Below is a timeline of publicly reported events of Russian provocations and dangerous acts since January 20, 2017. Are we missing anything? Let us know over Twitter at Just Security or my account.
February 10: Multiple Russian aircraft buzz the U.S.S. Porter, a destroyer, which was patrolling in the Black Sea. The captain of the U.S.S. Porter called the actions “unsafe,” and said the aircraft did not respond to radio calls. It is the first such fly-by since Trump’s inauguration. (Washington Post)
February 14: Under the headline, “Russia Deploys Missile, Violating Treaty and Challenging Trump,” the New York Times reports that Russia has deployed a cruise missile in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) treaty between the two countries. In congressional testimony, Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff states, “we believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility.” The administration does not issue a public statement rebuking Russia. When President Trump is asked about the violation in a February 24 interview with Reuters, he does say, “To me, it’s a big deal” and he says, he “would bring it up” with Putin “if and when we meet.” (New York Times; Reuters)
February 16: The Viktor Leonov, a Russian spy ship is spotted 30 miles off the coast of Connecticut, according to a US defense department official, while an armed Russian plane recently performed a “mock attack” against a US ship. (CNN) This is farthest north the Russian spy vessel has ever been identified. The vessel made similar patrols in 2014 and 2015. (CNN)
February 28: A retired Russian colonel writes an article in a Russian tabloid claiming that Russia has planted underground “nuclear ‘mole’ missiles” along the U.S. shoreline which can be detonated on command if war broke out with the United States. Newsweek explains, that the retired colonel’s “numbers do not quite add up, however, and his unlikely nuclear weapons plan was chalked up to psychological warfare by James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House.” (Newsweek; The Independent)
March 14: According to diplomatic sources, Russia deploys special forces to an airbase in western Egypt near the border with Libya, potentially as part of a bid to support Libyan renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar contrary to western governments’ interests. (Reuters)
March 16: The Viktor Leonov, a Russian spy ship is spotted again (see Feb. 16) this time off the coast of Georgia. CNN reports that the ship “was likely in international waters.” (CNN)
April 4: National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster suggests likelihood of Russian acquiescence or involvement in chemical weapon’s attack that took place in Syria on April 4. (Fox News Sunday) Senator Richard Blumenthal refers to “mounting evidence” that Russia was “complicit” in the attack. (CNN) (UK Times).
April 7: Following U.S. strikes in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons on April 4, Russia says it will bolster Syria’s air defense systems to “protect the most sensitive Syrian infrastructure facilities,” and suspend the agreement to deconflict airspace to avoid aerial accidents with US and Coalition forces. (Washington Post) [Caveat: it is unclear what the international legal basis is for the US strike. See “What Do Top Legal Experts Say About the Syria Strikes?”]
April 12: Russia vetoes a U.S.-led UN Security Council Resolution that would have strengthened the hand of international investigators to examine the chemical attack in Syria on April 4. It marks the eight time that Russia uses its veto to block a Security Council resolution on Syria (New York Times)
April 21: Two Canadian jets are scrambled to intercept Russian TU-95 Bear bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons, as they approach American and Canadian airspace. It is the first time Canada has scrambled jets to intercept Russian aircraft since December 2014, and the fourth day in a row in which Russian aircraft have been spotted off approaching North American airspace. (CBC)
April 24: General John Nicholson, commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, appears to publicly confirm that Russia is sending weapons to the Taliban. He tells reporters: “We continue to get reports of this assistance. We support anyone who wants to help us advance the reconciliation process, but anyone who arms belligerents who perpetuate attacks like the one we saw two days ago in Mazar-e Sharif is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.” A senior U.S. military official tells the Washington Post that Russia is sending the weapons purportedly to fend off ISIS in eastern Afghanistan but the weapons are turning up in Afghanistan’s southern provinces, including Helmand and Kandahar, where there is little ISIS presence. (Washington Post) Secretary Mattis states, “We’re going to have to confront Russia where what they’re doing is contrary to international law or denying the sovereignty of other countries. For example, any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be — would be a violation of international law, unless they’re coming through the government of Afghanistan for the Afghan forces.” (DoD)
May 5: Two days before the French election, as much as nine gigabytes of data hacked from Emmanuel Macron’s email account is posted online. (Reuters) Mike Rogers, NSA Director, later testifies to Congress that the U.S. “had become aware of Russian activity” and warned the French, “we’re watching the Russians, we’re seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure.” (Politico)
Week of May 29: In southern Syria, the US-backed Syrian groups attack Shiite militias moving into the “deconfliction zone” surrounding the US garrison in At Tanf. In detailed reporting, the Christian Science Monitor says, “US-supported forces also were forced to pull back when they were attacked by Russian aircraft.” (Christian Science Monitor). [Caveat: it is not clear what international legal basis the United States has in apparently unilaterally creating the “deconfliction zone.” See Tess Bridgeman’s analysis titled, “About that “Deconfliction Zone” in Syria: Is the United States on Firm Domestic and International Legal Footing?”]
June 1: According to TASS, Putin told media that if Sweden were to join NATO, Russia would consider it a “threat for Russia” and would “search for ways to eliminate it.” At the same time, however, Putin adds, “it does not mean that we will be swept up in hysteria and point our nuclear missiles at Sweden.” Putin also says, “It seems to me that only a madman can imagine that Russia plans to attack Sweden,” but it is unclear whether he means only that there is no reason for Sweden to join NATO, or if he is referring to the kind of Russian response were Sweden to join. (TASS) (Newsweek)
June 6: A Russian fighter jet intercepts a U.S. B-52 bomber “flying a routine mission in support of multiple planned exercises in international airspace over the Baltic Sea,” says Lt. Col. Michelle L. Baldanza, a US Army Defense Department spokeswoman. (CNN) The intercept occurs a few days after the U.S. Air Force announced it would be deploying bombers to the region to support joint military exercises with other NATO members and the militaries of Sweden and Finland. (Defense One)
June 7: U.S. officials believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news story to instigate tensions between Qatar and Arab states, several of which cut diplomatic ties with the Gulf state. The news report coincides with increased accusations that Qatar is financing terrorism. (CNN)
June 19: After the U.S. shoots down a Syrian jet in Syrian airspace, the Russian Defence Ministry states that it will suspend a memorandum of understanding with the United States that ensures safe airspace (a deconfliction agreement). The Ministry states, “Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets.” (TASS) [Caveat: legal experts raise questions about the international legal basis for the US strike on the Syrian jet, which CENTCOM states was an action take in “collective self-defense” of Syrian armed groups. See Adil Haque, “On the Precipice: The U.S. and Russia in Syria”]
June 19: A Russian jet flew within five feet of a US reconnaissance aircraft over the Baltic Sea, in an encounter deemed to be “unsafe.” A second US reconnaissance aircraft entering the area was also intercepted by the Russian Su-27 jet. Meghan Henderson, a spokesperson for European Command said the intercept occurred while the US aircraft was “flying in international airspace.” (CNN) The Russian Ministry stated, that the US aircraft was “flying towards the Russian state border” and “when being escorted, the [U.S.] plane made an attempt at approaching the Russian fighter jet making a provocative turn towards it.” (TASS).