Russia is the only “existential threat” to the United States, says the U.S. secretary of the Air Force. Reports that the U.S. president-elect had a positive-language phone call with the Russian president don’t make military officials less concerned.

Russia China US world war 3
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The Pentagon has just finalized a classified security assessment for Trump, who has pledged to amend ties with Russia. But apparently even Trump’s friendly intentions cannot possibly stop Russia from being the most dangerous threat to the existence of the U.S. The sentiment was echoed by U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James during the fourth Reagan National Defense Forum held in California.

No other country in the world – not even China – can compare to Russia in terms of being a dangerous threat to the U.S. Several European diplomats also worry that Russia could unleash a war in Ukraine or Syria before Trump takes office on January 20.

Russia’s nuclear arsenal makes it the top threat to the U.S.

James said that although the U.S. has “a number of threats that we’re dealing with,” hinting at China and North Korea, it’s Russia that’s an “existential threat” to the U.S. thanks to its nuclear capabilities.

Russia refueled its status of being a potential threat to peace in the world in 2014 when Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and allegedly sent his troops to Eastern Ukraine.

James also raised concerns about Russia’s cyber-warfare capabilities. The U.S. secretary of the Air Force said Moscow is responsible for carrying out cyber-attacks against Washington.

Russia has been accused of ramping up its cyber-crimes and espionage against the U.S. in the past few years. Just last month, Putin’s nation was blamed for allegedly interfering with U.S. election results, leading to Trump’s surprise victory. Trump has repeatedly expressed his interested in closer ties with Russia and even praised Putin for his leadership values.

Putin: We’re “prepared” to amend ties with the U.S.

On Wednesday, Putin said he and Trump agreed during their recent phone conversation that U.S.-Russia relations “must be straightened out.”

During a foreign policy conference in Moscow, Putin said his opinions with the U.S. president-elect “coincided” with the current “unsatisfactory” state of relations between their countries. Saying that the two leaders agreed to “undoubtedly” amend ties, Putin added that Russia is prepared to melt the ice between Moscow and Washington.

Tense relations between the U.S. and Russia have taken a huge toll on Putin’s country. Western sanctions have crippled the nation’s economy, while Russia has lost its appeal in the eyes of foreign investors. Putin also added that the deterioration of relations between the two countries was “not our fault.” Apart from illegally annexing Crimea, Russia is also being accused of bombing U.S.-backed rebels in Syria.

Which is stronger than the U.S.: Russia or China?

Interestingly, even the fact that Trump takes a strong anti-China, pro-Russia stance doesn’t make Moscow less of a threat to Washington. While expressing his interest in closer ties with Russia, Trump hasn’t restrained himself in expressing his negative view of China. If Trump delivers on his promises to slap China with big tariffs on its imported goods, experts predict a devastating and exhausting trade war between the two nations.

But apparently it’s Russia’s military and nuclear capabilities that make Putin’s country still more of a threat to the U.S. than China. Beijing remains a threat to Washington, but not an “existential” one, it appears.

James also considers Moscow to be the biggest threat to Washington’s national security. The U.S. secretary of the Air Force urged America to ramp up its military presence across Europe. However, it’ll be challenging to do that, as increasing military presence abroad requires big spending. With Trump being the next U.S. president, that would be virtually impossible to achieve, as the U.S. president-elect once called NATO “obsolete” and pledged to scale back U.S. defense commitments in NATO members that don’t contribute to the alliance’s budget enough.

What will be Trump’s focus in the fiscal 2018 budget?

Although NATO faces budget challenges, James still believes the alliance should be a clear priority for the U.S. if it wants to counter Russia’s aggressive behavior in Europe.

“This is no time to in any way signal a lack of resolve in the face of these Russian actions,” James said.

She also said the U.S. Air Force is still trying to limit America’s reliance on Russia-made RD-180 rocket engines for its military and intelligence satellite launches. On top of that, the U.S. military is continuing its efforts to defend America’s military networks against the increasing cyber-espionage that allegedly comes from Russia.

James wasn’t the only U.S. military official who echoed an anti-Russia sentiment at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum. Pentagon chief arms buyer Frank Kendall is also worried about Russia’s “behavior.”

“Their behavior has caused us … to rethink the balance of capabilities that we’re going to need,” Kendall said.

With a view of countering Russia’s growing military capabilities, defense officials believe the U.S. fiscal 2018 budget must increase spending on America’s nuclear capabilities, cyber-security, space and missile defense. Although the Pentagon has plans to increase spending in areas where Russia has become more advanced in recent years, Trump is likely to propose his own ideas for the fiscal 2018 budget, which must be submitted in April.

U.S. Air Force faces threats from Russia and China

It’s not surprising that the U.S. Air Force is becoming increasingly worried about Russia’s military capabilities. Both Russia and China threaten to remove America’s superiority in the skies.

Since World War II, America has been capable of dominating the skies in any region of the world. But with Moscow and Beijing’s increasing advances in defense and the fact that there’s only a small group of elite pilots left in the U.S. America may be facing a big trouble here.

A wake-up call for the U.S. was when Russia sent its unmatched missile-defense batteries to Syria and its European enclave of Kaliningrad. The U.S. Air Force admitted it couldn’t operate in those areas without being targeted by Russia’s systems. Even outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama himself has acknowledged that Russia’s missiles in Syria pose great threats and challenges for the U.S.’s military options in Syria.

America’s dwindling military dominance

China, meanwhile, is just as focused on its air capabilities as Russia. Beijing has made great advances in building and militarizing islands in the South China Sea, the disputed territory where China locked horns with its neighbors, including Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

China has equipped its islands with runways and radar sites that present great challenges for the U.S. Beijing even has plans to establish an air defense and identification zone, which would make it impossible for the U.S. Air Force to operate there without facing a severe risk. General David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said the Air Force’s dwarfing dominance is a serious reason for concern.

“I believe it’s a crisis: air superiority is not an American birthright. It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain,” the general said.

ValueWalk has recently assessed if Russia and China can threaten America’s status of the world’s sole superpower in terms of military and economy.