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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2208

Pentagon ponders how to nullify Russia's nuclear strategy;
The Kremlin's quiet aid to the Taliban

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
April 24, 2018

March 19:

Radio Svoboda reports that Russia is staging large-scale military exercises in its southern regions along Ukraine's eastern border. Parts of the exercises are also being conducted on the annexed territory of Crimea and in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. According to the press services of the Southern Military District, roughly 8,000 Russian servicemembers and 1,500 units of military equipment – including multiple rocket launcher systems – were transported by convoy and by rail to participate. Kyiv has called the ramped-up Russian military presence in the region an act of aggression, and several Western countries have expressed concern over the deployment as well.

March 20:

The Pentagon's nuclear strategy is focused anew on deterring an old foe: Russia.
Defense News notes that, in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which has been released publicly in recent days, the U.S. Defense Department stresses the need to augment its low-yield nuclear weapons capabilities in order to deter Russia. The new NPR calls for the U.S. Navy to build two new such weapons: a "low-yield warhead for existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBM, and a nuclear-capable cruise missile that could be used by subs."

Top military officials are now making the case to Congress to fund such capabilities. In recent testimony before the Senate Arms Services Committee, Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), said that he "strongly agrees" with the need to augment U.S. nuclear forces in order to better address the Russia's strategy of "escalate to de-escalate" - involving potential use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia, in response to which "the United States would either be forced to escalate the conflict with higher-yield, strategic nukes — something the U.S. could be loathe to do — or to concede," because it currently does not possess adequate low-yield nuclear weapons capabilities.

Russia, meanwhile, is ramping up its deployment of "banned" cruise missiles, Hyten said at the same hearing.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the STRATCOM chief confirmed to lawmakers that the Kremlin has increased the pace of its deployments of cruise missile systems that violate the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key Cold War-era arms control pact.

March 21:

Russia has labeled one of America's most prominent think tanks as an "undesirable" organization.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Russia's Foreign Ministry has formally added the German Marshall Fund of the United States - which is dedicated to fostering transatlantic relations and promoting human rights and the rule of law - to its official list of organizations "whose operation has been recognized as undesirable on Russian territory" pursuant to a controversial 2015 law. That legislation enables the Kremlin "to ban the organizations and launch criminal proceedings against Russian groups that work with them." The Fund is the 14th NGO to be blacklisted this way by Russian authorities to date.

March 23:

Russia is carrying out "destabilizing activity" in Afghanistan, including providing arms to the radical Taliban movement, America's top military commander in the country has said.
In an interview with the BBC, Gen. John Nicholson, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, outlined that the Kremlin is using a false counterterrorism rationale to justify its involvement in the war-torn nation. "We see a narrative that's being used that grossly exaggerates the number of ISIS fighters here," Nicholson said. "This narrative then is used as a justification for the Russians to legitimise the actions of [the] Taliban and provide some degree of support to the Taliban."

This support, according to Nicholson, has taken the form of weaponry that has increased the lethality of Afghanistan's ousted Islamist movement. "We've had stories written by the Taliban that have appeared in the media about financial support provided by the enemy. We've had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and said, this was given by the Russians to the Taliban. We know that the Russians are involved."

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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