I’m sure glad we reset our relationship with Russia a few years back or things might really be a mess today.
Not all of the problems we’re having with the Russian bear are coming directly from the desk of Vladimir Putin. (And we should put emphasis on the world “directly” here, but more on that below.) While their government is getting busy in Syria, Ukraine, Georgia and assorted other areas, Russia’s notorious equivalent of the Mafia is doing a booming business on the black market. Perhaps most troubling on this front is news that they’ve been trying to sell high grade nuclear material to the folks we would least want to see having it… ISIS. (The Telegraph)
Criminal gangs with Russian links are operating a thriving black market in nuclear materials in eastern Europe, often with the explicit intent of connecting sellers to Middle Eastern extremist groups including Islamic State.
Authorities working with the FBI have interrupted four attempts by gangs to sell radioactive material in Moldova. The latest known case came in February, when a smuggler offered enough radioactive cesium to contaminate several city blocks, specifically seeking an Islamic State buyer.
Whenever I see news like this – particularly the part where the good guys have “broken up” a pending illegal deal – it always comes as a sort of double edged sword to the subconscious. On the one hand it’s great to hear that our guys are on the ball and the FBI has managed to “break up” some of these deals. But at the same time you’re always left to wonder how many deals like this they didn’t catch. Is ISIS already in possession of a stockpile of toxic goods?
As with most terrorist scenarios, the big danger isn’t that somebody is going to sell al-Baghdadi an off-the-shelf, ready to rock nuclear warhead. Our intelligence agencies are at least mostly confident that they’ve got a pretty good head count of warheads around the world and that we know where they are. Trying to move one – to say nothing of the technical challenges involved in actually detonating it – is a challenging task to say the least. But the amount of raw nuclear material roaming around the planet is much harder to pin down and it doesn’t take nearly as much technical know-how to construct a dirty bomb. It’s one of the nightmare scenarios that our agencies fear the most. If the Russian mob is trafficking in this material my level of confidence in our ability to stop all of it goes down considerably.
This brings us back to our old friend Vlad. Mr. Putin keeps a fairly iron grip on his country and I’ve read more than one account of how it’s suspected that Putin has gotten quite wealthy through – among other dirty deeds – looking the other way or even actively participating in such black market trade. Would it be all that shocking to find out some day in the future that he was feeding nuclear material to the highest bidder?
Our relationship with Russia is pretty much toast at this point. Hot Air alumnus Noah Rothman has a piece on just this subject over at Commentary Magazine today.
It had only been 22 months since Barack Obama admonished Mitt Romney for what he described as a desire to mirror Ronald Reagan’s confrontational approach toward Russia. “The 1980s are calling,” the president quipped. “They want their foreign policy back.” By July of 2014, the 1980s had gotten their wish, not to mention a rapidly graying president. Less than a year earlier, Moscow provided Obama with a Trojan horse in the form of a negotiated arrangement in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would surrender his chemical weapons stockpiles in order to forestall what Secretary of State John Kerry called the forthcoming “unbelievably small” retaliatory air campaign against the WMD-wielding regime. A settlement was reached, and the airstrikes never came, but the chemical weapons continued to exact their gruesome toll.
Sound familiar? Putin is no wilting lily and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. If he’s willing to play fast and loose with forbidden chemical weapons in the hands of someone like Assad, is it really such a stretch to imagine that he’d be turning a blind eye to dealings with Islamist terrorists? It’s true that Russia has had as much trouble with these groups as anybody, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a sufficient mountain of cash has made for strange bedfellows.