Tom Speaker

While Iran parades British soldiers in front of television cameras and North Korea withdraws from multilateral negotiations, Americans forget about another possible threat on the international scene: Russia.

There isn’t any smoking-gun evidence suggesting that Russia is seeking to impose itself aggressively on the world stage, but the country’s recent activities do evoke suspicion. The still unsolved October 2006 assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a frequent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration, arrived on the day that she intended to file a report detailing torture procedures of a Moscow-loyal Chechen group. The November poisoning (and subsequent death) of Alexander Litvinenko, another Kremlin detractor, has also raised concerns.

There are also worries about Russia’s domestic policy. Putin’s administration downplayed the severity of the Beslan hostage crisis in September 2004 by requesting that journalists report on the situation with government-approved terminology and minimized hostage numbers. Once the event was over, Putin took steps to centralize power by making it so regional governors were appointed rather than elected.

Recent legislation in the Russian parliament is further evidence of the country’s antidemocratic trend. One new law requires non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to reregister with the state and list their plans and activities, thus giving the government control over which NGOs can exist. Additionally, some allege that the government has clamped down on the country’s newspapers. One magazine editor was fined for writing a satirical article on the state’s intent to increase birth rates, and prosecutors originally demanded that he be jailed.

Russia’s connection with Iran is also worrisome. In 2005, Russia agreed to provide fuel for Iran’s nuclear reactors. A few months ago, Iran began receiving rockets from Russia. One report in February 2005 suggested that two satellites that Russia planned to launch for Iran were built for intelligence gathering purposes. This partnership is further corroborated by Russia’s reluctance to condemn Iran’s recent capture of British soldiers from Iraqi waters.

As for Russia’s own military concerns, in March 2007, the country’s air force chief announced plans to build a new air defense system. Around the same time, the Russian Security Council announced its intentions to revamp its military doctrine in a way that would conform to the military’s rising role in international politics. Moreover, one senior American counterintelligence official recently stated that Russian spies are showing up in the United States at rates not seen since the Cold War.

Russia’s activities haven’t made them out to be as dangerous to U.S. security as Iran and North Korea, but the state’s attitude toward Iran, combined with its intolerant treatment of Russian citizens, raises many questions.

The United States must be wary of Russia’s direction so that another Soviet Union doesn’t appear within the next few decades.