Since taking office in 2000, former KGB chief-turned Russian President Vladimir Putin has built strong personal, political and military ties to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.Putin has sold Iran and North Korea billions of dollars worth of arms and even nuclear technology. He is arming America's worst enemies for war, and in so doing, Russia has joined the "Axis of Evil." Yet on this critical issue, official Washington seems to be in a true state of denial.
In December 2005, Russia signed a $1 billion arms deal with Iran, providing the radical Islamic regime in Tehran high-speed missile and other high-tech weaponry, despite Ahmadinejad's call to annihilate the U.S. and Israel two months earlier. Russia is building nuclear facilities for Iran, has trained over 1,000 Iranian nuclear scientists, and running political interference for Iran at the U.N. to prevent us for imposing economic sanctions that could slow down Ahmadinejad's feverish bid for nuclear weapons.
But that is not all. Consider Putin's dangerously close ties to Kim Jong Il:
* On July 19-20, 2000, Putin became the first President of Russia ever to visit Pyongyang. He met with Kim Jong Il and explored ways to rebuild the once-close relationship between Russia and North Korea.
* In December 2000, the Kremlin announced its desire to dramatically increase military sales to North Korea.
* In April 2001, the Kremlin announced an official agreement to modernize North Korea's military .
* In August 2001, Kim Jong Il visited Russia and met with Putin in Moscow.
* In August 2002, Kim Jong Il visited Russia again, meeting Putin in Vladivostokhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/2204146.stm .
* In 2003, the Kremlin refused to rule out further arms sales to North Korea, despite increasingly dangeorus and provocative moves by Kim Jong Il.
* In 2003, Asian intelligence services became increasingly concerned that "North Korea and Iran are in talks over a plan to export Pyongyang'sTaepodong-2 long-range ballistic missiles to Tehran and to jointly develop nuclear warheads ....The two countries have been negotiating the deal for about a year and are likely to reach an agreement in mid-October," according to defense sources "familiar with North Korean affairs."
* In 2004, the CIA estimated that North Korea had "at least" six nuclear weapons and by 2007 could produce enough highly enriched uranium to produce six new nuclear weapons a year
* In 2004, the New York Times reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency recently found strong evidence that the 1.7 metric tons of the uranium in Libya's possession came from North Korea. The uranium was described as being unusable for nuclear fuel, but was enough material to make one nuclear bomb, noted the web site MissileThreat.com. The Times said "that a new level of suspicion now lurks, that North may have sold uranium to other countries or to terrorists."
* In August and September 2004, U.S. intelligence officials and analysts began worrying openly about the threat of North Korea and Iran firing nuclear missiles at American cities off the back of commercial container ships, giving us little or no warning before impact and detonation. Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld said one Middle East nation already has "launched a ballistic missile from a cargo vessel," referring to Iran. "They [took] a short-range, probably Scudmissile, put it on a transporter-erector launcher, lowered it in, taken the vessel out into the water, peeled back the top, erected it, fired it, lowered it, covered it up. And the ship that they used was using a radar and electronic equipment that was no different than 50, 60, 100 other ships operating in the immediate area." Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, said at the time that the danger of ship-based missiles is growing. "I believe it's just a matter of time until the terrorists try to use a...maritime attack against us. I believe that attack could come in terms of bringing a ship into port, whether it's [carrying] high explosives or whether it's weapons of mass destruction." Asian affairs analyst Richard Fisher told the Washington Times: "Should North Korea adopt this strategy, it would have the option of trying to infiltrate and pre-position its missiles in Canada, Central America or even the continental United States. U.S. missile defenses do not currently defend against either launches from the south of or within the contiguous 50 states."
* In 2005, Putin actually personally awarded a medal of honor to the North Korean dictator who is starving his own people and threatening the world with nuclear war.
* In August 2006, a Russian newspaper reported that U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that North Korea is laundering money through Russian banks and in the process helping North Korea sell ballistic missile technology to Iran, Syria and Pakistan. "The American Center for Nonproliferation Studies released a report yesterday claiming that North Korean authorities, with the help of private Russian companies, are providing ballistic missile to third countries, Iran, Syria and Pakistan in particular," reported Kommersant.
"This information comes at the same time as a scandal is unfolding over the North Korean regime's transfer of a considerable part of its bank accounts to Russia, skirting American sanctions. Although these accusations are only coming from NGOs right now, they may become the case of the next strain in Russian-American relations." U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that "Russian firms help North Korea develop missile technology, Pyongyang sells it to other problem countries, and the proceeds from those sales are deposited in North Korean accounts in Russian banks. It is only a small step form that picture to the accusation of violating nonproliferation rules."
A red storm is rising. Mr. Putin gave a speech last year calling the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. He wants to rebuild the glory of Mother Russia. He is increasingly Russia's military budget. He is arming our worst enemies. He is suppressing dissent inside Russia and centralizing power to himself in the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin is a New Czar in the making and he is building a new anti-democratic alliance against the United States and the West.
Thus far, Washington has done little to confront Mr. Putin effectively over Russia's increasingly dangerous ties to North Korea and Iran. But the Bush administration must immediately make it clear that Russia is becoming a real and growing threat to American national security. The President and top Congressional leaders from both parties must lay out the consequences of Russia continuing down this path. And they must do so immediately. The urgency and the stakes could not be higher.