Russia

Cold War Revival?: Hackers, Harassment, and Nuclear-Equipped Bombers

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Are we heading into a new Cold War with Russia? Secretary of State John Kerry says it's even worse.

"The Cold War was easy compared to where we are today," Kerry said yesterday at a forum in Washington, D.C. It's a dramatic turnaround from the United States' position several years ago when Hillary Clinton, who held the secretary of state position just before Kerry, symbolically "reset" American-Russian relations in what was supposed to a newly amicable era.

This week reports emerged of American diplomats in Russia having their tires slashed, computers hacked, and experiencing break-ins. Kerry confronted his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over the reported harassment. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The Washington Post on Tuesday broke news that White House computers were breached by hackers believed to be working for the Russian government. "Russia is regarded by U.S. officials as being in the top tier of states with cyber-capabilities."

Furthermore, "Russian bombers may be flying nuclear strike drills over the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, current and former U.S. Air Force officers believe," states The Daily Beast:

Since Oct. 28, NATO air defenses have detected and monitored four groups of Russian combat aircraft over the Baltic Sea, North Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Black Sea. Norwegian F-16 fighters intercepted one particular group of Russian aircraft on Oct. 29 that included four, nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers and four Ilyushin Il-78 aerial refueling tankers. Once intercepted, six of the Russian aircraft headed for home while the two remaining Tu-95 bombers continued southwest, parallel to the Norwegian coast, before eventually turning back towards Russia.

The giant, propeller-driven Tu-95 is a launch platform for the 1,600 nautical mile range Raduga Kh-55 nuclear-tipped cruise missile. The weapon carries a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead; by comparison, the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki was a mere 21 kilotons. …

The foray into European airspace by the Tu-95 Bear bombers is cause for concern. That's not just because of the Bear bomber's long-range nuclear weapons capability, but also because of the Russian's general disregard for international air traffic norms. Not only did the Russians not file a proper flight plan, they also did not have active transponders—which would allow civilian air traffic controllers to see them. The situation could lead to a serious accident where an airliner might collide with a Russian bomber.

The combination of hacking and dangerous flying represent the old and the updated techniques of Cold War signal-sending," suggests The New York Times' David Sanger. "In the Soviet era, both sides probed each other's defenses, hoping to learn something from the reaction those tests of will created."

NATO, for which the U.S. is the largest supplier of troops and funding, has essentially broken off relations with Russia, and is pushing for a greater military presence in Eastern Europe since Vladimir Putin began a bloody, brutal invasion and annexation of parts of Ukraine earlier this year.

Poland, a NATO member, isn't taking any chances with Russian aggression in its backyard. The nation announced this week that it may move thousands of troops to its eastern border to ward of Putin. Nearby, Sweden spent part of October hunting down what it believed to be a Russian submarine lurking in its waters, prompting a sudden shift in popular support for joining NATO. 

Russia is returning to Cold War practices at home, too. Half the nation's people fear Soviet-style mass repression will happen again in their lifetime. Reason has talked to several Russian libertarians about the domestic crackdown on political opposition and the press.