Forget a return to the Cold War. Matthew Rojansky tells CNN we have gone right into a conflict with Russia. And what's stirring that pot is the 2016 presidential race. Rojansky is the director of the Keenan Institute at the Wilson Center, and he told CNN that "this is a conflict, there should be no doubt."

The Russians are said to be fuming, and taking it quite amiss, that the Democrats are accusing them of hacking their emails and publishing them via Wikileaks. Of course hacking is quite illegal. US intelligence has briefed both of the major US Presidential candidates on the accusation that this was done by the Russians. The Democrats allege the Russians want Donald Trump to win because Hillary Clinton is more hawkish toward them, and indeed Clinton's stated policies are less agreeable than Trump's might be to the Russians. 

And this is in fact leading to some disconcerting decelopments.

In July the deployment of the nuclear capable Iskander missile to the former and still occupied Königsberg region  (Kalliningrad), which is nestled between Poland and Lithuania, rattled things.  While Russia denied that this deployment was meant as anything but a drill, the fact these missiles are now there changes the security calculus. This is especially true as Obama has scrapped an anti-missile defense program slated to have been deployed by now in Poland. On his first acts as president was to end that plan, which now leaves all of NATO under instance threat.

On October 3, 2o16 the Russians withdrew from a 200o treaty which would require the disposal on both sides of tons of plutonium stored but not yet weaponized during the Cold War. Vladimir Putin cited the deterioration of relations with the US and alleged US aggressiveness as the reason for the unprecedented step. 

Sticking with the theme that Democrats accuse Russia of being behind the Wikileaks hacks, Press Secretary Josh Earnest on October 11th threatened retaliation against the Russians. This rather unusual and quite provocative statement was clear- the US would respond in "proportion" to what the Russians had done. To be proportional the US would have to hack into Russian officials or political groups' emails and publish the confidential or secret results. While Earnest said nobody would ever know how or when this happened, which begs the question of two wrongs making a right, it would look like what the Democrats are saying the Russians did in the US- the US would interfere in a Russian election.

Nobody has proven the Russians did this. But the provocation is severe. And it is having a huge impact. If Putin thinks for a minute that the US is going to hack him and air his dirty laundry in a way that could cause a major eruption in Russia he will use force. While any interference in US elections should be off the table, the Democrats enjoy the near monopoly support of a pliant media and are likely to weather any storm, as indeed they have. But the Russians may fear violent repercussions if something in kind happens to them. What is worse, if they are not guilty as charged then the US is taking what would be state-threatening action for no good reason.

Both Clinton and Trump agree the election is being rigged: Trump blames the media and Clinton blames the Russians. The media only buys ink by the barrel, the Russians buy plutonium and uranium by the ton.

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