where I think I tried to specify the difference is the word ‘existential,’” Toner said. “You know, certainly we have disagreements with Russia and its activities along or within the region, but we don’t view it as an existential threat.”
What is also important to keep in mind is Kerry’s unexpected visit to Sochi in May this year. In his first visit to Russia since May 2013, Kerry held a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, which lasted four hours.
Both sides then noted that despite the ongoing differences between Moscow and Washington, the two countries manage to successfully cooperate on many issues, including destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and settling the matter of Iranian nuclear program.
It must also be noted that it was the U.S. who suggested to hold the talks in Sochi. After the talks, Mr Kerry warned the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko against resuming military operations in eastern Ukraine. Also, Mr Kerry did not mention neither the Crimean question nor new sanctions against Russia even though they were later imposed by the European Union and the U.S.
Will the Americans elect the leader to calm Putin down?
What is interesting is that Kerry and Lavrov recently held another meeting. The meeting that took place in Vienna on June 30 was organized by the requests from both the U.S. President Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. It was then reported that the two sides were discussing ways to coordinate their efforts in order to fight ISIS.
Therefore, it seems that the U.S. is not currently interested in discussing Russia’s rather aggressive actions and statements, including the ones about the possibility of resorting to nuclear weapons, and is mostly focused on ISIS. However, it is a rather a questionable choice to consider the threat coming from ISIS more important than the one coming from the Kremlin.
The world is more consolidated on ending the phenomenon of ISIS than it is on suppressing Russia’s aggression. And while it would be reasonable to say that the phenomenon of ISIS is doomed to be wiped off at some point, the phenomenon of Putin’s imperial ambitions does not seem to know the limits. Putin’s appetite constantly grows and will not be satiated with Crimea and Ukraine alone.
However, the Obama administration is not particularly concerned over Putin’s growing appetite, which raises the question: during the presidential election of 2016, will the Americans elect the leader that is able to calm Mr Putin down?
U.S. general warns Russia not to create crisis
Meanwhile, US Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno says that the U.S. is prepared for any possible conflict against Russia and warns Putin not to “create a crisis.”
“We hope that the Russians wouldn’t (create a crisis), but we always must be prepared,” the general told the Wall Street Journal.
The general also said that Washington is considering to build up its presence in the eastern European countries by stationing tanks and other heavy equipment as well as troops in the region.
Gen Odierno also said the U.S. would station its heavy military equipment in Germany, and extra tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles in the Baltic states.
“It would allow us to reinforce quickly, if we had to reinforce NATO,” he said.
Earlier in June, Pentagon announced about its plans to station 250 tanks and other armored vehicles in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.