Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Russian Issue

                                                                                                written 8 December 2019
                                                                                          published 15 December 2019

            One factor that has been obscured by the daily Tweets and breaking news is 
how Trump's actions have advanced Russian interests.   
            Putin came to power in the Russian Federation in 1999, eight years after the Soviet Union collapsed, as the Russian economy reorganized into an oligarchy. Following the crash of 2008, Russia's primary export, gas and oil, lost value as the global economy slowed.  In early 2014, to distract growing domestic unrest, Putin invaded Crimea, and then eastern Ukraine, claiming them for Russia. 
            Concerned that Russian aggression might expand into NATO territory, international reaction was swift.  By June, 2014, the US funded billions of dollars to increase NATO training, preposition material, and upgrade infrastructure for rapid response.  With bipartisan support, Congress imposed strong sanctions, limiting credit from western banks and kicked Russia out of the G-8 global summit meetings.  Military aid to Ukraine increased by $1.5B.  Sale of oil and gas technology was prohibited, killing a proposed $500B investment by Exxon. 
            In June, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president. The following spring, hackers accessed Democratic National Committee computers and several state voter registrations.  Attacks on Clinton began on Facebook and Twitter.  US intelligence agencies, suspecting election interference, investigated and concluded Russia was guilty.  December, 2016, Obama signed further economic sanctions against Russia and ejected 35 Russian operatives.
            January, 2017, US intelligence agencies formally reported that it was Russia that interfered, and in August, with almost unanimous bipartisan support, Congress extended the sanctions against Russia.  The Senate intelligence committee reconfirmed it was Russia in May, 2018, and in July, Mueller indicted 12 Russians for election interference.
            Russia needs the sanctions removed to allow investment in their critical oil and gas industry and to continue expanding their geopolitical influence, to Make Russia Great Again.  So, they must destroy the cohesion of the NATO alliance and debunk the conclusion that Russia interfered in our election.
            One of Trump's first appointments was Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, formerly head of Exxon.  From the beginning, Trump suggested that sanctions on Russia should be lifted, Russia should be readmitted to the G-7, and has derided the necessity of NATO.  He and his inner circle began spreading the idea that Ukraine was the source of election interference, not Russia, despite US intelligence conclusions.  The current investigation of the Ukrainian aid holdup, shows Trump had three goals.  One benefited him, dirt on Biden to affect the next election, but the other two were for Russia's benefit.  By switching the narrative to Ukrainian election interference, one of the reasons for economic sanctions could be removed.  By withholding aid, he showed Ukraine that the US was not the strong supporter they need, making them more likely to concede to Russian demands, ending to the fighting, eliminating the other reason for the sanctions.   
            This September, Trump further weakened Ukraine and NATO, when he transferred billions of dollars from the military to fund building his border wall. Those funds were slated to increase our capacity to support Ukraine militarily and rapidly respond to further Russian aggression. 
            When Turkey took delivery on a Russian missile defense system last July, despite the significant national security risk, the Trump administration did nothing, even though he had previously threatened sanctions.  In October, after a call with the leader of Turkey, Trump decided to pull out of Syria, with no warning to our allies, or even our own military leaders. Our withdrawal was so poorly planned, that a new base was left intact, and we had to call in strikes to blow up stored ammunition.  Our Kurdish allies were abandoned, and rather than face genocide from Turkish fighters, switched allegiance, expanding Russian power in the region. 
            It is plausible that Trump is a tool of Russia, because of all the money they loaned him to keep his bankrupt empire afloat.  It is plausible that he doesn't care about American geopolitical power, because everything is only about him.  But why does Republican leadership still support this?  The obvious answer is they wanted to stay in power, and originally thought they could control him.  But Trump's self-serving, erratic nature, is now detrimental to our national security, and continued Republican support is a violation of their oath of office. This is a test of moral integrity.