Russian Missile Exercise Adds US Foreign Policy Test

Posted: 22nd October 2012
 Russian Missile Exercise Adds US Foreign Policy Test

Russia conducted nuclear missile testing exercises on Friday just days ahead of the final presidential debate, which will focus on foreign affairs, and less than three weeks ahead of the US general election. The operations were led directly by President Vladimir Putin and included Russia’s full nuclear “triad”: surface launched RS-12M Topol Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, a submarine test-launch, and long-range Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers firing guided missiles to targets in the Northwestern Komi region.

Given the proximity to the upcoming US election, let’s try to add a little further context to Russia’s actions and posturing by looking at a timeline of its military operations in the month prior to the nuclear missile tests.

Where has the Russian military been most active? Operations in the southwest of the country stand out with a focus on Georgia although there are activities also seemingly related to Iran and Syria. The one geographic outlier is the September joint operation with Mongolian military units conducted as an anti-terrorism exercise. There isn’t anything stand out related to the nuclear exercises that took place in northern areas of Russia.

Let’s also look ahead at planned diplomatic visits to Russia during the next few months:

  • October 22: Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych.
  • Late November: President of Kurdistan Massoud Barzani.
  • December: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda plans to meet with Putin.

The publicly reported travel and meetings appear fairly innocuous as far as US concerns go although perhaps there is a lull until  Moscow learns which US administration it will face. The two candidates for president have sparred over how to best handle Russia with Romney claiming Obama has pandered to the Kremlin and let them block US interests in the region while Obama has worked a diplomatic approach with Putin to mixed reviews not to mention the recent of end to USAID work in the country.

Along those lines, and given the impending foreign policy debate, let’s look at the statements by each candidate on Russia during the last two months.

Both Romney and Obama have been relatively quiet on Russia during recent weeks. The most significant attention from both presidential candidates came during early September when Romney called Russia the United States’ “number one geopolitical foe” after which Obama rebuked that Al Qaeda posed the most significant threat.

Questions Ahead of the Debate and Election:

  • Does recent military action including the nuclear missile tests indicate a change in Russia’s geopolitical posture toward the US or otherwise in its region?
  • Will relations with Russia be an issue of note during the last weeks of the presidential campaign?
  • How do you think US-Russian relations would differ under a Romney presidency?

Let us know in the comments below.