Posts Tagged 'Russia'

Ukraine: What’s good for the goose…

When Vladimir Putin gave his solemn pledge to the Americans that Russia would not invade Ukraine, he sentence of reassurance should have been followed up with the words, ‘because we don’t have to’.

Instead of the traditional and blunt Russian tactic of formenting unrest in order to justify sending troops over a border into another state and securing a puppet government, it seems the Russians have taken a leaf out of the American CIA’s playbook and have ex-military civilians and hired guns fighting a proxy war. This is why Radio Free Europe is reporting today that a desperate search is on to prove that Russian forces are behind the coordinated actions.

This explains why General Philip Breedlove has seemlessly reversed his previous position – where he was rushing to every microphone to declare the Russians were building up a military force ahead of an invasion – to one where he now says he does not think Russia will invade Ukraine, that he believes the Kremlin has other ways to achieve its goals and that Moscow will keep a hold on eastern Ukraine without sending regular troops across the border.

This is exactly what the Americans have done in a number of countries over the years to give them deniability of intervention in conflicts, despite the language of the contractors and the origin of the military hardware being used. What has been good for the American goose now appears to be good for the Russian gander.  Putin is playing the American game and in so doing he has wrongfooted the Americans and is undermining their efforts to extend their influence further eastward.  It seems Ukraine has become the line in the sand where the Russians have decided that western expansion will end its march.

It demonstrates that the Russian approach has matured and is now multi dimensional, which will no doubt cause a flurry of activity in NATO about what this refined approach means for the way NATO armed forces will be organised. It certainly underlines how meaningless a gesture it was for the Americans to send troops for training and the UK to send aircraft to Poland.  The west failed to correctly read what the Russians were doing.

If any EU politicians in Brussels are paying attention, they might now realise that their expansionist aims eastwards, which have caused this crisis, will be met with a very different Russian approach to the one seen in the cold war.  Now it will be one that sees Moscow commit treasure and support, but no longer any regular manpower.

Such an approach will bog down any EU territorial and governance ambitions in unrest, slow burn conflict and ungovernability.  We have just witnessed a sea change, but will the EU notice?

Regime change by any other name

It would not be a surprise if John Kerry was being burned in effigy on the White House lawn, at the State Department and in some secure outdoor location controlled by the National Security Agency (NSA).

His ‘rhetorical’ comment about Syria handing over chemical weapons exposed the tiny fissure in the US position that could be exploited by the Russians, to remove the American pretext for military attacks on the al-Assad regime.  Unsurprisingly the Syrians today appear to be very receptive to the idea of giving up weapons to prevent a US/French attack.  If the Syrians comply then the threat of Tomahawk Cruise missiles raining down on Syrian military targets would appear to have been removed.

Or does it?  While Kerry’s loose lips were holding back US ships, and the Russians were handing al-Assad a way out  of being attacked, the US National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, was delivering a speech to the New America Foundation, which underlined that the proposed deal on chemical weapons may not be enough to keep Washington at bay.  For while Rice was taking up US action but denying the US was seeking to effect regime change in Syria:

So, in short, this would not be an open-ended “intervention” in the Syrian civil war.  These strikes would not aim to topple Assad or, by themselves, to effect regime change.  Doing so would require a much larger and sustained military campaign, putting American forces in the center of this civil conflict.  And, as President Obama has made clear, it is neither wise nor necessary to do so.

… she went on to say, in a more round about way, that the US is indeed seeking regime change in Syria:

Our overarching goal is to end the underlying conflict through a negotiated, political transition in which Assad leaves power.   The best way to achieve this is to keep the country and its institutions intact, but all parties have to be willing to negotiate.  So ours is a multifaceted strategy that puts pressure on the regime by isolating them and denying them resources; builds up the civilian and military opposition; and secures diplomatic agreement with other key countries on the principles for transition while assisting those who need immediate relief.

This is a clear signal that while al-Assad holds the keys to the Presidential Palace in Damascus, the US will not be satisfied.  The effort to ‘deny resources’ and ‘isolate’ al-Assad’s regime is still a pretext for some form or other for further American intervention.  The threat of action, direct or indirect remains.  Rice herself was perfectly happy to explain right at the outset what her speech was all about and intended to further – the likely next excuse in the US playbook:

Today, I want to take this opportunity to explain why Syria’s use of chemical weapons is a serious threat to our national security, , and why it is in our national interest to undertake limited military action to deter future use.

We can be fairly certain there are US boots on the ground in Syria or just over the border in Turkey, working with Syrian rebel groups to help train fighters.  The US is not an impartial party.  It is on the side of the opposition to al-Assad, which means anything they do to weaken the regime will give defacto assistance to, and enhance the position of, Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the region.

Rice’s speech underlines the fact that no one should lose sight of.  Chemical weapons were just the convenient excuse available for an American intervention that would weaken one side (al-Assad) and by consequence strengthen the other (Sunni rebels and Al Qaeda).  The upshot is this isn’t going to go away.  The Americans have an agenda that necessitates the removal of al-Assad and, one way or another, they are determined that he will be removed.   Saving civilian lives is just the wrapper the American action comes in.

This is why yesterday, as various outlets described the Russian initiative as ‘checkmate’ we were only describing it as putting the US in ‘check’.  There are many moves yet in this game.  The plunger on the timer has been pressed and the clock is now ticking on the American side of the board.  What they do next, we can be certain, will not be the end of this matter.

Your move, Mr Obama

This blog holds no brief for the Russian thugocracy led by thug-in-chief Vladimir Putin. But we may have just witnessed what could rank as a top drawer geopolitical equivalent of a chess move.

In matters of international relations, when it comes to diplomatic confrontation with the United States and President Obama, the disagreement has just been shown to be one of men versus boys.

Moscow has shown itself to be home of the men and Washington the playground of the boys.

Putin’s move, if it is accepted by al-Assad, has the capacity to completely wrong-foot Obama and Kerry and undermine their efforts to push for authorisation from Congress for an attack on Syria.  If Syria responds positively Obama will struggle to secure the votes needed to let the Tomahawks fly.

Russia has coolly opened to the door to another way of dealing with the chemical weapons threat the US is using as an excuse to intervene in the country’s civil war.  It is a face saving opportunity for the US to back down and stay out of the Syrian disaster.

We could sum up Putin’s communication to the White House and where it leaves Obama in one word.  ‘Check’.

France’s latest justification for selling warships to Russia

An interesting follow up to a story this blog ran in January last year, when France confirmed it had done a deal to sell the Mistral class amphibious warship to Russia, along with advanced military technology.

The ¡No Pasarán! blog makes us aware that in an interview about the trouble in Tunisia, France’s new foreign minister, Alain Juppé, justified France’s sale of Mistral warships to Russia thus:

In Lisbon, I heard Barack Obama tell Dmitry Medvedev: “You’re not just a partner but a friend.” You can not blame France for delivering boats to a friend.

These are not merely ‘boats’.  These are command and control centres providing a helicopter borne and landing craft based amphibious assault function that fills a large gap in Russia’s military capability, enabling troops and tanks to be deployed from the sea.  The original deal was for one vessel, but now it seems to have grown to four.

As far as friend goes, what kind of friend feels the need to regularly probe our airspace with long range bomber and reconnaisance aircraft?  What kind of friend prevents suspects in the case of poisoning a dissident with radioactive material in this country from being brought to justice?  What kind of friend makes nuclear threats towards a peaceful European country?

Presumably France does not see Georgia as being as valuable a ‘friend’ as Moscow.  Having been invaded by Russia, which contrived a crisis in two breakaway regions in Georgian territory, Mamuka Kudava, Georgia’s ambassador to France, said last March that it would be “incomprehensible” if France were to sell the Mistral to Russia. It is an understandable view given that Russia’s senior naval officer Vladimir Vyssotski said last year that the Georgia conflict could have been resolved in ’40 minutes and not 26 hours’ if his forces had had the ships at the time.

Perhaps for the likes of Sarkozy and Juppé friends are determined by the size of their wallet and willingness to buy French equipment. One wonders how long it will be before Barack Obama revises his assessment that France is the US’ strongest ally as it helps re-arm the Russian military.

More EU verbal flatulence aimed at Russia

You may be familiar with the saying ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’. The thinking behind it was that where possible nations should use diplomacy to resolve a dispute and do not rush to confrontation. But by way of a last resort nations should have the ability and willingness to use force if those diplomatic and peaceful methods fail.

When it comes to the EU that old adage has been transformed into ‘Utter meaningless words and carry a big carrot’. Far from a stick and carrot approach to dealing with worrying developments, the craven EU employs a unique ‘carrot and bigger carrot’ approach.

This was evident after the Russian invasion of Georgia. French President Nicolas Sarkozy packaged up and delivered to Russia an EU peace plan to bring an end to the short, one-sided conflict with Georgia.  A quick scan showed the EU plan had more holes than a sieve and favoured Russia disproportionately.  Russia duly flouted the terms brazenly and the EU offered nothing more than a few limp words of disappointment. Within a few months and with Russian troops still on Georgian soil, the EU completed its ‘tough approach’ to Russia in typically hypocritical and unprincipled manner by opening up trade talks with Moscow.

Now the EU is at it again, this time uttering meaningless words and reaching for the carrot sack on the subject of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. As European Voice reported on Monday:

The European Union’s leaders have issued statements warning the Russian authorities about the treatment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has been convicted for a second time.

A court in Moscow announced on 27 December that Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil company and sometime political opponent of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, had been convicted of embezzlement and money-laundering on top of his existing conviction from a trial in 2005. He has been in prison since the 2005 conviction and a further term of imprisonment is now expected.

Apparently the EU has said that the severity of punishment meted out to Mikhail Khodorkovsky could impact bilateral relations after Moscow courts found the oil tycoon guilty of embezzlement. Oh please. If the EU is capable of turning its collective back on Georgia and appeasing Russia in the self centred way it did in 2008, can we really be expected to believe it will do a damned thing to defend the interests of Khodorkovsky? Why do they bother with this theatre? It is gesture politics and Moscow knows as well as we that the EU will run away at the first hint of any back straightening in the Kremlin.

The EU is only capable of subverting democracy and eroding the rights of people living in its member states. The bureaucracy that thinks it’s a country is nothing but a paper tiger when it involves itself in matters on the world stage. Any entity that consists of more than a few north African tribesmen is just too strong to tackle.

History is repeating itself and Moscow will laugh off the Brussels bleating as the vacuous posturing it is. It would be no surprise if we see a repeat of a major EU power, such as France, announcing a major deal with Russia within a few short months.  The only question is, what does Russia want that the EU will fall over itself to hand over? In the meantime Brussels should do us all a favour and give up the histrionics.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski dead in plane crash

My thoughts are with the family of President Lech Kaczynski at this time as they come to terms with their loss due to a plane crash near Smolensk. Also reported among the dead are Polish Army chief of staff, General Franciszek Gagor, National Bank President Slawomir Skrzypek and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremoer.

Accidents happen, we all know that.  But there are some sensible precautions that can be taken to reduce risk.  Which is why, when investigations are carried out into the aircraft to determine what caused the crash, questions will surely be asked about the Polish Air Force’s  use of two Soviet era Tupolev Tu-154M aircraft (as below) for VIP flights by the Polish President and Prime Minister.

Image from W-Wa Jeziorki blog

The aircraft has a less than impressive safety record.  The Wikipedia entry for the Tu-154 aircraft tells readers that:

There have been 63 serious flight incidents with Tu-154s, including 36 hull-losses with human fatalities.[17] Six of those incidents resulted from terrorist or military action including an intentional shootdown by Israel, an accidental missile shootdown by Ukraine, several from poor runway conditions in winter (including one which struck snow ploughs on the runway), cargo overloading by airlines in the lapse of post-Soviet federal safety standards (several cases), and mid-air collisions due to faulty air traffic control or mis-communication. Other incidents have resulted from mechanical problems (two cases prior to 2001), running out of fuel on unscheduled extended route, pilot error, and cargo fires. According to the BBC and aviation experts[who?], the Tu-154 has an average safety record considering its length of service (and heavy use in the most demanding conditions), and few accidents appear to have been due to technical failure.[18]

Why would Poland continue using such an aircraft for its head of state when not only has LOT Polish Airlines long since retired its Tupolev fleet and replaced it with a mix of Boeing and Embraer aircraft?  Even Russia’s Aeroflot has decommissioned its Tu-154 fleet.

Polish Tu-154M of the 36th Special Air Transport Regiment at Warsaw

Given Russian threats to Poland about the previously planned siting of interceptor missiles, the tangle with the EU as President Kaczynski tried to avoid signing the Libson Treaty, the desire of many for a re-alignment of Polish politics and the recent excitement over the possible production of a large volume of shale gas that could reduce dependence on Russian gas, there will no doubt be any number of conspiracy theories about this crash, especially as it happened inside Russia.

But realists won’t need to look much further than reliance on a ageing aircraft with a less than reassuring safety record.

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To Russia with love, warships from France

Another suitable title for this post would be ‘While Europe slept’.

In August 2008 France’s President Sarkozy packaged up and delivered to Russia an EU peace plan to bring an end to the short, one-sided conflict with Georgia.  A quick scan showed the plan had more holes than a sieve and favoured Russia disproportionately.  Eyebrows were raised.  It was no surprise though that Russia flouted its terms brazenly and the EU offered nothing more than a few limp words of disappointment.

Then in November 2008 Sarkozy energetically encouraged his EU colleagues to back Russian proposals for a Pan-European security pact that had previously been ignored by western European countries.  At the same time, despite France being aspiring to rejoin NATO as a full member within months having withdrawn from the alliance in 1966, Sarkozy publicly broke ranks over the proposed US Missile Shield in Europe.  Acting like Medvedev and Putin’s personal ventriloquist dummy, Sarkozy parroted Russia’s well rehearsed position, arguing that:

“Deployment of a missile defense system would bring nothing to security in Europe … it would complicate things, and would make them move backward,”

Russia was delighted that the Élysée was on board, on message and sowing disunity around western Europe.  Sarkozy’s hyperactivity had seen to it that EU backed down from their previously stated position regarding Russia’s aggression in Georgia and agreed to EU-Russian talks on trade and energy before troops had even left Georgian soil.  The obvious conclusion to draw was that French had identified in Russia an opportunity for an advantage and vested self interest was at play

But it is only in the last couple of weeks that the terms of the trade off have become clear.  The Georgian Daily reported on 9th January that Moscow was seeking to modernise its military capability by buying advanced technology in the shape of at least one Mistral-class amphibious assault ship (below), built and sold to the Russian Navy – by France.

It has taken fully 11 days for anyone in the western media to wake up to what’s going on, with the Washington Times finally going to print with a story on Wednesday titled ‘France likely to sell warship to Moscow -Deal raises concerns in NATO pact’.  A Google News search reveals that throughout the collective news media of the European Union nations, there is not a single word on this subject.  This despite the Georgian Daily’s observation that:

Russian officials currently emphasize the value of advanced technology transfers to Russia that would accompany the possible acquisition of Mistral-class ships. According to Pukhov, Russia is interested in the Mistral not only or primarily for its amphibious assault capabilities, but for its value as a command platform with advanced electronics for battle management and network-centric military operations at sea, as well as its hydroacoustics.

It would represent a significant enhancement of Russian offensive military capability that could have been put to devastating effect in Georgia had the vessel been part of the Russian Naval fleet.  No wonder small voices are trying to make themselves heard in an attempt to stop France assisting the military rearmament of the greatest risk to stability facing Europe.  Just ask Poland.

As for the rest of the EU, they are as usual snoozing comfortably at the wheel of the juggernaut, wilfully oblivious to the bigger one coming straight at them from the east.  Those people who keep saying Russia is not the military might it once was and using that as justification to reduce defence spending might want to reconsider in light of France’s traditionally self serving actions.

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