So, like, what is UP with Russia these days, amirite? A couple things: almost two weeks ago, there was an assassination attempt on a former Russian spy (who sold secrets to the UK) involving a nerve agent made in Russia; it was revealed that Russian hackers have gained access to our power grids have the ability to shut them down at a moment’s notice; about a month ago, Robert Mueller laid down the law, indicting 13 Russian nationals for trying to interfere in the 2016 election; and, perhaps weirdest of all, Donald Trump… did something about it?
Okay so, are we sure that Russia tried to kill this guy? Well, Russia has the motivation (revenge for selling secrets) and the means (it was their nerve agent after all) and this is par for the course with Russia: do something egregious and deny it to hell and back (see: “little green men” in Ukraine). But put that aside: France, Germany, the UK, and the US have all accused Russia, so that’s the geopolitical story now. The UK has ejected 23 Russian diplomats from the country in retaliation. Given that the UK believes Russia tried to murder someone in their backyard, though, it’s not the most decisive response. Russia, though, insofar as it’s “innocent”, will probably be forced to enact countermeasures – but we’ll see how that pans out.
On to the power grids: this is terrifying. Foreign adversaries could black out huge chunks of the US on command. That’s a real threat. But is it likely to happen? No. This isn’t new – US intelligence agencies (and Dutch and others) have been watching this for months, and we first heard about it in July. The new thing is we have further proof – screenshots of activity released by the Department of Homeland Security and scripts and lines of code. For my friend Joel Wasserman, that signals that the US knows what Russia is doing, and is monitoring the threat, while developing countermeasures. In all likelihood, the reason Russia hasn’t exploited these capabilities is because we could do the same – or worse – to them. This ain’t a scene – it’s an information age arms race.
And Mueller indicted 13 Russians for meddling in the 2016 election about a month ago. And then today the Trump administration announced sanctions on Russian actors associated with the group Mueller indicted! And he officially condemned Russia for the nerve agent attack! He’s finally turning on Putin!
Except: Congress ordered these sanctions back in August in a near unanimous vote (98-2 in the Senate, 419-3 in the House) and that condemnation actually reads: “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it…we are taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.” Not bad, but not exactly a full-throated condemnation, and the sanctions he levied largely target folks that were already being sanctioned by the US government.
This excuse for a response to massive infrastructure attacks, election meddling, and attempted murder on sovereign soil is wildly underwhelming, and it’s exactly this that allows Putin to continue doing what he’s doing: no one really seems willing to stop him. #fpf