There’s been a lot of activity involving Russia in the past year or two as the remnants of its former superpower status seem to be elbowing its way back onto the world stage. From its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 to the current involvement in US affairs and a close alliance with Iran, there is a definitive dark cloud coming from the former Soviet nation.
What has the roadmap looked like for this journey from quiet regional power to forceful retake of land? Let’s take another look at what will likely be a US military issue for years to come.
Annexation of Crimea
In early 2014, the Russian military, under guise of bikers and other non-military personnel, backed ethnically Russian residents in Crimea and put together a protest movement. This movement eventually led to a Russian-backed revolt against the Ukrainian government in Kiev.
In light of this disastrous and unprecedented seizure of another country’s land, unseen since the middle of the 20th century, triggered major sanctions from the US and Europe in order to provide a check to Moscow’s authority. And it has led to an all-but-triggering of NATO Article 5, which states that any attack on a member nation is an attack on all of NATO itself.
Whereas Ukraine is not a NATO country, it is, however, bordered by several — not to mention the numerous NATO countries which currently border Russia itself. Thus, Britain and the US have placed boots on the ground in these border states in order to ensure that Russia remains where it is and doesn’t attempt to annex another country that used to be part of the Soviet Union, like what happened in Crimea. Even now, tanks and more soldiers are being sent.
But that isn’t all. Western governments have learned that sometimes the best way to prevent a larger power from exercising its military muscle is to prevent its ability to fund said military. As such, the US and Europe imposed massive economic sanctions on Russia, which have been slowly choking the country for the unprecedented aggression in Europe.
These sanctions have had an unquestionable effect on Russia’s economy and have helped to ensure that it cannot afford more extensive maneuvering on the border with Europe. But this has also had the deleterious effect of pushing Russia to more extreme measures.
One of the greatest weapons in the Kremlin’s arsenal is its cyber warriors. As the US also tries to keep up with the increasingly complicated world of cybersecurity, attacks which “disrupt” targets have had a great cost in terms of stability on Russia’s opponents. We are currently seeing this more and more in the US. Russian hacks to US infrastructure and military targets have been incredibly bold.
In August 2015, a Russian hack at the Pentagon almost did some serious damage to the intelligence and command infrastructure which operates out of the military’s central headquarters in Washington D.C. It took almost two full weeks to get the unclassified network back up and running again, which undoubtedly delayed important projects and impeded our nation’s command and control of our military.
In the Election
The CIA and FBI are both telling the same story now — that Russia, through both hacking both the GOP and DNC, as well as utilizing state media sources to spread false propaganda in the lead up to the US presidential election. In any event, any meddling in our affairs by a historied opponent of the US is very troubling. But it goes much deeper than that.
Syria, 2017 and Beyond
Russian special forces have been developing a great deal as the US has dedicated most all of its efforts to the Global War on Terror. Early on in 2009, there was more cooperation between the two nations’ militaries — an effort to bridge some troublesome ties. Russian special forces, also known as Spetsnaz, have always been top tier in the world, but they have been getting better and better by studying American developments and copying much of the equipment, new tactics and means of operation of our own special forces.
Recently, these Russians have been seen throughout Syria where Russia has backed President Assad. There is an uncomfortable alliance at the moment between Russia, the US and Iran in the region — three nations which have never really gotten along that well.
Still, Russia is also looking to step up to the NATO enhancement on its borders by staging new nuclear missiles there, bringing the entire world that much closer to mutually assured destruction. It’s a recipe for disaster all around. And the only real challenge to Russia’s military will come from the US.
Veterans Moving Forward
Many of the instructors and command elements of units which cut their teeth in the Global War on Terror came up in a military which was singularly focused on Russia. In Vietnam, Korea and many other “hot” wars, Russia and the US engaged in proxy conflicts which did a number on both nations, not to mention the countries in which those conflicts took place.
One huge example to focus on is Afghanistan. In the 1980s, the US stepped up its presence in Afghanistan and the CIA was able to get the right weaponry to the right Mujahideen forces — the Afghans who were fighting the Soviets. Eventually, the Mujahideen would be victorious in pushing the Soviets out of Afghanistan. But then, the US ignored Afghan needs in the aftermath and power vacuum left by the Russians. As such, the Taliban came in and eventually took the Russians’ place. Anyone who has served in Operation Enduring Freedom in the past 15 years knows very well what can happen in the aftermath of two world powers fighting a proxy war.
In short, it’s very important that we keep an eye on what’s going on with Russia. Fortunately, President-elect Trump appears to have a very positive relationship with the Kremlin, as do many of his advisors and some of his cabinet selections. It’s just important that we keep an eye out for US interests and don’t lose sight of the fact that the only country capable of keeping Russia in check is us.