Home / foreign policy / This is Starting to Feel a Bit Like an Actual Cold War

This is Starting to Feel a Bit Like an Actual Cold War


… or at least as a one-sided Cold War, with the leader of the other side focused on his dreams of a Moscow hotel and hoping for another electoral assist.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should read this New York Times story, which reports that U.S. intelligence analysts believes that Russian operatives paid Taliban fighters bounties for killing American soldiers.

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Apparently, the intelligence community remains unsure what motivated this step.

While officials were said to be confident about the intelligence that Russian operatives offered and paid bounties to Afghan militants for killing Americans, they have greater uncertainty about how high in the Russian government the covert operation was authorized and what its aim may be.

Some officials have theorized that the Russians may be seeking revenge on NATO forces for a 2018 battle in Syria in which the American military killed several hundred pro-Syrian forces, including numerous Russian mercenaries, as they advanced on an American outpost. Officials have also suggested that the Russians may have been trying to derail peace talks to keep the United States bogged down in Afghanistan. But the motivation remains murky.

When this kind of leak happens, it’s almost invariably spillover from an internal fight about policy. That’s clearly the case here. The White House was briefed on the intelligence in March; the story strongly implies that Trump is the reason that Washington has done basically nothing about it.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

I really don’t know what to make of this. If true, this is an extremely provocative act, one that requires at least some kind of diplomatic response. Let’s see what develops.

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