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Mother Russia
Tariffs, Nukes, and Underwater Robots… Oh My?

With Vladimir Putin scheduled to give his annual, televised, rambling, multi-hour press conference tomorrow (watch the spectacular WWF-style trailer being shown on Russian TV above) in the shadow of the cratering ruble, it’s a good moment to review how the Kremlin has been kicking up dust this week on unrelated fronts.

1) A Race to the Bottom

Even with the Russian economy reeling, Moscow is not slowing its intimidation tactics towards Ukraine. While Ukrainain PM Arseny Yastsenyuk was off negotiating in Brussels, Russia’s PM Medvedev threatened to impose tariffs designed to send Ukraine’s economy into a tailspin. This comes on the heels of announcement earlier this week that Chevron was pulling out of a shale gas project in western Ukraine. It’s now an open question as to whether it will be the Ukrainian or Russian economy that implodes first in this impressive race to the bottom.

2) Nuclear Trolling

After the announcement of the latest round of sanctions coming from Congress over the weekend, the Kremlin issued some not-so-subtle threats to put nuclear missiles in Crimea. The LA Times reports:

“Crimea was not a non-nuclear zone in an international law sense but was part of Ukraine, a state which doesn’t possess nuclear arms,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Interfax news agency. “Now Crimea has become part of a state which possesses such weapons in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

“In accordance with international law,” he added, “Russia has every reason to dispose of its nuclear arsenal … to suit its interests and international legal obligations.”

3) Flying Games of Chicken

In a characteristically cynical example of Kremlin rhetorical Jiu Jitsu, Russia is accusing NATO of frequently flying in or near its airspace. The LA Times again:

Russia’s air force commander on Tuesday accused the United States and its NATO allies of provoking confrontation over the Baltic Sea by sending spy planes near the Russian border “practically every day.”

In apparent response to accusations from NATO military officials that a Russian jet flying a stealth mission nearly caused a collision with an SAS commercial jet last week, Russian Air Force commander Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said at a news briefing in Moscow that the Western alliance has “massively” stepped up aerial surveillance of Russia’s air defense capabilities.

No doubt NATO is flying these kinds of missions—we would be deeply troubled if they weren’t!—and the story underscores just how potentially volatile the situation is over the skies of Russia’s near-abroad. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that the number of intentionally provocative Russian air incursions have been rising sharply for months.

4) Underwater Robot Army

Russian state media reports that Moscow has vowed to arm its submarine force with formidable, high-tech underwater drones and robots. Defense News Media’s journal C4ISR reports:

“We’re talking about battle robots which can be released by the submarine, and a type of underwater drone,” said Nikolay Novoselov, deputy CEO of the Malakhit design engineering bureau.

“They’ll be released by the submarine and stay offline before being remotely activated on command. It will give the submarine time to leave the area, with the drone staying in place to maintain a semblance that the submarine is still there.”

Is this what was happening off the coast of Sweden?

Stay tuned for more tomorrow on Putin’s presser (if he goes through with it). There’s certainly much, much more to come.

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