Trump, aides send mixed messages on Russian jabs
Carlo Muñoz, Washington Times, Feb 16 2017
Top members of Pres Trump’s national security team, with an assist from Trump himself, broadcast mixed messages over the prospect of future defense cooperation with Russia on Thursday, in the face of a string of military provocations from Moscow in recent days. CJCoS Dunford said Thursday that Pentagon boxtops were prepared to reopen lines of communication with Moscow after meeting with his Russian counterpart in Azerbaijan, while “Mad Dog’ Mattis and Rex Tillerson took a more skeptical stance, and Trump said he wasn’t about to tell anyone what he may or may not do. Lt-Gen Frank McKenzie, JCoS director of strategic plans and policy, said in a Pentagon statement:
Even at the height of the Cold War, we had a capability to talk to the Russians. It is always useful to talk mil-to-mil. It avoids miscalculation; it promotes transparency when we have forces operating in close proximity to each other, as we do in Syria.
Gen McKenzie made it clear that such engagement did not equate to cooperation between the two world powers on the battlefields of Syria against Daesh, a possibility Trump discusses on the campaign trail and as president-elect. But a read-out of the meeting by the Russian defense ministry stated:
The two leaders exchanged views on the security situation in Europe, the MENA and other key global regions.
The Baku summit between Dunford and Russian Army Gen V Makarov on Thursday was the first such pow-wow (sic – RB) since the Pentagon cut military ties with Russia over the secession of Crimea in 2014. But on the same day in Brussels, ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis was sounding a more confrontational tone, telling NATO boxtops there was very little doubt that Russia’s intelligence agencies deliberately interfered in the Pindosi presidential elections. ‘Mad Dog’ told reporters during a presser at NATO HQ:
I would just say there’s very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies. We remain open to opportunities to restore a cooperative relationship with Moscow, but not to surrender the values of this alliance nor let Russia, through its actions, speak louder than anyone in the democracies.
“Mad Dog’ spoke at Wednesday’s session of the meeting of the need to engage with Russia “from a position of strength.” Russian DM Shoigu said early Thursday:
Pindostan’s efforts to restore military relations “from a position of strength” are fruitless. We expect that the Pentagon’s position will be clarified today in Baku.
‘Mad Dog’ on Thursday brusquely dismissed Shoigu’s statement, saying:
I have no need to respond to the Russian statement at all. NATO has always stood for military strength in protection of the democracies and the freedoms we intend to pass on to our children.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, a defiant Trump denounced recent Russian military challenges, including the buzzing of Pindo warships, the deployment of a new cruise missile that may violate arms agreements, and the presence of a Russian intelligence ship on a leisurely cruise just outside Pindo territorial waters in the Atlantic. Trump, who faced numerous questions on his campaign’s possible links to Moscow in the 2016 race, denounced the Russian moves as “not good” but refused to detail whether and how he would retaliate, saying sarcastically:
I know politically it’s probably not good for me! The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles offshore right out of the water! Everyone in this country is going to say “Ooh! That’s great!” But if we could get along with Russia, that’s a positive thing. Hopefully I won’t have to do anything.
NATO Sec-Gen Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday:
Compliance with arms control agreements is of great importance, and especially when it comes to treaties covering nuclear weapons/ Any noncompliance of Russia with the INF Treaty would be a serious concern for the alliance.