Putin Asserting Power Domestically, Internationally
Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated Christmas this year by testing a new hypersonic weapon he claims is impossible to intercept.
“The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary,” said Putin, adding that no other country has tested a hypersonic weapon.
The Avangard, which was developed in response to the United States’ missile defense capabilities, has an intercontinental range and can travel 20 times faster than the speed of sound. During a test on Wednesday, the missile was successful in hitting a target 3,700 miles from its launch point.
The new weapon is an “excellent New Year’s gift to the nation” that will secure Moscow’s safety for years to come, said Putin, confirming the weapon would be available to the Russian military in 2019.
In the meantime, Russian lawmakers are considering changing the constitution to enable Putin to stay in power past his scheduled term limit.
Considering the Kremlin’s level of control over the political system, such a change would be easy to achieve if backed by Putin (as of now, his fourth term is set to expire in 2024).
Russian officials in recent days have also warned the US not to interfere in Saudi Arabia’s royal succession following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The murder has largely been blamed on Prince Mohammed, who is next in line to replace 82-year-old King Salman. US lawmakers have suggested the prince be replaced by King Salman’s brother Ahmed.
“The King made a decision and I can’t even imagine on what grounds someone in America will interfere in such an issue and think about who should rule Saudi Arabia, now or in the future,” warned Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. “This is a Saudi matter.”
Russia’s decisions to bulk up its military and interfere in the business of other countries comes amid poor relations with the US and an economic slowdown at home.
Strained tensions with the US are related to the war in Syria, accusations of election meddling, Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, and Trump’s planned withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Making matters worse is a Russian populace frustrated with high unemployment and a stagnant economy.
Maybe what we are seeing here is Russia trying to compensate. This could be dangerous, and Trump would do well not to let his admiration for Putin blind him to the dangers Russia poses to the United States and our allies.
As outgoing Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis noted in his resignation letter, the US must remain “resolute and unambiguous” in our approach to authoritarian countries like China and Russia “whose strategic interests are increasingly in tensions with ours.”