Exclusive report: The East-West Balance and the Strategic Importance of Crimea - April, 2014

Discussions on Ukraine and Crimea these days are inevitably ending up with questions regarding the military parity between the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the Western world. Therefore, it was only natural, if not inevitable, that this blog's resident military analyst would provide our virtual community with an exclusive report on the subject matter. Following this little prelude, I am very pleased to present to you comrade Zoravar's assessment of the military situation in Crimea and the balance of power that currently exists between the Russian Federation and the West. For further perspective on regional conflicts, please make sure to revisit Zoravar's three previous blog entries -
The Battle for Ukraine enters a new phase

In a move only befitting a veteran grossmeister, President Putin has begun to recreate a "Maidan" in eastern Ukraine. Barricades, burning tires, hooded men with clubs and shields, occupation of public buildings, clashes with police, calls for liberation, proclamations of independence, accusations of foreign meddling, threats of a crackdown... It's all there.

And now, the battle for Ukraine has entered a new phase.

It is clear that Moscow is luring Kiev to overreact. Moscow is also forcing Western officials to publicly speak against the very same tactics they used only weeks ago to topple the pro-Russian leadership in Ukraine. As Russia expertly reveals the Western world's criminality, hypocrisy and impotence, it is meticulously setting up its field of play in eastern and southern Ukraine.

As of this writing, pro-Russian separatists (most probably led by GRU operatives) have occupied government buildings in several eastern Ukrainian cities and Moscow has amassed tens-of-thousands of troops and military hardware right on the border of eastern Ukraine... patiently waiting to see what Kiev and their benefactors in the West will do next. For reasons that should be obvious, I strongly suspect Kremlin officials are hoping for a harsh reaction by the Western-backed regime in Kiev.

Will Kiev take the bait?

An early attempt by Kiev ended in utter humiliation when the Ukrainian military unit hastily sent to quell the unrest in the east quickly defected to the Russian side. If Kiev garners enough courage (or is pushed into the fire by its Western benefactors) and attempts to do more, and there is widespread bloodshed as a result, Moscow will have the legitimate excuse to send in Russian troops. Russian officials have been publicly stating that Moscow "will respond if its interests are attacked" in eastern Ukraine.

If Kiev does not send its security forces, and thereby allows pro-Russian forces to dig in and further spread their movement throughout eastern and southern Ukraine, the entire region in question will effectively become a semi-autonomous region taking orders from Moscow. Therefore, it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario for Kiev.

Nevertheless, the illegitimate regime in Kiev and Western powers must realize that if given the order to move west, within a few hours these Russian forces will smash right through any defense lines Kiev is capable of erecting and within a few days reach the Dnieper River.

Needless to say, the West is in a panic for they have absolutely no levers against Russia.

Western news media's complicity

Isn't it revealing just how complicit the Western news media has been in all this? When observing any one of the news organizations in question, one immediately gets struck by the troubling realization that when it comes to serious political matters, somehow all the talking points suddenly become identical.

Case in point: When they are reporting on the pro-Russian protestors in eastern Ukraine, every single one of the news commentators in the US make sure to add now that Russian money and Russian provocateurs are involved in the unrest, although no credible evidence exists behind the accusation. Not a single one of the Western news media covered widespread reports of Western provocateurs and money in Maidan. While every single one of the Western news outlets were reporting that EuroMaidan protesters were pro-democracy activists seeking justice, they are all now claiming that eastern Ukrainian activists are separatists seeking secession. 

Or when they all report: "Western sanctions are 'hurting' Russia"... "Russian Ruble and the Russian economy is 'tanking' as a result of Crimea"... "The White House 'warns' Russia"... "Obama 'tells' Putin"... "The US and its allies stand up to  Russia"... "the 'world' is united against Russia" "US is bolstering forces in Europe"... Moreover, has the reader noticed that after being relentlessly bombarded by countless heartrending reports about individual "EuroMaidan" protestors - all to put a human face on the struggle of course - all of a sudden, not a single news organization in the West wants to cover the struggle of pro-Russian protesters?!?!?!

How can there be so much in common between the official line regarding Ukraine-Russia and what "independent" news organizations in the West are reporting? How can such a thing happen if there really exist such a thing called "independent journalism" in the Western world? Well folks, stuff like this does not happen by chance and the news media in the West has not been independent for a very long time. There is in fact high level coordination and collaboration between the Western world's mainstream news media outlets and Western power centers. Western news media is in the business of disseminating Western propaganda, not news. 

Their psy-ops is primarily meant to condition the mindsets of the Western public by placating their fears and enforcing the notion in their minds that Russia is an aggressive yet backward nation - but one that is also afraid of the West. They are trying to convey a message that they are still powerful and in control...

God forbid their game of make belief falls apart and they are exposed to what they really are.

Western sanctions will ultimately help Russia

Western sanctions, as predicted, have not hurt Russia. The Russian Federation is one of the most self-reliant nation-state on earth. In fact, Western sanctions have only served to encourage Russians to turn inward and eastward. West-leaning voices in Moscow are becoming increasingly marginalized, east-leaning voices in Moscow are gaining strength. Today, there is the possibility for a close alliance to be formed between Russia and China. We shouldn't be surprised if the great German nation also joins this alliance, after it finally frees itself from Anglo-American-Judeo occupation. Such an alliance can effectively end the Anglo-American era that has come to permeate the world for two hundred years.

As a result of Western aggression, talk about abandoning the US Dollar as a global reserve currency is once more gaining momentum. News reports out of Moscow recently are loud signals pointing to this direction. Needless to say, Western officials are panicking. The Western world essentially exists as a result of the US Dollar's status as global reserve currency. If this all snow balls and the US Dollars gradually stops being used in international transactions... party over! The Soviet Union's tumultuous collapse will look like a leisurely walk through pretty flower garden compared to what the Western world will suffer.

As Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi found out, Western officials take attempts against the global hegemony of the US Dollar very-very seriously. But, as the West is now finding out, Russia is not Iraq nor is it Libya.

With that said, just think for a moment: What right do Western officials have in telling other nations what currency they can trade with? What right do Western officials have in confiscating other people's bank accounts? What right do Western officials have in telling other nations who they can trade with and who they cant. 

The near total control the Westn world has over global trade and finance is the greatest danger mankind faces today. The much touted "globalized economy" is rigged by Western powers. Consequently, all roads inevitably lead to the Anglo-American world. If nations of the world are forced to trade with the West, if nations of the world are forced to use its currency for trade, how can they ever effectively stand up to the West when the West moves against them?

It's a wonderful racket the Western world has had in place since Bretton Woods. For humanity's sake, I can only hope that this over seventy year old abomination is coming to an end. Recent events have once again reinforced the notion that the world's financial and economic levers have to be taken away from Western control and the US Dollar has to be dethroned.

The Russian Spring has arrived

Very methodical, very patient, very professional, very meticulous. The Russian Bear has been impressive. Russia's reaction to the situation in Crimea and eastern Ukraine has been, in my opinion, one of the most impressive yet non-lethal liberation campaign we have seen in modern times. The strategic Crimean peninsula has been reunited with Mother Russia and eastern and southern Ukraine are, at the very least, on the path to federalization. The following are my previous three blog entries on the crisis in Ukraine. Please revisit them for more insight -
Abruptly awakened  in the summer of 2008, the Russian Bear is now fully up and on the prowl. It's been a brilliant display of diplomacy, realpolitik and military might, the likes of which we have not seen in decades, and the likes of which only President Putin could provide. Like a well-oiled and finely-tuned machine, Russian troops were able to fully secure the entire Crimean peninsula - without a single shot fired in anger. Hundreds-of-thousands of Russian troops and thousands of units of military hardware have been on the constant move from the Baltics to the Far East in an impressive show of force not seen in the world for decades. There even was an ICBM test lunch, in case the aforementioned was not enough to impress or to distress Russia's antagonists. The reunification of Crimea with Mother Russia was so efficient and esthetically pleasing that political observers and military enthusiasts worldwide, including Westerners, have been in awe. The Russian Spring has arrived, although not in the way Western demons were hoping for -
Наши боевые вертолёты в Крыму. Весна 2014:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWZncYPkNTQ
Russia's armed forces have come a very long way since they liberated Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the summer of 2008. Although Russia's military at the time had achieved all its objectives against Georgia's Western/Israeli/Turkish trained and armed troops with relative ease and a low number of casualties, it was still clearly rough around the edges and its military hardware left a lot to be desired. As veteran journalist David Ignatious and the world renowned military publication like Janes have attested, times are changing. President Putin's efforts to reform and modernize Russia's armed forces has been a success and this something that is troubling Western powers. 

Russia today is executing politics in a brilliant manner, drawing from all classical schools-of-thought pertaining to statecraft and warfare. None of this should have surprised Western observers for Russia today is in its element.

Russia's natural need for defensive depth

When it comes to understanding Moscow's actions, disregard every single explanation you have heard from every single expert, analyst or observer in the Western media and consider the following.

Foremost, Moscow is not trying to resurrect the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire. Yes, many of the ceremonial rituals adopted by the modern Russian state are inspired by Czarist Russia. Yes, Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. President Putin is also said to have said: Those who do not feel bad about the demise of the Soviet Union have no heart, those who want it back have no brains.

Once more, for those Armenians who as a result of Western propaganda are having problems with reality: Deeper Russian involvement
in Armenia simply means closer, more effective political, military, economic and financial cooperation between former Soviet states - and not the lose of Armenia's "independence" as our Western funded activists are desperately trying to convince us.
In creating the CSTO and the Eurasian Union, Russia is putting together an answer to the monopoly set up by EU and NATO.

No, Bolshevism is not returning to Moscow. No, the Soviet Union is not returning to Armenia. And no, the Russian nation does not have the appetite - or is stupid enough - to ever seek the resurrection of the Russian Empire.
Thus, when we talk about greater Russian involvement in the context of former Soviet republics, what we are essentially talking about is a Russian-led confederation of independent states closely working with each other. Suggesting anything else is utter nonsense derived from Western propaganda, political illiteracy and/or paranoia. We therefore need to put aside the silly notion that Russia is somehow trying to recreate the "Soviet Union". This type of tacky fearmongering is the by-product of professional Russophobes such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, warmongering psychopaths like John McCain and opportunistic reptiles like Hillary Clinton.

So then, why is Russia stirring as of late?

Simply put: Because they don't want to be faced with confronting their enemies at their doorstep, where it's too late.

Major powers seek to surround themselves with allied or, at the very least, neutral powers that do not pose an economic or militarily threat. For military planers in charge of securing national borders, securing something that is know as satellite states, defensive depth, forward defense, buffer zones or zones of influence are an essential part of a comprehensive national defense formula.

What Moscow has therefore been doing in its "near abroad" (i.e. former Soviet territory) is something all nation-states do to protect themselves. This is especially the case with major nation-states who have historically had serious problems with neighbors. Russia's military actions need to be looked at from within such a prism.

Once opposing powers have set-up shop at your doorstep, you have already lost half the battle. Since Russian society by in-large has been able to resist the corrosive effects of Western Globalism and have maintained Russian nationalism, conservatism and Christian faith, no self-respecting Russian official today will be comfortable with NATO and EU closing on the borders of Russia. Western officials know this very well but encroaching on Russian territory is exactly what they have been doing.

Western European powers have the Atlantic Ocean and allied buffer states in central and eastern Europe for their defensive depth. The United States has two natural barriers: Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and two allied buffer states, Canada and Mexico for its security. On the other hand, the Russia Federation, a vast tract of land that stretches from Europe to the Far East, does not have the luxury of its peers in the Western world. Be it in central Europe, the Baltics, Scandinavia, the Arctic region, the Black Sea region, the Caucasus (north and south), central Asia, Chinese border or Alaska, Russian officials are constantly on the watch. It's not an enviable responsibility, but it is admirable how successful Russian leaders have been for the most part during the past several hundreds.

Russia's geography has for ages dictated Russian political policy and has given Russians themselves their unique characteristics. Russia's legendary military prowess is a by-product of the Russian people's genetic makeup, its folk culture and the harsh realities of Russia's geography. Russia's statecraft including its military is thus a reflection of Russia's natural needs.

During the early post-Soviet years, Moscow reluctantly tolerated Western inroads into former communist regions of eastern-Europe because it was in no shape to react in any meaningful ways. With that said, Western policymakers knew very well that Ukraine, Belarus and greater Caucasus region would be Moscow's red lines for these were strategic regions Russia would not give up. Perhaps it was their imperial hubris that blinded them, perhaps desperation. Regardless of why they did what they did in Ukraine, the Western world will now have a rude awakening for this is not 1853, this is not the 1990s nor is it 2004. The Russian Bear has come out of its hibernation and it is hungry and angry and there is nothing Western powers can do to stop it.

The Western military is a paper tiger

Long range cruise missiles... scify looking "special ops" troops... stealth bombers... fifth generation fighters... pilot-less drones roaming the skies... aircraft carrier groups roaming the oceans... bombing tribal villages... terrorizing third world populations...

I'm really not all that impressed. 

Omit the nuclear factor, Western militaries, including the armed forces of the US, are paper tigers who only excel at sexual assaults, drug abuse, suicide and committing atrocities against third world populations. If I had to described Western military in a few words, it would be: Drug induced, multiracial, sexually deviant hordes armed with fancy yet expensive gadgets that don't always work.

Historically, Anglo-American militaries (particularly their land forces) have never been very effective in combat against equals.

Napoleon's depleted and exhausted army in 1812 was defeated by Prussians, not the British. Anglo-American-French forces did not militarily defeat Germany during the First World War, Germany surrendered due to domestic problems. Nazi Germany was defeated only when the Soviet Union turned the tide in 1943 as a result of a series of German military blunders. Japan was only defeated when the US resorted to using atomic bombs. The Korean war was a stalemate. The Vietnam war was a defeat. The West didn't dare engage the Serbian army in ground warfare. Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been failures for the most part. Libya was less like a war and more like an armed robbery of a wealthy yet vulnerable nation.

I cannot think of a war or a major battle during which Western forces were able to defeat a truly powerful foe on the battlefield without assistance and/or without using weapons of mass destruction. 

Yet, due to Western successes (albeit limited) against African, Middle Eastern and Central Asian tribesmen in recent years - as well as ubiquitous movies, novels and television programming celebrating US military prowess, most people today simply assume that Western militaries are formidable on the modern battlefield. Western military strength is more a matter perception than a thing of reality. But as long as they produce blockbuster films such as Zero Dark Thirty and Flags of our Fathers, the global sheeple will continue believing. The reality is that Western militaries are not all that impressive under closer scrutiny. Therefore, don't believe the hype.

When celebration of gay marriage and mass shootings continue to make news headlines around the Western world, you know Western civilization is in decline.

Western societies have become dumbed-down. Western men have become demasculinized. Western women have lost their femininity. Inundated by ultra-liberalism and multiculturalism, Western societies have lost the true meaning of culture, nationalism and a general sense of direction. Over medicated, over entertained, overweight and undereducated, Americans have become a very strange hybrid within the human race. Western governments have been hijacked by mega-corporations and self-serving special interests. Western militaries have become overdependent on technology and the only combat experience they have had in recent decades is against third world militaries and backward Islamic tribes. 

For the Western soldier war fighting has been very comfortable (imagine, just the cost for keeping American troops cool in Iraq and Afghanistan is many times more than the national defense budgets of most nations on earth today) and, dare I say, even fun - just like a video game!

With that said, a vast majority of the combat arsenal in Western inventories today are in fact Cold War era productions. The modern but ridiculously expensive stealth aircraft such as the B-2, F-22 and the F-35 are too impractical and too flawed. Such weapons systems only serve to deplete state coffers. And the world famous carrier battle groups, the pride of the US for decades, are only good at terrorizing third world populations into compliance.

The US and Britain have traditionally been air and naval powers. Such powers are never truly successful on land - where it matters the most. In my opinion, to be considered a truly successful military, one has to have a very powerful land force, that is only supplemented by air and naval forces. While the West surpasses (thus far) the capabilities of Russia on the open oceans and in the air, Russia will by the end of this decade have by-far the most powerful land force on earth. Russia will be the most formidable military on the Eurasian continent. But, even today, Russia could hold its own against Western air and naval forces via the utilization of highly sophisticated anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.

At the end of the day, when it comes to raw fighting abilities, I'd pick aggressive and patriotic Slavic Russians and their very efficient and innovative military industrial complex over any other nation on earth today.

If it somehow comes down to a shooting war between Ukrainians and Russians, the Russian military will utterly crush their Ukrainian opponents - with or without Western mercenary support. Let's recall that six years ago, Russia, with barely over ten thousand troops armed with terribly obsolete military hardware, was able to totally crush Georgia's Western/Israeli/Turkish armed and trained military in a matter of two or three days. Let's also recognize that in the years following Russia's astounding military success in Georgia, Moscow has been modernizing its armed forces to the tune of hundreds-of-billions of dollars. Today, Russia's armed forces have the anti-ship weaponry to sink every opposing warship within the entire Black Sea basin - including Western ones - within the first few days of the war's outbreak. Today, Russia's armed forces are capable of having air and ground superiority throughout eastern Ukraine, also within the first few days of the war. The kind of military assets Moscow has stationed right on eastern Ukraine's borders is more than enough for Russian troops to reach the Dnieper River within a few short days. We also need to recognize that Kiev's already under-trained, under-funded, under-equipped and undermanned military units will be severely handicapped by divisions along ethnic and ideological lines and may even begin fighting each other.

At the end of the day, there is little doubt that Russia will make short work out of the Ukrainian military and there is even less doubt that the West will remain on the sidelines.

Even if by some miracle Western powers decide to wage a conventional war against Russia, they will still be incapable of resisting an all-out Russian onslaught in Ukraine. For any kind of a truly effective military response against Russian troops in the region, Western forces will need to bring significant naval assets into the Black Sea. And that is their major handicap against Russia. This isn't 1853, hitting Western warships in the Black Sea would be like shooting fish in a barrel for the Russian air force, navy and land-based anti-ship missile systems. A few US warships at the bottom of the sea in the first few days of combat will make Western forces either withdraw or respond with nuclear weaponry. Since they are not ready to do either, they will not risk any form of direct combat with Russia. Moreover, in such a farfetched hypothetical scenario, any airbase in Europe that Western aircraft use to fly sorties over Ukraine will go up in flames by highly accurate long range ballistic missiles such as the Iskander. Let's also recognize that in such a scenario, the West will also most probably be faced with having to deal with a large Russian land invasion of the Baltics and the south Caucasus.

As I said, faced with such scenarios, Western forces will either withdraw or respond with nuclear weaponry. Since they are not ready to do either, they will not risk direct combat with Russia - especially over something as insignificant for the Western world as Ukraine. As evil as they may be, Western officials are not crazy enough, they do not have the military capabilities necessary and they do not have the political will - or courage or the financial resources or the public support - to directly engage Russia in any form of military combat, especially to protect a bunch of worthless wannabe Nazis in Kiev. 

This is essentially why John Kohen Kerry wants the world to know that the US "will use 21st century tools to hold Russia accountable for 19th century behavior". In other words, Washington will stick to its worthless sanctions against Russia... something that will in fact prove counterproductive for the Western world in the long-term, as it will force Russia and its allies to move away from the US Dollar thereby weakening its global dominance. 

Kessab may be an opportunity in disguise

As long as Yerevan preserves its strategic ties with Moscow and works to cultivate better Russo-Armenian relations, we Armenians will sooner-or-later see the reunification of Artsakh with Armenia - with full Russian backing. However, before we expect Russians to assist us in such a manner we as a people need to rid ourselves of our Asiatic ways, political illiteracy, Russophobia and of course Western agents. As long as Armenia flirts with the political West and continues to host an army of Western operative and organizations, Moscow will keep Armenia on a very short leash. In other words, Armenia needs to kill its complimentary politics nonsense before it kills Armenia.

The signs out of Yerevan, however, are encouraging: President Sargsyan's announcement last September, President Putin's state visit last December, Yerevan's recent recognition of Crimea's reunification with Russia, and the more recent resignation of the IMF-trained Prime Minister of Armenia are all unmistakable signs that official Yerevan is slowly but surely putting the "complimentary" nonsense to rest. Serious political observers are already recognizing Armenia's emerging new foreign policy, and Western propagandists are already lamenting. And it is also very encouraging to see an increase in Moscow's military activities in Armenia.

Recent events have proven - even to some of the most dense within Armenian society - that Armenia's rightful place is within the political, military and economic orbit of the Russian Federation. Recent events have proven beyond any doubt that the West continues to be firmly in bed with Turkish and Wahhabi Islamic interests due to the Western world's long term designs against Russia, Iran and pan-Arab nationalism. More-and-more Armenians are now recognizing the West as aggressors around the world. They should have recognized this many years ago, but better late than never.

Due to the Anglo-American-Jewish agenda for the Middle East, Syria has been turned into a bloody battlefield. The oldest Christian population in the world has suffered terribly as a result and descendents of Armenian genocide survivors are once again faced with being exiled from their homes by the very same enemy.

As expected, the big talking ARF, which has significant assets throughout Lebanon and Syria, has once more proven to be utterly incompetent and impotent. As expected, the million strong American-Armenian Diaspora has once more proven to be worthless. The situation in Syria has once again shown us all that a penny spent on the Diaspora is a penny wasted. Speaking volumes about Armenian political illiteracy and self-destructive behavior: Other than "twitting" messages of concern, politely "informing" US officials (i.e. those behind the war crimes in question) about what is going on in Syria and making strong "statements", for the American-Armenian community is it business as usual - and come April 24, will we have the American-Armenian community's anal-warts once more bending-over with hope.

Where are the loud protests against Washington's criminal actions in Syria?

Where are the loud protests at the US embassy in Armenia? Where are the placards with biting slogans against President Barack Obama or the American empire? Where are all those vulgar protesters that were courageous enough to take to the streets against President Putin's state visit to Armenia last December? Where are all the assholes in the following picture? -

Haven't we seen a number of protests against Russia and President Putin within Armenia in recent years (including one in the name of a criminally reckless truck operator who had killed eighteen people in Russia)? We have yet to see however a single protest at one of the largest CIA branches in the world, the US embassy in Yerevan. We have seen armies of journalists and political activists in Armenia reporting about the perceived anti-Armenian policies of Russia... We even have whores trying to ban the airing of Russian television programming in Armenia... yet not a single "independent" journalist or a rights advocate or a political activist seems willing to express any form of criticism against the US or NATO.

I repeat: Not a single protest in front of the US embassy in Yerevan.


Perhaps because the US embassy is doing its best to keep Armenians in Yerevan HAPPY!!!

Yes! Armenians dancing like idiots, wrapping themselves in American flags, singing American songs and making merry - all for the US embassy's PR efforts in Armenia!

A politically aware, or a self-respecting human-being for that matter, would have refused to do a US sanctioned psy-ops like the music video above - especially in light of the fact that US embassies around the world are fronts for the CIA and they push bloody imperial agendas, including in Armenia. Before it was shut down, the US embassy in Syria laid down the very foundations of the historic carnage we have been witnessing throughout Syria during the last three years. Similar accusations can of course be made against US embassies in Serbia, Venezuela, Russia, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine... Despite the big happy face they put on it, the US embassy in Yerevan, one of the largest in the world, is in fact a monster in disguise and the nerdy/impotent looking US ambassador in Yerevan is in fact a war criminal by default. 

But the power of American pop culture is such that we have Armenians dancing like monkeys for imperial officials who are currently conspiring against their homeland.

With that said, the situation in Kessab, Syria may be a window of opportunity if Armenians put aside their victim mentalities, Western fetishes and material pursuits and exploit it properly.

Foremost, we must recognize that Kessab is in fact historic Armenia. The territory of Kessab is the southern reaches of the Armenian Crusader Kingdom of Cilicia. Kessab Armenians actually live on historic Armenian lands. Taking into consideration the Bashar Assad government's desperation and Armenia's  closeness to Russia, Yerevan needs to draw on its assets to convince Moscow and Damascus to allow Armenians some form of semi-autonomy within the region of Kessab as well as perhaps Latakia. But first, Yerevan needs to end its counterproductive cooperation with NATO and transfer Armenian peacekeepers currently located in Kosovo and Afghanistan into Syria. Moreover, military experts from Armenia and Artsakh should also be taken to the region to help Armenians there begin organizing self-defense units. Armenians should also seek a role in the maintenance and/or protection of Russian military installations in the region. 

Theoretically, we have an opportunity today to resurrect portions of historic Kilikia in the north-western corner of Syria as a Russo-Armenian protectorate. This is a possibility today that needs to be explored.

To this effect, we need to end our wasteful and counterproductive efforts in an anti-Armenian viper's nest like Washington and begin thinking in this direction. At the very least, the situation in Syria is yet another opportunity to finally convince our sheeple that the Diaspora is a dead end (most times figuratively, and as Kessab has recently shown, sometimes literally). All self-respecting Armenians need to think about repatriation to the Armenian homeland.

In closing, I'd like to remind the reader once more that on the eve of the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War, the world is once again being attacked by corrosive ideological movements formulated and promoted in Western lands. This is not only Russia's fight - this is humanity's fight. Russia's fight is Armenia's fight. This is indeed a fight between good and evil, and we are on the side of good. The Russian state today is the world's last major cradle for conservatism, apostolic Christianity, classical European civilization and the last front against gay marriage, ultra-liberalism, multiculturalism, interracialism, atheism and genetically modified foods. 

I continue to hope that my next blog commentary will not have to be about a European war. I continue to pray for peace - but I also continue to hope that Kremlin officials are getting their big guns ready just in case peace proves elusive. We are indeed living in historic times. The seeds sown today will bare fruit in the future. I feel privileged to have witnessed the historic reunification of Crimea to the Russian Motherland and I now look forward to witnessing the reunification of Artsakh to the Armenian homeland. 

With great pleasure I now present to you Zoravar's exclusive report.

April, 2014


The East-West Balance and the Strategic Importance of Crimea

At the ready ... Russian soldiers stand near a tank outside a former Ukrainian military b

Russian Army in Crimea

On 9 August 1999, Vladimir Putin was appointed acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation by President Yeltsin who also announced that he wanted to see Putin as his successor. Less than 3 weeks later - on the 26th of August 1999 - the Second Chechen War was launched by the Russian Army. That military campaign was the beginning of a new chapter in the book of Contemporary Military History of the World.

But first, let me get back to a little bit of History. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union 1991, Russia was brought to its knees. During the decade following that historic “Cold War victory” of the West over Communism, Russia experienced a plethora of problems ranging from financial to political and from social to demographic. The country’s economy was in a mess, mafia and oligarchs were flourishing, corruption was everywhere, poverty and unemployment were on the rise, patriotism and morale were at their lowest. What else can I mention? Tanks had fired on the parliament building in Moscow and Chechnya was given de-facto independence right after the first Chechen War. How much worse could it get for Russia? Well, the Western advisors with IMF loans were working on it …while Western leaders were unleashing their armies to smash the remaining of Russia’s allies, friends and clients like Serbia and Iraq.


Kamov Ka-52 gunship is reported to have been deployed to Crimea at the beginning of April

I remember with bitterness the days when the demoralized soldiers of the Russian army could not defeat armed Chechen gangs during the First Chechen War that lasted from late 1994 to the middle of 1996. Fresh out of the nasty Afghan conflict and facing the chaotic aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Army was using the wrong tactics and the wrong equipment to fight an unpopular war the Russian nation was not prepared for.

Fast forward to the Second Chechen War. The reader might wonder about the reason I am attaching so much importance to this particular conflict. Well, it is the way this war started that is most significant. Allow me to explain: The Second Chechen War was initiated in response to the invasion of the Dagestan region of the Russian Federation by the Chechen gangs… Just like the August, 2008 Five-Day War which was initiated in response to Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia... and just like the recent Crimea intervention which also was initiated in response to the violent takeover of administration in Kiev and repression of Russian speakers in Ukraine.

By now, the leaders of the Western powers should understand that if given a reason, a pretext or a justification, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will not blink and he will seize and use the opportunity to its fullest.


Sukhoi Su-35 air superiority fighter has recently entered service in the Far-East Military district

Appearances and tactics in the above conflicts are also noteworthy. During the Second  Chechen War, Russian soldiers looked not much different than our own Armenian Fedayees during the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict: Rag-like, mismatched uniforms and even personal sport shoes instead of Army boots. Their progress on the ground was slow because of the cautious tactics used to minimize losses to Russian troops. During the August, 2008 Georgia war, the Russians looked only slightly better. Soldiers within the same military units could be seen wearing different uniforms, but the tactics were a whole new ball game: Daring dashes through Georgian lines, audacious beach landings and pin-point strikes on key installations caused the collapse of al Georgian resistance in a matter of days. And, finally, we have the well-oiled and thoroughly rehearsed war machine that commandeered the Crimean peninsula and reversed the whole military situation essentially overnight - with highly disciplined soldiers in great looking uniforms, not having to fire a single shot in anger.

Yes, the world is no longer unipolar. There are now two super-powers once again and the previously much discussed - but dormant for two decades - subject of Military Balance is back in full fashion. This blog is not a military one, so I will avoid boring the readers with a detailed military analysis and go straight to the conclusions:

Nuclear Conflict

The Balance of Terror has always been intact and the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) concept was never in doubt. Even during Russia’s worst years, when the Army, its equipment and the military industry were rapidly decaying, Yeltsin's administration managed to still keep the Nuclear Strategic Forces credible. More recently, the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces were the first branch of the Armed Forces that went (and are still going through) modernization. During the last few years the road mobile TOPOL Intercontinental Ballistic missiles were supplemented by more modern TOPOL-M versions which in turn are being replaced by the newer YARS. New rail-mobile missiles and super-heavy class silo based missiles are being developed. The construction of 8 BOREI class submarines that can each carry 16 newly introduced BULAVA intercontinental missiles was initiated. 2 of the boats are already in service, the rest are in construction and will replace the older Soviet era DELTA class subs. The newer ballistic missiles, both land and sea launched, have features that make them harder to intercept by US anti-missile systems.


Mobile TOPOL Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (10,000 km range)

While Russia was modernizing its nuclear deterrent, the USA was doing nothing… well, they were fighting the so-called “War on Terror”!

The USA’s nuclear deterrent is made up of Cold-War era ballistic missiles. Their systems date back to the eighties and even before! Their OHIO class nuclear subs that they rely so much on have an average age of 25 years! This old US arsenal is increasingly vulnerable to the soon to materialize Russian missile defense system which will include the S-500 air and space defense complex. Sooner or later, the Obama administration or the next president of the USA will have to commit huge finances to replace and modernize their Strategic Forces of America. And considering the pathway of military contracts in that country with their inexplicable delays and massive cost overruns due to corruption and politics, it is going to cost the USA hundreds of billions (if not trillions) to revamp that branch of their Armed Forces. It will be a quite a challenge for them considering that not a single new Ballistic missile was designed in the USA for decades and that most of the expertise has been lost.

Conventional Conflict Close to Russia’s Borders

A conventional attack on Russia is unthinkable as it will quickly escalade into a nuclear exchange. Having said that, there is always the possibility of having a limited war in a country neighboring Russia. One can think of Ukraine or Georgia as being good example where the USA or NATO can dispatch forces to confront Russia in a conventional shootout without resorting to nuclear arsenals. Back in 1999, Yeltsin could not defend Serbia properly. All he could do was to send a contingent of troops to capture the Pristina airport, and that was after the bombing of Serbia by NATO warplanes. That was at a time when Russian was weak. In 2008 (Georgia) and in 2014 (Crimea), the roles were reversed and it was the West that was powerless. In short, a rejuvenated Russia cannot be beaten at or near its borders for two main reasons:
Tactical and logistics: Proximity to Russia means easier moving of troops and equipment , quicker reactions to changes on the battlefield, shorter lines of communication, better knowledge of the area and in many cases having friendly local populations on the ground etc. etc. Consider  the logistical nightmares and costs the USA is/was going through when resupplying their troops in Afghanistan for example. Everything from tanks to thanksgiving turkey dinners has to be airlifted! At or near its borders, Russia enjoys the advantage of having troops nearby or even already on the ground. NATO will have to go through great lengths to get sufficient units there. By the time they get there, it will be too late!

Commitment: It is a matter of survival. A conflict at or near Russia’s borders will be far more important for the Russians than to their opponents. The Russian government, population and soldiers will be ready to go to greater lengths and sacrifice more just to win it. Russia’s history is proof of that point. The level of commitment of NATO and their population is just not up to that level. The stakes will just be not that high for them.
Conventional Conflict Far from Russia’s Borders

To be able to conduct a successful military operation far from one’s homeland, a strategic airlift capability and more importantly a strong Navy are a must. Having large, well equipped and trained armies is meaningless if you can’t get them where they are needed. For example, Britain built a strong navy and then became an empire, not vice-versa.


New Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber have been based in the Voronezh (facing West) and southern areas (facing Turkey)

Venturing on expeditions around the world is the West’s forte. The Kremlin’s capabilities in doing the same are limited. I must say that even the Soviet Union lacked in this field. Currently, Russia does have very capable airborne units that can be deployed anywhere within a few thousand kilometers of the homeland. It also has a number of medium and small sized landing ships that can do the same. Incidentally, some of the Black Sea stationed landing ships are currently very busy delivering military equipment  to the Government forces in Syria (this constant stream of ships sailing back and forth to Latakia and Tartus  is affectionately called “Syria Express”). Russia can conduct overseas operations as long as they are not too distant (like Syria) or the scope of operation is not too big. But countering the American militarily might in far distant places like Africa, South Asia  or Latin America simply cannot be contemplated.

Aircraft carriers are great tools to bully other countries out of their natural resources. Since the Second World War, NATO in general and the USA in particular have successfully used them in places ranging from Grenada to Libya and from the Falklands to Iraq. NATO can deploy more than a dozen such carriers while Russia has just one. Another important asset for overseas operations is amphibious landing ships that can carry large amounts of troops, combat vehicles and supplies anywhere in the world. It is the US Marines that are dominant in that field. They have at their disposal a large fleet of ships that can carry thousands of Marines each. Russia has fewer and smaller ships that can each carry no more than a few hundred soldiers. In short, in a hypothetical war where the US is for example invading a distant ally of Russia (like Venezuela), there is little that the Kremlin will be able to do.


Fifth Generation Sukhoi PAK-FA stealth fighter is expected to enter service during 2016

The two Mistral class large amphibious assault ships that are currently built in France under a special deal made between France and Russia are to remedy (at least partly) for Russia’s deficiency in conducting large scale and long range military operations anywhere on the planet. The main role of Russia’s (and the Soviet Union’s) Navy is and traditionally has always been to defend the country from sea attacks. It is the submarines that are the main offensive components of the Russian Navy. That elite component of the Navy is the one that can fight Russia’s foes on the oceans.

Russia’s Rearmament Program

The degradation of the huge military-industrial complex of the USSR started with Gorbachev’s Perestroika initiative. Weapon making factories were told to look also into civilian production. This degradation process was of course greatly accelerated with the economic and political collapse of that country. Russia inherited the lion’s share of the factories, but there were very few orders from the Defense Ministry for much of the 1990s. Many defense related enterprises had to shut down, specialists and skilled workers were laid-off. The surviving companies relied on whatever domestic and export orders they were getting plus any civilian related work they could do.


Rare photo of the Cruise missile version of the ISKANDER. The ballistic missile version is more commonly seen

With the improvement of Russia’s economy during the 20th century, the Military budget was increased every year. Accordingly, new weapons development and acquisition was initiated. It was a very slow process not because of finances, but because factories lacked skilled workers or modern machinery. The rearmament process received a significant boost right after the 2008 war with Georgia. Under Putin’s administration, the State Defense Order increased many fold in size. The current grandiose plan is to have 70% of the armed forces reequipped with modern weaponry by 2020. The re-equipment of some branches of the forces is well underway. As mentioned earlier in this article, the Strategic forces were given priority. Currently, bases and barracks are being renovated and new equipment including fighter jets, attack helicopters, frigates, submarines, air defense systems and other “shiny toys” are being inducted into the Armed Forces at an increasingly faster rate. Even the uniforms and boots are new. The coming few years will reveal entirely new tank and armored vehicle designs, artillery, guided and unguided rocket systems etc. etc.  


The New Mil- Mi-28 gunship is now the backbone of attack helicopter units in the South and Caucasus areas

What are the US and EU doing against all that. Year after year, we have been seeing the military budgets of EU nations being cut down in size. Their armies are now a shadow of what they used to be. For example the once mighty Royal Navy is now smaller than the Indian Navy…Oh the irony! At $600 Billion a year, the US military budget remains by far the largest in the world. But, in reality, that huge sum is not reflected on what we see on the ground. The US Navy is now about half the size it was during the Cold War. Most of the Pentagon’s assets (tanks, fighter jets, missiles etc.) are getting long in the tooth and require a massive replacement program that will be exorbitant and unaffordable. What happened? It all screams corruption and mismanagement. True, but let’s also blame the Bush and Obama administrations for investing so much in unmanned drones, mine resistant vehicle and other systems to fight the “Global War on Terror” that they forgot to properly look after the traditional main components of their national defense: The  Army, Navy and Air Force.


Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber

Starting from next year, I would like to see the faces of the US Generals and Admirals on the traditional 9th of May victory day parades when the next generation of Russian weaponry like the ARMATA tank, KURGANETS fighting vehicle, BOOMERANG armored personnel carrier, TYPHOON armored truck, VOLK vehicle for the airborne, KOALITSYA artillery, TORNADO-S multiple rocket system, S-500 air-space defense system and many other new systems will be showing up on Moscow’s Red Square.

The Tactical and Strategic Significance of Crimea

Slightly smaller than the Republic of Armenia, the Crimean peninsula is connected to the mainland only by the narrow Perekop isthmus. One doesn’t need to have a military background to immediately realize the immense strategic importance of that piece of real estate. Surrounded by water and located almost centrally in the Black Sea, it is an easily defendable fortress with power-projection potential to the entire Black Sea and surrounding lands. The Crimean peninsula is sort of an unsinkable gigantic aircraft carrier. I fully expect the Kremlin to transform it into a mighty fortress that will alter the military balance and the Geopolitics of the entire region. Backed by online videos, news reports already indicate the deployment of various BASTION and BAL anti-ship missile systems as well as PANTSIR-S air defense complexes. I foresee the Russians moving in S-400 and ISKANDER missiles as well. Search, early warning radar and other surveillance means will find a good home there too.


Modernized Ilyushin/Beriev A-50 Early warning (AWACS) plane

From a purely defensive point of view: The Crimea provides protection (flank cover) to Southern parts of Russia including the Caucasus. Being on the south side of Ukraine, it sandwiches that nation between itself and Belarus, making another Operation Barbarossa style invasion of the Russian Motherland much more risky because the attacking forces will be exposed to simultaneous flank attacks from North and South. With the potent weapon systems deployed there, the Black Sea can be turned into a no-fly and no-sail zone for any opponent in a future conflict with Russia. The maps below indicate the coverage of some defensive systems when (hypothetically) deployed in the vicinity of Sevastopol.

Note that the S-400 air defense system uses a number of surface to air missiles types, the longest ranged one is the 40N6 with 400km zone of destruction. For the BASTION anti-ship missile, I used the 300 km maximum range of the export version. The Russian version is said to go 500 km and beyond.

From an offensive and/or power projection point of view: The main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is the well sheltered port of Sevastopol which is also equipped with all the means to service, maintain and repair a large fleet. That port supports the Mediterranean deployed squadron of ships whose current main role is to replenish the Syrian Army. Thus far, the warships were sailing from Sevastopol, but were forced to stop in and pick up the Syria-destined supplies from the smaller Novorossisk Naval Base in Russia itself. From now on, everything can be done more efficiently and quickly directly from Sevastopol.


Dubbed "Aircraft Carrier Killer", the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet is the Sevastopol (Crimea) based cruiser MOSKVA

There is no doubt in my mind that Russia will deploy ISKANDER complexes with both ballistic and winged (cruise) types of missiles in Crimea. The INF treaty between Russia and the USA currently limits the maximum range of these land-based systems to 500 km. Depending on how the East-West relations develop in the coming months, Russia may unilaterally decide to withdraw from the above disadvantageous treaty that Mikhael Gorbachev signed at that time. Accordingly, the self-imposed limits on the missiles will be removed.  The map below indicates the current coverage of the ISKANDER system when launched from the Sevastopol area. The same map also shows the nominal radius of action of a fully loaded SUKHOI Su-30SM fighter bomber. Of course, that radius can be expended with in-flight refueling or by using a smaller bomb-load. This type of aircraft is the most likely candidate to reinforce Crimean defenses.  Another candidate can be the heavier Su-34 dedicated attack fighter which can fly 50% further… Reports are emerging Tu-22M BACKFIRE medium bombers may be brought back to the Crimea as well. These bombers have been absent from the area since the Cold War ended.

Even beyond: The Strategic bombers of the Russian Air Force (Tu-95 BEAR and Tu-160 BLACKJACK) can take off from their airbases deep in Russia, fly to the Crimean airspace and fire their loads of 3000 km range Kh-555 and 5000 km range Kh-101 and 102 cruise missiles from the safety of the defenses of the peninsula. Of course they could have done that from South Russia, but the Crimean territory gives them that extra few hundred kilometers coverage.


Recently introduced, new generation BOREI class Nuclear Submarine

Before the recent events in Ukraine, Russia’s rearmament plans encompassed the modernization of the elderly Black Sea Fleet. Six brand new frigates and six new submarines were ordered a few years ago and are in various stages of construction. The first submarine will enter service late this year to supplement the single unit that is in service in the Black Sea. The first frigate will come on board soon after. These fresh and modern vessels carry ONYX anti-ship missiles as well as land attack KLUB missiles. Being ship deployed, these cruise missiles are not limited by the above mentioned INF treaty. The domestic versions of the KLUB missile are estimated to have ranges of up to 2000 km.

I believe that what I explained above is sufficient for the reader to understand the importance of the Crimean peninsula for Russia in military terms and that there is no need to elaborate the military details any further.

Geopolitical Impact

From the very first days of this blog, its owner has repeatedly stressed the importance of seeing and accepting the fact that Russia has risen and has become the alpha and omega of the Caucasus. With recent events in Ukraine and the return of Crimea to the Russian Motherland, I am certain he will gladly upgrade that status to: “Russia is now the alpha and the omega of the entire Black Sea region”.

The Kremlin skilfully exploited the EuroMaidan freak show and firmly placed Russia in the winner’s seat. Irrespective of how the situation develops - whether things escalate or de-escalate in Ukraine in the future - Russia will come out on top. The various sanctions that the West is imposing on Russia are just a reflection of their impotence in the situation that they created themselves. The Kremlin’s Grossmeisters proved to be of a far superior caliber than the west’s shortsighted simpletons represented by the likes of John McCain and Victoria Neuland.


The ROPUCHA class landing ships are common in the "Syria Express" convoys delivering arms and supplies to the Syrian Army

With the Crimean peninsula firmly secured, the already increasing influence of a rising Russia is going to get a healthy boost. I can vision the already growing Russian influence in the Eastern Mediterranean (Syria and Egypt) and would love to see positive developments for countries that were the victims of the West’s policies in Southern Europe, the Balkans and the Adriatic (Greece, Macedonia, etc.). I can’t stop thinking of the coerced or forcefully subjugated nation like Bulgaria and Serbia…

Crimea and Armenia

In the previous Ukraine related articles in this blog, Arevordi has repeatedly explained and stressed the fact that a victory for Russia is a victory for Armenia. For the last part of this article, I feel compelled to demonstrate the relevance of that statement in military terms.

Our arch enemies are Turks and Azeris. These constitute a mortal danger to the very existence of Armenia as a nation-state. With the political, moral and strategic defeat of the Anglo-American agenda in Ukraine and the re-integration of Crimea within the Russian Federation, one of the main losers ends up being Turkey. No, I am not talking about the sociopolitical disappointments of Crimean Tatars, I am talking from a military-strategic point of view.

The MiG-35 is a heavily modified and modernized version of the MiG-29

With the help of Map-3 illustrated above, I have already demonstrated the vulnerability of Turkey to air and missile strikes from Crimea. Now let us combine that threat to the expected deployment of ISKANDER systems in Armenia by Russia’s 102nd Army base as well as by Armenia’s own missile forces (replacing or supplementing the existing SCUD missiles). The map below indicates the coverage of ISKANDER missiles in their current treaty limited (maximum 500 km) range deployed in Sevastopol (Crimea) and Gyumri (Armenia). Note that the S-300 PMU2 air defense systems deployed near Baku and the Chinese made air defense systems recently ordered by Turkey have little chance of stopping the current and future variants of the ISKANDER missiles which were developed with air defense penetration features.

To conclude, I would like to express my gratitude to foul-mouthed Victory Neuland and cohorts for making the dream-come-true re-integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation possible, thus making an immense contribution to the establishment of Pax Russicana, the kind of peace and security that this very sensitive area of the planet truly deserves and desperately needs.



David Ignatius: Russian Military Delivers a Striking Lesson in Crimea


From the photographs we’ve seen of the Russian special operations, or Spetsnaz, troops that intervened in Crimea, several things are obvious: They are secretive, moving without insignia and often covering their faces; they’re disciplined and they’re decisive. The diplomatic response to the Russian intervention is continuing. But Pentagon officials are beginning to assess the military “lessons learned.” The bottom line is that Russia’s move into Crimea was a study in the speedy deployment of special operations forces to achieve a limited objective.

“What has been most striking to me so far has been the apparent levels of discipline, training and cooperation among the Russian forces,” noted Paul Saunders, executive director of the Center for the National Interest, in an interview this week with the military blog War on the Rocks. The Russians deployed quickly in the hours surrounding reports of their initial movement on Feb. 26. Two days later, when President Obama warned that there would be “costs” for invading Crimea, the Russian forces were already in place and the intervention was nearly a fait accompli.

The Russians are thought to have had roughly 15,000 troops in Crimea when the crisis began, and quickly added about another 5,000, mostly special operations troops. The Russians are allowed up to 25,000 military personnel in Crimea under their 30-year lease of the Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol. Military analysts note some interesting characteristics of the Russian deployment: President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB lieutenant colonel, chose something closer to a paramilitary “covert action” than a normal military attack. Because the troops didn’t have Russian insignia, there was a thin veil of deniability, which the Russians exploited.

At a news conference March 4, Putin denied that Russian troops had invaded, despite photographic evidence to the contrary. “You can go to a store and buy a uniform,” insisted Putin. This “deniability” was maintained by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who said March 5 it was “complete nonsense” that Russian troops had invaded Crimea and that he had “no idea” how Russian military vehicles had gotten there.

These bland denials of reality were useful in several ways: They maintained a fig leaf of legitimacy for an illegal intervention; they allowed Russia a chance (not yet taken) to de-escalate an operation that hadn’t officially been acknowledged; and they distanced Putin in case things went badly and Ukrainians were killed.

Putin also showed a notable willingness to take risks. So far, there has been almost no bloodshed between Russians and Ukrainians, but Putin couldn’t have known this when he began. That’s why the precision and discipline of Russian forces were crucial. Their professionalism reduced the risk of an incident that could have spiraled out of control. Finally, Putin prepared a rationale for his intervention — along with the attendant propaganda. He insisted he was acting to protect Russian citizens and Russian speakers in Crimea. His troops were welcomed by a generally supportive Crimean population, and his action was lauded back home. This model suggests that Putin might be prepared to move, similarly, to protect Russians in neighboring countries, such as eastern Ukraine or the Transnistria region of Moldova.

Analysts think Putin would be less likely to move against neighboring states, such as Lithuania and Latvia, that have significant Russian-speaking populations but that are NATO members. Such operations would require far more force — and would test NATO’s “Article 5” commitment to U.S.-led mutual defense, a risk that is probably greater than Putin is willing to tolerate. The well-organized Crimea operation also suggests improvement in the quality and training of the Russian military. Their troops had operated with far less precision a decade ago in Chechnya and in the 2008 invasion of Georgia. A botched attempt to free 850 hostages in a Moscow theater in 2002 resulted in the deaths of 130 of the captives.

Russia evidently has been getting results for increased spending on its military: The 2012 edition of an annual survey by the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that Russia would spend 3.78 percent of its GDP on defense in 2013, by far the highest amount in more than a decade. Aging or incompetent Russian officers have been purged as part of a modernization campaign. This Russian army, in short, is not the one that proved so feeble in Afghanistan. It is well-trained and stealthy and effectively uses a “small footprint.” And Putin clearly wasn’t deterred by NATO military moves that signaled a commitment to protect member states — but didn’t convey a willingness to check Russian black operations in a friendly, neighboring region.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-russias-military-delivers-a-striking-lesson-in-crimea

Janes: The increasing sophistication of Russia's military resurgence

Late on 25 March, the last Ukrainian warship blockaded in its port on Crimea's west coast surrendered to Russian forces, completing just over three weeks of operations to wrest the strategic peninsula from Kiev's control.

This whirlwind campaign seems to herald a new sophistication in how Russian commanders conduct military operations. The most distinctive feature of the Russian operation was its emphasis on economy of effort. Unlike previous interventions in Afghanistan in the Soviet era, or Chechnya and Georgia more recently, where Russian commanders relied on mass employment of tanks and artillery, the Crimea intervention featured fewer than 10,000 assault troops lined up against 16,000 Ukrainian military personnel. The heaviest fighting vehicle employed by the Russians against the Ukrainians was the wheeled BTR-80 armoured personnel carrier (APC).

Once Russian troops had moved to blockade Ukrainian military personnel in their bases, psychological warfare, internet/media propaganda, intimidation, and bribery were their main weapons to undermine their opponents' will to resist, rather than overwhelming firepower. Russian troops also displayed considerably discipline and patience during this phase. In addition, they appeared well equipped, boasting new personnel equipment, body armour, and light wheeled armoured vehicles.

This novel approach was necessitated by Russian President Vladimir Putin's need for the operation to be launched within a tight timeframe after the fall of the pro-Moscow regime in Kiev on 27 February.

Although the operation may have been planned for many months, there was insufficient time to mobilise a larger force. Russian commanders had to make do with naval infantry from the Black Sea Fleet already based in Crimea, backed up by a couple of battalions of airborne troops and Spetsnaz commandos flown onto the peninsula. Economy of force also fitted the campaign's political narrative: that this was a mission to protect Crimea's Russian-speaking population rather than an invasion.

In just over three weeks, the will of the Ukrainian forces in Crimea was broken and all 190 of their bases had surrendered with barely a shot being fired by their defenders. However, even if some Ukrainian heavy armour was present in Crimea, many of the Ukrainian forces were naval and administrative personnel rather than combat troops. Organised military resistance was never a serious prospect. Instead of achieving a simple military triumph on the battlefield, the Russian armed forces facilitated a political and psychological victory.
What now?

In the wake of his success, there has been intense speculation about President Putin's future intentions. In his 18 March victory speech after the fall of Crimea, he laid out his underlying worldview. Russia's loss of power and status at the end of the Cold War in 1989 was a deliberate, generational humiliation at the hands of the West - and a reason for hatred and apprehension.

For the Russian president, Ukraine's strategic importance to Russia is the key issue. In Putin's view, Ukraine is the pivotal connector between East and West. Control of Ukraine means control of the Black Sea and unobstructed access to potentially sympathetic populations in central Europe and the Balkans - in nations such as Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Serbia - and the exercise of time honoured 'pan-slavism' with a view to greater integration. These strategic perspectives appear to have been largely lost to Western leaders.

Ukraine is sufficiently important that in 2004, the last time a split from Russian control seemed likely, Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western opposition and Orange Revolution leader and later president, was nearly fatally poisoned and permanently disfigured by the use of dioxin. In any case, the Kremlin sees a 'colour revolution', heralding liberal democracy amongst Slavonic people, as threatening and utterly unacceptable.

A significant effect of the Crimea campaign has been to further test NATO and EU resolve. Russian leaders tend to think in larger pictures than their Western counterparts. 'Atlanticists' are likely to consider individual nations or small groups of countries, threats to them, and their specific importance, without interconnecting them.

Russian analysts evaluate - and have whole branches of study devoted to - the Black Sea-Baltic region as a strategic territory and subject in itself. Russia has generally controlled these areas between Russia proper and foreign countries, referred to in a wider context as the 'near abroad'.

Speculation has shifted to Moldova - and its adjacent, unrecognised Russian-speaking enclave of Transnistria or the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) - as the next test of Western resolve in the face of possible intervention by Putin. A potential justification or pretext for a Russian incursion here is the small self-declared republic's wish to become part of Russia and the disputed presence of a battalion of 400 Russian peace-keeping troops.

On 25 March, Russia announced the start of territorial defence exercises in Transnistria, which Moldovan sources described to IHS Jane's on the same day as of concern even if anticipated. Although part of NATO and the EU, the Baltic States are the northern end of the Black Sea-Baltic space and are vulnerable. The disapproving tone of some Russian rhetoric suggests they exist under sufferance.

From the Russian Air Assault Division base at Pskov near the Latvian-Estonian border, forces could - from a near standing start - cut off Estonia from the rest of the EU in less than 40 minutes, according to a former Russian air assault division commander.

The same could be done along the 80 km Polish-Lithuanian border, which runs between Belarus and the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. In both cases, one or all the Baltic States could be enclosed, controlled, and separated from the rest of Europe. In the Baltic, eastern Ukraine, and Moldova-Transnistria Russian military units are in place, available for further exploitation if President Putin so desires.

Putin Says Crimea Takeover Shows Russian Military Prowess

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia's takeover of Crimea showed off its military prowess, as his defense minister reported that the Russian flag was now flying over all military sites on the Black Sea peninsula. In a Kremlin ceremony with senior security officials on Friday, Sergei Shoigu told Putin that all Ukrainian servicemen still loyal to Kiev have left the Crimea region, whose annexation by Moscow has led to the worst stand-off with the West since the Cold War.

"The recent events in Crimea were a serious test," said Putin in an echoing and glided Kremlin hall, shown on state television. "They demonstrated both the completely new capabilities of our Armed Forces and the high morale of the personnel."

A deputy head of the Federal Security Service, Alexander Malevany, told Putin at the meeting active measures were being taken to counter what he called growing Western efforts to weaken the Russian state and curb Moscow's influence in its post-Soviet backyard. The U.S. and NATO have voiced alarm over what they say are thousands of Russian troops massed near its western border with Ukraine. Putin has reserved the right to send troops into Ukraine, which is home to a large population of Russian-speakers in the east.

Putin praised Russian troops for "avoiding bloodshed" in Crimea, whose largely ethnic Russian citizens overwhelmingly voted to join Russia in a March 16 referendum dismissed in the West as illegal. Speaking to Ukrainian servicemen who chose to swap sides and swear allegiance to Russia, Putin hinted they would be well rewarded by pointing out that Russian servicemen earned some four times more than their Ukrainian counterparts. Ukraine's former Navy chief, Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, has been handed the deputy command of Russia's Black Sea Fleet after his defection.

"The change in state symbols on all ships and in all divisions that have sided with the Russian army has been completed," Shoigu told Putin.

He said warships, war planes and other hardware seized from troops loyal to Kiev will be returned to Ukraine, which could help Russia avoid a potentially costly legal battle in international arbitration courts. The Foreign Ministry also said Moscow would move to annul its lease agreement with Kiev that allowed it to base its Black Sea Fleet on the peninsula. Despite signs that tensions with the West may be cooling as a status quo takes shape in Crimea, Malevany warned Putin at Friday's meeting that Moscow faces growing threats from the U.S. and its allies, who are trying to weaken Russia's influence on Ukraine.

"There has been a sharp increase in external threats to the state," he said. "The lawful desire of the peoples of Crimea and eastern Ukrainian regions is causing hysteria in the U.S. and its allies."

Germany Helped Prep Russia for War, U.S. Sources Say


Over the past few years, NATO countries have helped Russia revolutionize its armed forces. Now questions are arising about a German defense contractor that trained the Russian military.

The world was shocked when Russian special operations forces invaded Crimea with advanced technology, drastically improved operations, and with so much operational security that even agencies in the U.S. intelligence community didn’t see it coming. In Washington, government and congressional leaders are wondering how the Russian special operations forces got so good, so fast, without anyone noticing. Some are wondering how much help Russia had from the West.

In 2011, for example, the German defense contractor Rheinmetall signed a $140 million contract to build a combat simulation training center in Mulino, in southwest Russia, that would train 30,000 Russian combat troops per year. While the facility wasn't officially scheduled to be completed until later this year, U.S. officials believe that Germany has been training Russian forces for years.

Rheinmetall defended the project even after the invasion of Crimea, up until the German government finally shut it down late last month. But many tracking the issue within the U.S. government were not happy with Germany's handling of the Russian contract, and worry that some of the training may have gone to the kind of special operations forces now operating in and around Ukraine.

“It’s unfortunate that German companies were directly supporting and training Russia’s military even during the attacks against Ukraine,” one senior Senate aide told The Daily Beast. “The U.S. government should call on our NATO allies to suspend all military connections with Russia at this point, until the Russians leave Ukraine, including Crimea.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, Rheinmetall’s partner in the deal was the Russian state-owned Oboronservis (“Defense Service”) firm. The training center, modeled after one used by the German Bundeswehr, was to be “the most advanced system of its kind worldwide.” Reinmetall saw the contract as a precursor to several more projects “in light of the plans to modernize the equipment of the Russian armed forces.”

U.S. officials, now looking back, are privately expressing anger and frustration about the German work with the Russian military. While definitive proof is hard to come by, these officials look at the radical upgrade of Moscow’s forces–especially its special operations forces–experienced since they last saw major action in 2008's invasion of Georgia. The U.S. officials believe that some of the German training over the last few years was given to the GRU Spetsnaz, the special operations forces that moved unmarked into Crimea and who can now be found stirring up trouble in eastern Ukraine.

“People are pissed,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “The chatter inside the Pentagon is that the training they were providing was going to Spetznaz.”

Rheinmetall did not respond to a request for comment. Russia maintains close economic ties with many NATO states–especially Germany. By some estimates, the country exported nearly $50 billion in goods to Russia in 2013. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of German jobs depend on Russian trade.

The armed forces of NATO members have also been working with their counterparts in the Russian military, on and off, for years. Russia has held joint military exercises with both Germany and the U.S., for example. America has bought Russian helicopters to use in Afghanistan. And Moscow allows NATO equipment to pass through Russian territory as the gear comes into and out of the war zone.

To the Congressional Research Service, “Rheinmetall’s construction of an army training center could be viewed in the context of the broader bilateral defense cooperation between Germany and Russia,” the service writes in its report. “The German…  government’s approval of the contract to construct a training center also appears to be in line with long-standing German policy to promote military training and joint exercises with partner countries.”

But some on Capitol Hill see the Rheimetall contract as only one example of the folly of several NATO countries that rushed to sign lucrative defense contracts with Russia after President Obama declared a new “reset” policy with the Russian Federation. Lawmakers have tried to halt the French sale of the Mistral, an amphibious warship, to the Russian Navy. Some are also unhappy about the Italian sale of Lynx armored personnel carriers to Russia.

A Senate aide said that one of Rheinmetall’s contributions was to help the Russian army and GRU Spetznaz upgrade their gear. Reports show that the Russian military units both inside Ukraine and amassed on its eastern border are sporting brand new communications equipment, body armor, personal weapons, and ammunition. Taken together, it gives them a huge tactical advantage over the beleaguered Ukrainian armed forces.

Top defense officials are now acknowledging that Russia’s military has been revolutionized in recent years. This month, Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, the director for strategic plans and policy for the military’s joint chiefs of staff, told Congress in open testimony that in recent years Russia has created regional commands that “coordinate and synchronize planning, joint service integration, force movement, intelligence support, and the tactical employment of units” in what he deemed “snap exercises,” or military training missions that can be ordered at a moment’s notice. 

In the testimony, Pandolfe also said Russia has placed greater emphasis on the use of Special Operations Forces as well as information and cyber warfare.  Experts said that Russian military doctrine was dramatically updated in the past few years and clearly set out Russia’s plans for modernization and a focus on highly trained rapid reaction special forces. But in the West, the papers were not well read, much less understood.

The Russians also changed their doctrine to reflect that they viewed the threat as not coming from a conventional war, but from the need to protect Russian populations in unstable states facing what they deemed to be Western aggression.

“This wasn’t just about implementing lessons learned from [the 2008 invasion of] Georgia, it was about giving them a basis for a different kind of operations,” said Fiona Hill, a former top intelligence official on Russia, now with the Brookings Institution. “We should have been paying more attention to this. There have been these signals for a long time, but we have been misreading them.”

Western and NATO countries believed they could tie Russia into greater military cooperation through engagement, but now have realized that Russian was probably never really interested in that. The Russian military is now organized to respond to conflicts caused by such things as popular revolutions, political crises, and domestic insurgencies.

“Everyone was looking for a way to cooperate with the Russian military and rushed to find ways to do it, including us,” said Hill. “Whatever we do now, we have to be mindful that the Russians have been preparing for something else.”

Andranik Migranyan, a past member of Russia’s Presidential Council and currently an adviser to the Vladimir Putin administration, told reporters that ever since the Georgia war, Russia has been spending to radically upgrade its military, but that the West has only itself to blame for not following along.

“We have new armament, new army, new training,” he said. “It’s very strange you are not following what’s happening.”

Russia Displays a New Military Prowess in Ukraine’s East


Secretary of State John Kerry has accused Russia of behaving in a “19th-century fashion” because of its annexation of Crimea. But Western experts who have followed the success of Russian forces in carrying out President Vladimir V. Putin’s policy in Crimea and eastern Ukraine have come to a different conclusion about Russian military strategy. They see a military disparaged for its decline since the fall of the Soviet Union skillfully employing 21st-century tactics that combine cyberwarfare, an energetic information campaign and the use of highly trained special operation troops to seize the initiative from the West.

“It is a significant shift in how Russian ground forces approach a problem,” said James G. Stavridis, the retired admiral and former NATO commander. “They have played their hand of cards with finesse.”

The abilities the Russian military has displayed are not only important to the high-stakes drama in Ukraine, they also have implications for the security of Moldova, Georgia, Central Asian nations and even the Central Europe nations that are members of NATO. The dexterity with which the Russians have operated in Ukraine is a far cry from the bludgeoning artillery, airstrikes and surface-to-surface missiles used to retake Grozny, the Chechen capital, from Chechen separatists in 2000. In that conflict, the notion of avoiding collateral damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure appeared to be alien.

Since then Russia has sought to develop more effective ways of projecting power in the “near abroad,” the non-Russian nations that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has tried to upgrade its military, giving priority to its special forces, airborne and naval infantry — “rapid reaction” abilities that were “road tested” in Crimea, according to Roger McDermott, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. The speedy success that Russia had in Crimea does not mean that the overall quality of the Russian Army, made up mainly of conscripts and no match for the high-tech American military, has been transformed.

“The operation reveals very little about the current condition of the Russian armed forces,” said Mr. McDermott. “Its real strength lay in covert action combined with sound intelligence concerning the weakness of the Kiev government and their will to respond militarily.”

Still, Russia’s operations in Ukraine have been a swift meshing of hard and soft power. The Obama administration, which once held out hope that Mr. Putin would seek an “off ramp” from the pursuit of Crimea, has repeatedly been forced to play catch-up after the Kremlin changed what was happening on the ground. “It is much more sophisticated, and it reflects the evolution of the Russian military and of Russian training and thinking about operations and strategy over the years,” said Stephen J. Blank, a former expert on the Russian military at the United States Army War College who is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

For its intervention in Crimea, the Russians used a so-called snap military exercise to distract attention and hide their preparations. Then specially trained troops, without identifying patches, moved quickly to secure key installations. Once the operation was underway, the Russian force cut telephone cables, jammed communications and used cyberwarfare to cut off the Ukrainian military forces on the peninsula.

“They disconnected the Ukrainian forces in Crimea from their command and control,” the NATO commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, said in a recent interview. As it cemented control, the Kremlin has employed an unrelenting media campaign to reinforce its narrative that a Russian-abetted intervention had been needed to rescue the Russian-speaking population from right-wing extremists and chaos.

No sooner had the Obama administration demanded that Russia pull back from Crimea than the Kremlin raised the stakes by massing about 40,000 troops near Ukraine’s eastern frontier. Soon, the Russians were sending small, well-equipped teams across the Ukrainian border to seize government buildings that could be turned over to sympathizers and local militias, American officials said. Police stations and Interior Ministry buildings, which stored arms that could be turned over to local supporters, were targeted.

“Because they have some local support they can keep leveraging a very small cadre of very good fighters and move forward,” said Daniel Goure, an expert on the Russian military at the Lexington Institute, a policy research group.

While the Kremlin retains the option of mounting a large-scale intervention in eastern Ukraine, the immediate purposes of the air and ground forces massed near Ukraine appears to be to deter the Ukrainian military from cracking down in the east and to dissuade the United States from providing substantial military support. The Kremlin has used its military deployment to buttress its diplomatic strategy of insisting on an extensive degree of federalism in Ukraine, one in which the eastern provinces would be largely autonomous and under Moscow’s influence.

And as Russians have flexed their muscles, the White House appears to have refocused its demands. Crimea barely figured in the talks in Geneva that involved Mr. Kerry and his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union.

The Obama administration’s urgent goal is to persuade the Kremlin to relinquish control over the government buildings in eastern Ukraine that the American officials insist have been held by small teams of Russian troops or pro-Russian separatists under Moscow’s influence. Despite the focus on the combustible situation in eastern Ukraine, the joint statement the diplomats issued in Geneva did not even mention the presence of Russia’s 40,000 troops near the border, which President Obama has urged be withdrawn.

Military experts say that the sort of strategy the Kremlin has employed in Ukraine is likely to work best in areas in which there are pockets of ethnic Russians to provide local support. The strategy is also easier to carry out if it is done close to Russian territory, where a large and intimidating force can be assembled and the Russian military can easily supply special forces.

“It can be used in the whole former Soviet space,” said Chris Donnelly, a former top adviser at NATO, who added that Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Central Asia states were “very vulnerable.”

“The Baltic States are much less vulnerable, but there will still be pressure on them and there will on Poland and Central Europe,” Mr. Donnelly added.

Admiral Stavridis agreed that Russia’s strategy would be most effective when employed against a nation with a large number of sympathizers. But he said that Russia’s deft use of cyberwarfare, special forces and conventional troops was a development that NATO needed to study and factor into its planning.

“In all of those areas they have raised their game, and they have integrated them quite capably,” he said. “And I think that has utility no matter where you are operating in the world.”

Russian forces in eastern Ukraine?


For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as “green men” have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces.

Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

And Ukraine’s state security service has identified one Russian reported to be active among the green men as Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, a Russian military intelligence operative in his mid- to late 50s. He is said to have a long résumé of undercover service with the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian general staff, most recently in Crimea in February and March and now in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk.

“There has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine, and the photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this, which is why U.S. officials have continued to make that case,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Sunday.

The question of Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine has a critical bearing on the agreement reached Thursday in Geneva among Russian, Ukrainian, American and European diplomats to ease the crisis. American officials have said that Russia would be held responsible for ensuring that the Ukrainian government buildings were vacated, and that it could face new sanctions if the terms were not met.

The Kremlin insists that Russian forces are in no way involved, and that Mr. Strelkov does not even exist, at least not as a Russian operative sent to Ukraine with orders to stir up trouble. “It’s all nonsense,” President Vladimir V. Putin said Thursday during a four-hour question-and-answer session on Russian television. “There are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine.” Pro-Russian activists who have seized government buildings in at least 10 towns across eastern Ukraine also deny getting help from professional Russian soldiers or intelligence agents.

But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say.

John R. Schindler, a former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer who now teaches at the Naval War College, calls it “special war”: “an amalgam of espionage, subversion, even forms of terrorism to attain political ends without actually going to war in any conventional sense.”

And one country, Mr. Schindler noted in an article last year in which he coined the term, that particularly excels at special war is Russia, which carried out its first post-Soviet war to regain control of rebellious Chechnya back in 1994 by sending in a column of armored vehicles filled with Russian soldiers masquerading as pro-Moscow Chechens.

Russia’s flair for “maskirovka” — disguised warfare — has become even more evident under Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer whose closest advisers are mostly from that same Soviet intelligence agency. For nearly two months now, the shaky new Ukrainian government has been left to battle phantoms, first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine, where previously fringe pro-Russian political activists have had their fortunes lifted by small but heavily armed groups of masked men.

In the eastern city of Slovyansk, under the control of pro-Russian insurgents for more than a week now, the green men have worked hard to blend in with locals but have occasionally let the mask slip, apparently to send a clear message that any push to regain control by Ukrainian forces would risk bringing down the wrath of the Russian military.

A gradation of forces control the city and other areas now in the hands of separatist rebels, ranging from clearly professional masked soldiers and unruly groups of local men in camouflage, rifles slung over their shoulders, to teenage boys in sweatpants carrying baseball bats or hunting knives. At most times, only the local toughs are visible on the streets.

But when a woman sidled up to one of the masked gunmen in the city’s central square last week and asked where he was from, she got an answer that summed up Russia’s bedeviling and constantly shifting disguises. The gunman initially said he was “from Russia,” but when pressed, said coyly that he was “from New Russia,” a long-forgotten czarist-era term revived last week by Mr. Putin to describe a large section of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Asked by the woman what would happen if the Ukrainian Army attacked, he replied, “We have to stand for only 24 hours, to tend the fire, and after that, a one million man army will be here.”

When a Ukrainian armored column approached the town last Wednesday and then swiftly surrendered, a group of disciplined green men suddenly appeared on the scene and stood guard. Over the course of several hours, several of them told bystanders in the sympathetic crowd that they were Russians. They allowed themselves to be photographed with local girls, and drove an armored personnel carrier in circles to please the crowd.

“It’s hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities,” Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s top military commander, wrote in a blog post on the alliance’s website.“It’s hard to fathom because it’s simply not true. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized, and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”

His evidence, however, was mostly circumstantial: Pro-Russian gunmen “exhibit telltale military training and equipment”; they handle weapons like professional soldiers, not new recruits to a pickup “self-defense” force; they carry weapons and equipment that are primarily Russian Army issue, not gear “that civilians would be likely to be able to get their hands on in large numbers.” General Breedlove conceded that such points, taken alone, might not prove much, “but taken in the aggregate, the story is clear.”

Heightening skepticism of Russia’s denials is also the fact that Mr. Putin, after denyingany Russian link to the masked gunmen who seized government buildings in Crimea and blockaded Ukrainian military bases there, last week changed his story and said, “Of course, Russian servicemen did back the Crimean self-defense forces.”

More direct evidence of a Russian hand in eastern Ukraine is contained in a dossier of photographs provided by Ukraine to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Vienna-based organization now monitoring the situation in Donetsk and other parts of the country. It features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia. 

One set of photographs shows what appears to be the same gunman in pictures taken in the Crimean annexation and more recently in Slovyansk. Another features a portly bearded man photographed in Slovyansk on April 14, wearing a camouflage uniform without insignia, but six years earlier, had been photographed during Russia’s invasion of Georgia with a Russian special forces patch on his left arm.

Another character in Ukraine’s case against Russia is Mr. Strelkov, the alleged military intelligence officer who Kiev says took part in a furtive Russian operation to prepare for the annexation of Crimea and, more recently, in insurgent action in Slovyansk. No photographs have yet emerged of Mr. Strelkov, but the Security Service of Ukraine, the successor organization to what used to be Ukraine’s local branch of the K.G.B., has released a sketch of what it says is his face.

The security agency, known by its Ukrainian abbreviation S.B.U., first identified him publicly early last week after releasing an audio recording of what it said was a recording of an intercepted communication between Russian operatives in eastern Ukraine and their controller back in Russia.

In the recording, a man nicknamed “Strelok” — who the Ukrainian agency says is Mr. Strelkov — and others can be heard discussing weapons, roadblocks and how to hold on to captured positions in and near Slovyansk with a superior in Russia.

The superior, clearly anxious to keep Russia’s role hidden, can be heard ordering his men on the ground in Ukraine not to identify themselves and to find someone with a Ukrainian accent who can give an interview to a Russian television channel. It was very important, he added, to say on air that all the pro-Russian insurgents want is “federalization,” or constitutional changes to give eastern Ukraine more autonomy. Military analysts say the Russian tactics show a disturbing amount of finesse that speak to long-term planning.

“The Russians have used very specialized, very effective forces,” said Jacob W. Kipp, an expert on the Russian military and the former deputy director of the United States Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. “They don’t assume that civilians are cluttering up the battlefield; they assume they are going to be there,” he said. “They are trained to operate in these kind of environments.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/21/world/europe/photos-link-masked-men-in-east-ukraine-to-russia.html?

Naval War College Professor: How to Win Cold War 2.0


To beat Vladimir Putin, we're going to have to be a little more like him

The last two weeks have witnessed the upending of the European order and the close of the post-Cold War era. With his invasion of Crimea and the instant absorption of the strategic peninsula, Vladimir Putin has shown that he will not play by the West’s rules. The “end of history” is at an end—we’re now seeing the onset of Cold War 2.0.

What’s on the Kremlin’s mind was made clear by Putin’s fire-breathing speech to the Duma announcing the annexation of Crimea, which blended retrograde Russian nationalism with a generous helping of messianism on behalf of his fellow Slavs, alongside the KGB-speak that Putin is so fond of. If you enjoy mystical references to Orthodox saints of two millennia past accompanied by warnings about a Western fifth column and “national traitors,” this was the speech for you.

Putin confirmed the worst fears of Ukrainians who think they should have their own country. But his ambitions go well beyond Ukraine: By explicitly linking Russian ethnicity with membership in the Russian Federation, Putin has challenged the post-Soviet order writ large.

For years, I studied Russia as a counterintelligence officer for the National Security Agency, and at times I feel like I’m seeing history in reverse. The Kremlin is a fiercely revisionist power, seeking to change the status quo by various forms of force. This will soon involve NATO members in the Baltics directly, as well as Poland and Romania indirectly. Longstanding Russian acumen in what I term Special War, an amalgam of espionage, subversion and terrorism by spies and special operatives, is already known to Russia’s neighbors and can be expected to increase.

In truth, Putin set Russia on a course for Cold War 2.0 as far back as 2007, and perhaps earlier; Western counterintelligence noted major upswings in aggressive Russian espionage and subversion against NATO members as far back as 2006.The brief Georgia war of August 2008, which made clear that the Kremlin was perfectly comfortable with using force in the post-Soviet space, ought to have served as a bigger wake-up call for the West.

Unfortunately, it didn’t, and now former Soviet republics with a Russian minority—which is most of them—must now wonder what parts of their country the Kremlin may wish to unilaterally seize in the future. Statements from Crimea’s new rulers that the Tatar population will need to be relocated—considering that Stalin deported them in toto in 1944, killing nearly half in the process—speak volumes about the Kremlin’s mentality.

There is ample Soviet nostalgia on display, combined with a crude nationalism that ought to worry all Europeans. After all, issues of ethnicity and borders led directly to both World Wars. Central and Eastern Europe believed such questions had been settled—by Josef Stalin, let us remember—in 1945 and ought not be reopened.

Where revisiting this leads was made painfully clear in the Balkans in the 1990s. Yet Putin has now done the same in the far bigger post-Soviet space, with implications that are deeply troubling. That Russia, a patchwork of nearly 200 nationalities, not all of them deeply pro-Kremlin, ultimately has far more to lose than Ukraine from redrawing borders based on ethnicity seems not to have occurred to anyone in the Kremlin.

Since the annexation of Crimea, Russian intelligence has reportedly been employing its playbook in eastern and southern Ukraine, using spies and operatives to stir up trouble among ethnic Russians and lay the groundwork for a future invasion by “self-defense militias” backed by Russian troops. It’s not yet clear that these techniques will get Putin what he wants, but there is always the option of overt invasion by the Russian military, which must be judged a serious possibility.

If Russia goes down that road, the stoic passivity we have witnessed by besieged Ukrainian troops in Crimea will end and Moscow will have a major war on its hands—indeed the biggest European conflict since 1945. Moves by the Russian military into central Ukraine would generate stiff resistance that could last years, particularly since the brutal Stalinist methods of mass repression that were needed to pacify Ukraine in the late 1940s are off the table for even Putin in 2014. In the unlikely event that Russian forces move into western Ukraine, past Kyiv and toward Poland, it would be difficult to see how NATO could avoid becoming involved.

That said, it’s evident that Moscow prefers easy conquest and would likely avoid any moves that could trigger a genuine war with NATO. Putin has become a gambler but not yet a fool. However, his nationalist attack on the post-Cold War European order is bound to evoke memories of Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s. Like Hitler, Putin has reestablished the pride of a defeated people, brought them out of economic disaster, rebuilt the military and revitalized ethno-nationalism while humiliating the hated victors of the last war. This is a heady brew, so Putin’s current high popularity numbers among average Russians ought not surprise, but the Kremlin’s vision of a Russian Lebensraum transcending current borders ought to alarm to anyone invested in European peace and stability.

Whether or not Putin invades mainland Ukraine, NATO must understand that the Kremlin has decided to begin a new Cold War by attacking the settlement of the last one. Further Western denial—like we saw after the invasion of Georgia—will only encourage more Russian adventurism, with all the attendant risks of wider conflict and major war. While the George W. Bush administration bears its share of the blame here, there is no denying that the Obama White House has repeatedly fumbled the ball with Russia. The famed “reset” was a fine idea if Dmitry Medvedev were actually running Russia, which he certainly was not. Moreover, this White House’s mishandling of Syria, essentially outsourcing U.S. policy to Moscow, only encouraged more hardball from Putin, as was predictable to those who understand this Kremlin.

All the same, I have never had much sympathy for neoconservative critiques of Putin’s Russia, which too often have counseled needless hostility and willful disregard for legitimate Russian interests in Moscow’s “near abroad,” as well as unwise emphasis on missile defense, seen by the Kremlin as a threat. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western powers, including the United States, were indeed too casually dismissive of Russian concerns—the Balkan wars of the 1990s being a major case in point—and Moscow has now gotten its revenge, repaid with interest, in Ukraine. 

John R. Schindler is professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College and a former National Security Agency counterintelligence officer.

Source: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/03/new-cold-war-russia

Ukraine Is Not Ready for the Consequences of Taking Russia’s Military Bait

By sending its military to quell the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, the government in Kiev may be setting itself up for a spectacular defeat, as neither its army nor its intelligence services are prepared for a confrontation with Russia

Like many of the leading men in Ukraine’s new military pecking order, Petr Mekhed wasn’t exactly ripe for the task of fending off a Russian invasion when he assumed the post of Deputy Defense Minister in February. His last tour of combat duty was about 30 years ago, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, after which he reached the rank of colonel in the Red Army. When revolution in Ukraine broke out this winter, his wartime experience made him better equipped than most at defending the barricades of the Maidan protest camp in the center of Kiev. But it was not as useful in preparing him to lead his country into war. “For some issues I’ve had to sit down with a book and study up,” he says.

His conclusion so far is an unsettling one for Ukraine’s political leaders. If they want to find a way out of their conflict with Russia, which edged closer on Tuesday to military confrontation in the eastern region of Donetsk, they have only one way to do it, Mekhed says, and that is to negotiate. “We’ll never get anywhere through the use of military force,” he tells TIME. It would be much more effective to undercut Russia’s support for the local separatists by meeting them halfway, Mekhed suggests, with an offer of more autonomy for Ukraine’s eastern regions. “Our chances of saving Donetsk are now in the hands of our politicians and their ability to sit down with the people there and talk to them.”

But those politicians don’t seem to agree. On Tuesday morning, Ukraine’s interim President, Oleksandr Turchynov, launched the first military action against the pro-Russian gunmen who seized parts of Donetsk over the weekend. The assault, which the central government in Kiev termed an antiterrorist operation, reportedly involved more than a dozen armored personnel carriers, as well as helicopters and military trucks that faced off against 30 gunmen for control of an airport near the town of Kramatorsk.

So was Ukraine ready for that kind of standoff? Maybe. But some of its top military and intelligence officials highly doubt that it is ready for the likely fallout, and whatever support Tuesday’s operation garnered from the White House will probably not translate into much military assistance from the West. More likely, it will provoke a Russian counterstrike, not from the small group of Russian special forces who have apparently been leading the separatists in Donetsk, but from the full weight of the Russian military. That would mean game over pretty quickly for Ukraine.

So far, its leaders seem to be enjoying their taste of victory. When reports came back to Kiev that Tuesday’s operation was a success — that the Ukrainian forces had managed to repel the separatist attack on the airport — Turchynov made a self-congratulatory statement to parliament. “I’m convinced that there will not be any terrorists left soon in Donetsk and other regions and they will find themselves in the dock — this is where they belong,” he said.

That did not go over well with Vladimir Putin. In a phone call on Tuesday night with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Russian President said the crisis in eastern Ukraine had “sharpened drastically” and stressed that the world “must clearly condemn these anticonstitutional actions.” The world, of course, did no such thing, nor has it done much to help Ukraine prepare for what’s likely coming.

In early March, when Russia had just begun its military occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Mekhed, a small, soft-spoken man with silver hair and a slight stutter, made his first official visit to Brussels to hold talks with the NATO alliance. He had no illusions about any of the Western powers coming to Ukraine’s defense, but he held out hope for some help with communications and intelligence. “We have problems with figuring out what forces are where,” he said, referring to the Russians. “On top of that, our weapons systems are by and large tied up with Russia, with cooperation with Russia.”

That makes upgrading those systems extremely difficult for Ukraine. In recent years, its military infrastructure has been “systematically destroyed” through the neglect, corruption and malfeasance of Ukraine’s former leaders, says Mekhed, but bringing them back to working order would require buying up spare parts from Russia, which Moscow has unsurprisingly refused to sell.

On Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the clashes near the airport, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it was suspending all military supplies to Ukraine. “May I remind you that Russia has committed not to provide, or to show restraint in providing, weapons to conflict zones,” Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov said in a statement explaining the decision. (His caveat about “restraint” was apparently meant to make room for Russia’s ongoing sale of weapons to Syria during its civil war.)

In those conditions, Ukraine would be unable to repair much of its military hardware even if it had help from NATO; none of the members of that alliance use or produce the kind of kit that Ukraine needs. “The spare parts all come from Russia,” says Mekhed. “So we have to find new markets to find similar equipment to arm our troops, and not only weapons, but also training of the servicemen before we can put those weapons on the battlefield.”

That would take months or years, not to mention billions of extra dollars that Ukraine’s nearly bankrupt economy cannot spare. It is already having enough trouble with the relatively faster and cheaper task of bringing its intelligence services up to scratch. Much like the weakness of its military, Ukraine’s failures in the field espionage have a lot to do with its fraternal ties to Russia. “We even have an agreement on the books that forbids our [military intelligence] agencies from working against each other,” says Igor Smeshko, who served as head of Ukraine’s State Security Service from 2003 to 2005. “We could never have imagined that our Russian brothers would ever fight a war against us,” he says. “We could never have thought that just when we’d been bloodied from fighting our own tyranny here at home, that we would get a knife in the back from the Russians.”

In retrospect, that abundance of trust looks painfully naive, but it goes far in explaining why Ukraine let its intelligence work lapse in recent years, particularly near the border with Russia. That mistake has left it particularly ill equipped to deal with the current phase of the conflict with Russia. Over the past few days, the troops who have been seizing police stations and other government buildings have borne all the hallmarks of Russian special forces who have removed the insignia from their uniforms — the same tactic Russia used during its conquest of Crimea.

The most effective way for Ukraine to counter that kind of semiclandestine invasion, says Smeshko, would be to deploy small, mobile teams of special-operations troops, the kind that Ukraine’s intelligence services should have at their disposal, to isolate and arrest the Russian saboteurs. “Only special forces can go up against special forces,” he says.

Instead, the government in Kiev seems to be employing a mix of Interior Ministry police and military troops, and on Tuesday morning, it also sent its first batch of national-guard volunteers, with little or no apparent training, to help fight separatism in eastern Ukraine. “The troops have a high fighting spirit,” said Andriy Parubiy, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, in dispatching them to the east. “It’s not easy over there,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “But I’m sure we will win, because with us is God and Ukraine.” (Before assuming one of his country’s most senior military posts in February, Parubiy had zero military experience of any kind other than his work protecting the protest camp in Kiev this winter. His Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, is a hardened 17-year veteran of the KGB who oversaw Russia’s scorched-earth conquest of Chechnya in 1999–2000.)

The mismatched forces now facing off in eastern Ukraine also present a potential risk to the locals. In the past few days, the pro-Russian separatist troops have proved adept at blending in among mobs of civilians, who have done the heavy lifting in the occupation of numerous government buildings across Donetsk. The military forces Ukraine has now sent to evict them are not trained to pick out the organizers of those attacks from among the throngs they use. “And that is the one thing our strategic opponent is waiting for, a picture of mass bloodshed,” says Smeshko.

Considering how little room for error Ukraine has in this operation, Mekhed should perhaps feel lucky to be focusing on a different part of the battlefield. Russia’s annexation of Crimea left thousands of Ukrainian servicemen marooned on that suddenly foreign peninsula, and Mekhed has been in charge of securing their return to mainland Ukraine. At the briefing he gave to reporters on Tuesday in Kiev, he focused mostly on all that this effort entails, such as the purchase of sleeping bags, sleeping mats and camouflage netting for all the displaced troops.

“We have to evacuate all of our servicemen and equipment from Crimea, to save what we could salvage from there, to set up new garrisons, and all of that is a whole lot of work,” he told TIME after the briefing at a Kiev hotel. “So believe me, Russia’s actions have already set us back years.” And that may just be the beginning.

WAS Crimea just the beginning?

Commanding position ... Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre, uses binoculars to obse

A senior military academic is warning Europe is staring down the barrel of its biggest war since 1945. And it could start in days, as Russian forces mass on the border with Ukraine — apparently poised to invade. The commander of NATO forces in Europe visited the White House overnight to voice his alarm at Moscow’s massive military build-up facing eastern Ukraine — on the other side of the embattled country to the already-annexed Crimean peninsula. Many other military and political voices are suddenly expressing the same fears. “By the end of the weekend, Europe’s biggest war since 1945 will have begun or Putin will have started to send the troops on the border home,” declared Professor of the Naval War College at Boston University, John Schindler. And he is not the only academic voicing this concern. The troops are reportedly not average Russian conscripts. New intelligence reveals the mechanised infantry units and their tanks to be among the best and most highly trained the Russian Federation has — diverted from their Moscow barracks to their tents and revetments overlooking Ukraine. Also early this morning Australia time, a group of masked right wing ultra-nationalists began a demonstration inside and out of the Ukraine’s main parliament building - calling for the sacking of the police minister after one of their leaders was shot dead.

There are even reports — unconfirmed at this stage — that Russia has in the past few hours erected a massive field hospital designed to treat wounded soldiers. And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric has also been heating up, with claims that Russian-speaking people in Ukraine are being treated “brutally”. The much-talked-about Russian defence exercises near the Ukraine seem to be a spoof, designed to explain away the buildup. While highly publicised exercises have been underway in distant Siberia, only a few “events” seem to have been staged among the troops massed near Crimea and Ukraine. US Defense officials say the numbers of troops far exceeds the amount needed for any training exercise. And there is no evidence any large-scale manoeuvres have actually taken place. More worrying is that none of the troops have returned to their bases. War expert Schindler has been fast and furiously tweeting his fears to all who care to listen in recent hours.

He speculates the real number of Russian troops now in place may amount to 80,000. “(The) odds of invasion are raising,” he tweeted early this morning. “Only Putin really knows, but the world will know soon enough.”

He argues that the presence of Russia’s best and finest forces are unnecessary for a “show of strength”. Many of the units are particularly loyal to Putin, he points out, meaning the Russian president won’t want them far from his side in Moscow for long. It’s a tactical move not lost on the military head of NATO — Europe’s defence organisation. General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, gave a classified briefing last night to various US government committees. “We’re all concerned about what Russia is doing on the border of Ukraine,” Breedlove said after the first briefing. “The size of the forces have a message that are not congruous with respecting the borders.” Even the United States — until now somewhat timid in its talk of Russia’s ambitions — is starting to get the message.

“The thinking in the US government is that the likelihood of a major Russian incursion into Ukraine has increased,” a senior US official told Fox News. “I can’t tell you how awful this is,” said one congressional source who spoke to Fox News on the condition of anonymity. CNN reports two Obama administration officials admitting off-record that new threat assessments are saying an invasion was far more likely than previously thought. Nothing is certain, the officials said. But there have been “worrying signs” in the past three or four days. “This has shifted our thinking that the likelihood of a further Russian incursion is more probable than it was previously thought to be,” one said. In recent weeks the West has been stating its belief that there was only 30,000 Russian troops deployed to the Ukraine region. But there is mounting evidence a further 50,000 have arrived in the past few days.

Pentagon Press Secretary, Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby told a press conference early this morning that Russia continues to reinforce its units along the eastern and southern Ukraine border. “It’s doing nothing to assist in the stability of that part of Europe,” the admiral said. “I would tell you that the staff here in the Pentagon, both the civilian and uniformed, are constantly looking at other ways that ... we can further reassure our allies and partners in Europe to potentially look at either adding to or reinforcing existing operations or exercises or even adding on additional opportunities,” Kirby said. “We’re looking at that very closely right now ...” “Our concern is for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and for the Ukrainian people and their nation,” Kirby said.

Overnight the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favour of Ukraine. With 100 votes for, and only 11 against, the General Assembly voted to condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegal. Another 58 nations abstained. The troop build-up along the border is reminiscent of Russia’s military movements prior to the conflicts in Chechnya and Georgia, one US official said. A Defense official said if Russia were to invade the mainland, Ukraine would attempt to defend itself and this would be “far from a bloodless event as we saw in Crimea.” However, Ukraine would be outmatched, this official told Fox News.

Source: http://www.news.com.au/world/a-rapid-russian-buildup-of-tanks-and-troops

What Would A Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Look Like?


Will the Russians stop?

I’ve been asked this question a lot, and had the chance to expound on it at a recent event in Parliament sponsored by the Henry Jackson Society, so thought I’d briefly outline my thoughts here. That said, though, I should stress that the more time passes, the less likely I think such an attack becomes, because of the shifting political situation and also–as Kyiv moves forces east and mobilises reserves and volunteers–the military calculus. However, it cannot be excluded, so it is worth still considering, not least as the preparatory phases I outline below have all been carried out; the Russian General Staff may well not yet know if it is going to be invading, but it has made sure that if the word does come down from the Kremlin, it will be ready.

In brief, the aim would be a blitzkrieg that, before Ukraine has the chance properly to muster its forces and, perhaps more to the point, the West can meaningfully react, allows the Russians to draw a new front line and assert their own ground truth, much as happened in Crimea (though this would be much more bloody and contested). This would not be a bid to conquer the whole country (the real question is whether they’d seek to push as far as Odessa, taking more risks and extending their supply lines, but also essentially depriving Ukraine of a coastline) but instead quickly to take those areas where there are potentially supportive local political elites and Russophone populations, and consequently pretexts (however flimsy) to portray invasion as ‘liberation.’

The first stage would be to infiltrate special forces and agents into both east and western Ukraine, as well as build up networks of allies and agents locally, including elements of the Ukrainian SBU (Security Service) whose real links are to Moscow. Meanwhile, they will develop their abilities to monitor and, in due course, jam Ukrainian communications. I note than a Beriev A-50 ‘Mainstay’ airborne early-warning and eavesdropping aircraft has been deployed to neighbouring Belarus, from whose airspace it can monitor Ukraine from safe, friendly skies.

Vremya Cha, ‘Zero Hour,’ would be marked with a massive attempt to shatter Ukraine’s command, control and communications infrastructure through everything from jamming and cyberattack to physical sabotage. Meanwhile, missile, bomber and artillery attacks would not only target concentrations of forces but also crater runways, smash bridges, rip train tracks and chew through roads in the hopes of delaying Ukrainian attempts to muster their forces in the critical first days and hours. The idea would be to spread chaos, so there might even be some feints, or the appearance of feints, from Belarus or Russian forces in Transnistria: the Russians do understand maskirovka, strategic deception, very well, and will do whatever they can to keep Kyiv uncertain and off-balance.

Meanwhile, the airports in eastern cities such as Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk will be being seized, whether by Russian GRU Spetsnaz commandoes or local allies, such as Berkut special police under the command of friendly local administrations. That will allow the rapid insertion of the paratroop forces the Russians have already assembled close by, who can be flown in under heavy fighter and EW cover (that Russia will essentially dominate Ukraine’s skies is scarcely in doubt). They will then seize the main cities.

Paratroopers are tough and move fast, but they can be brittle in stand-up conflict with mechanised forces, so regular Russian ground forces will spill across the border to support them. Not only have armoured and mechanised forces been mustered along the border, with full artillery support, but perhaps more telling has been the assembly of the logistical necessities–fuel, ammunition, medical supplies, etc–for high-tempo operations.

The aim, as mentioned, will be to move fast to seize and define a new front line wherever Moscow wants it. They may well simply bypass Ukrainian troop concentrations when they can, leaving them to be mopped up later. The greatest risk, after all, is that they get bogged down long enough for Kyiv to concentrate its forces or, potentially, the West to act. There would also be deployments of Interior Troops for rear-area security given that even in the east while the cities may be predominantly Russophone, the countryside is heavily Ukrainian.

The preparations are in place, it would be easy for Moscow to manufacture a pretext for action, and presenting the outside world with a fait accompli and essentially trying to call its bluff is classic Putin. However, the time for such an operation was probably a week ago rather than now, while the risks in such an adventure would be considerable. Russia has perhaps twice as many forces in theatre and a clear superiority in airpower, but not such a great advantage that it can be assured a quick and easy victory. It would also face the risk of guerrilla actions and public resistance behind its lines, as well as economic sanctions at the very least, but the possibility also of more direct action by the West. In this context, a further Russian move makes little real sense. But then again, nor did the annexation of Crimea, so we have to accept that Putin now is working on a very different set of assumptions than the rest of us.

Russia says it faces growing threats from U.S. and allies

Moscow faces growing threats from the United States and its allies, who are trying to weaken Russia's influence on Ukraine, a senior security official was quoted as telling President Vladimir Putin on Friday. "There has been a sharp increase in external threats to the state. The lawful desire of the peoples of Crimea and eastern Ukrainian regions is causing hysteria in the United States and its allies," Interfax quoted Alexander Malevany, deputy head of the Federal Security Service, as saying. He said Russia was taking "offensive counter-intelligence and intelligence measures" to blunt Western efforts to "weaken Russian influence in a region that is of vital importance", Interfax reported. 

The report indicated Malevany had given no details about the measures, but the remarks could increase Western concerns that Moscow may have designs on eastern Ukraine after annexing the Crimea region, a move that has caused the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War. U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday that a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine's eastern border may be more than just an effort to intimidate Ukraine, and urged Moscow to pull its forces back to ease tension. Russia took military control over largely ethnic-Russian Crimea before its citizens voted to join Russia in a March 16 referendum dismissed in the West as illegal. 

Putin has received permission from parliament to send the armed forces into Ukraine if necessary, raising concerns that he could cite alleged threats to Russian-speakers in eastern regions as grounds for intervention. 

Russia Claims American Mercenaries Are in Eastern Ukraine


Russia claimed Tuesday that 150 specialists from an American private military group are in eastern Ukraine, the region where pro-Russia protesters are clashing with government forces. A woman who identified herself as an employee of the group, the security contracting company Greystone, declined comment. She also declined to provide her name. Greystone, on its website, identifies itself as a “provider of aviation and protective support services and training” formerly part of Xe Services, the security contracting company once known as Blackwater.

A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the Americans were wearing the uniforms of Sokol, a Ukrainian police force, and were “of particular concern.” A State Department official referred questions to the company and said: “As for the United States, we do not have any U.S. military units in Ukraine.”

Russia also said that militants from Right Sector, a hard-line Ukrainian nationalist organization, were trying to use force to stop protesters opposed to the new Ukrainian government in Kiev. Pro-Russian activists have holed up in Ukrainian government buildings this week in the country’s east and have called for a referendum on breaking from Ukraine, similar to a vote last month in which the Crimean peninsula voters to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

Russia has said it has no designs on invading eastern Ukraine. The White House on Monday warned Russia against moving “overtly or covertly” into that region and said there was evidence that the pro-Russian demonstrators are being paid. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Russian agents are to blame for unrest this week in Ukraine, and he warned that Russia may be laying the groundwork for a military intervention, just as it did before seizing the Crimean peninsula.

US Mercenaries Could Start All-Out War In Ukraine for Profit


The deployment of foreign private security firms in Ukraine is unacceptable as they increase the risk of an outbreak of civil war, Dennis John Kucinich, a former US Representative from Ohio and a two-time presidential candidate, told RIA Novosti on Wednesday. 

“We saw in Iraq how private security forces can get out of control. Whenever you are in a politically sensitive, a military sensitive situation the last thing you want is private security out there, because they can actually profit by an expanded conflict. They can stir up a war and then profit from it,” Kucinich said.

The former US Representative said he is completely against the use of private security companies in any conflicts.

“If oligarchs want to hire people to protect them, they have a right to do that. But if nations bring in private armies you are looking at combustible material here because there is no control. The private armies will pursue private interests. They don't care about anything except making more money. And the more war there is, the more money they make,” Kucinich underlined. The big question is who exactly is financing the deployment of such private armies in Ukraine, the politician noted.

“You know the only money that Ukraine is getting right now is from the IMF. Who is paying these private armies?”

The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier voiced concerns over the buildup of Ukrainian forces in the southeastern part of the country involving some 150 American mercenaries from the Greystone company. Greystone is a private security company registered in Barbados, according to open sources. It boasts it provides "protective security and training solutions to customers in challenging environments.”

In February, the Ukrainian parliament, backed by far-right groups, ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, amended the constitution and scheduled an early presidential election for May 25. Moscow has described the uprising in Kiev as an illegitimate fascist coup and a military seizure of power, which resulted in it taking steps to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine, including the reunification of Crimea with Russia.

Source: http://en.ria.ru/world/20140409/189123989/OPINION-US-Mercenaries-Could-Start-All-Out-War-In-Ukraine-for.html

Russia Seeks Several Military Bases Abroad


Russia is planning to expand its permanent military presence outside its borders by placing military bases in a number of foreign countries, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday. Shoigu said the list includes Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles, Singapore and several other countries.

“The talks are under way, and we are close to signing the relevant documents,” Shoigu told reporters in Moscow.

The minister added that the negotiations cover not only military bases but also visits to ports in such countries on favorable conditions as well as the opening of refueling sites for Russian strategic bombers on patrol. Moscow currently has only one naval base outside the former Soviet Union – in Tartus, Syria, but the fate of this naval facility is uncertain because of the ongoing civil war in that country.

Post-Soviet Russia closed a large naval base in Vietnam and a radar base in Cuba in 2002 due to financial constraints. However, Russia has started reviving its navy and strategic aviation since mid-2000s, seeing them as a tool to project the Russian image abroad and to protect its national interests around the globe.

Now, Moscow needs to place such military assets in strategically important regions of the world to make them work effectively toward the goal of expanding Russia’s global influence.

Russian Spy Ship Docked in Havana


A Russian warship was docked in Havana Wednesday, without explanation from Communist Cuba or its state media. The Viktor Leonov CCB-175 boat, measuring 91.5 meters (300 feet) long and 14.5 meters wide, was docked at the port of Havana's cruise ship area, near the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The Vishnya, or Meridian-class intelligence ship, which has a crew of around 200, went into service in the Black Sea in 1988 before it was transferred seven years later to the northern fleet, Russian media sources said. Neither Cuban authorities nor state media have mentioned the ship's visit, unlike on previous tours by Russian warships.The former Soviet Union was Cuba's sponsor state through three decades of Cold War. After a period of some distancing under former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, the countries renewed their political, economic and military cooperation. The ship is reportedly armed with 30mm guns and anti-aircraft missiles. Its visit comes as isolated Havana's current economic and political patron, Venezuela, is facing unprecedented violent protests against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/russian-spy-ship-docked-havana-224015753.html

Putin's Tiny Army


    Russian child soldiers trained in battle tactics, weapons and hand-to-hand combat to 'repel any enemy of the Motherland'

    • Military sports club 'Berkut', or 'Golden Eagle', is in Zhukovsky, Russia
    • Children as young a five sent on marches, trained in hand-to-hand combat
    • They are even trained to fire Kalashnikovs, small arms and throw grenades
    • The course offers preparation 'to young fighters, to repel any enemy'
    • Parents urged to send kids before they become 'gamblers or drug addicts'
    Some parents would gasp at the thought of their children playing with a toy gun, but these Russian children are actually encouraged to take up real arms. Military sports club, 'Berkut', (meaning golden eagle), trains up young Russian, who dream of joining the elite units of the Russian army and fighting under the command of President Vladimir Putin. A young boy is pictured on their website brandishing a hand gun and dressed in military fatigues with his finger over the trigger.

    Old enough to hold a gun: Military sports club, 'Berkut', (meaning golden eagle), trains up young Russian, who dream of joining the elite units of the Russian army and fighting under the command of President Vladimir Putin

    Old enough to hold a gun: Military sports club, 'Berkut', (meaning golden eagle), trains up young Russian, who dream of joining the elite units of the Russian army and fighting under the command of President Vladimir Putin

    Gun trained: A young boy is pictured on their website brandishing a hand gun and dressed in military fatigues with his finger over the trigger

    Gun trained: A young boy is pictured on their website brandishing a hand gun and dressed in military fatigues with his finger over the trigger

    Special forces trained: Children as young a five are sent on forced marches, given battlefield training, taught hand-to-hand combat, and how to use military equipment

    Special forces trained: Children as young a five are sent on forced marches, given battlefield training, taught hand-to-hand combat, and how to use military equipment

    Early learners: 12-year-olds are also taught how to fire Kalashnikov assault rifles and other small arms

    Early learners: 12-year-olds are also taught how to fire Kalashnikov assault rifles and other small arms

    Nerves: During the clubs regular camps, some children are given the opportunity to parachute jump during their paratrooper training

    Nerves: During the clubs regular camps, some children are given the opportunity to parachute jump during their paratrooper training

    Children as young a five are sent on forced marches, given battlefield training, taught hand to hand combat, and how to use military equipment. 12 year olds are also taught how to fire Kalashnikov assault rifles and other small arms. During the clubs regular camps, some children are given the opportunity to parachute jump during their paratrooper training.

    Young gun: This grab from the camp's website shows just how young the recruits are encouraged to start learning

    Young gun: This grab from the camp's website shows just how young the recruits are encouraged to start learning
    Impressionable age: The club appears to urge Russian parents not to wait until their child becomes a compulsive gambler, drug addict or alcoholic, before sending them to the club

    Impressionable age: The club appears to urge Russian parents not to wait until their child becomes a compulsive gambler, drug addict or alcoholic, before sending them to the club

    Defenders: The club based in Zhukovsky, Russia, claims to provide military training designed to develop the younger generation of the 'motherland' - a term synonymous with the former Soviet Union and the communist rule of the last century

    Defenders: The club based in Zhukovsky, Russia, claims to provide military training designed to develop the younger generation of the 'motherland' - a term synonymous with the former Soviet Union and the communist rule of the last century

    Throw over: They are also taught the art of hand-to-hand combatThrow over: They are also taught the art of hand-to-hand combat

    Throw over: They are also taught the art of hand-to-hand combat

    Loyal family: The training is designed to promote a healthy lifestyle, good physical development and loyalty to their homeland

    Loyal family: The training is designed to promote a healthy lifestyle, good physical development and loyalty to their homeland

    Learning to use a targeting device: Most instructors are ex-armed forces and have first-hand knowledge of the hardships of service in the armed forces and offer preparation 'to young fighters, to repel any enemy'

    Learning to use a targeting device: Most instructors are ex-armed forces and have first-hand knowledge of the hardships of service in the armed forces and offer preparation 'to young fighters, to repel any enemy'

    Other activities include skydive training, survival skills and winter hikingOther activities include skydive training, survival skills and winter hiking

    Range of activities: Other activities include skydive training, survival skills and winter hiking

    Fitness test: Every year camouflage clad children and adults from the club march into the mountains of the Crimea for an annual 130km trek

    Fitness test: Every year camouflage clad children and adults from the club march into the mountains of the Crimea for an annual 130km trek

    The club based in Zhukovsky, Russia, claims to provide military training designed to develop the younger generation of the 'motherland' - a term synonymous with the former Soviet Union and the communist rule of the last century. The training is designed to promote a healthy lifestyle, good physical development and loyalty to their homeland. Most instructors are ex-armed forces and have first-hand knowledge of the hardships of service in the armed forces and offer preparation 'to young fighters, to repel any enemy'.

    Well armed: It also offers their youngsters the opportunity to become full-fledged citizens of society and learn to 'resist evil and violence, to protect the weak and the oppressed, to believe in justice and always be guided by courage and bravery'Other activities include skydive training, survival skills and winter hiking

    Well armed: It also offers their youngsters the opportunity to become full-fledged citizens of society and learn to 'resist evil and violence, to protect the weak and the oppressed, to believe in justice and always be guided by courage and bravery'

    Strong display: Every year the club celebrates the victory of the Soviet Union during WW2 with a public performance, in which camouflage-clad children demonstrate their hand to combat combat skills in front of proud parents

    Strong display: Every year the club celebrates the victory of the Soviet Union during WW2 with a public performance, in which camouflage-clad children demonstrate their hand to combat combat skills in front of proud parents

    Head over heels: Children demonstrate acrobatic technique at the Golden Eagle club, Zhukovsky, Russia

    Head over heels: Children demonstrate acrobatic technique at the Golden Eagle club, Zhukovsky, Russia

    Tough kid: Formed during the Soviet era, the club offers one program provided in The Young Paratrooper course which includes several military-technical disciplinesFormed during the Soviet era, the club offers one program provided in The Young Paratrooper course which includes several military-technical disciplines

    Tough kid: Formed during the Soviet era, the club offers one program provided in The Young Paratrooper course 

    Grenade throwing: A young boy hones his grenade-throwing skills during battlefield practice in the woods

    Grenade throwing: A young boy hones his grenade-throwing skills during battlefield practice in the woods

    No messing: The course, which  includes several military-technical disciplines, physical conditioning and the development a boy's moral qualities, can create quite an appetiteNo messing: The course, which  includes several military-technical disciplines, physical conditioning and the development a boy's moral qualities, can create quite an appetite

    No messing: The course, which  includes several military-technical disciplines, physical conditioning and the development a boy's moral qualities, can create quite an appetite

    Other activities include skydive training, survival skills and winter hiking. Every year camouflage clad children and adults from the club march into the mountains of the Crimea for an annual 130km trek. The club appears to urge Russian parents not to wait until their child becomes a compulsive gambler, drug addict or alcoholic, before sending them to the club. It also offers their youngsters the opportunity to become full-fledged citizens of society and learn to 'resist evil and violence, to protect the weak and the oppressed, to believe in justice and always be guided by courage and bravery'. Every year the club celebrates the victory of the Soviet Union during WW2 with a public performance, in which camouflage-clad children demonstrate their hand to combat combat skills in front of proud parents. Formed during the Soviet era, the club offers one program provided in The Young Paratrooper course which includes several military-technical disciplines, physical conditioning and the development a boy's moral qualities.

    Russia Launches Second Borei Class Nuclear Submarine

    Russia on Monday put into service its second Borei-class nuclear submarine, nearly one year after the first one came into use in January.Speaking at the launching ceremony of the submarine named Alexander Nevsky, President Vladimir Putin said the vessel is a completely new strategic missile carrier. "Equipment of that class should become a cornerstone of the sea-based part of our nuclear triad," said Putin via video link. The submarine, whose construction started in 2004, was put afloat in the White Sea port of Severomorsk, home of the Russian Northern Fleet.A third sibling submarine is expected to be put into service in 2014. According to Putin, the Russian Navy will be equipped with eight Borei-class and eight multi-target Yasen-class nuclear submarines by 2020. He added Russia will build more non-nuclear multi-target submarines and develop coastal naval infrastructure.

    Source: http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2013-12/23/content_17192041.htm

    Russia Test Fires New Yars Ballistic Missile


    Russia carried out a successful test-firing of an RS-24 Yars ballistic missile from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwest Russia on Tuesday, a military representative said. “Today, December 24 at 11:00 a.m. Moscow time a detachment of the Strategic Missile Forces conducted a test launch of a Yars silo-based solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test warhead,” Colonel Igor Yegorov said. The fifth-generation RS-24 (NATO reporting name SS-29) is an upgraded version of the Topol-M ballistic missile and can carry multiple independently-targetable nuclear warheads designed to evade missile defense systems. The first RS-24 launch took place at Plesetsk in 2007. In October the Russian newspaper Vedemosti reported that another new ballistic missile, codenamed RS-26 Rubezh, would have its first test launch by the end of the year.

    Source: http://en.ria.ru/military_news/20131224/185893612/Russia-Test-Fires-New-Yars-Ballistic-Missile-.html

    Russian Missile Forces to Field All-New Arsenal by 2021


    Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN) will be fully equipped with fifth-generation missile systems by 2021, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Wednesday. The proportion of modern missiles in the RVSN will reach around 60 percent by 2016 and 98 percent by 2021, Col. Igor Yegorov said. In addition to the fifth-generation Yars and Topol-M missiles, new command and control centers are being built and new communications, security and other systems put in place, he said. Russia's missile forces are being modernized in a bid to enable them to penetrate the anti-missile defense systems being fielded by NATO and the United States, Russian officials have said previously.

    Source: http://en.ria.ru/military_news/20131023/184312350/Russian-Missile-Forces-to-Field-All-New-Arsenal-by-2021-.html

    Development of S 500 Air Defense System on Schedule


    The development of Russia's formidable S-500 air defense system will be completed in 2015, and the system could be put in service with the Russian military as early as in 2017, the manufacturer, Almaz-Antey, said Wednesday. “We must finish the S-500 development in 2015. There have been no changes in schedule,” Almaz-Antey general director Vitaly Neskorodov told RIA Novosti, commenting on reports that the development could be delayed. “The testing will take two or three years, so the first deliveries could take place in 2017-2018,” Neskorodov said. The S-500, a long-range air defense missile system, is expected to become the backbone of a unified aerospace defense system being formed in Russia. The system will have an extended range of up to 600 kilometers (370 miles) and simultaneously engage up to 10 targets. The Russian military has demanded that the system must be capable of intercepting ballistic missiles and hypersonic cruise missiles, and plans to order at least 10 battalions of S-500s for the future Russian Aerospace Defense Forces. The S-500 could become a trump card in Russia’s response to the US-backed European missile shield, which Moscow believes may threaten Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

    Source: http://en.ria.ru/military_news/20130911/183358448/Development-of-S-500-Air-Defense-System-on-Schedule--Maker.html

    Sukhoi Completes Delivery of SU-34 Fighters


    A batch of Su-34 fighter jets was delivered to Russia’s military Monday in the final consignment under a 2008 deal with the Defense Ministry for Sukhoi aircraft maker to deliver 32 of the two-seat bombers. The aircraft, also known by the NATO codename Fullback, were handed over at the Novosibirsk aircraft plant, which is part of the Sukhoi holding company. Sukhoi officials said the company has already started implementing another contract with the Defense Ministry to deliver an additional 92 Su-34s, making a total of 124 aircraft by 2020. A derivative of the Su-27 fighter, the Su-34 is fitted with twin AL-31MF afterburner turbojet engines and can carry a payload of up to eight tons of precision-guided weapons over 4,000 kilometers. The aircraft will eventually replace all of the ageing Su-24 strike aircraft in service with the Russian air force and navy.

    Source: http://en.ria.ru/military_news/20131216/185616116/Sukhoi-Completes-Delivery-of-Su-34-Fighters-Under-2008-Contract.html 

    Advanced Mig-31BM Interceptors Stationed in Western Russia


    Modernized MiG-31BM interceptor aircraft have started combat alert duty at an airbase in Tver Region in western Russia, with the full modernization of the unit to be completed by the end of the year, a military spokesperson said Tuesday. “In Tver region two modernized Mig-31BM interceptors have started their combat alert duty in the Western Military District,” said Col. Oleg Kochetkov, the head of the district’s press service, adding that the aircraft were delivered at the end of last year. “By the end of 2014, the Khotilovo MiG-31 squadron will be fully re-equipped with the newer modification of the interceptors,” the colonel said. The MiG-31BM is a two-seat supersonic long-distance interceptor aircraft developed by the Russian aircraft corporation MiG. It features upgraded avionics, a 320 km detection range and a strike radius of 280 km. The plane’s multimode radar can detect up to 24 targets simultaneously, engaging up to eight at the same time. The air fleet upgrades are part of a series of modernization efforts by the Russian Defense Ministry.

    Russia Reinforces Armenian Base With Overhauled MiG-29 Fighter Jets


    Russia has strengthened its airbase in Armenia with a batch of overhauled MiG-29 fighter jets, a military official said Tuesday. Russia’s 3624th Air Base at the Erebuni airport in Yerevan previously hosted at least 16 MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets operating under the framework of air defense agreements concluded between the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. “A batch of fourth-generation MiG-29 multirole fighter jets has been put in service with the Russian airbase at Eerebuni after an extensive overhaul,” a spokesman for the Southern Military District, Col. Igor Gorbul, said without specifying the number of aircraft. The Erebuni air base is part of Russia’s 102nd military base in Gyumri, near Armenia’s border with Turkey. The Russian military said in January that in addition to fighter jets the Erebuni base will soon host a helicopter squadron armed with at least 18 attack and military transport choppers.

    Source: http://en.ria.ru/military_news/20140305/188092268/Russia-Reinforces-Armenian-Base-With-Overhauled-MiG-29-Fighter.html

    Russian Navy to Acquire SU 30 SM Fighter as Part of Wider Aviation Buildup


    The Russian Navy has confirmed its intentions to field the latest-generation Sukhoi Su-30SM 'Flanker' fighter as part of a wider ramp-up of its fixed- and rotary-wing combat capabilities, state media disclosed on 2 September. Having entered into negotiations with Irkut for a possible 12 Su-30SM aircraft in mid-2011, the Russian Navy now expects to receive "several tens" of these fighters, the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Navy Commander in Chief Admiral Viktor Chirkov as saying during a press conference at the Kuznetsov Naval Academy in Saint Petersburg. The twin-seat Su-30SM is based on the Su-30MKI for India, and features an improved radar, communications and ejector-seat system.

    Source: http://www.janes.com/article/26548/russian-navy-to-acquire-su-30sm-fighter-as-part-of-wider-aviation-build-up

    Russia ‘Welcomes’ the US Destroyer Truxtun, by Moving Bastion Anti-Ship Missiles to Crimea

    Unconfirmed news reports claim the Russian Navy is deploying land-based ‘Bastion’ anti-ship missile systems as a response to the recent U.S. move entering two naval vessels to the Black Sea. The two American Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG-103) crossed the Bosphorus Strait Friday, headed into the Black Sea, as tensions simmer over Ukraine’s Crimea region. The Russians also moved two naval combatants from the Mediterranean Task Force back to the Black Sea Fleet. Tension is mounting in the Crimea Peninsula with the preparations for a referendum on independence from Ukraine later this week.

    As of today, the Truxtun remain the only US warship in the Black Sea following the southbound passage of FF(G)-50 USS Taylor through the Bosphorus. The Taylor, a Perry class frigate was deployed to the Black Sea before the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games started. USS Taylor and the flag ship of the US 6th Fleet USS Mount Whitney were sent to the Black Sea to help with the evacuation of US athletes and spectators in case of an terror attack to the Games. However, when visiting the Black Sea port of Samsun, Turkey, the frigate damaged her propelled and had to be towed away to Souda, Crete for repairs.

    The US Navy said in a statement on Thursday that the ship was bound for the Black Sea to conduct military exercises with Bulgarian and Romanian naval forces. According to the Montreux Convention, warships of countries which do not border the Black Sea can only stay in the waters for 21 days. The Bastion anti-ship missile system was deployed last night (8-9 March) to Sevastopol from the Russian town of Anapa, Krasnodar, about 250 miles to the East. Follow bystanders recorded the movement of Bastion anti-ship launcher complex on the streets Crimea. The K-300P Bastion-P employs P-800 Yakhont (SS-N-26) anti-ship cruise missile hypersonic anti-ship missiles carried on mobile transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) is a Russian. The missiles are used as mobile coastal defence systems, having an effective range of 300 km.

    Source: http://defense-update.com

    Russian Fleet to Receive Powerful Submarines to Guard Black Sea and Mediterranean Basin


    Six submarines will receive Russian Black Sea Fleet as a part of the 636.3 Project until 2016. Three submarines will be available to sailors this year. These are diesel-electric submarines: "Novorossiysk", "Rostov-on-Don," Stary Oskol." They belong to the third generation class of ships "Varshavyanka" (NATO – Kilo classification).

    First one to appear on the Black Sea Fleet willl be "Novorossiysk". The length of the submarine - 73 meters, width - 10, maximum depth - 350 meters, submerged speed - twenty knots. According to public data, ships have powerful weapons and can strike with cruise missiles "Club-S" that are on board.

    "Range of fire of these missiles is about 300 kilometers. If the submarine will be equipped with a complex "Kalibr", the range will be 1200-1500 kilometers. This complex, as reported by Russian Navy Commander Admiral Viktor Chirkov, is adopted by the Russian Navy. So according to this indicator Russian weapons comparable to American cruise missiles "Tomahawk". With such a range missiles can hit targets in the countries that are far outside of the Black Sea, i.e. somewhere in the region of the Middle East," the vice-president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, captain Konstantin Sivkov stated.

    New submarines have unique noise characteristics. Their immediate predecessors, the submarine project 877 "Varshavyanka" were named by Western naval experts "black hole" precisely because it had a very low noise level. According to this indicator, they are clearly superior to similar Western models.

    Submarine Project 636.3, which is a deeply modernized version of "Varshavianka" has even lower levels of noise. And the availability of more sophisticated sonar system gives significant superiority to the ships of the same class and even to the atomic submarines.

    New ships can solve a wide range of tasks. The first one is fights with submarines. Especially in areas close to the coast of the probable enemy and not in areas near the Russian coast. It is also the defense of naval bases, coastal and marine communications. Today, the level of tension in the Black Sea is relatively low, said Konstantin Sivkov.

    "We must not forget that the Mediterranean basin is close, which is characterized by high levels of tension. Under certain conditions, it can spread to the Black Sea, especially if the conflict in Syria will not be ended, although there have are certain prerequisites for this now. Or if conflict with Iran will be unresolved. In this case, the flow of refugees, terrorists may spread to the Black Sea. And there will be a conflict on the Black Sea," he said. 

    According to experts, the increase in the number of submarines in three years in the Black Sea will immediately provide cover up to six units for the coastal territory from attack from enemy ships. In the future, the total number of submarine forces of the Black Sea Fleet should be 12-15 of non-atomic submarines. This will effectively solve all problems. 

    Almaz-Antey Unveils S-350E Vityaz Air Defense System


    The Russian company Almaz Antey introduced today the newest air defense system from Russia, the S-350E . The new system was displayed today for the first time in public at the MAKS 2013 airshow. The photos on this page were posted by Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week. “S-350 Vityaz is a highly mobile system, smaller than the S-400, but using that system’s 9M96E2 missile” sweetman posted in the Ares blog. The system is carried in three modules – the 50K6E command post, the 50N6E radar (photo below) and the 12-round 50P6E launcher (shown above). A single command post can control two radars and up to eight launchers, and engage up to 16 aircraft or 12 missiles at a time.

    The Vityaz (50R6) system developed by Almaz-Antey is expected to replace the earliest variants of the S-300 family, namely S-300PS and PMU PS-1A to be phased out of service by 2015. Early deployment of Vityraz systems could begin next year, if testing proceeds as planned. The S-350 was unveiled in June 2013 at the company’s Obukhov State Plant in St. Petersburg and. According to Almaz Antey president, Vladislav Menshikov, the new system is expected to be ready for testing in the fall of 2013.

    The system boasts advanced all-aspect phased array radar, a new mobile command post and a launcher carrying 12 vertical-launch missiles, which will use a variant of the 9M96 active radar homing missile. Similar missiles are used by the S-400, the newer generation of the S-300, which is currently being deployed in Russia and offered for export.

    A unique feature introduced with Vityaz launchers is the capability fire short-range missiles, in addition to the medium-long range capability of the 9M96. The shorter range missile is likely to be a variant of the 9M100. According to some analysts, the range of the new system will likely be 30-120km. According to these analysts, the system would evolve to offer air defense with some limited tactical anti-missile capabilities. Moscow aims to create a multi-layered grid to cover Russia’s airspace, defending against threats ranging from drones, to conventional manned aircraft, to cruise and ballistic missiles. Such system could employ S-500, S-400, S-300E, as well as the shorter-range Pantsir systems.

    The S-350E is based partially on the design of the South Korean KM-SAM Chun Koong system which Almaz-Antey helped designed. The Russian company developed three radar units for the KM-SAM, and is also believed to have helped the Korean missile manufacturer design the MK-SAM effectors. The Russian military closely followed the Korean development and in 2007 decided to back the development of a Russian derivative that eventually evolved into the Vityraz system.

    The Russian MOD plans to buy at least 30 Vityaz systems before 2020, following the completion of the developmental testing.

    Source: http://defense-update.com/20130827_vityaz.html

    First Project 11356 frigate Admiral Grigorovich Launched


    The Admiral Grigorovich was laid down in December 2010. Four more ships of the same class are in various stages of construction at the shipyard. All six frigates will be delivered to the Black Sea Fleet between 2014 and 2017 under two contracts with the Defense Ministry. The Project 11356 frigates, displacing 3,850 tons, are designed for anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare as well as for air defense missions, operating both independently or as part of convoys and naval task forces.  The frigates are armed with an eight-cell launcher for Kalibr and Klub (3M54E) anti-ship and surface-to-surface missiles, a 100-mm main gun, Kashtan gun/missile close-in air defense systems, Shtil vertical-launch air defense missile systems, two torpedo tubes, an anti-submarine rocket system and a Ka-28 or Ka-31 helicopter, according to defense industry sites globalsecurity.org and rusnavy.com. Deputy commander of the Russian navy, Rear Admiral Viktor Bursuk, said Friday that the vessels of this class are ideal for operations in the Black Sea or in the Mediterranean, where Russia maintains a permanent naval task force. Bursuk added that these ships could also be used for anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen. 

    Source: http://navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/defence-news/year-2014

    Intelligence Chair Fears Putin Has New Target: Armenia


    n an appearance on Fox News this morning, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) reported that in addition to massing tens of thousands of troops on the eastern border of Ukraine, Russia is building up its military forces in the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia. Rogers suggested that Russian president Vladimir Putin is considering an invasion of both Georgia and Armenia, as part of an effort to create an overland link between Russia and Iran.
    “They are moving some of their most advanced equipment into South Ossetia,” said Rogers. “There is no reason to do that. The Georgian army really poses no threat. That’s certainly concerning.”
    Related: Russia’s Putin Calls Obama to Discuss U.S. Proposal on Ukraine
    Rogers later added, “I would ask why is he moving the equipment that he is into South Ossetia up in Georgia, which makes really makes no sense other than they are contemplating maybe using those armor columns to drive through Georgia down to Armenia to create a land bridge to Iran.”
    Rogers, who this week announced that he would not seek reelection in November, recently returned from a trip to Georgia and Ukraine. In Georgia, according to Intelligence Committee staff, he personally saw camps being set up by the Russian military. Rogers also met with the countries’ defense ministers and intelligence officials.
    It would not be surprising for Russia to seek closer ties with Iran, nor for Putin to seek a direct trade route between the two nations. Both are, to different degrees, suffering under international sanctions – sanctions that may soon tighten on Russia as a result of its invasion of the Crimean peninsula.
    The news of a Russian build-up in South Ossetia comes as tens of thousands of Russian combat troops remain massed on the eastern border of Ukraine.
    Related: Stopping Putin with U.S. Gas Exports is Full of Hot Air
    Putin telephoned president Obama over the weekend, and the two had a discussion that the White House characterized as Russia seeking to deescalate the situation in Ukraine through diplomatic means. Russian officials described the conversation as Putin alleging further violations of the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
    Putin has claimed that the Russian invasion and speedy annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was justified because it was done to protect ethnic Russians in that region.
    The upshot of the call was that Secretary John Kerry made an unscheduled trip to Paris to meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
    While some speculated that Putin made the call as part of an effort to find a “way out” of the tense situation in the Ukraine, Rogers summarily dismissed that possibility.
    Related: Russia Criticizes UN Resolution Condemning Crimea’s Secession
    “He is absolutely not looking for a way out,” Rogers said.
    Asked about the troop build-up on the Ukrainian border, Rogers said, “We see tens of thousands and it is not just the number of troops, it’s the kind of troops and the kinds of configuration. What units are on that border and what could they accomplish. They have everything they need already I believe on that eastern border to go into Ukraine if they decide they want to do it.”
    According to Rogers, intelligence suggests that Putin’s primary goal in Ukraine is most likely to create a “land bridge” from Crimea to the breakaway Transinistria region of Moldova, to the west, which has been seeking a connection to the Russian Federation similar to the annexation of Crimea.
    By taking control of the southern part of Ukraine, Rogers said, Putin would secure a source of fresh water for the Crimean peninsula as well as an overland connection to Transinistria.
    Related: U.S. Bans Licenses for Military Exports to Russia
    Asked if there is reason to believe that Russia would move into eastern Ukraine as well, Rogers did not discount the possibility, saying that Russia currently has special forces teams and intelligence agenst working to foment unrest in the eastern Ukraine, which Russia could eventually use as a pretext for invasion.
    Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, agreed that Putin looks poised to enter Ukraine.
    “There are 40-plus thousand troops. They are staged in various areas. To people who watch this, it looks like an invasion force,” she said. “Putin has said it’s an exercise. Leaves a question mark.”
    Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kisliyak dismissed the possibility that Russia would ever retreat from Crimea, asserting that it is now part of Russia.
    “We are now in the territory of the Russian Federation,” he said. “There was an expressed will of the people of Crimea to be part of the Russian Federation.”
    However, asked if Russia was planning to invade the rest of Ukraine, he said, “We have no intent and no interest in crossing the border. We have our forces conducting exercises in the territory of the Russian Federation.”
    - See more at: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/03/30/Intelligence-Chair-Fears-Putin-Has-New-Target-Armenia#sthash.bZe8VpWG.dpuf
    n an appearance on Fox News this morning, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) reported that in addition to massing tens of thousands of troops on the eastern border of Ukraine, Russia is building up its military forces in the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia. Rogers suggested that Russian president Vladimir Putin is considering an invasion of both Georgia and Armenia, as part of an effort to create an overland link between Russia and Iran.
    “They are moving some of their most advanced equipment into South Ossetia,” said Rogers. “There is no reason to do that. The Georgian army really poses no threat. That’s certainly concerning.”
    Related: Russia’s Putin Calls Obama to Discuss U.S. Proposal on Ukraine
    Rogers later added, “I would ask why is he moving the equipment that he is into South Ossetia up in Georgia, which makes really makes no sense other than they are contemplating maybe using those armor columns to drive through Georgia down to Armenia to create a land bridge to Iran.”
    Rogers, who this week announced that he would not seek reelection in November, recently returned from a trip to Georgia and Ukraine. In Georgia, according to Intelligence Committee staff, he personally saw camps being set up by the Russian military. Rogers also met with the countries’ defense ministers and intelligence officials.
    It would not be surprising for Russia to seek closer ties with Iran, nor for Putin to seek a direct trade route between the two nations. Both are, to different degrees, suffering under international sanctions – sanctions that may soon tighten on Russia as a result of its invasion of the Crimean peninsula.
    The news of a Russian build-up in South Ossetia comes as tens of thousands of Russian combat troops remain massed on the eastern border of Ukraine.
    Related: Stopping Putin with U.S. Gas Exports is Full of Hot Air
    Putin telephoned president Obama over the weekend, and the two had a discussion that the White House characterized as Russia seeking to deescalate the situation in Ukraine through diplomatic means. Russian officials described the conversation as Putin alleging further violations of the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
    Putin has claimed that the Russian invasion and speedy annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was justified because it was done to protect ethnic Russians in that region.
    The upshot of the call was that Secretary John Kerry made an unscheduled trip to Paris to meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
    While some speculated that Putin made the call as part of an effort to find a “way out” of the tense situation in the Ukraine, Rogers summarily dismissed that possibility.
    Related: Russia Criticizes UN Resolution Condemning Crimea’s Secession
    “He is absolutely not looking for a way out,” Rogers said.
    Asked about the troop build-up on the Ukrainian border, Rogers said, “We see tens of thousands and it is not just the number of troops, it’s the kind of troops and the kinds of configuration. What units are on that border and what could they accomplish. They have everything they need already I believe on that eastern border to go into Ukraine if they decide they want to do it.”
    According to Rogers, intelligence suggests that Putin’s primary goal in Ukraine is most likely to create a “land bridge” from Crimea to the breakaway Transinistria region of Moldova, to the west, which has been seeking a connection to the Russian Federation similar to the annexation of Crimea.
    By taking control of the southern part of Ukraine, Rogers said, Putin would secure a source of fresh water for the Crimean peninsula as well as an overland connection to Transinistria.
    Related: U.S. Bans Licenses for Military Exports to Russia
    Asked if there is reason to believe that Russia would move into eastern Ukraine as well, Rogers did not discount the possibility, saying that Russia currently has special forces teams and intelligence agenst working to foment unrest in the eastern Ukraine, which Russia could eventually use as a pretext for invasion.
    Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, agreed that Putin looks poised to enter Ukraine.
    “There are 40-plus thousand troops. They are staged in various areas. To people who watch this, it looks like an invasion force,” she said. “Putin has said it’s an exercise. Leaves a question mark.”
    Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kisliyak dismissed the possibility that Russia would ever retreat from Crimea, asserting that it is now part of Russia.
    “We are now in the territory of the Russian Federation,” he said. “There was an expressed will of the people of Crimea to be part of the Russian Federation.”
    However, asked if Russia was planning to invade the rest of Ukraine, he said, “We have no intent and no interest in crossing the border. We have our forces conducting exercises in the territory of the Russian Federation.”
    - See more at: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/03/30/Intelligence-Chair-Fears-Putin-Has-New-Target-Armenia#sthash.bZe8VpWG.dpuf
    In an appearance on Fox News this morning, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) reported that in addition to massing tens of thousands of troops on the eastern border of Ukraine, Russia is building up its military forces in the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia. Rogers suggested that Russian president Vladimir Putin is considering an invasion of both Georgia and Armenia, as part of an effort to create an overland link between Russia and Iran.

    “They are moving some of their most advanced equipment into South Ossetia,” said Rogers. “There is no reason to do that. The Georgian army really poses no threat. That’s certainly concerning.”

    Rogers later added, “I would ask why is he moving the equipment that he is into South Ossetia up in Georgia, which makes really makes no sense other than they are contemplating maybe using those armor columns to drive through Georgia down to Armenia to create a land bridge to Iran.”

    Rogers, who this week announced that he would not seek reelection in November, recently returned from a trip to Georgia and Ukraine. In Georgia, according to Intelligence Committee staff, he personally saw camps being set up by the Russian military. Rogers also met with the countries’ defense ministers and intelligence officials. It would not be surprising for Russia to seek closer ties with Iran, nor for Putin to seek a direct trade route between the two nations. Both are, to different degrees, suffering under international sanctions – sanctions that may soon tighten on Russia as a result of its invasion of the Crimean peninsula.

    The news of a Russian build-up in South Ossetia comes as tens of thousands of Russian combat troops remain massed on the eastern border of Ukraine. Putin telephoned president Obama over the weekend, and the two had a discussion that the White House characterized as Russia seeking to deescalate the situation in Ukraine through diplomatic means. Russian officials described the conversation as Putin alleging further violations of the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

    Putin has claimed that the Russian invasion and speedy annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was justified because it was done to protect ethnic Russians in that region. The upshot of the call was that Secretary John Kerry made an unscheduled trip to Paris to meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. While some speculated that Putin made the call as part of an effort to find a “way out” of the tense situation in the Ukraine, Rogers summarily dismissed that possibility.

    “He is absolutely not looking for a way out,” Rogers said. Asked about the troop build-up on the Ukrainian border, Rogers said, “We see tens of thousands and it is not just the number of troops, it’s the kind of troops and the kinds of configuration. What units are on that border and what could they accomplish. They have everything they need already I believe on that eastern border to go into Ukraine if they decide they want to do it.”

    According to Rogers, intelligence suggests that Putin’s primary goal in Ukraine is most likely to create a “land bridge” from Crimea to the breakaway Transinistria region of Moldova, to the west, which has been seeking a connection to the Russian Federation similar to the annexation of Crimea. By taking control of the southern part of Ukraine, Rogers said, Putin would secure a source of fresh water for the Crimean peninsula as well as an overland connection to Transinistria.

    Asked if there is reason to believe that Russia would move into eastern Ukraine as well, Rogers did not discount the possibility, saying that Russia currently has special forces teams and intelligence agents working to foment unrest in the eastern Ukraine, which Russia could eventually use as a pretext for invasion. Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, agreed that Putin looks poised to enter Ukraine.

    “There are 40-plus thousand troops. They are staged in various areas. To people who watch this, it looks like an invasion force,” she said. “Putin has said it’s an exercise. Leaves a question mark.” Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kisliyak dismissed the possibility that Russia would ever retreat from Crimea, asserting that it is now part of Russia. "We are now in the territory of the Russian Federation,” he said. “There was an expressed will of the people of Crimea to be part of the Russian Federation.”

    However, asked if Russia was planning to invade the rest of Ukraine, he said, “We have no intent and no interest in crossing the border. We have our forces conducting exercises in the territory of the Russian Federation.”

    Source: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/03/30/Intelligence-Chair-Fears-Putin-Has-New-Target-Armenia#sthash.bZe8VpWG.dpuf

    Georgia wary of Russia 'expansion plans'


    As Georgians drive along their central east-west highway at night, they can see the lights of a Russian military base within South Ossetia's de facto line of control. It is a constant reminder of a clear and present threat, and their military defeat in 2008 by Russia. After Crimea especially, many worry that Russia once again is looking to expand its borders, or remind its neighbours that orientating themselves to the West could have negative consequences.

    The rules of the game seem to have changed. How far is Russia now willing to go to turn countries like Georgia back from their path of Euro-Atlantic integration with NATO and the EU? Key events are happening this year including the expected signing of Georgia's EU Association Agreement and NATO meetings, which may determine Georgia's future membership status.

    Next hotspot

    Against this backdrop, Georgians are jumpy. Mindful of their country's inter-ethnic makeup, some believe Samtskhe-Javakheti could be the next hotspot, because of notions that ethnic Armenians there cannot be trusted. Despite any clear evidence, there are rumours that many ethnic Armenians hold Russian passports.

    Like the rest of Georgia, Samtskhe-Javakheti suffers from poverty and unemployment. The difference is that here, there is an ethnic Armenian majority. Many don't speak Georgian, and not all of them feel connected to Georgian wider society. Ideas about preserving Armenian culture and language have widespread appeal. Ethnic Armenians have so far not seen the benefits of learning the Georgian language, at least in majority Armenian towns.

    Javakheti saw political disturbances in the 2000s. But nationalist Armenian activists lost their momentum, were jailed, or brought into the Georgian political fold. A lot of popular frustration was based around the closure of an important source of support for the local economy - a Russian base in Samtskhe-Javakheti itself.

    That also helps to explain in part why ethnic Armenians are today more pro-Russian in their outlook. Many travel to Russia for work, sending home vital remittances to support their families. And why shouldn't ethnic Armenians see Russia in a positive light? Russia, unlike Georgia, is a source of employment, and opportunity.

    Splitting Georgia in half

    So this is how the 'Russian' threat goes: Given the right excuse - i.e. inter-ethnic strife or instability that could emanate from existing antagonisms (for instance between two powerful political adversaries: the Georgian and Armenian Orthodox Churches), Russian forces would not have to travel far to link up 'pro-Russian' Samtskhe-Javakheti with South Ossetia, and split Georgia in half.

    To Samtskhe-Javakheti's south lies Armenia, Russia's ally. Gyumri in Armenia is home to a strategic Russian military base. Russia provided material support to the Armenians in their war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh and last year the Armenian government pulled out of trade and association negotiations with the EU and announced it would join Putin's Eurasian Economic Union.

    To suggest that new trouble is looming could be dangerous and downright mistaken. Most analysts agree that Armenia is unlikely to support instability in Javakheti. Though Armenia has a working relationship with Russia, one of the last things the country needs is a conflict next door. The Georgian-Armenian border is its sole route to the outside world. (The Turkish and Azeri sides are closed).

    Georgia's fear of insecurity is understandable given all that it has already been through with Russia, and it is a sign that what has happened in Ukraine is having wide-reaching and unexpected consequences. Some media outlets have already played up threats to Georgian territorial integrity. Georgian NGOs released a statement criticising this report, which implied that Georgia could lose the Javakheti region to Turkish interests.

    Domestic fears may do more to antagonise inter-ethnic relations than any cynical ploy from the Kremlin.


    Putin Stirs Angst in Azerbaijan


    As Vladimir Putin completes Russia's annexation of Crimea, Azerbaijan is worried that his next move will be to shift his attention southward. The Caspian Sea nation, the only westward route for central Asian oil and gas that bypasses Russia, is finding itself hemmed in by Putin's regional ambitions. Russian troops are already stationed in neighboring Georgia and Armenia and just four months ago, Putin said Russia will "never leave" the region.

    That's stirring angst in a nation that was captured by Soviet Russia in 1920. Azerbaijan, the third-largest ex-Soviet oil producer, has spent the past two decades trying to establish itself as an alternative gas source to Europe. Home to the Shah Deniz field, in December the country struck a 45-billion-dollar deal with a BP-led group.

    "If the West doesn't do anything to stop Russia, they will be emboldened to take back Azerbaijan by force as they did a hundred years ago," said Zahir Rahimov, a 39-year-old resident of Baku, referring to the Bolshevik takeover.

    Officials already complain about feeling the Kremlin's pressure. The push from Moscow to join Putin's new customs union, a project he wants to rival the European Union, is similar to the squeeze put on Ukraine, according to Siyavus Novruzov, a senior member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party.

    Putin is extending Russia's reach as he tries to rebuild the prestige it lost after the end of the Cold War. To Azerbaijan's west, Russia has kept a base with about 4,000 soldiers in Armenia since a cease-fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1994. In Georgia to the northwest, Putin left forces stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia after a 2008 war.

    "As for the Trans-Caucasus region, Russia will never leave this region," Putin said on 2 December after surveying Russian troops at the base in Armenia. "On the contrary, we will make our place here even stronger. We will strengthen our position here, drawing on the best of what our forebears left us and with the support of good relations with all countries in the region, including Armenia."

    While Putin hasn't directly threatened Azerbaijan and an invasion is unlikely, his comments underscore the fact that he can use his influence in neighboring countries to hem in Azerbaijan, which has been ruled by the Aliyev family for four decades.

    "Azerbaijan is going to be next after Ukraine," according to Arastun Orujlu, head of the Center for East-West Studies, a research group in the capital Baku. "Russia will step up pressure."

    Azerbaijan's position is complicated by the fact that it never courted the US and the European Union the way that ex- Soviet satellites such as Poland and the Baltic states did. Azerbaijan hasn't applied to join either the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the European Union and has instead pursued an independent foreign policy. The country has forged closer ties with Israel by buying its advanced weapons including drones and missile systems and NATO-member Turkey, with whom it signed an agreement on military cooperation.

    The existing accord with Turkey is limited to training and arms purchases by Azerbaijan. The nations are negotiating a broader military deal to guarantee mutual assistance in case of an attack, Novruz Mammadov, the head of the presidential administration's foreign-relations department, said on the ANS television channel on Sunday. Azebaijan's strategy of plotting a course between Russia and the EU has left it "even more vulnerable to Russian pressure" to join the planned Eurasian Union, Richard Kauzlarich, the US envoy in Baku in 1994-1997, told the Azeri service of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty March 7.

    While Putin has used the simmering conflicts in the Caucasus to keep Russia's southern neighbors "off-balance," putting at risk investments made in energy links binding Azerbaijan with Europe, such tactics have failed to undermine the projects, according to Matthew Bryza, the US ambassador to Azerbaijan in 2010-2011. Even so, the country's unaligned status puts it in a precarious position as Putin challenges the post-Cold War world order, according to Vafa Quluzada, a former foreign policy adviser to ex-President Heydar Aliyev, the father of current leader Ilham Aliyev.

    "After Crimea, there are no longer any rules of the game for Russia," Quluzada, the former presidential adviser, said by phone. "It can take unpredictable actions. Our strategic partners should bear this in mind and take action before it's not too late."

    Aliyev, who has won plaudits from the US and Europe for striking an independent foreign policy, he hasn't been immune to international criticism, with his government ranked as one of the most corrupt and repressive in the world by Transparency International and Reporters Without Borders. Dozens of activists, journalists, bloggers and other critics of Aliyev were arrested or convicted of "bogus charges" in the 18 months leading up to the presidential election last October, according to Human Rights Watch.

    Regardless of the human rights violations, Azerbaijan remains a crucial energy supplier to several EU nations. Italy, which receives Azeri crude shipments via Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, is Azerbaijan's biggest trade partner, according to data on the State Statistics Committee website. Germany and France come second and third, with Russia in fourth place.

    Oil and gas exports made up 95 per cent of total Azeri exports last year, according to the central bank. The 74-billion-dollar economy, the former Soviet Union's fourth biggest after Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, grew 5.8 per cent last year and the International Monetary Fund forecasts a 5.6 per cent expansion this year.

    Russia's main lever over Azerbaijan is its sway over Armenia, which it can use to ratchet up tension in the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, said Quluzada, the former foreign- policy adviser. That threatens to unsettle investors such as BP, which with partners has invested more than 40 billion dollars in energy projects in the past two decades.

    "Russia wants the cease-fire — this no-war-no-peace situation — to exert pressure on Azerbaijan," Quluzada said. "It is also using the situation to keep western interests under constant threat."

    Armenia, backed by Russia, took over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent districts from Azerbaijan. Large-scale hostilities ended with a cease-fire in 1994, with the sides yet to sign a peace agreement.

    "What's happening in Crimea today first started in Nagorno-Karabakh," said Asim Mollazade, a member of Azeri parliament's foreign relations committee. "It was the same scenario with the same participants. Azerbaijan lost 20 per cent of its territory."

    Georgia, the third South Caucasus country, was routed by Russia in an August 2008 war over the separatist province of South Ossetia in the biggest show of force outside its borders since the Soviet breakup in 1991 until the Crimea conflict. Russia has an agreement to provide military assistance to Armenia. In 2012, troops from Russia and four ex-Soviet republics took part in maneuvers in the country, the biggest military drills ever hosted by the landlocked country, according to IHS Global Insight in London.

    "Russia can attack Azerbaijan from three fronts: from Karabakh, from the border in Dagestan and by sea," Quluzada said. "Russia is holding drills in Dagestan and the Caspian Sea. It has modernised its Caspian fleet. It's clear that Russia isn't preparing for a war with Iran. Our strategic partners should bear this in mind and take action before it's not too late."

    While the crisis in Ukraine will further propel Azerbaijan to solidify ties with the West, it expects Russia to lash out against it in response, according to Mollazade.

    "Regrettably, Russia is seeking the restoration of the former Soviet Union through the customs union and the planned Eurasian Union," he said.

    Russia’s Ace in the Hole: Iran

    Tensions between Russia and the West are hitting a new peak. And in this face-off, Moscow has an extraordinary piece of leverage: a super-sophisticated, bomber-killing missile that it once threatened to sell to Iran.

    Last week, Reuters first reported Russia was preparing an oil-for-goods deal with Iran worth up to $20 billion. An unnamed Iranian official told the news service that the barter would include Russian weapons. And that was before further signs of Russia’s shadow invasion of Ukraine emerged Monday, when crowds spontaneously appeared in three major eastern cities to welcome the troops amassed over the border. The Daily Beast reported that associates of Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed and Kremlin-friendly Ukrainian president, were meeting with pro-Russian activists. One keen-eyed photographer captured a man wearing a Russian Airborne forces tee-shirt at one of the protests.

    The trade between Moscow and Tehran would alleviate the economic pressure on Iran that the White House has said helped bring the Islamic Republic to the bargaining table. It may even sink the talks President Obama is hoping will persuade Iran to defang its nuclear program. If those talks fail, then Russia has the leverage to equip Iran with the missile that could defend its centrifuges and reactors from allied air strikes, the S-300.

    “I could see as part of this deal [between Tehran and Moscow] that they would agree to transfer advanced missiles to Iran,” said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and an expert in the Iran sanctions. “If [Russian president Vladimir] Putin became angry enough over the West’s financial punishment of Russia, he could put in play the S-300 deal.”

    The S-300 has long been Moscow’s top-of-the-line air defense system. The current model is comparable to U.S. Patriot missile batteries. The S-300 deploys sophisticated radars, launch vehicles and missiles to shoot aircraft and even ballistic missiles out of the sky. Russia has also threatened to sell the system to Syria, whose hapless air force was hacked by Israel in 2007, rendering its anti-aircraft defenses useless when Israel bombed the al-Kibar nuclear facility.

    In the second term of the George W. Bush, Russia came close to selling and training Iran’s military on how to use the sophisticated S-300 system. But then in 2010, the Russians pulled back from the sale during negotiations over U.N. Security Council resolution 1929, the resolution the Obama administration used to persuade banks and finance ministries all over the world to isolate most of Iran’s economy.

    Moscow ended up supporting that resolution and cancelling the sale—which was considered a triumph of the Obama administration’s foreign policy at the time. But Russia also negotiated an important loophole. While the resolution bans almost every possible arms sale imaginable, it still technically allows U.N. member states to sell Iran air defense weaponry such as the S-300 system.

    “There was no prohibition of the S-300 in the resolution,” said Michael McFaul, who left his post earlier this year as the U.S. ambassador to Russia and played a role in 2010 as a senior White House staff member in negotiating the Iran resolution. McFaul said Russia’s president at the time, Dimitry Medvedev, at first privately and then publicly said the spirit of the resolution would prohibit the sale of the S-300. “But he was not obligated to do that by the resolution itself,” McFaul said.

    McFaul declined to comment on whether he suspected Russia would actually provide Iran with the air defense system. Dubowitz, however, says he is concerned Moscow could renege on its promise not to sell Iran the S-300. One Obama administration official told The Daily Beast the United States has seen no evidence to date that Russia would renege on its promise not to sell Iran the S-300 system.

    But signals from Moscow and Tehran have already drawn concern from Congress. On Monday, the two senators who drafted the crippling sanctions legislation Obama has implemented against Iran urged the White House to re-impose some of the sanctions it temporarily lifted this fall when the nuclear talks with Iran began.

    In the letter, Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, and Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, wrote that they were alarmed the barter agreement reported by Reuters “may provide for the transfer to Iran of items of significant value to Iran’s military and its nuclear program.”

    For now, the Obama administration is hoping that Russia will consider the potential costs to its own economy if it continues to defy the west in Ukraine. Speaking to reporters on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki pointed to how Russia’s economy has already experienced turbulence after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

    “The World Bank has warned that Russia’s economy could shrink by 1.8 percent this year even without additional economic sanctions,” she said. “The Russian currency has experienced sharp volatility between March 3rd and April 7th.  The Central Bank of Russia spent $25.8 billion to prop up the ruble.  All of these are specific impacts that we’re seeing in the Russian economy.”

    Western sanctions against Russia so far have been limited and focused on banning the travel and seizing the assets of senior officials in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. President Obama, however, has also held out the prospect that sanctions could be much tougher against Russia if its military invades eastern Ukraine. Indeed, the executive order Obama signed implementing the first round of sanctions also said the United States was prepared to implement much tougher sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy such as mining.

    Zachary Goldman, the executive director of the center on law and security at the New York University School of Law, said Russia has considerable leverage on western countries, but not as much as the United States and Europe have on Russia.

    “Can the Russians impose pain on the U.S. and its allies in Europe? Probably,” said Goldman, who served as a policy adviser in the Treasury Department’s office that tracks terrorist financing. “Can it impose as much pain on us as we can to them? Probably not.” Goldman however pointed out that Russia could jeopardize western investments in Russia, a knotty international law problem that often takes months if not years to resolve.

    The United States also needs Russia in the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Another round of those talks is scheduled to start this week in Vienna, Austria. Russia participates in those talks along with China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that to date Russian diplomats participating in the Iran negotiations have not drawn any linkage between them and the stand off over Ukraine. But if the pressure mounts on Moscow, then the West may end up paying the price for punishing Russia, at the bargaining table with Iran.

    Source: http://news.yahoo.com/russia-ace-hole-094500669--politics.html

    Turkey vulnerable to rising Russian power in the Black Sea

    With the annexation of Crimea, Turkey faces a stronger and bolder Russian naval power in the Black Sea
    With the annexation of Crimea, Turkey faces a stronger and bolder Russian naval power in the Black Sea. A resurgent Russia may be tempted to exploit its temporary naval dominance to alter current Black Sea energy exploitation and transportation arrangements more in its favor and to the detriment of Turkey and its partners in the Caucasus. The politically motivated stoppage of Turkey’s National Warship Project’s production schedule has created a window of vulnerability in Turkey’s Black Sea naval defenses in the face of rapidly rising Russian naval power.
    The $3 billion “National Warship” Project, known by its Turkish abbreviation MILGEM, seeks to upgrade the Turkish fleet by replacing and augmenting its older foreign-made warships with eight domestically produced Ada-class anti-submarine warfare corvettes and subsequently four intermediate-class TF 100 frigates. After gaining experience from the building of the slightly larger but more lethal TF 100 anti-air warfare frigates, Turkey then intends to build a series of TF 2000 frigates. Double the size of the TF 100, the TF 2000 anti-air warfare frigate will significantly advance the Turkish fleet’s transformation into a blue-water navy.
    Aside from being an intermediate phase for the development of the TF 2000, the TF 100 frigates are of present vital importance as replacements for the German-made Meko 200 frigates that form an essential component of Turkey’s force projection in the Black Sea. The TF 100 frigates will be the first Turkish vessels to carry the American-manufactured RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) system capable of countering the current generation of supersonic anti-ship missiles.
    Prior to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the head of Turkey’s Undersecretariat of Defense Industries Murat Bayar publicly acknowledged the need to replace the Meko 200 frigates with the ESSM-equipped TF 100s by 2020.
    However, in September 2013, upon the commissioning of the TCG Büyükada, the second of MILGEM’s eight Ada-class corvettes, the Turkish government abruptly canceled RMK Marine’s contract to build the remaining six corvettes. A subsidiary the Turkish conglomerate Koç Holding A.Ş., the cancellation of RMK Marine’s contract appears to be part of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political vendetta against the Koç family for providing assistance to anti-Erdogan protesters from a Koç-owned Istanbul hotel during the summer 2013 Gezi Park demonstrations.
    The next two corvettes will be produced by Turkey’s national shipyard while the government evaluates bids for the building of the four remaining corvettes. Despite Undersecretary Bayar’s optimistic forecasts that the government’s cancellations will delay the production schedule for the Ada-class corvettes by only one year, the cascade effect of the production stoppage in setting back the building of the TF 100 frigates, as well as the subsequent TF 2000s, has created a four- to eight-year window of vulnerability for Turkey in the Black Sea vis-à-vis a resurgent Russia.
    Turkey’s strategic vulnerability was not anticipated because of the view in Turkish policy circles that Turkey enjoys a relative parity with Russia in the Black Sea. However, the approximate parity exists only when Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is matched against all the major assets of the Turkish navy. Prior to the Crimean conflict, Russia’s Black Sea fleet consisted of 24 major surface combatants and one diesel submarine while Turkey’s major naval assets consist of approximately 24 surface combatants and 14 submarines. The parity is illusory as it is unlikely that Turkey would be able to deploy all or most of its naval assets in a Black Sea conflict.
    Turkey’s ability to deter Russian assertiveness in what Moscow regards as its greater Black Sea sphere of influence, including the eastern Mediterranean and the Caucasus, was already questionable. As Russia’s Black Sea Fleet disposed of Georgia’s miniscule navy during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, Ankara passively watched the Russian military destroy Turkey’s infrastructure investments in Georgia. Turkey’s supposed naval parity did not afford Ankara any significant policy options.
    Indeed, Ankara revealed its reluctance to provoke Moscow into challenging the Montreux Convention, the 1936 treaty granting Ankara exclusive control over the Bosphorous Straits and the Dardanelles and restricting the transit of heavy warships through this strategic Black Sea-Eastern Mediterranean access corridor.
    With the annexation of Crimea, Turkey faces a stronger and bolder Russian naval power in the Black Sea. Russia now possesses the Ukrainian navy’s submarine and several, if not most, of Ukraine’s 11 major surface combatants. Even without the Ukraine’s naval assets, Russia’s own new additions to its Black Sea Fleet will enable Moscow to dominate the region. Russia recently put to sea the first of its six Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates. All six frigates are designated for service in the Black Sea Fleet.
    Larger and more advanced than Turkey’s four modified Meko 200 Barbaros-class frigates, each of the six Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates will be the first vessels equipped with the state-of-the-art, supersonic Shtil-1 Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) air defense system. Moscow expects all six frigates to be in service in the Black Sea Fleet by the end of 2016. Turkey’s now delayed TF 100 frigates, slated to carry the ESSM system, would be the only Turkish vessels with a comparable SAM capability.
    Within the same 2016 timeframe, Russia will also add six newly improved Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines to its Black Sea Fleet ahead of Turkey’s deployment of an equivalent number of Ada-class anti-submarine corvettes. These two Russian procurement programs alone will quickly tilt the balance of naval forces in Russia’s favor, giving Russia a significant strategic advantage for a window of four to eight years depending on the pace of Turkey’s resumed production schedule.
    In addition, Russia is in the process of acquiring two French-made Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, to be named the Vladivostok and Sevastapol, the latter being the namesake of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s base in Crimea. The amphibious assault ships are helicopter carriers that can accommodate 16 attack helicopters as well as 13 battle tanks and 450 combat soldiers.
    A Mistral-class helicopter carrier in the Black Sea Fleet would provide Russia with unprecedented power projection capability in its greater Black Sea region. Russia’s recent announcement that it has no plans to deploy either of the helicopter carriers in the Black Sea may simply constitute a temporary measure by Moscow to assuage French sensibilities in order to ensure that France does not rescind the sale as a result of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Turkey cannot discount the likely possibility that the Sevastapol will serve at the Black Sea Fleet base after which it was named.
    Russia’s reassertion of naval power in the Black Sea has already been accompanied by Moscow’s first action to change the status quo in relation to Black Sea energy exploitation. With the formal annexation of Crimea, Ukraine’s Black Sea Oil and Gas company, ChronomorNaftohaz, was made into a whole-owned subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled joint-stock company Gazprom. Between the acquisition of ChronomorNaftohaz itself and Gazprom’s now exclusive license for all offshore energy development in Crimea’s continental shelf, the Russian energy giant has acquired an estimated $50 billion in capital assets.
    Turkey’s national oil and gas company TPAO has itself spent $2.5 billion on offshore energy exploration in Turkey’s continental shelf. Current estimates predict Turkey’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Black Sea contains 10 billion barrels of crude oil and two trillion cubic meters of natural gas. However as ultra deep-water wells are drilled in the region, more hydrocarbon resources may be discovered. Even if Russia, whose continental shelf now projects from Crimea and therefore closer to Turkey, does not attempt to dispute the demarcation of Turkey’s EEZ, Turkey’s drilling platforms can no longer be defended as easily from Russian warships.
    Of greater concern for Ankara is the more likely possibility that Russia may use Turkey’s window of vulnerability to alter the status quo in relation to the transport of natural gas through Russia’s “South Stream” gas pipeline. The Russia-to-Bulgaria pipeline had been routed through Turkey’s territorial waters to avoid the Ukraine’s EEZ. Russia’s annexation of Crimea renders this longer and more expensive route unnecessary and may lead Moscow to abrogate this very lucrative agreement for Turkey.
    Moreover, Moscow may seek to affect the development of the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline intended to transport Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe via Georgia and Turkey. To prevent the breaking of its stranglehold over gas exports to Europe, Russia may resume its simmering conflict with Georgia or even expand the use of military pressure to Azerbaijan. Ankara would have fewer options to block such an exercise of Russian power, as Turkey is now in a weaker relative position than during the time of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war.
    The politically motivated stoppage of the MILGEM’s production schedule has created a window of vulnerability in Turkey’s Black Sea naval defenses in the face of rapidly rising Russian naval power. The delayed production of the Ada-class anti-submarine corvettes will put Turkey at a disadvantage relative to Russia’s imminent deployment of a new fleet of Black Sea submarines. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will also possess six Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates capable of countering supersonic anti-ship missiles while Turkey will lack the comparable capability because of the setback to MILGEM’s four TF 100 frigates.
    Until Turkey can build and deploy these naval assets, Ankara’s deterrent capability has eroded and Russia will dominate the Black Sea. Exercising sea control, Moscow can more easily deploy its newly acquired Mistral-class helicopter carrier to stage amphibious assault operations against other Black Sea littoral states including Georgia and Azerbaijan.
    Having taken control of Ukraine’s offshore oil and natural gas operations, Moscow will likely attempt to alter regional energy transport arrangements in Russia’s favor while Rusia still enjoys naval dominance. With Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, Russia no longer needs to route its “South Stream” gas pipeline through Turkish waters to avoid Ukraine’s EEZ

    Moscow may attempt to cancel its agreement with Ankara and reroute the pipeline through Crimea’s continental shelf, resulting in a considerable revenue loss for Turkey. Until Ankara can rectify the gap in naval capabilities created by MILGEM’s delays, Turkey will not be able to defend its national interests adequately as Russia attempts to reestablish its sphere of influence in the greater Black Sea region.
    The author is a Fellow at the Shalem College, Jerusalem, and at the Middle East and Asia Units of the Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University. Dr. Tanchum teaches in the Departments of Middle Eastern History and East Asian Studies of Tel Aviv University.

    Source: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Turkey-vulnerable-to-rising-Russian-power-in-the-Black-Sea-349928

    Checking Putin's Eurasian Ambitions 


    American leaders have responded to Moscow's annexation of Crimea by beefing up NATO allies in Russia's vicinity, and rightly so. But it's imperative that Washington also pay attention to the security of the South Caucasus corridor through Georgia and Azerbaijan, which is crucial both for reverse transit from Afghanistan and Western access to the heart of Eurasia.

    Though separated by the Black Sea, the fate of Ukraine and the countries of the South Caucasus is intimately connected: They are both central to Vladimir Putin's dream of a "Eurasian" empire, stretching fromBelarus to Tajikistan. Without Slavic Ukraine, there can be no real Eurasian union. Without control over the South Caucasus corridor, Russia can't secure the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.

    The East-West corridor connecting Europe with the heart of Eurasia has been an important and bipartisan success of U.S. foreign policy. From the early 1990s, America supported the sovereignty and independence of the former Soviet republics, while helping develop the oil and gas wealth of the Caspian littoral. Washington played the central role in ensuring that Europe became the first major export destination of Caspian oil.

    Then the 9/11 attacks showed the importance of this corridor for America's own national security. The willingness of post-Soviet states to assist in the war on terror was directly proportional to their level of independence from Moscow. And with Iran out of the question and Russia imposing many conditions and caveats, the airspace of Georgia and Azerbaijan became the only reliable air corridor connecting NATO territory with Afghanistan. Similarly, the land bridge across Georgia and Azerbaijan carries about a third of the logistics for the Afghanistan operation.

    In the past five years, however, President Barack Obama's "reset" policy prioritized relations with Moscow at the expense of these smaller states. For the leaders of post-Soviet states, American disengagement from their security affairs was paralleled by growing Russian pressure to abandon their pro-Western foreign policies.

    As U.S.-Russian relations deteriorate over Ukraine, the fallout won't be limited to Ukraine. The South Caucasus is a most likely area for Moscow to create further mayhem. Mr. Putin understands the strategic value of the South Caucasus corridor more than most Western planners. Hence the 2008 invasion of Georgia, which as even former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has acknowledged was aimed at stopping NATO expansion. "If the war against Georgia had not happened," Mr. Medvedev said in 2011, "several countries would join NATO."

    Over the past few years, Russia has cooperated with the U.S. by opening the northern-distribution network to supply the operation in Afghanistan across Russian territory. Wisely, however, the U.S. ensured part of the network went through the South Caucasus instead of Russia. Moscow could easily threaten to shut down its portion of the network, leaving the Pentagon with two options: going south through Pakistan or west across the Caucasus. In other words: If Moscow were to block access through the South Caucasus, Washington could find itself at the mercy of Islamabad.

    Moscow has already consolidated its control over Armenia. Yerevan, like Tbilisi, had negotiated an association agreement with the European Union in July 2013. Yet Mr. Putin two months later bullied Yerevan to join his own custom union instead. And in both Georgia and Azerbaijan, Mr. Putin is investing in pro-Russian constituencies among opposition politicians, civil-society groups and ethnic minorities. Leaders in both Azerbaijan and Georgia have been left unimpressed by the Western reaction to the Crimea crisis. Both wonder when and where the risks of their pro-Western foreign policies outweigh the benefits.

    Using its huge military presence in Armenia, Moscow could stir trouble with Azerbaijan, given the festering conflict between those two countries over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. And Georgia lies between Russia and Russia's Armenian bases. As Tbilisi plans to sign its own association agreement with the EU this summer, Russian pressure is bound to intensify. What if Moscow demanded a military corridor across Georgia to its bases in Armenia? If the fractious and untested Georgian government felt no American backing, it's an open question how Tbilisi would respond.

    Such a development would have serious implications for America. If only one of the two gives in, Moscow would gain control over the reverse transit route from Afghanistan. And in the longer term, such a scenario would mean the loss of Washington's access to Central Asia. With that, any hopes of Caspian energy resources helping to diversify the EU's energy security could come to naught.

    None of this needs to happen. To prevent such an outcome, the Obama administration must reassure its allies in Tbilisi and Baku. First, U.S. leaders must make clear that the "reset" no longer applies: America's engagement in the region will no longer be indexed to Moscow's reactions. High-level visits of American diplomats and military leaders are needed to signal that Washington takes the security of the region seriously; bilateral security and defense ties must be deepened.

    Mr. Obama should consider officially pronouncing his support for Georgia to receive a membership-action plan at the upcoming NATO summit; Azerbaijan doesn't ask for one, but Washington should consult with Baku on steps to deepen NATO cooperation, as well as enhance America's role in negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Deploying American military facilities and personnel—if only for logistical purposes—in either or both countries would also send the right message to Moscow. The South Caucasus could serve as a powerful bulwark against the Russian imperialist tide—but only if the U.S. recommits itself to the region's security.
    Mr. Cornell is director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.

    Source:  http://online.wsj.com/news/articles

    From Estonia to Azerbaijan: US strategy after Ukraine


    The fundamental problem that Ukraine poses for Russia, beyond a long-term geographical threat, is a crisis in internal legitimacy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent his time in power rebuilding the authority of the Russian state within Russia and the authority of Russia within the former Soviet Union. The events in Ukraine undermine the second strategy and potentially the first. If Putin cannot maintain at least Ukrainian neutrality, then the world’s perception of him as a master strategist is shattered, and the legitimacy and authority he has built for the Russian state is, at best, shaken.

    Whatever the origins of the events in Ukraine, the United States is now engaged in a confrontation with Russia. The Russians believe that the United States was the prime mover behind regime change in Ukraine. At the very least, the Russians intend to reverse events in Ukraine. At most, the Russians have reached the conclusion that the United States intends to undermine Russia’s power. They will resist. The United States has the option of declining confrontation, engaging in meaningless sanctions against individuals and allowing events to take their course. Alternatively, the United States can choose to engage and confront the Russians.

    A failure to engage at this point would cause countries around Russia’s periphery, from Estonia to Azerbaijan, to conclude that with the United States withdrawn and Europe fragmented, they must reach an accommodation with Russia. This will expand Russian power and open the door to Russian influence spreading on the European peninsula itself. The United States has fought three wars (World War I, World War II and the Cold War) to prevent hegemonic domination of the region. Failure to engage would be a reversal of a century-old strategy.

    The American dilemma is how to address the strategic context in a global setting in which it is less involved in the Middle East and is continuing to work toward a “pivot to Asia.” Nor can the United States simply allow events to take their course. The United States needs a strategy that is economical and coherent militarily, politically and financially. It has two advantages. Some of the countries on Russia’s periphery do not want to be dominated by her. Russia, in spite of some strengths, is inherently weak and does not require US exertion on the order of the two World Wars, the Cold War or even the Middle East engagements of the past decade.

    The Russian and US positions

    Putin is now in a position where, in order to retain with confidence his domestic authority, he must act decisively to reverse the outcome. The problem is there is no single decisive action that would reverse events. Eventually, the inherent divisions in Ukraine might reverse events. However, a direct invasion of eastern Ukraine would simply solidify opposition to Russia in Kiev and trigger responses internationally that he cannot predict. In the end, it would simply drive home that although the Russians once held a dominant position in all of Ukraine, they now hold it in less than half. In the long run, this option—like other short-term options—would not solve the Russian conundrum.

    Whatever Putin does in Ukraine, he has two choices. One is simply to accept the reversal, which I would argue that he cannot do. The second is to take action in places where he might achieve rapid diplomatic and political victories against the West—the Baltics, Moldova or the Caucasus—while encouraging Ukraine’s government to collapse into gridlock and developing bilateral relations along the Estonia-Azerbaijan line. This would prevent a US strategy of containment—a strategy that worked during the Cold War and one that the Europeans are incapable of implementing on their own. This comes down to the Americans.

    The United States has been developing, almost by default, a strategy not of disengagement but of indirect engagement. Between 1989 and 2008, the US strategy has been the use of US troops as the default for dealing with foreign issues. From Panama to Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States followed a policy of direct and early involvement of US military forces. However, this was not the US strategy from 1914 to 1989. Then, the strategy was to provide political support to allies, followed by economic and military aid, followed by advisers and limited forces, and in some cases pre-positioned forces. The United States kept its main force in reserve for circumstances in which (as in 1917 and 1942 and, to a lesser degree, in Korea and Vietnam) allies could not contain the potential hegemon. Main force was the last resort.

    This was primarily a strategy of maintaining the balance of power. The containment of the Soviet Union involved creating an alliance system comprising countries at risk of Soviet attack. Containment was a balance-of-power strategy that did not seek the capitulation of the Soviet Union as much as increasing the risks of offensive action using allied countries as the first barrier. The threat of full US intervention, potentially including nuclear weapons, coupled with the alliance structure, constrained Soviet risk-taking.

    Because the current Russian Federation is much weaker than the Soviet Union was at its height and because the general geographic principle in the region remains the same, a somewhat analogous balance of power strategy is likely to emerge after the events in Ukraine. Similar to the containment policy of 1945 to 1989, again in principle if not in detail, it would combine economy of force and finance, and limit the development of Russia as a hegemonic power while exposing the United States to limited and controlled risk.

    The coalescence of this strategy is a development I forecast in two books, The Next Decade and The Next 100 Years, as a concept I called the Intermarium. The Intermarium was a plan pursued after World War I by Polish leader Jozef Pilsudski for a federation, under Poland’s aegis, of Central and Eastern European countries. What is now emerging is not the Intermarium, but it is close. And it is now transforming from an abstract forecast to a concrete, if still emergent, reality.

    Forces leading to the alliance’s emergence

    A Direct military intervention by the United States in Ukraine is not possible. First, Ukraine is a large country, and the force required to protect it would outstrip US capabilities. Second, supplying such a force would require a logistics system that does not exist and would take a long time to build. Finally, such an intervention would be inconceivable without a strong alliance system extending to the West and around the Black Sea. The United States can supply economic and political support, but Ukraine cannot counterbalance Russia and the United States cannot escalate to the point of using its own forces. Ukraine is a battleground on which Russian forces would have an advantage and a US defeat would be possible.

    If the United States chooses to confront Russia with a military component, it must be on a stable perimeter and on as broad a front as possible to extend Russian resources and decrease the probability of Russian attack at any one point out of fear of retaliation elsewhere. The ideal mechanism for such a strategy would be Nato, which contains almost all of the critical countries save Azerbaijan and Georgia. The problem is that Nato is not a functional alliance. It was designed to fight the Cold War on a line far to the west of the current line. More important, there was unity on the principle that the Soviet Union represented an existential threat to Western Europe.

    That consensus is no longer there. Different countries have different perceptions of Russia and different concerns. For many, a replay of the Cold War, even in the face of Russian actions in Ukraine, is worse than accommodation. In addition, the end of the Cold War has led to a massive drawdown of forces in Europe. Nato simply lacks the force unless there is a massive and sudden buildup. That will not occur because of the financial crisis, among other reasons. Nato requires unanimity to act, and that unanimity is not there.

    The countries that were at risk from 1945 to 1989 are not the same as those at risk today. Many of these countries were part of the Soviet Union then, and the rest were Soviet satellites. The old alliance system was not built for this confrontation. The Estonia-Azerbaijan line has as its primary interest retaining sovereignty in the face of Russian power. The rest of Europe is not in jeopardy, and these countries are not prepared to commit financial and military efforts to a problem they believe can be managed with little risk to them. Therefore, any American strategy must bypass Nato or, at the very least, create new structures to organize the region.

    Characteristics of the alliance

    Each of the various countries involved is unique and has to be addressed that way. But these countries share the common danger that events in Ukraine could spread and directly affect their national security interests, including internal stability. As I observed, the Baltics, Moldova and the Caucasus are areas where the Russians could seek to compensate for their defeat. Because of this, and also because of their intrinsic importance, Poland, Romania and Azerbaijan must be the posts around which this alliance is built.

    The Baltic salient, 145 kilometers from Saint Petersburg in Estonia, would be a target for Russian destabilization. Poland borders the Baltics and is the leading figure in the Visegrad battlegroup, an organization within the European Union. Poland is eager for a closer military relationship with the United States, as its national strategy has long been based on third-power guarantees against aggressors. The Poles cannot defend themselves and the Baltics, given the combat capabilities necessary for the task.

    The Dniester River is 80 kilometers from Odessa, the main port on the Black Sea for Ukraine and an important one for Russia. The Prut River is about 200 kilometers from Bucharest, the capital of Romania. Moldova is between these two rivers. It is a battleground region, at least of competing political factions. Romania must be armed and supported in protecting Moldova and in organizing southeastern Europe. In Western hands, Moldova threatens Odessa, Ukraine’s major port also used by Russia on the Black Sea. In Russian hands, Moldova threatens Bucharest.

    At the far end of the alliance structure I am envisioning is Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea bordering Russia and Iran. Should Dagestan and Chechnya destabilize, Azerbaijan—which is Islamic and majority Shiite but secular—would become critical for limiting the regional spread of jihadists. Azerbaijan also would support the alliance’s position in the Black Sea by supporting Georgia and would serve as a bridge for relations (and energy) should Western relations with Iran continue to improve. To the southwest, the very pro-Russian Armenia—which has a Russian troop presence and a long-term treaty with Moscow—could escalate tensions with Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Previously, this was not a pressing issue for the United States. Now it is. The security of Georgia and its ports on the Black Sea requires Azerbaijan’s inclusion in the alliance.

    Azerbaijan serves a more strategic purpose. Most of the countries in the alliance are heavy importers of Russian energy; for instance, 91 percent of Poland’s energy imports and 86 percent of Hungary’s come from Russia. There is no short-term solution to this problem, but Russia needs the revenue from these exports as much as these countries need the energy. Developing European shale and importing US energy is a long-term solution. A medium-term solution, depending on pipeline developments that Russia has tended to block in the past, is sending natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe. Until now, this has been a commercial issue, but it has become a strategically critical issue. The Caspian region, of which Azerbaijan is the lynchpin, is the only major alternative to Russia for energy. Therefore, rapid expansion of pipelines to the heart of Europe is as essential as providing Azerbaijan with the military capability to defend itself (a capability it is prepared to pay for and, unlike other allied countries, does not need to be underwritten).

    The key to the pipeline will be Turkey’s willingness to permit transit. I have not included Turkey as a member of this alliance. Its internal politics, complex relations and heavy energy dependence on Russia make such participation difficult. I view Turkey in this alliance structure as France in the Cold War. It was aligned yet independent, militarily self-sufficient yet dependent on the effective functioning of others. Turkey, inside or outside of the formal structure, will play this role because the future of the Black Sea, the Caucasus and southeastern Europe is essential to Ankara.

    These countries, diverse as they are, share a desire not to be dominated by the Russians. That commonality is a basis for forging them into a functional military alliance. This is not an offensive force but a force designed to deter Russian expansion. All of these countries need modern military equipment, particularly air defense, anti-tank and mobile infantry. In each case, the willingness of the United States to supply these weapons, for cash or credit as the situation requires, will strengthen pro-US political forces in each country and create a wall behind which Western investment can take place. And it is an organization that others can join, which unlike Nato does not allow each member the right to veto.

    The practicality of the US strategy

    There are those who would criticize this alliance for including members who do not share all the democratic values of the US State Department. This may be true. It is also true that during the Cold War the United States was allied with the Shah’s Iran, Turkey and Greece under dictatorship and Mao’s China after 1971. Having encouraged Ukrainian independence, the United States—in trying to protect that independence and the independence of other countries in the region—is creating an alliance structure that will include countries, such as Azerbaijan, that have been criticized. However, if energy does not come from Azerbaijan, it will come from Russia, and then the Ukrainian events will dissolve into tragic farce. The State Department must grapple with the harsh forces its own policies have unleashed. This suggests that the high-mindedness borne of benign assumptions now proven to be illusions must make way for realpolitik calculations.

    The balance-of-power strategy allows the United States to use the natural inclination of allies to bolster its own position and take various steps, of which military intervention is the last, not the first. It recognizes that the United States, as nearly 25 percent of the world’s economy and the global maritime hegemon, cannot evade involvement. Its very size and existence involves it. Nor can the United States confine itself to gestures like sanctions on 20 people. This is not seen as a sign of resolve as much as weakness. It does mean that as the United States engages in issues like Ukraine and must make strategic decisions, there are alternatives to intervention—such as alliances. In this case, a natural alliance structure presents itself—a descendant of Nato but shaped for this crisis, much like the alliance I forecast previously.

    In my view, Russian power is limited and has flourished while the United States was distracted by its wars in the Middle East and while Europe struggled with its economic crisis. That does not mean Russia is not dangerous. It has short-term advantages, and its insecurity means that it will take risks. Weak and insecure states with temporary advantages are dangerous. The United States has an interest in acting early because early action is cheaper than acting in the last extremity. This is a case of anti-air missiles, attack helicopters, communications systems and training, among other things. These are things the United States has in abundance. It is not a case of deploying divisions, of which it has few. The Poles, Romanians, Azerbaijanis and certainly the Turks can defend themselves. They need weapons and training, and that will keep Russia contained within its caldron as it plays out a last hand as a great power.

    Sanctioning Russia Into Multi-Polar World?

    Participants hold up boxes to make a portrait of U.S.President Barack Obama during a flashmob event by students in Moscow March 28, 2014. The slogan reads, "Sanction against Russia are sanctions against me!" (Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)

    US and European sanctions against Russia are designed to “punish” its actions in Crimea. However, instead of forcing Russia into economic and political submission, the sanctions will spur the country to greater political and economic independence.

    Since the end of the Soviet Union, Russia’s economic progress and development has been directly dependent on political and economic institutions dominated by the West. From Russia’s integration into the World Trade Organization, to Russian dependence on Western banking and finance, Moscow has come to rely on precisely those institutions now being used against it. Naturally, any Russian countermeasures against the sanctions will aim to disentangle it from this US-, Anglo- and Euro-centric architecture, forcing Moscow to look elsewhere for its economic future. This need to find alternative modes of development and prosperity will contribute greatly toward the continuing shift to a multi-polar world.

    Considering the vast sums of money and future investment at stake, it seems unlikely that there will be a monumental shift in the financial arrangement between Russia and the West, the current crisis notwithstanding. However, the recent actions taken by the US and its European partners underscore the need for Russia to consider viable alternatives to dependence on the West. This dependence takes many forms, from access to financing to revenue from energy exports – Russia heavily relies on Western capital to finance its budget and economic development.

    The sanctions imposed by the West have not only targeted individuals determined to be in President Putin’s “inner circle,” but also major Russian banks (Bank Rossiya, Sobinbank, and SMP Bank). As a result, VISA and MasterCard stopped offering card services through these banks, and later resumed services only to the SMP Bank, creating difficulties for many Russian citizens, as well as the institutions themselves. In response to these and other measures, Bank Rossiya has stopped conducting business in foreign currencies and has begun a shift to ruble-only operations. While this may create added difficulties for the bank in the short-term, it does signal a critical trend – a shift away from the US dollar and euro, towards the ruble (and possibly yuan) as a debt settlement currency. Such a move would have very significant long-term implications, including opening the door to a host of other developments.
    A general view of the head office of Bank Rossiya in St. Petersburg (Reuters / Alexander Demianchuk)

    First and foremost is the issue of energy revenue. While Europe may be ramping up the rhetoric against Russia, the fact remains that it is dependent on Russia for more than one third of its total gas imports. Any significant sanctions would jeopardize everything from Germany’s manufacturing base to France’s chemicals and aircraft exports. With this in mind, no one in Europe can seriously believe that punitive actions against Russia won’t have a deleterious effect on an already fragile EU economy. Surely Moscow understands this, which is why Putin and Co. don’t seem terribly intimidated by the bluster from Brussels and Berlin. However, should Russia decide to put the screws on Europe, it has the proverbial “ace in the hole” in China.

    For decades, one of the world’s most intriguing and undoubtedly lucrative development projects has been the possibility of a Sino-Russian energy pipeline. Hampered by everything from Soviet-era political animosity to disagreements over pricing and construction subsidies, the project has never successfully gotten off the ground. However, this has begun to change in recent years. Although Russia’s Gazprom failed to secure a pricing deal with its Chinese partners in January, it seems that the two are inching closer to the deal, which will set in motion a development project that could have far-reaching ramifications for the two countries, and arguably for the world. Once the pipeline is finally in place (how long that will take is still unclear), it will give Russia tremendous leverage over Europe in all areas of cooperation and negotiation. Moreover, it will allow Moscow to expand its influence in other areas, free of the constraints of having to mollify Western “partners.”

    Aside from energy cooperation with China, Russia has another important industry where it will continue to grow and flex its muscles: weapons exports. Russia, accounting for 27 percent of global arms exports in 2013, is second only to the US which accounts for 29 percent of global arms trade. In fact, Russia has announced recently that it is looking to expand its influence in this crucial industry, particularly in the traditional US sphere of influence, Latin America.

    Alexander Fomin, the head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, recently explained at a defense exhibition in Chile that Russia is looking to expand its exports in South America, including traditional weapons and military aircraft. He added that “We are offering our Chilean partners a localization of production in their country, which is certainly a very beneficial aspect of our proposed contracts.” Taking a page out of China’s playbook, it seems Russia is expanding its influence in this key area of development by dangling the carrots of job creation and local manufacturing, rather than simply exports.

    Reuters / Kevin Lamarque

    Additionally, Russia has outstanding contracts with Syria and Iran for delivery of all-important S-300 missile defense systems. Russia has, to this point, delayed the delivery of the systems to these countries out of political considerations to the US and Europe. As Russia was a key participant in the Iranian nuclear negotiations, as well as in the diplomatic efforts to resolve the war in Syria, Moscow has been wary of delivering on its contracts. However, given the belligerence of the US and Europe, it seems quite reasonable that Russia might rethink this strategy, adding an additional layer of defense for countries long since on America’s target list.

    From the financial perspective, Russia has a great deal of leverage vis-à-vis its energy exports. Specifically, Russia could quite easily upset the entire Western economy by unilaterally refusing to accept US dollars as payment for its energy. Were Russia to demand payment in gold or some other currency, the entire petrodollar economy could come crashing down. It would force China to take countermeasures against rapid dollar devaluation, which would only exacerbate the problem. The Euro, itself being very closely tied to the dollar, would undoubtedly also come crashing down. To be sure, such a strategy would be dangerous to Russia’s own economy, but it could be seen as a possible weapon of last resort, should Washington decide to ratchet up the sanctions.

    Many have speculated that Russia has already taken some of the initial steps toward exiting from the dollar. In early 2014, a “foreign government” dumped nearly $118 billion. Many experts believe that these deals have been quietly executed by Russia, and would constitute a stark warning to the US of Russia’s considerable influence in terms of its dollar holdings. Should Russian moves in turn make China nervous, then these actions would also have very dire consequences for the world’s reserve currency.

    The geopolitical impact

    Aside from economic concerns, the sanctions could in many ways threaten Western geopolitical hegemony. Such countermeasures would force Russia to work more diligently and with greater urgency toward cooperation within regional and strategic groupings, such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). 
    (From L) Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, China's President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma pose for a photo after the BRICS leader's meeting at the G20 summit on September 5, 2013 in Saint Petersburg. (AFP Photo / Sergei Karpukhin)

    In 2013, BRICS members agreed in principle to establish a BRICS Development Bank, a financial institution that would act as an alternative to the US and EU dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Although the particulars of getting such an institution up and running are quite complex, the idea is certainly possible and could change the geopolitical and economic landscape of much of the world. Were these obstacles overcome, much of the Global South would be able to look to the BRICS Development Bank as a means of securing much needed investment capital, without the usual austerity, structural adjustments, and other conditionalities attached to IMF and World Bank funds. Moreover, it would provide sound economic footing upon which the developing countries of the grouping could withstand continued economic instability emanating from the US, Europe, and Japan.

    In addition to BRICS, the SCO offers the possibility of a geopolitical counterweight to US-NATO hegemony. If the sanctions against Russia had the side effect of pushing Moscow and Beijing closer, undoubtedly expanded SCO cooperation would result. Not only is the grouping an economic forum within which Russia, China, former Soviet republics, and soon India, Pakistan, and possibly other nations, can come together to tackle security concerns, but economic cooperation has also become an important aspect of the SCO. This development would ultimately weaken US-NATO power, moving the world toward a multi-polar future.

    Of course, all of these countermeasures do not change the fact that any significant sanctions would hurt Russia in the short term. With an economy that is still so heavily reliant upon energy revenue and weapons exports, Russia has a long way to go towards true economic self-reliance and diversity. In order to significantly diversify, Russia will require cooperation, not aggression from the US and its Western partners. However, given recent developments, this may be more of a utopian vision than a political reality.

    Regardless of US and European policy, however, Russia is by no means powerless. On the contrary, the Ukraine crisis has shown the world that, less than twenty-five years after the end of the Soviet Union, Russia is once again a major world power.

    Source: http://rt.com/op-edge/sanctioning-russia-825/

    Washington Threatens Russia Over “Petrodollar-Busting Deal”


    On the heels of Russia’s potential “holy grail” gas deal with China (2), the news of a Russia-Iran oil “barter” deal (3), it appears the US is starting to get very concerned about its almighty Petrodollar



    We suspect these sanctions would have more teeth than some travel bans, but, as we noted previously, it is just as likely to be another epic geopolitical debacle resulting from what was originally intended to be a demonstration of strength and instead is rapidly turning out into a terminal confirmation of weakness.

    As we explained earlier in the week, Russia seems perfectly happy to telegraph that it is just as willing to use barter (and “heaven forbid” gold) and shortly other “regional” currencies, as it is to use the US Dollar, hardly the intended outcome of the western blockade, which appears to have just backfired and further impacted the untouchable status of the Petrodollar. …

    If Washington can’t stop this deal, it could serve as a signal to other countries that the United States won’t risk major diplomatic disputes at the expense of the sanctions regime,”

    The US dollar’s position as the base currency for global energy trading gives the US a number of unfair advantages. It seems that Moscow is ready to take those advantages away. (4)

    The existence of “petrodollars” is one of the pillars of America’s economic might because it creates a significant external demand for American currency, allowing the US to accumulate enormous debts without defaulting. If a Japanese buyer want to buy a barrel of Saudi oil, he has to pay in dollars even if no American oil company ever touches the said barrel. Dollar has held a dominant position in global trading for such a long time that even Gazprom’s natural gas contracts for Europe are priced and paid for in US dollars. Until recently, a significant part of EU-China trade had been priced in dollars.

    Lately, China has led the BRICS efforts to dislodge the dollar from its position as the main global currency, but the “sanctions war” between Washington and Moscow gave an impetus to the long-awaited scheme to launch the petroruble and switch all Russian energy exports away from the US currency .

    The main supporters of this plan are Sergey Glaziev, the economic aide of the Russian President and Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft, the biggest Russian oil company and a close ally of Vladimir Putin. Both have been very vocal in their quest to replace the dollar with the Russian ruble. Now, several top Russian officials are pushing the plan forward.

    First, it was the Minister of Economy, Alexei Ulyukaev who told Russia 24 news channel that the Russian energy companies must should ditch the dollar. “ They must be braver in signing contracts in rubles and the currencies of partner-countries, ” he said.

    Then, on March 2, Andrei Kostin, the CEO of state-owned VTB bank, told the press that Gazprom, Rosneft and Rosoboronexport, state company specialized in weapon exports, can start trading in rubles. “ I’ve spoken to Gazprom, to Rosneft and Rosoboronexport management and they don’t mind switching their exports to rubles. They only need a mechanism to do that ”, Kostin told the attendees of the annual Russian Bank Association meeting.

    Judging by the statement made at the same meeting by Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, it is safe to assume that no resources will be spared to create such a mechanism. “ Some ‘hot headed’ decision-makers have already forgotten that the global economic crisis of 2008 – which is still taking its toll on the world – started with a collapse of certain credit institutions in the US, Great Britain and other countries. This is why we believe that any hostile financial actions are a double-edged sword and even the slightest error will send the boomerang back to the aborigines,” she said.

    It seems that Moscow has decided who will be in charge of the “boomerang”. Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft, has been nominated to chair the board of directors of Saint-Petersburg Commodity Exchange, a specialized commodity exchange. In October 2013, speaking at the World Energy Congress in Korea, Sechin called for a “global mechanism to trade natural gas” and went on suggesting that “ it was advisable to create an international exchange for the participating countries, where transactions could be registered with the use of regional currencies “. Now, one of the most influential leaders of the global energy trading community has the perfect instrument to make this plan a reality. A Russian commodity exchange where reference prices for Russian oil and natural gas will be set in rubles instead of dollars will be a strong blow to the petrodollar.

    Rosneft has recently signed a series of big contracts for oil exports to China and is close to signing a “jumbo deal” with Indian companies. In both deals, there are no US dollars involved. Reuters reports, that Russia is close to entering a goods-for-oil swap transaction with Iran that will give Rosneft around 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day to sell in the global market. The White House and the russophobes in the Senate are livid and are trying to block the transaction because it opens up some very serious and nasty scenarios for the petrodollar. If Sechin decides to sell this Iranian oil for rubles, through a Russian exchange, such move will boost the chances of the “petroruble” and will hurt the petrodollar.

    It can be said that the US sanctions have opened a Pandora’s box of troubles for the American currency. The Russian retaliation will surely be unpleasant for Washington, but what happens if other oil producers and consumers decide to follow the example set by Russia? During the last month, China opened two centers to process yuan-denominated trade flows, one in London and one in Frankfurt. Are the Chinese preparing a similar move against the greenback? We’ll soon find out.

    Finally, those curious what may happen next, only not to Iran but to Russia, are encouraged to read “From Petrodollar To Petrogold: The US Is Now Trying To Cut Off Iran’s Access To Gold.” (5)


    War Is Coming!


    By Micheal Saakashvili

    In early March, the Russian Federation, after staging a referendum under Kalashnikovs in Crimea, proceeded to annex the region and laid the groundwork -- according to Moscow -- for "new political-legal realities," that is to say, a new Russian paradigm for a lawless world. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her speech to the Bundestag on March 13, Russia is bringing the law of the jungle to the table. For those of us who have lived through Vladimir Putin's attempts to reverse the results of what he calls "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century -- the dissolution of the Soviet Union -- what is happening in Ukraine is not unexpected. Nor does it mark the last act of the drama.

    It should be abundantly clear now that Putin's initial plan of taking eastern Ukraine by mobilizing the Russian population there has failed. But that doesn't mean he's giving up. Russian strategists are talking about a "weekend of rage" that could involve some kind of armed siege of government buildings in southern and eastern Ukraine. If these local provocateurs and "self-defense forces" manage to hold these buildings as they did in Crimea, it might serve as a basis for further military intervention. Not that we should be surprised by this cynical playbook any more.

    History can be a useful guide for politicians: first, to help prevent new disasters, and second, to help react to disasters that inevitably happen anyway, despite the best laid plans. And yet, plenty of politicians are making the same mistakes they should have learned from decades ago. These days, I can't help but be reminded of Yogi Berra's famous quote, "It's déjà vu, all over again."

    In Chechnya, tens of thousands of people were killed just to make Putin president and consolidate his power. Then, when the Colored Revolutions -- and their successful reforms -- became a menace to his rule, he invaded Georgia in order to kill this contagious model and again reconfirm his power. Now, as before, faced with eroding popularity in Russia, a shale gas revolution in North America, and the need for consistent port access to equip his allies in the Middle East, Putin attacked Ukraine and seized Crimea.

    And yet, even with these myriad examples, the West continues to misunderstand or excuse Putin's aggression. These days, many pundits are busy with soul-searching, with one of the constant refrains being how the West overreached with NATO and EU expansion, and how it needlessly provoked the Russian bear. The conclusion they come to is that part of the reason for Russia's behavior, however petulant, lies in Western activism. It's a particular kind of intellectual self-flagellation and, for Putin, a reflection of Western weakness that only emboldens him.

    Neville Chamberlain, when presenting the case for the great European powers to acquiesce to Hitler's occupation of the Sudetenland, argued that Europeans should not care about a "quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing." I hear a lot of pundits now talking about the "asymmetry of interests," implying that Russia is entitled to annex neighboring countries' lands for the simple reason that it cares for these lands more than the West. Others opine that we should all get used to the idea that the Crimea is gone, and that Russia will never give it back. This is exactly what I was told in the summer of 2008 -- that I should be resigned to the idea that a part of Georgian territory, then occupied by Russia, was gone for good.

    But this logic has its continuation. As we know from history, the cycles of appeasement usually get shorter with geometric progression. Soon, the same pundits may declare -- with their best poker faces on -- that now Moldova is "lost," or Latvia "lost," even some province of Poland. And just because Russia is not in the mood to give it back.

    The biggest casualty for the West will not be the countries which already are, or strive to be, Western allies, but rather the principles on which the Western world is built.

    The biggest casualty for the West will not be the countries which already are, or strive to be, Western allies, but rather the principles on which the Western world is built. The truth is that Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova are being punished by Russia for their desire to live in a free and democratic society -- one very different from the Putin model.

    Certainly, Moscow didn't seem to care much about the minority Russian populations in its near abroad -- so long as they were comfortably ruled by corrupt cronies of the Kremlin. But over the ensuing decade, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova have learned to look to the West, not so much because of geopolitical priorities, but because people there aspire to a Western way of life that respects human rights and universal values. For this reason, the West must shelter these countries not just out of pragmatic calculations, but for the very principles that turned the Western democracies into the most successful societies in history.

    The basic facts are very clear. Russia presents the greatest challenge to international law and order since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. And even though the West has much greater superiority over Russia -- both economically and militarily -- than it ever had over the Soviet Union, today's leaders are reluctant to take advantage of this asymmetry.

    The problem, perhaps, is due to the ambivalence of most regional experts that guide Western leaders' thinking. Their fundamental misreading of Russia is based on the fact that they don't understand the difference between the Soviet nomenclatura and modern Russia's corrupt elite. They grossly underestimate the attachment of Russian elites to their mansions and bank accounts in the West. Likewise, Moscow's key decision-makers are way more dependent financially and psychologically on the West than the bureaucrats of the Brezhnev era. Sanctions can successfully divide this group from Putin's inside circle, but they have to go further and exact greater pain.

    And yet, despite President Barack Obama's rhetoric, the West -- particularly Europe -- appears reluctant to impose tougher sanctions. Unlike during the Cold War, Western companies draw much more benefit from Russia today, and thus they too will have to pay the price of sanctions. But after the first round of sanctions, stocks rebounded as markets were relieved that the measures didn't seem far-reaching. So how does the West expect to be taken seriously by Putin when even Wall Street isn't buying the seriousness of the Western alliance's intentions? The dilemma is simple: Is the West willing to pay this price now, or delay the decision and pay a much higher price in the future?

    The choice can best be described in medical terms. The cancer of Russian aggression first showed up in Georgia, but the West decided to neglect the diagnosis and preferred to treat the illness with aspirin. Crimea is the metastasis of what happened in Georgia, and yet the West is still excluding the surgical option -- that is to say military intervention -- as carrying too high a risk. But at least it should apply chemotherapy. Yes, this means that the West will feel the effects of its own drugs, and particularly European companies in the short term. But in the long term, this painful dose is the only way to help kill the cancer that is Putin.

    Winston Churchill once prophetically told Hitler's appeasers: "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war." Surely, we cannot expect modern-day politicians obsessed with polls and midterm elections to be Churchillian all the time. But at a minimum they should not want to go down in history as the Neville Chamberlains of the 21st century. And misreading Putin for the man that he is -- and has always been -- is at the heart of appeasement.

    Russia Says Intercepted US Drone Over Crimea


    A United States surveillance drone has been intercepted above the Ukranian region of Crimea, a Russian state arms and technology group said Friday. "The drone was flying at about 4,000 metres (12,000 feet) and was virtually invisible from the ground. It was possible to break the link with US operators with complex radio-electronic" technology, said Rostec in a statement. The drone fell "almost intact into the hands of self-defence forces" added Rostec, which said it had manufactured the equipment used to down the aircraft, but did not specify who was operating it. "Judging by its identification number, UAV MQ-5B belonged to the 66th American Reconnaissance Brigade, based in Bavaria," Rostec said on its website, which also carried a picture of what it said was the captured drone. The photograph appeared to show an apparently armed drone in flight, rather than debris. The Crimean port of Sevastopol is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which is believed to be equipped with detection equipment. Crimea, where pro-Kremlin forces have control, is to hold a referendum on Sunday on the peninsula joining Russia, in what Moscow says is a fair expression of self identity but the West views as an illegal annexation of sovereign territory.

    Pentagon Moves to Block Russian Spy Plane in American Skies


    The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military and American intelligence agencies have quietly pushed the White House in recent weeks to deny a new Russian surveillance plane the right to fly over U.S. territory. This week, the White House finally began consideration of the decision whether to certify the new Russian aircraft under the so-called “Open Skies Treaty.” And now the question becomes: Will the spies and generals get their way?

    As the United States and Russia face off publicly over Ukraine, behind the scenes, President Obama’s national security cabinet is having its own quiet feud over a long-standing agreement to allow Russian surveillance flights over U.S. airspace.

    The spies and the generals want to deny the Russians the overflight rights for its latest surveillance planes. The State Department, which ultimately makes that decision, has favored such certification. On Wednesday an interagency meeting of senior officials failed to reach consensus, delaying the decision until Obama takes it up with the National Security Council, according to U.S. officials involved in the dispute.

    At issue is the Open Skies Treaty. First signed in 1992 and finally ratified in 2002, the treaty adopted by 34 nations allows the safe passage of planes equipped with advanced cameras and sensors that give governments the imagery and data they use to assess everything from compliance with arms control treaties to troop movements.

    On April 15, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, and the Republican chairman of that panel’s subcommittee that oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Rep. Mike Rogers from Alabama, urged Obama to deny Russia the right to fly its new planes over U.S. airspace.

    In their letter, the two lawmakers write, “We agree with the concerns expressed by the Intelligence Community and the military leadership of the Department of Defense” in their opposition to certifying the new Russian planes under the treaty.

    The State Department on the other hand has argued the United States should live up to the treaty's obligations and approve the new Russian aircraft. The decision to certify the planes and their sensors has been pending since late last year, long before the Ukraine crisis began. One senior U.S. official said, “This isn’t just an issue between the United States and Russia. Our allies and partners depend on this treaty for insight into Russia because they don’t have the same capabilities as the United States.”

    The Russians use the aircraft today to monitor U.S. nuclear weapons as part of arms control agreements between both countries. The Russian planes, according to U.S. officials involved in the dispute, contain a new sensor package that would allow Moscow to surveil American nuclear assets with a level of precision and detail that makes U.S. military and intelligence leaders deeply uncomfortable.

    A letter first published by the Weekly Standard on April 13 from two Republican and two Democratic members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said the Russian Federation had just completed construction of aircraft that will “support digital photograph equipment, sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar, and infrared equipment.”

    A U.S. official familiar with the dispute and sympathetic to the concerns of the military and intelligence community told The Daily Beast that the worry over the new Russian aircraft is independent of the standoff in Ukraine. “This would have been an issue even if there was no Ukraine crisis,” this official said.

    In some ways, however, the Ukraine showdown has placed pressure the White House to hold off on further angering the Russians. The State Department, which has worked with Russia to iron out at least an agreement in principle to begin to disarm the pro-Russian militias that have seized eastern Ukrainian cities, wants to allow the new Russian aircraft to fly over U.S. airspace.

    The Ukraine crisis has complicated the decision-making process on the Open Skies issue. Ukraine’s military has still failed to take back cities that have fallen to militias that Western leaders have said publicly are orchestrated by Russia’s special operations units known as the Spetsnaz. 

    In Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the beginning of a process to de-escalate the crisis. But Lavrov also promised Kerry there were no military plans to take Crimea in late February, only to see Spetsnaz soldiers in uniforms without insignia take the peninsula's airports and government buildings.


    Source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles

    Pentagon: Russian fighter jet repeatedly flew over US destroyer in Black Sea

    Su-24 aircraft (RIA Novosti / Mihail Mokrushin)

    The Pentagon said a Russian fighter jet made multiple close-range passes near an American navy destroyer. The warship was deployed in the Black Sea as Russian military monitored NATO’s systematic build-up of naval forces in the region.
    "This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with their national protocols and previous agreements on the professional interaction between our militaries," said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. "I have difficulty believing that two Russian pilots on their own would choose to take such an action."

    Pentagon defined the jet as a Russian Su-24 aircraft, or Fencer, which made 12 passes at low altitude near the USS Donald Cook that, at the time, was conducting a patrol in international waters in the western Black Sea, Reuters reported. Earlier, a military official told AP that on April, 12, a Russian aircraft flew repeatedly within 1,000 yards of the USS Donald Cook at about 500 feet above sea level for over 90 minutes. According to the official, the destroyer’s crew made several attempts to radio the Russian warplane requesting the reason for the manoeuvre. They then reportedly issued warnings to remain at a safe distance, however, there was no response from the Russian pilot. Pentagon confirmed the fighter jet was not armed with any aerial bombs. A second jet was observed was observed slightly further from the ship.
    "The Donald Cook is more than capable of defending herself against two Su-24s," said Warren. USS Donald Cook, a destroyer equipped with the powerful Aegis missile defense system, entered Black Sea on April, 10. The US Defense Department claimed the ship’s mission was “to reassure NATO allies and Black Sea partners” following the events in Ukraine. On Monday, the USS Donald Cook entered waters of Romania.

    ‘NATO violates Montreux Convention’

    Last week the Russian military considered the USS Donald Cook manoeuvre part of a systematic build-up of naval forces. “What we are seeing is that for the first time since 2008, NATO is creating a naval battle group outside Russian borders,” a Russian military source told Interfax news agency.

    On April, 3, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused NATO of violating the Montreux Convention, which regulates the number ships that can enter the Black Sea, saying that “US warships have extended their deployment beyond the set terms a couple of times lately.” According to the treaty, warships from non-Black Sea states can only stay in the basin for up to 21 days consecutively. USS Taylor spent 11 more than that in the region in February and March. Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed “bemusement” over the move. “Turkey [which administers the treaty] did not inform us about the overstay. We have expressed our concern to the Turkish and US side in a verbal note,” said a statement on the ministry website

    Pentagon Not Ready for Cold War 2


    There’s an old saying in the military that we’re always training for the last war, so fixated on the lessons of our most recent conflict that we’re blind to the emerging threat.

    For years, that last war was the Cold War, and the emerging threat was the insurgents of Iraq and Afghanistan. Slowly, painfully, eventually, the military reoriented itself. The result? After more than two decades of post Cold War re-alignment, the military is less prepared than it has been in generations for a confrontation with Russia.

    No one in Washington is calling for the U.S. to go to war over Crimea and there are plenty of reasons why, at this point, military intervention could be a dangerous and foolhardy course. But if circumstances change and political leaders start looking to the military or the bargaining power that comes from a credible threat of force, they will find their options severely limited.

    Over the course of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq soldiers and marines have trained for maneuvering and fighting in small units over the landscape of the Middle East. Counter-insurgency (“COIN”) doctrine, which stresses engagement with local civilian populations and tactics for fighting loosely organized forces employing light weapons, has become the military’s new bible. It’s about as far away as you can get from the principles used in the Cold War.

    According to retired General David Deptula, who served as the Air Force’s top intelligence officer, “we’ve been focused on the far left end of the spectrum of operations,” by which he means the protracted, low-intensity conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, he says, “if we want to maintain superpower status we need to be prepared to succeed across the full range of operations, not just the left end of it.” 

    Even the few strategists that weren’t pre-occupied by Iraq and Afghanistan were planning for the much-touted Asia pivot, envisioning a future, one they’d argue is still looming, defined by Chinese hegemony. Russia, meanwhile, was considered by many to be an historical relic; still big enough to wield real power but no longer capable of threatening U.S. vital interests and a second or third order afterthought when evaluating threats the military needed to plan for.

    “For years there have been only a handful of people consistently talking about Russia and China building highly advanced systems for use against our ‘Cold-War era’ aircraft, missiles and ships,” Deptula says.
    He’s talking about himself and some of his closest confidants at the Air Force, who pushed for continued production of high-end weaponry like the F-22 stealth fighter—right when the Iraq insurgency was at its peak. It made Deptula and his gang seem like Mach 2 dinosaurs, pining for a conflict with an imaginary enemy while the real bad guys were blowing up Marines in Fallujah. Understandably, Robert Gates, the Defense Secretary of the time, wanted the military to focus on the wars America was actually fighting at the moment. And so eventually, many of Deptula’s colleagues—including Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, the Air Force’s top officer—were shown the door when they opposed Gates once too often. According to Deptula, “those people were ignored by [former Defense Secretary] Gates, and some were fired because they had the courage to speak truth to power.”

    As the White House and Pentagon planners consider what to do if Russia invades Eastern Ukraine or deploys its forces elsewhere in the region, the limited choices available reveal just how profoundly the military has changed since the Cold War.

    For half a century, Cold War military strategy focused on containing Russia and winning in clashes between large conventional forces. On the ground, that strategy called for mass formations organized around tanks and heavy weaponry. In the skies it relied on dominance in Top Gun style style air-to-air fighting prowess, radar evading stealth technology, and powerful bombers that could drop massive munitions to destroy enemy armor and fortified installations.

    Since the end of the Cold War, that strategy has been completely overhauled. Training and doctrine have focused on small unit tactics while new weapons and vehicles have been designed with squads in mind rather than divisions. Super-sophisticated dogfighters, like the $187 million-a-pop F-22, suddenly seemed too fancy to actually use. Who would fit the bill if one actually went down? Instead, drones costing less than a tenth the price littered the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq.

    But those drones are useless against any military with a half-decent system for shooting down enemy aircraft. And Russian has one of the best air defenses on the planet. Suddenly, it’s those iconic Predator drones that seem obsolete.

    “Hopefully the situation with Russia and Ukraine will be a bucket of cold water on those who believe all we need to be able to do is counter-insurgency operations,” Deptula told The Daily Beast.

    And now, there are signs that the U.S. Air Force’s long-held technological advantage may be eroding. The new generation of Russian fighter plane, the T-50, isn’t yet fully operational but it “will be produced much sooner that Gates and his crowd predicted,” Deptula says. He adds that “once the T-50s are produced in sufficient numbers there won’t be anything in the NATO fleet that can deal with them except the F-22s and F-35s.”

    David Axe, the long-time military tech writer notes that the T-50, which can fire long-range missiles while flying both high and fast, may be able to “exploit critical vulnerabilities in U.S. and allied forces and level the air power playing field for the first time in a generation.”

    An independent Australian think tank, Air Power Australia, drew a more severe conclusion.  “If the United States does not fundamentally change its planning for the future of tactical air power, the advantage held for decades will be soon lost and American air power will become an artifact of history.”

    While Russian aircraft rely on speed and long flight times, the U.S. fleet is largely built for stealth so it can evade detection and anti-air weapons to engage targets at closer ranges. But the stealth capability, is now being challenged by advances in Russia’s radar detection platforms and anti-aircraft weapons.

    “Today,” Deptula said, “the Russians have an extant significant advantage in their surface to air capabilities.” And that with the exception of the U.S.’s small number of highly advanced 5th generation aircraft, “the Russians can conduct area denial of any airspace within range of their defenses if they want to deny access to aircraft.”

    Since 2001, the Pentagon has had good reasons for prioritizing spending for troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan over speculative needs for future wars, but a consequence has been that we now have what Deptula calls “a geriatric Air Force and Navy fleet.”

    No one, not even Deptula, is suggesting that there’s about to be some all-out showdown between Moscow’s military and Washington. But it’s not at all unlikely, given the new and chilly climate, that American forces and allies could wind up in skirmishes with proxies equipped and trained by Russia. The U.S. used to be able to count on an overwhelming technological advantage. Tomorrow, maybe not.

    Foreshadows of this are already being cast. Already, Russia is outfitting the Assad regime in Syria while America runs guns to the rebels there. It’s the Russian side that’s winning.

    The change isn’t just about equipment or tactics, though, American forces trained in counter-insurgency who are stationed in Europe could still be deployed to hold the line against Russian advances. But there are drastically fewer forces left in Europe available to be called upon in such an event.

    An analysis of Defense cuts published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute in 2013 reported that “the Army alone has closed 100 installations in Europe since 2003 and plans on returning an additional 47 installations to host nations by 2015.” The same report notes, “the Navy has also been consolidating and decreasing its European bases” and “since 1990, the Air Force has reduced aircraft and forces stationed in Europe by 75 percent.” Addressing the future of America’s military footprint in Europe, the paper concludes that the Pentagon is “planning to continue reducing the US presence in Europe by approximately 15 percent over the coming decade.”

    The military can’t be equally prepared for every threat and if its focus has been on counter-insurgency, that’s because those are the wars we’ve been fighting for the past twelve years.

    Generations of veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have been raised and bled on COIN doctrine but, as combat demands, they have also learned how to be agile. Individual leaders on the battlefield are able to adapt quickly; it’s the military bureaucracy that’s like a tank: a slow, immensely powerful machine that’s only capable of plotting one course at a time. Quick turns are not an option.

    Without many viable military options to counter Russian aggression what’s left for U.S. leaders seeking to punish Russia and assure our NATO allies that we’ll protect them? Cunning diplomacy, maybe.

    Crimea is Russian now; that’s not changing any time soon. Condemning the invasion and the fixed terms of the referendum have no more bearing on the current situation than the reasons Russia gave for annexing Crimea—some of them legitimate—ultimately had to do with the duplicity and force they used to take it. 

    The real question, and the subtext in much of the current talk about Crimea, is whether Russia will stop there or proceed to further conquests. 

    Despite it’s show of force in Crimea, Moscow has a lot to lose if the conflict broadens and draws in the U.S. and NATO. Russia has gas to sell to Europe, oligarchs counting on feeling comfortable in their London townhouses, a new middle class looking for normalcy that’s already taken to the streets in protest, and the memory of Chechnya, a brutal war that took thousands of lives, fresh in the national memory.

    If U.S. officials can present a deal that satisfies American aims while appealing to Russia’s self-interest, they may be able to prevent a larger conflict. But a new age of competition with Russia? That may be even harder to head off.

    Source: http://news.yahoo.com/pentagon-not-ready-cold-war-2-094500985--politics.html