Chemical Weapons in Russia an Early Test for Biden

Despite the Kremlin’s ongoing attacks against the United States and its allies, some influential foreign policy voices are already counseling the incoming Biden administration to prioritize arms control with Moscow. Those voices would do well to stop and consider the current threat Moscow poses to arms control itself. 

Last month, Bellingcat and CNN revealed the results of an investigation into the August poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was arrested Sunday by Russian authorities upon his return to Moscow from Germany.

The investigation uncovered Russian intelligence service units that tracked Navalny and likely carried out the poisoning. These units were connected to two institutes, the St. Petersburg GNII VM and Moscow-based SC Signal, that likely play a role in Russia’s covert chemical weapons program.

Unfortunately, this incident was not the first time that the Russian Federation has blatantly violated the international norm against the use of chemical weapons. 

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  • Nice thought, but we’ll hold a gangster like Putin accountable for the inevitable harm that comes to the courageous dissident Alexei Navalny in the same way we held MBS accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

    1. As in we let MBS and Saudi Arabia off the hook for 9/11 as well as state murder.

      The entire Middle East should be just left to themselves.

      1. MBS was 15 when 9/11 happened.

        1. Pretty clear I meant the Saudi's in charge at the time of 9/11. But good observation.

          1. Actually it wasn’t.

            Also, there is no evidence which I am aware of that the government of the KSA was involved in 9/11. Were Saudi citizens involved directly and indirectly? Yup.

            MBS bears responsibility for the execution of Khashoggi. But, honestly what he has done in Yemen is far worse.

    2. Not a fair comparison because Saudi doesn't have nukes and is beholden to us for trade and protection. We should have demanded that MBS be deposed by the King after that lest we tell them to work it out with Iran themselves and by the way we and our allies are no longer going to buy your oil. Russia is a lot harder to punish than Saudi. Not to say we shouldn't try to do both (and Biden should do this *now* in retaliation for JK), but Russia is a tougher road to hoe.

      1. We’re you opposed to previous US backed regime change efforts elsewhere?

        1. I guess it would depend on a lot of things. Certainly lots of our efforts were very good things e.g. Hitler, Hirohito, Davis et. al.

          Others ended badly, e.g. Saddam. I was against Iraq II at the time, but not extremely so. I didn't think it was worth it and Bush Sr. had it right.

          It also depends on the amount of effort. The US has effected regime change in very indirect ways e.g. a leader's relationship with the US being a big part of their chances of staying in power.

          In the above comment I was assuming we could exert pressure in Saudi (in this case it's not regime change but successor change) and it would be very hard in Iran, for instance. (And if you made the case it would be very hard in Saudi I would listen to that).

          I would be all for pressuring Russia in any way we can, practically speaking, but it isn't worth nuclear war.

          1. The three examples you cite in your first paragraph include three countries that openly declared war on us.

            That is an obvious misinterpretation of the term regime change.

            Iran in 1953, Chile in 1973, Iraq in 2003, Indonesia in the late 50s, the Congo in the 60s, Nicaragua in the 80s.

            Your thoughts on each?

            Suppose we were able to oust MBS. Ok. Who comes next? What comes next?

  • Until solar powers the EU, it won't happen. They need Russian gas so badly they'll sacrifice lives to get it....

    But perhaps if we discourage fracking, and reduce oil production, driving up the cost of gas, Europeans will get motivated to improve solar enough to eliminate the need for Russian gas. Granted, Putin makes a pile from that happening, so that has downsides too.

    I could solve it, but if you'll excuse me, Dulcinea is calling and I have a few windmills to tilt at.

    1. Europeans could also switch to nuclear power. France currently gets about 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, the result of a policy aimed at energy security. Germany used to get 25% of electricity from nuclear, but is now down to 12%.

      Unfortunately, governments in both countries have foolishly decided to move away from nuclear power. Maybe the Russian threat will help make Europeans realize their folly. Then again, the supposed desire to reduce carbon emissions hasn't made many regain their senses.

    2. We have plenty of natural gas to export. Reducing oil production won’t have much of an effect on natural gas exports as a whole from North America and the Caribbean to Europe.

      And yeah, obviously solar and wind won’t make the EU energy independent. But, their efforts to reduce their need for fossil fuels helps to an extent.

  • Biden should lead an international effort to cut off Russia from the West entirely, in a way reminiscent of the Cold War.

    Our country was repeatedly attacked by Russia in 2016, 2018, and 2020. If we don't respond *in kind* (e.g. aim for regime change through economic and covert pressure), they will keep attacking us.

    1. It would be nice, except Germany takes oil/gas from Russia (their green energy was not enough to sustain the country), the EU also, and the EU has just finished a massive trade deal with China.

      While the UN allows China to sit on its human rights council and allowing both Russia and China to veto humanitarian aid and influence across the board.

      So, the West (outside America) has little stomachs for actually confronting these tyrants. Biden, in the past has also not confronted these two powers either in rhetoric or advocating as policy.

      If he is tough on them, that would be great. We will find out.

      I hope his administration supports Alexei Navalny. It might be small, but the man might be the starting block to corroding Putin. And of course, as you suggest in another way, any pressure we can put on Russia is welcomed.

      1. Wait, you’re saying that EU countries have been and are pursuing a path that helps their own economic interests over ours and issues like human rights? No way!

        1. Yeah, that "Never Forget" stuff form WW2 is just words these days.

          1. Yup, that was made abundantly clear during the Second Great Congo War if not before then.

            Did any UN Security Council member propose a joint intervention?

    2. “Biden should lead an international effort to cut off Russia from the West entirely, in a way reminiscent of the Cold War.”

      While I tend to agree with you, doing so will not be easy and isn’t likely to succeed.

      “The European Union has set out plans to strengthen the international role of the euro, as its seeks to erode the dominance on the U.S. dollar and lessen the bloc’s vulnerability to financial risks, including U.S. sanctions.”

      “The extra-territorial application of unilateral sanctions by third countries has seriously affected the EU’s and its member states’ ability to advance foreign policy objectives, to honor international agreements and to manage bilateral relations with sanctioned countries,” the document says. “At times, unilateral actions by third countries have compromised legitimate trade and investment of EU businesses with other countries.”

      This is partly a result of the Trump administration pulling out of the JCPOA against the objections of the P5+1. And partly a result of the Trump administration starting a trade war with China. And partly a result of many EU states being dependent on Russian energy exports. And partly due to the US trying to bring the Ukraine and Georgia into NATO over their objections.

      We are not on the same page with many of our European allies. This has been building for decades. The Trump administration was the final straw. And the recent insurrection at our Capitol made us look weak and divided. At least on of those two things is correct.

      1. Yep, it won't be easy. But we can't give up as it will get worse if we don't try.

        1. Actually it could. See the article I quoted and linked.

          If we don’t get our European allies on the same page as us or get on the same page with them then it will get worse.

          One of the huge advantages the US has had and still has is that we are the reserve currency of the world. If China and the EU both challenge this then we could be in big trouble.

          Our country has made a lot of unforced errors in the last two decades and they may cost us the game.