Russia, Trump, and Nukes: San Diego's Expert on Russia Weighs In

Ron Bee's expertise in the nuclear arms race made him an expert in Russia and a frequent lecturer on local college campuses.

At a campaign-style event Friday, President Donald Trump denounced what he described as criminal leaks that took down his top national security adviser and revived questions about his own ties to Russia.

On Monday, the president demanded the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn following revelations that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about Flynn's contacts with Russia.

Is President Donald Trump too close to Russia? Is this just politics? How concerned about Russia should the average American really be?

These are just a few of the questions at the center of the internet this week surrounding Russia and the president.

If you’re looking for a San Diego expert on the relations between the United States and Russia, you’ll eventually find Ron Bee.

Bee worked on the issue of nuclear weapons at the Pentagon during the Cold War.

His expertise in the nuclear arms race made him an expert in Russia and a frequent lecturer on local college campuses.

Bee is currently the Managing Director of the Hansen Summer Institute on Leadership and International Cooperation at the University of San Diego. Here are his thoughts.

NBC 7: “How concerned are you about what you're seeing in the last week and the last month out of Russia and the administration?"

Bee: "I think the National Security Advisor Flynn controversy was more about trust between him and the vice president, but what's behind it all? the Russians have been involved in messing with our elections. Not good. The Russians have invaded Ukraine. Not good. The Russians preside over a mass slaughter in Syria. Not good. Fifty percent of Western Europe’s energy is provided by Vladimir Putin. So what we're seeing is a realignment of Russia as a player, almost another Cold War I'd say. But if you start taking a look at our interests versus their interests, the one thing we have in common is counter terrorism, everything else doesn't look so good. They have client states in the middle east, they've kept Syria going for another 3 to 4 years by their intervention. Iran is a big client state, as soon as we lifted sanctions they started making deals, nuclear service deals with Iran. Ukraine, that has not improved. We just deployed more troops to Romania and Poland to reassure the eastern flank of NATO about Russia. Let's just say I'm very concerned about the trend, not just the last couple weeks or months, but the last couple of years"

NBC 7: “Is the Trump Administration too close to Russia or is this all politics?"

Bee: "I think it is mostly politics as the president has a learning curve as a business man coming into the most powerful office in the world. You've seen some appointments that suggest they're friendly to the Russia Federation, the secretary of state in particular who has helped Russia do some drilling for oil. But, if you look on the other side, if you look at the United Nations, Ambassador Haley has come out saying we really need to reinforce the sanctions against Russia for what they're doing in Ukraine. And we've just sent troops to Poland and to Romania to bolster the eastern flank right to the west of Ukraine. I'd say a lot of it is politics, but it does speak to what degree is Russia on the radar screen for this administration. We're going to have to give them some more time before that policy comes out. And frankly they don't have everybody in place yet to be able to judge whether or not this is a more pro-Russian administration."

NBC 7: “We've heard the President say having a good relationship with Russia is better. Would you agree with that principle?"

Bee: "It is a good principle, but let's not forget our national interests at the same time. There was a Russian reset that was planned by the Obama administration and the reset turned out to be a mistake and ended up in sanctions against Russia for Ukraine. It's very important to have good relations with Russia because they are after all a nuclear weapons state, in fact the largest one after us, so that's important. But, let’s not kid ourselves they're in it for their national interests and we need to be in it for ours too"

NBC 7: “What do you make of Russian fighter jets buzzing America ships and the spy ship off the east coast?"

Bee: "Well the things that are really concerning are the planes flying without their transponders on so an air traffic controller can't tell they're even there. That's part of a deal we've had all the way back to the cold war. What you see is a reemergence of Russia projecting its power, such that it is, and I think it's overblown, along the ways of the cold war. I've heard many in the business say this reminds me of about 30 years ago when this was commonplace and now it's coming back. Let’s remember Vladimir Putin was in the KGB in east Germany, he was in an area where they use the same sorts of things they're using now in terms of messing with elections, with casting doubts on governments and how they run by messing with them, by spying on anyone and everyone who has an interest for the Russian Federation. I do see Russia becoming more belligerent. They invaded Ukraine. They sent planes and ships to Syria. Now they're selling things to Iran that could help them get a nuclear weapon. Yes they're becoming more belligerent, not quite at the cold war level where we had 80,000 nuclear weapons. We only have a fraction of those now, but one nuclear weapon can sure mess up your day. They have mentioned modernizing their nuclear weapons and possibly even using them, that's something that should raise concern anywhere."

NBC 7: “What do you like, if anything, about what President Trump is doing with Russia?

Bee: "He has already stood up at the United Nations through his ambassador to suggest sanctions are necessary. Last week troops and tanks were deployed to Romania, which would suggest we're reassuring our NATO allies there. He has put in charge a grown up as secretary of state who I believe will represent the country well, regardless of his oil background. He is still working through his confirmation process and dealing with the press in a way he probably didn't think he'd have to. I'd give him some time and his administration some time to see how this all plays out. Takes about 200 days for an administration to plant themselves firmly, we're not quite there yet, we're not even at a hundred days. Some of this is politics, let’s see what he does over the next hundred days or so."

NBC 7: “What is the thing about Russia you feel is overblown and what is the thing people aren't talking about that they should be?"

Bee: "I think what's overblown is that Russia is on the same wave length or power as the United States. They're not. Their economy sucks. They're not diversified. Their economy is overly dependent on oil and with oil prices down they can't even meet their budget. They need oil prices to be 110 a barrel, it's about 50 now, so you do the math. They're overblown, they're a paper tiger. We shouldn't be worried as much about them because their economy is so bad. Outside Moscow and St Petersburg high unemployment."

"in terms of what I think we need to worry about, is we need to worry about more our own national interests with Russia and not just good relations. Good relations are important, but our own national interests, economically, politically, and militarily. We don't want another arms race, nuclear weapons are only good if you don't use them and they cost a lot of money. Economically we should build up our trade with Europe and start selling natural gas to Europe instead of Russia selling natural gas to Europe. Politically we have to reassure our alliances and the main one being NATO, which right now is engaged in deterring Russia from doing more damage in Ukraine. Overtime Ukraine is going to cost Russia a lot of money and will cost political capital back home, as I think Syria will as well. I think we're making Russia more important than it is, but let’s also treat it in our own national interest"

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