By Mark Najarian
(RFE/RL) — A senior U.S. State Department official says Russia’s actions over the past decade have shown that Moscow’s willingness to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other nations is “real” and not “simply rhetorical.”
On November 16, Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, told the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Transatlantic Forum On Russia that Moscow’s actions in the war with Georgia in 2008 and more recently in Ukraine are “violations of the UN Charter and of multiple articles of the Helsinki Final Act.”
Hook’s tough line on Moscow appears to be in contrast to stated attempts by the administration of President Donald Trump to improve relations with Russia as a means to solve global crises, although the official did suggest there were opportunities to cooperate in places such as Syria and North Korea.
Hook said the risks to Europe from Russia were similar to those faced by the West during the Cold War.
“As in the past, the threat runs from the Baltic to the Black Sea,” he said. “Russia has shown off its capabilities in snap military exercises or planned large-scale ones, like the recent Zapad 2017 [in Belarus and Russia].”
He said the “conventional threat” from Russia is “real.” He cited Moscow’s drive for military modernization and said that the “military arrangement of forces in Europe favors Russia.”
Hook, a senior policy adviser to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, warned that Russia is also modernizing its nuclear arsenal and its means of delivery. Moscow has developed a nuclear-capable cruise missile, “in clear violation” of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), he added.
“And like in the past, Russia plays a propaganda and disinformation game,” he said, “disrupting societies, electorates, and institutions across the Euro-Atlantic community.
“The great difference between the Russia of today and its Soviet form is that it lacks an ideological coherence that informs its actions. But Russia is nonetheless a serious rival.”
Hook cited Russia’s war against Georgia in 2008, its “illegal annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimea region, and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine as examples of Moscow’s failure to honor its commitments since the end of the Cold War.
He reiterated U.S. demands that Russia restore the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine before sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe could be eased.
He also urged NATO allies “to do more to underwrite the security and stability of the region,” repeating Trump’s call for increased defense spending in Europe.
“The threat to [the West’s] collective security posed by Russia is clear, and we on both sides of the Atlantic cannot ignore it,” he said.
He also reminded forum attendees of Trump’s stated commitment to Article 5 of the NATO charter, which requires all members to come to the aid of any other member under attack.
Nevertheless, he cited conflicts and disputes in Ukraine, North Korea, and Syria as opportunities for the United States and Russia to cooperate in efforts to ease violence and tensions.
He said the United States remains committed to countering the Russian threat, but at the same time “we recognize that it is in our mutual benefit to work together where it advances American interests.”
He said cooperation with Moscow was possible, but added that the United States needs to see signs that Russia is ready to “return to a less confrontational posture” in Europe and the Middle East.
*Mark Najarian is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington.
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