Republican lawmakers warn against more military coordination with Russia

Top Republicans in the House and Senate on Monday pushed back on the Pentagon's recent call to increase coordination between the U.S. and Russian militaries, saying they were "deeply troubled" by the news.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley last week said U.S. and Russian forces should "have an effective means of military-to-military communications in order to clearly understand each other's positions on very difficult issues" and help "de-escalate any kind of crisis situation."

Milley's comments come as the U.S. government is hoping to make inroads with Russia to gain Moscow's help in fighting extremist groups in Afghanistan.

With the U.S. military completely out of Afghanistan as of Aug. 31, Biden administration officials want to secure basing rights and counterterrorism support in the nations that border the country.  

But such interactions could have negative consequences, according to the ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Armed Services Committee, House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Armed Services Committee.

"We are deeply troubled to learn from press reports that your administration is in discussions with the Russian Federation to secure access to Russian military installations in Central Asian countries and potentially engage in some form of military cooperation on counterterrorism with the Russians," Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"Inviting Russia into discussions will not further vital U.S. counterterrorism goals, nor is it the path to a 'stable and predictable' relationship with Russia the Biden Administration claims it wants," they added.

Milley on Wednesday met with Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov for six hours in Helsinki. Afterward, he told reporters traveling with him that should military service chiefs be allowed to speak with their Russian counterparts - something that is currently not legal - U.S. defense officials could potentially avoid conflict wherever there are tensions.

"We need to put in place policies and procedures to make sure that we increase certainty, to reduce uncertainty, increase trust to reduce distrust, increase stability to reduce instability in order to avoid miscalculation and reduce the possibility of great power war," Milley said. "That's a fundamental thing that we should try to do, and I am going to try to do it."

But the Republican lawmakers warn that Moscow "is more concerned with collecting intelligence on the U.S. and our allies" than with helping prevent terrorist threats or conflicts, pointing to Russia's role in aiding "the brutal Assad regime" in Syria rather than fighting Islamic State extremists.

They also reference Russia's support to the Taliban, including providing weapons, during the United States's 20-year conflict in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, they write, any move to coordinate military basing access or operations with Russia "risks violating the legal prohibition on U.S-Russia military cooperation," a law that Congress imposed in 2016 following Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

They also demand an "immediate briefing" from the State and Defense departments on Milley's recent meeting with his Russian counterpart, the Biden administration's counterterrorism plans in Central Asia and any negotiations or coordination with Russia on such plans.