Russian bear just spoiling for fight

by DR. PETER BROOKES September 14, 2016

The Russians are at it again.

This week The Washington Post reported that Moscow may be hatching a secret influence operation to disrupt this fall's U.S. elections, rattling trust and confidence in American government.
Pretty Cold War-like.

The Post reports the threat is credible enough that the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, is leading an effort to determine if the concerns are justified.
Moscow seems to be focused on cyber methods. No surprise, really.

While the White House hasn't fingered the Kremlin directly for this summer's collection of computer capers, there have been plenty of hints that Russia is high on the suspect list. (Some cybersecurity firms have accused Russian intelligence actors.)

First, there was the penetration of the Democratic National Committee's computer systems from which confidential emails were pilfered. WikiLeaks released the emails just before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

It caused quite a kerfuffle.

Then there was reporting that cyber spies had infiltrated state voting systems in Arizona and Illinois, leading to concerns about the security of national, state and local elections across the country this fall.
Imagine the chaos such a crime could cause.

Though not directly accusing Russia, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter did say this week while in the United Kingdom that the U.S. would not overlook "efforts to interfere with our democratic processes," according to The Wall Street Journal.

At the G20 Summit in China, President Obama said he didn't want cyberspace to become some sort of "wild, wild West" competition, likely referring to recent digital deeds by Russia - and others (for example, China).

While this alleged Russian cyber influence campaign into U.S. politics is bad enough, as might be expected, Moscow is working diligently to undermine Washington, D.C.'s interests elsewhere, too.

Take Syria. Since Russia intervened there a year ago, it has significantly strengthened the hand of the Damascus regime, which is responsible for so much bloodshed in a civil war that has taken as many as 400,000 lives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad means the Syrian regime isn't going anywhere anytime soon - and neither is the tragic civil war.

Next week China and Russia will hold bilateral naval exercises in the South China Sea, buttressing Beijing's claims of sovereignty over some 1 million square miles of ocean through which $5 trillion worth of seaborn commerce flows annually.

This signals that it's going to be even harder to get China to abide by recent international legal decisions that ruled against its claims
on these strategic waters.

Russia has cozied up to Iran, too. Not only did it conduct unprecedented airstrikes against targets in Syria from an Iranian airbase, but Moscow is also delivering its advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Tehran.

The new missile system means that if Iran breaks the nuclear agreement with the United States, a strike on its atomic facilities would be much more difficult.
We shouldn't overlook Moscow's military moves in Europe, either.

Connecting the dots, it's pretty clear that Russia is keen on some sort of war with us. Whether that's a cyber war, a hybrid war, a cold war, a real war or some other sort of war, it's troublingly unclear - and fraught with danger.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation and is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He writes a weekly column for the New York Post and frequently appears on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR and BBC. He is the author of: "A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Rogue States." Mr. Brookes served in the U.S. Navy and is now a Commander in the naval reserves. He has over 1300 flight hours aboard Navy EP-3 aircraft. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; the Defense Language Institute; the Naval War College; the Johns Hopkins University; and Georgetown University.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

Twitter: @Brookes_Peter

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