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[*] posted on 17-3-2018 at 04:22 PM


EUCOM head: Alleged Russian chemical attack shows ‘what they’re willing to do’

By: Aaron Mehta   1 day ago


Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, United States European Command (EUCOM) Commander, said the U.K. chemical weapons attack shows how far Russia is willing to go to achieve its objectives. (Volker Ramspott/Army)

WASHINGTON — America’s top military official in Europe called the use of a chemical weapon to assassinate a former spy in the United Kingdom “amazing,” and said it “underscores” the lengths Russia will go to achieve its objectives.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of U.S. European Command and the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday that it is “likely” Russia is behind the attack, and acknowledged the alliance is “struggling” to figure out how to respond given the nature of the situation.

“As we determine the responsibility here, and it’s likely that it’s Russia, I think it underscores what they’re willing to do. To attempt an assassination on the soil of a sovereign country, I think, it should be very clear to use what they’re willing to do in order to further whatever their objective was here,” Scaparrotti said. “And I’ll remind you there have been several assassinations in Ukraine, as well.”

“This is a government that is violating all the standard norms and international rules and laws, to bring violence onto other nation’s soil in order to reach their objectives,” he continued. “Amazing, frankly.”

On March 4, a former double-agent named Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found poisoned in their Salisbury, England home. The weapon used against them has been identified as Novichok, a chemical agent developed under the old USSR.

Asked whether this was the first use of the nerve agent in Europe, Scaparrotti said he didn’t know offhand. But he said the use raises questions about Russia’s adherence to chemical weapon treaties — and if this was not a government-ordered killing, about Russia’s chemical weapons security.

More broadly, Scaparrotti said the alliance is “struggling” with how to respond, because while the U.K. and its NATO allies believe Moscow is behind the attack, it is unclear how a large-scale military alliance like NATO should act given the relatively small scale of the actions.

In some ways, it’s the non-nuclear version of Russia’s “escalate to deescalate” theory, in which Russia would be able to use low-yield nuclear weapons and leave NATO only two options — to not respond, or to respond with a full-scale strategic assault that would launch a world nuclear war.

“This is a relatively new area we’re dealing with, and we just have to start thinking about this and coming to terms with it,” Scaparrotti said of the situation, saying it shares some characteristics with the question of how NATO would respond to a cyberattack. “It will never be black and white, either, I don’t believe.”

As a result, NATO has started wargaming out some scenarios in order to try and be prepared for the next unconventional scenario.

“I don’t think it will ever be finely defined,” Scaparrotti said. And ideally, that results in a situation where “we don’t have to have that larger discussion if something happens in a crisis, we don’t have to have the larger discussion in the crisis. We can bring what we learned to the table, and deal with the present crisis.”
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[*] posted on 20-3-2018 at 09:05 AM


Reported outcome of Russian presidential election underlines external assertiveness, government reshuffle would trigger state contracts revision

Alex Kokcharov - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly

19 March 2018


Russia's President Vladimir Putin visits his campaign headquarters in Moscow on 18 March 2018. Source: ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images #933750344

Key Points

- The declared results are likely to be used by the Kremlin to underline the legitimacy of Vladimir Putin and his policies, adopted in 2013-14 during the crisis in Ukraine and the consistent confrontation with the West.
- This is likely to keep the existing economic sanctions against Moscow in place and elevates the likelihood of new sanctions in the future, in retaliation to the Russian external assertiveness, including meddling in Western elections, disinformation campaigns against the West and cyber-attacks.
- Putin is likely to reshuffle his government, and the choice of the prime minister will most probably indicate policy priorities and/or the choice of the future successor. Selection of a "siloviki" prime minister would indicate focus on defence sector and the military.
- Even if a small number of ministers are replaced, state contracts in their corresponding departments would likely be reviewed, with some contracts renegotiated or cancelled.

Event

On 18 March 2018 Russia held a presidential election that extended Vladimir Putin's rule for a six-year term to 2024.

The reported turnout at the presidential election was 67.5%, indicating that a combination of popular mobilisation, coercion of public-sector workers to vote, and widespread use of "voting at home" worked to bring a large number Russians to vote.

The election was a controlled one, with only "safe candidates", pre-approved by the Kremlin allowed on the ballot. According to preliminary numbers, Vladimir Putin received 76.7% of the vote, and his next challenger Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin achieved only 11.8% of the vote. Results for the other six challengers on the ballot were in single digits or even below 1%. Alexei Navalny, Putin's key challenger from the independent opposition in the past several years, was excluded from the ballot on procedural grounds.

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[*] posted on 20-3-2018 at 12:17 PM


What hurts Putin? Germany’s defense minister wants to find out

By: Sebastian Sprenger   10 hours ago


German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, left, warns that choosing the wrong responses to Russia’s recent policies and actions would play into President Vladimir Putin’s hands.(Sean Gallup/Getty Images; Alexander Zemlianichenko/AFP via Getty Images)

COLOGNE, Germany — German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen railed against Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, saying in an interview that Europe must find new ways to determine “what hurts him.”

Her comments come as Putin claimed almost 77 percent of votes in Sunday’s national election, giving him another six years in office. Russian opposition activists have raised concerns about the fairness of the process.

Speaking to the Bild newspaper, von der Leyen said the West should not “make itself smaller than we are” in the face of Russian attempts to divide Europeans.

“NATO is the most powerful military alliance in the world,” she said.

However, she stopped short of saying Russia is at war with Europe, as other German lawmakers have suggested. If Berlin was to officially use that verbiage, a “discussion” would have to follow about “what that means for us,” von der Leyen explained, likely referring to the question of whether NATO mutual-defense plans would be triggered.

Asked whether she considers Putin an “opponent,” she also demurred. Such language has the potential to “slam doors shut” for Russia to return to “constructive” behavior, von der Leyen argued.

Russian policies for some time have followed a desire to return to the status of a great global power. Putin has given a voice to those aspirations by, for example, declaring earlier this month that Moscow had developed “invincible“ nuclear weapons.

Putin had no serious competition in Sunday’s election, building his appeal largely on foreign policy goals as the economy lags behind. Many Russian officials believe the West has humiliated them since the fall of the Soviet Union, now seizing every opportunity to flex what they consider a newfound geopolitical muscle.

Von der Leyen warned that choosing the wrong responses to Russia’s recent policies and actions ― annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, intimidating Eastern European NATO countries or propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad ― would play into Putin’s hands.

“He needs the enemy from outside,” she said, arguing that economic sanctions are the best way to punish Moscow.

An opportunity to tighten the sanctions already in place could come soon, as the United Kingdom reviews evidence in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, earlier this month. The weapon of choice was a nerve agent linked to a Soviet-era chemical weapons program.

The Russian government has denied any involvement in the case. British and U.S. officials claim Moscow had a hand in it.
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[*] posted on 20-3-2018 at 01:39 PM


Allies “Entering a New World” in Confronting Russia, U.K. Official Says

A British defense official talks about an age of competition among great powers, putting the Ministry of Defense on the same page as its Pentagon colleagues

By Paul McLeary

on March 19, 2018 at 11:36 AM


Russian military honor guard.

WASHINGTON: The No. 2 official in the British Ministry of Defence promised a “robust” response to the alleged Russian assassination attempt on U.K. soil. Mark Lancaster‘s remarks to reporters here Friday echoed a rising drumbeat of British and other allied statements on the seriousness of the Russian threat, including from the top European general in NATO.

This is a change, at least in tone. While you can’t walk into the Pentagon these days without hearing about the era era of “great power competition” and the need to confront “peer competitors” like China and Russia,, until now. there has been much less talk along those lines coming from America’s closest allies in NATO. The Europeans have tended to discuss the current environment more in terms of keeping the alliance moving forward while shoring up their own internal defenses.

But the March 4 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia — who live in the United Kingdom — with a chemical agent produced by the Kremlin during the Cold War has all of a sudden ratcheted up the rhetoric considerably. With the Kremlin almost universally fingered as the primary culprit, some European allies are now describing the threat in starker terms.

“We are absolutely prepared to be robust” in responding to the Russian attack, Mark Lancaster, the U.K. Minister of State for the Armed Forces, told reporters while on a visit to Washington last week. The U.K. is already stepping up its response to Russian hacking, making big new investments in defensive and offensive cyber warfare, including a £1.7 billion increase to train more cyber warriors and build new tools.

While not using the Pentagon’s exact language, Lancaster went a bit further than British officials have in the recent past in describing the strategic landscape. He said the West is “entering a new world” which he called an “age of constant competition,” between world powers, where “the lines between war and peace sometimes blur.”

Lancaster’s comments echoed not only his colleagues at the White House and Pentagon, but those coming from other British officials in London and Brussels, as well.

In Brussels for a speech before a gathering of NATO allies, British national security adviser, Mark Sedwill lambasted the Kremlin, calling the attack “the latest in a clear pattern of reckless and unlawful behavior by the Russian state, and concerns the whole alliance. From Syria to Salisbury, Crimea to cyberspace, Russia consistently flouts the norms of international behavior.”

Speaking in London, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it is “overwhelmingly likely” that it was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to use the nerve agent on the streets of the UK. Johnson spoke alongside Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz who threw in Warsaw’s “full solidarity” with the U.K., adding, “we condemn this unprecedented attack by Russia on the territory of the United Kingdom. This use of chemical weapons is a clear violation of the international law.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin scored a historic win in the Russian national elections over the weekend, taking a vote largely seen as rigged in favor of the 65-year old Russian leader. The win grants him another 6-year term, which will make him the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin.

In post-election remarks at the Kremlin on Monday, Putin appeared to soften his recent bombastic rhetoric, saying “nobody plans to accelerate an arms race” and “we will do everything to resolve all the differences with our partners using political and diplomatic channels.” His remarks come just two weeks after he delivered a televised address during which he showed an animation of multiple warheads preparing to strike Florida and boasted of developing an “invincible” cruise missile.

Putin’s most recent rhetorical turn might come too late to turn down the heat. What penalties may be in store for Moscow is something that ministers, politicians and generals across the NATO alliance are currently sorting out. But given the British reaction, it appears that the West may have reached a turning point.
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[*] posted on 23-3-2018 at 06:20 PM


Japan Joining US Global Anti-Missile Shield ‘Directly Affects’ Russia’s Security Interests – Lavrov

(Source: RT; posted March 21, 2018)

The deployment of US missile shield components in Japan directly affects Russia’s national security and regional interests, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.

“Japan’s plans for deploying a global missile defense system directly affect [the] security interests of Russia,” Lavrov noted on his state visit, reiterating Moscow’s concerns over Tokyo’s intentions “to actively engage” in US plans to deploy missile defense components on its territory.

“With full respect for Japan’s right to choose the way it protects its territory, we proceed from the premise that any action of any country should be based on the rule of security indivisibility. No one must ensure their security by infringing on the security of others,” the top Russian diplomat added.

Moscow has long warned that the American Aegis missile-defense system, which Tokyo has decided to acquire, citing the growing North Korea threat, undermines the global balance of power and can eventually be aimed against Russia, because of the system’s potential dual-purpose capability.

While Tokyo previously stated that the Aegis complex will be managed by Japan, Russia believes that Washington would still have operational control over its ally’s systems.

Last year's deployment by South Korea of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system was met with equal criticism by both Moscow and Beijing. For Moscow, both the THAAD deployment and the Aegis Ashore decisions represent the continued expansion of an American global anti-ballistic missile system.

The Russian Defense ministry earlier noted that some 400 anti-ballistic missiles will soon encircle Russia as part of the US military buildup. “A large-scale effort is ongoing to encircle Russia with an anti-missile shield. Anti-missile defense sites have been already set up on US soil, in California and Alaska,” Alexander Fomin, Russia’s deputy defense minister, told Russia 24 TV channel earlier in March.

In December, Tokyo decided to boost its ballistic missile defense system against the backdrop of North Korean missile tests and approved the purchase and deployment of two Aegis Ashore batteries – expected to become operational by 2023 – at a cost of around $2 billion.

-ends-
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[*] posted on 26-3-2018 at 10:42 PM


Comment: Putin’s Favorite Tactic Has Finally Backfired

The New York Times

KADRI LIIK

3 hrs ago

In the early spring of 2014, the world watched, astonished, as soldiers without insignia took over government buildings in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, surrounded Ukrainian military bases and installed new leaders in the region. President Vladimir Putin of Russia claimed at the time that these were not Russian soldiers. Instead, he said, these were “local self-defense units.”

Less than a month later, Russia annexed Crimea. And a year after that, Mr. Putin admitted what everyone had suspected all along: Yes, Russian soldiers had been involved.

That was when the term “plausible deniability” became a standard part of Western discussions about Russia. The practice of carrying out dubious deeds through the hands of proxies or other hard-to-identify agents has since become something of a trademark of Mr. Putin’s. Sometimes, the agents are indeed Kremlin actors in disguise, as they were in Crimea.

But in the years since, Mr. Putin has pushed this tactic even further, implicitly or explicitly encouraging independent agents to act on their own, keeping the Kremlin’s hands clean. On many occasions, this has left the West a helpless bystander, unable to force Russia to account for its actions.

But time may be running out on this tactic. The attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent who was found unresponsive in southwest England earlier this month, poisoned with a deadly nerve agent, may be the moment when “plausible deniability” has reached its limits. In fact, it now looks as if it is turning against its masters in the Kremlin.

Since the annexation of Crimea, Russia has resorted to “plausible deniability” again and again. The interference in the American presidential elections was a classic case: Mr. Putin has repeatedly emphasized that Russia has not intervened “at the level of the government,” but he admits that some “patriotic hackers” or trolls with Russian citizenship might indeed have been active. The Russian president has also attempted to reap policy benefits from the denied action, steering the conversation toward his own priorities: accusing the United States of interfering in Russia and making the case for cooperating to regulate the internet and social media.

This strategy isn’t an unmitigated success. In 2016, in a big embarrassment for Moscow, two Russian intelligence agents were indicted by Montenegro for plotting a coup that was supposed to take place under the cover of spontaneous anti-NATO protests. More tragic was the huge blunder of Russia’s proxies shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Moscow claims to this day that it had nothing to do with it, but it was nonetheless unable to escape reprimand from the international community.

The problem is that “plausible deniability” empowers all sorts of activists and proxies. Sometimes, these people act under the Kremlin’s instructions; other times, they set out independently, trying to do what they think would please Mr. Putin. They cannot always be successfully controlled, and they may inadvertently commit blunders or cross lines that the Kremlin did not want to cross.

In theory, Mr. Putin could disown them once they’ve made mistakes or been exposed, but this rarely happens. He values loyalty above almost all else and has no desire to punish people or groups he views as loyal, even if they misbehave.

But the use of proxies has now started to hinder Russia’s ability to make coherent policy. Western concerns over Russia’s interference in domestic affairs — which are blown far out of proportion but are still rooted in the real activities of Russian trolls and hackers — means that even the most legitimate practices, such as Russia promoting its businesses abroad, are now viewed with suspicion. Russia’s foreign ministry isn’t happy about this situation and neither are Moscow’s business circles.

But they cannot raise the issue with the Kremlin: Because these activities are being denied, they can’t be brought up in normal policy discussions. So it’s effectively impossible for the different Russian institutions to come together and discuss what the country as a whole wins or loses by engaging in such actions.

The attempted murder of Mr. Skripal has made the situation even worse. Many aspects of this case remain puzzling: It is hard to understand why the Kremlin would want to escalate tensions with the West so intensely right now. This escalation is drastically limiting Russia’s foreign policy options, and Mr. Putin likes to have multiple options on table.

It is true that Mr. Putin doesn’t tolerate traitors, but exchanged spies like Mr. Skripal have traditionally been immune. Why would Moscow want to change those Cold War-era rules of spy swaps, rules from which Russia also benefits? It’s also doubtful that the attempted murder would be motivated by domestic Russian politics. The crime happened too late to feed into the elections, and it wasn’t employed in the campaign.

A more logical explanation is that an assassination attempt was carried out by some powerful actors outside the Kremlin — perhaps sanctioned in broad terms but not specifically. But even that raises many questions: Why leave such a clear “signature” — a nerve agent produced only in the former Soviet Union? Was it actually a message? If so, from whom and to whom?

Ultimately, none of this really matters at this point. “Patriotic hackers” or “patriotic trolls” can act independently, but if someone walks around using a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia, that becomes a problem for Moscow, regardless of the circumstances of the case or the identity of the people involved. Even if the attack against Mr. Skripal was a “terrorist attack,” as the Russian foreign ministry improbably suggested, everyone’s eyes would still turn to Russia since it is the only known producer of the substance.

And Moscow’s track record with “plausible deniability” — from Ukraine to the United States — makes things worse. The world does not yet know the full details of the Skripal poisoning, but it does not feel like waiting. Too often in the past, Moscow has denied its involvement in cases that later end up being traced to the Kremlin or its proxies. The result is that its denials lack credibility. Now, the successful use of “plausible deniability” in all the previous cases collides with the Kremlin’s current interests and contributes to the verdict: guilty until proven innocent.
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[*] posted on 27-3-2018 at 09:16 PM


Russia strengthens footprint in Laos

Jon Grevatt, Bangkok - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

26 March 2018

Russia plans to expand its military-technical presence in Laos by opening a new facility in the country to support military platforms in operation in the Southeast Asian country.

Citing a government statement, the state-run Tass news agency said Russia and Laos have recently signed an agreement to establish the facility in Vientiane, the Laos capital.

The statement said the purpose of the facility will be to provide assistance “in resolving issues of military and military-technical co-operation”.

The statement said the office will be part funded by Laos and its employees will consist of engineers and technicians who will provide training and assistance to Laos counterparts in providing maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) support for Russian military equipment.

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[*] posted on 27-3-2018 at 09:18 PM


The Latest: Russia slams Australia for expelling 2 diplomats

Associated Press

2 hrs ago

Russia's Embassy in Canberra has accused Australia of blindly following Britain by deciding to expel two Russian diplomats.

The Australian government says the two are undeclared intelligence officers and must leave within seven days in response to the recent nerve agent attack on a former Russian military intelligence officer and his daughter in Britain.

The Russian Embassy said the regrettable decision jeopardized the bilateral relationship.

The embassy also said in a statement: "It is astonishing how easily the allies of Great Britain follow it blindly contrary to the norms of civilized bilateral dialogue and international relations, and against ... common sense."


© AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

The Russian Embassy said the regrettable decision jeopardized the bilateral relationship.

Western nations have expelled more than 130 diplomats in recent days and almost all have said the personnel were actually intelligence officers.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement the two diplomats were undeclared intelligence officers and have been given seven days to leave Australia.

Turnbull slammed the attack as "the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II."

He also called it "reckless and deliberate" conduct by Russia that harms global security and violates rules against the use of chemical weapons.


© The Associated Press A man talks on the phone on the grounds of the Russian embassy in Canberra, Australia, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Australia has announced it is expelling two Russian diplomats in…
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[*] posted on 28-3-2018 at 01:59 PM


NATO Joins 27 Countries, Expels Russian Diplomats In Clear Signal To Putin

As NATO takes unprecedented steps to punish Russia, US Defense Secretary Mattis calls Russian attack in UK "attempted murder."

By Colin Clark

on March 27, 2018 at 5:06 PM


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

WASHINGTON: In one of the strongest actions taken by the NATO alliance in decades, seven Russian diplomats were expelled and three more were denied accreditation, adding to the 140 Russians expelled from a host of European countries, America, Canada and Australia.

The extraordinary action by NATO, made even more pungent since it was announced via NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s Twitter account (Vlad, inside your decision cycle yet?), demonstrates without question how extraordinarily confident western governments are in the British government’s findings that the government of Russia tried to murder ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on British soil.

It also demonstrates clearly that Putin has not been able to divide NATO with his combination of bluster, economic incentives, terror activities (that’s what the attempted murder is — state-sponsored terrorism with a weapon of mass destruction), cyber espionage and invasion of neighbors over the last few years.

The NATO expulsions, added to the bilateral expulsions of more than 150 Russian diplomats by at least 27 countries, may be the largest global expulsion of presumed Russian spies ever. It is certainly the most vigorous and concerted action since the end of the Cold War.

Russia says it didn’t have anything to do with the use a nerve agent Russia invented. The expulsions by the West are “boorish,” whines the Kremlin, which says NATO and its friends will face a “tough response.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in one of his signature impromptu gatherings with Pentagon reporters this morning, certainly didn’t sound worried about that frightening Russian counterstrike. He said Russia had tried to ensure deniability in the attack. And he seemed to raise the possibility of a complete break between NATO and Russia on military to military relations, saying the Russians — with whom we were a “partner” — clearly “have chosen to seek a different relationship with the NATO nations.” Just for good measure, Mattis described the Russian attack simply and aggressively for what it is: “attempted murder.” It’s not often the American Defense Secretary accuses another country of attempted murder in public.

Not every country voted for the NATO expulsions, but they didn’t oppose it either. Since NATO acts on its members consensus, that meant those who didn’t say no really as good as said yes. But they can tell the Russians what they did and hope Putin isn’t mean to them.

The US, of course, expelled 60 Russians yesterday and ordered them to close their consulate in Seattle, which could have provided them excellent access to Boeing’s many facilities nearby, as well as to submarine pens at the Kitsap-Bangor base.

Click here for a list of the countries which have expelled Russians. The Evening Standard, for a long time my favorite London paper, is, of course, owned by former KGB agent and Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev and his son.
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[*] posted on 30-3-2018 at 12:20 PM


Russia Will Expel 150 Diplomats, as Tensions With West Reach Fever Pitch

The New York Times
RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
8 hrs ago


© Olga Maltseva/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images The United States consulate in Saint Petersburg, Russia, will be closed, the Kremlin announced.

Intensifying Russia’s clash with Europe and the United States, the Kremlin on Thursday announced that it would expel 150 Western diplomats, and close the United States Consulate in St. Petersburg.

The tit-for-tat action was in retaliation for the expulsion of more than 150 Russian officials from other countries — which was itself a reaction to a nerve-agent attack on British soil that Britain and its allies have blamed on Moscow.

The United States ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., was summoned to the Kremlin, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov announced. Sixty American diplomats will be expelled from Russia — the same as the number of Russian diplomats whom Washington has expelled. The Americans were given until April 5 to leave the country.

The crisis over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter has driven tensions between the Kremlin and the West to their highest pitch in decades. The tit-for-tat responses raise the prospect of further, more serious escalations, either public or clandestine.

Relations were already rocky, over Moscow’s roles in the wars in Syria and Ukraine, its forcible annexation of Crimea, its meddling in elections in the United States and elsewhere, the assassination of Kremlin foes in Russia and abroad, cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns against other countries and what Western officials have described as a broad, largely covert effort to destabilize and discredit liberal democracies.

Russia as a whole, and many powerful Russians individually, are already under economic sanctions by the West, and London has vowed to tighten its scrutiny and control of the vast Russian wealth — much of it held by allies of President Vladimir V. Putin — that has flowed into Britain in recent years. Britain has also said it will re-examine several suspicious deaths of Kremlin opponents.

Mr. Putin and his government have denied any involvement in the March 4 attack on Sergei V. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, and have tried to cast blame on Britain, the United States, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and others.

The Skripals were found unconscious is a busy shopping area in the small English city of Salisbury, where Mr. Skripal lives. He remains hospitalized in critical condition, but his daughter’s health has improved, British officials announced on Thursday. British officials say that hundreds of people could have been exposed to the toxin used against them.

Prime Minister Theresa May and her government contend that they were poisoned with one of an extremely powerful class of nerve agents known as “novichok,” developed by Soviet scientists in the 1970s and ’80s. They claim to have solid evidence that Russia was probably behind the attack, and that Mr. Putin himself probably approved it.

The British government has not made its evidence public, but has shared it with its major allies, who have said that they agree with London’s conclusions. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body that polices a chemical weapons ban treaty, is investigating.

President Trump, who has long been loath to criticize Mr. Putin or his government, has made no public statement on the nerve-agent attack or who was to blame for it. But officials in his administration have publicly backed Ms. May’s statements, and on Monday the president ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials who work in the United States, and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.

More than 20 other countries, primarily European, also announced expulsions on Monday, and a few more joined in on Tuesday, as did NATO headquarters in Brussels. The expulsions were a remarkable show of international unity and coordination, in solidarity with Britain, which had already forced 23 Russian officials to leave the country; Moscow responded by expelling 23 Britons.

In all, 27 countries have ejected more than 150 Russians, including people listed by their embassies and consulates as diplomats, and military and cultural attaches. Western officials say that many of the Russians are actually spies, and that the expulsions will hinder Russian espionage efforts.

Mr. Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence, was imprisoned in Russia for selling secrets to Britain. He was sent to Britain in 2010 as part of a spy swap. Why he would be targeted years later is unclear, but political and security analysts have said that the attack served as a warning to those who would cross Mr. Putin that even in exile, they are never beyond the Kremlin’s reach.

On March 12, Nikolai A. Glushkov, a former Russian business executive and critic of the government, died suddenly at his home in London, and the police are treating the case as a murder investigation.

Oleg Matsnev and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Moscow.
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[*] posted on 2-4-2018 at 07:55 PM


Putin miscalculates and unites the West

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By Markos Kounalakis
50 mins ago

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Vladimir Putin has spent years trying to divide the West by undermining elections, invading neighbours and aggressively using Russian oil and gas as a ham-handed bargaining tool. These concerted and clever efforts have suddenly, however, revealed the New Putin: Despite his best efforts and plans, he’s become a uniter, not a divider of the West.

Early 2018 had Mr. Putin heading toward a staggering, but not surprising, electoral victory against dead and disqualified opposition candidates. This dominance allowed Russia’s president to ride his eventual 76.6 percent final poll tally to a new level of cavalier confidence on the global stage. Political dominance at home and fawning support from President Donald Trump gave him a delusional sense of invincibility. It led him to overreach and miscalculate.

Now, well over 20 Western countries have joined to give Mr. Putin the one-finger salute for a U.K. chemical agent attack he is suspected of either directing or condoning. The targets in the assassination attempt in Salisbury were a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia.

Before the assassination attempt, and Prime Minister Theresa May’s unequivocal and articulate assigning of blame to the Russians, the countries that banded to take action on Mr. Putin’s Russia seemed only nominally allied in a challenged NATO and fracturing EU. The ones still fighting together with NATO in Afghanistan wanted to quit and get out. The ones still in the EU were trying to figure out how to amputate their British arm but save their European body.

Previously, these now collectively acting Western countries were practically at each other’s throats, blaming each other for trade transgressions, immigration policies and free-riding on defense. Tough economic times and rising populist sentiment built fraternal resentment and, at times, outright animosity.

Russia, in the meantime, kept raising the temperature from a simmering pot of measured and unassignable meddling to a rapid boil of wars, airplane downings, coup attempts, WikiLeaks partnerships, coordinated cyberattacks and election interference. Ukraine, MH17, Montenegro, Podesta emails, American power plants and the 2016 U.S. presidential election — any one of these aggressive Russian-led or sanctioned actions would have normally been enough to call for a more forceful joint Western reaction instead of a collective yawn, up until the Skripal poisoning, Ms. May’s outrage and Mr. Putin’s posturing.

Mr. Putin ignored one of the oldest rules in politics, a Napoleon maxim never to interfere with an enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself. Mr. Putin clearly couldn’t help himself — or stop those who thought they were trying to help him and has succeeded in uniting the independently minded, liberally oriented, collective-averse Western allies who were on the path to dissolving their ties.

A weakened West was clearly comfortable accommodating Russia, building more gas pipelines and energy dependencies while also congratulating Mr. Putin on his power, politics and personal magnetism. Felling a former spy, however, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It catalyzed a coordinated, collective Western response.

Whatever Russia does to react to the diplomatic expulsions of its diplomat-spies will only work to heighten East-West tensions and add to the resolve of the U.K. and its allies to stick together. Even worse for Russia, its reactions will be self-defeating because the loss of Western diplomatic missions and personnel will cost Moscow more than Russia’s consequent moves will inconvenience NATO, the EU or the U.S. The biggest loss? Russia’s spying capacity and tech-theft from San Francisco to Seattle will suffer a significant disruption.

Down the street from my home in San Francisco, the Russians were kicked out last year for previous transgressions, their consulate closed and their premier Silicon Valley listening post shut down, despite Mr. Trump’s inclinations. The former “Reds on Green Street” had a rooftop bristling with antennas and personnel populating local tech hangouts. Instead of building on-the-ground kompromat and recruiting spies at cafes, they now need to Google open-source intelligence.

Of course, Western allies will also lose in this tit-for-tat game by giving up their limited eyes and ears in Russia. But the Western economic consequences and political fallout are likely minimal, with Russia needing foreign exchange from energy sales more than the West needs reliable Russian wheat productivity figures.
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[*] posted on 3-4-2018 at 04:59 PM


Russian retaliation part of perilous pas de deux whose end is unclear

Response to US expulsions may be symmetrical but does not mean Skripal crisis is being contained

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

Sat 31 Mar 2018 00.52 AEDT
Last modified on Sat 31 Mar 2018 01.04 AEDT

Russia’s announcement that it will expel 60 US diplomats and close the American consulate in St Petersburg was a predictable and symmetrical response to the surprisingly tough decision by Washington to throw out 60 Russian diplomats, but left unanswered the question over how far the deterioration in western diplomatic relations with Moscow has yet to descend.

The fallout from the attempted poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal has a pas de deux quality about it with both sides appearing to know the next steps.

And after the American expulsions it was inevitable that the Russian foreign ministry would punish the European countries it believes succumbed to US and UK bullying by also expelling Russian diplomats from their capitals. European ambassadors were summoned one by one to the Russian foreign ministry on Friday to be informed of the individuals among their Moscow staff being expelled. Remonstrations would have been made, but one or two diplomats per embassy, and sometimes their families, will now pack their bags and head home – largely blameless victims caught in the diplomatic crossfire.

That does not mean the crisis will necessarily end there, or that the crisis is contained.

Russia, whose standing among the international community is badly damaged, is determined to do go further to clear its name, or at least throw up enough chaff so that a chunk of western public opinion doubts the British intelligence service’s account of Skripal’s poisoning. Moscow has already suggested a meeting on Monday of the executive of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to have “an honest conversation” about the poisoning.

The OPCW is studying samples – provided by the UK – of the novichok nerve agent allegedly used, but does not have the ability to judge the identity of the person that placed the agent by the door of Skripal’s house. But the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is determined to put the UK on the defensive and has already claimed that “if our western partners dodge the meeting then it will be further evidence that every thing that is happened is a provocation”.

Russia has also responded to the apparent recovery of Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned alongside her father. She may be able to provide insights into how the poisoning occurred, or even reveal whether she knows of some other motive by some other non-state actor.

The British intelligence services will be debriefing her as soon as her health permits. It would clearly be a huge embarrassment for the UK government if it emerged she believed the Russian state was not involved.

As it is, the UK government is aware that some allied leaders, despite the public show of solidarity, face sceptical voters at home who are either against a confrontation with Vladimir Putin, or expect more convincing proof to be provided.

The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, in a speech late on Wednesday waxed lyrical about how the Skripal episode represented a turning point in the west’s approach to Russia, but his officials are aware that this mood can easily dissipate as other considerations, such as commerce, energy security or the Middle East come into play.

The UK will try to push for further measures against Russia at the June meeting of the EU heads of state. If it is ambitious, it may may challenge German support for Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline from Russia that could put European energy demand at the mercy of Moscow.

The great unknown is the stance of Donald Trump despite a phone call with Theresa May this week. The actions of the US administration have been strong, and the words of the state department equally vehement. State department officials will be in London next week to discuss the next steps with their UK counterparts. But Trump has largely been silent about the episode, and his reluctance to fall out with Putin personally, for whatever reason, is glaring.

It is hard to estimate how much the US president will prevail upon his Russian counterpart to rethink Moscow’s strategy of slow, remorseless, hybrid confrontation.

There is also a sense that confrontation can be a cul de sac. Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to the UK at the time of the Alexander Litvinenko poisoning in London in 2006, said this week: “There is already a massive trust deficit, and that trust is even further damaged with the suspicion that Russia was behind the attack, tolerated it, or was negligent in letting it happen.

“I see even less of a future in being able to try to rebuild trust with Russia. The consequence would be even lower chances of discussing arms control, military cooperation and a solution to the Donbass conflict. We are playing with fire, and I hope that it is also clear to the Russian side that this is not in its interest. Diplomacy’s greatest asset is trust, and that is getting ruined here.”
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[*] posted on 12-4-2018 at 05:35 PM
The Putin myth: why Russia is no economic superpower


https://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/the-putin-myth-w...

Quote:
Russia's GDP was smaller than that of Texas even before the latest and most lethal sanctions imposed by Washington.

It has diminished further to Benelux proportions after the rouble's 10 per cent crash this week, the steepest fall since the late Nineties.

Upon this slender economic base, Vladimir Putin's Russia is posing as a world-class superpower, the new master of the Middle East, insisting on its "droit de regard" over the old Tsarist realms as if by natural right.

What is extraordinary is than anybody should believe in such posturing.

The harsher truth is that Mr Putin squandered the windfall wealth of the commodity supercycle and hollowed out what remained of the Soviet industrial base, leaving Russia's Potemkin economy in a cul de sac.

He has succeeded (so far) in propping up his ally in Syria but this tells us little about the global balance of power. The Kremlin likes to dismiss Western sanctions as a flea bite. Not any longer. "The measures are turning into a tool of real economic war," said Russian premier Dmitry Medvedev.

The US Treasury document announcing sanctions to punish "worldwide malign activity" is a comic read, but it is also mortal threat to the Putin oligarchy. It alleges that Oleg Deripaska, aluminium king and head of Rusal, "ordered the murder of a businessman".

It cites allegations that Suleiman Kerimov from Polyus Gold laundered hundreds of millions of euro buying villas in France, "transporting as much as €20 million ($31.9 million) at a time in suitcases."

Deripaska has described the sanctions as "groundless, ridiculous and absurd".

What is new about these sanctions is that they target the pre-existing securities, and not just new issuance. This turns the named companies into international pariah, as Rusal is discovering. It has been blackballed from the London Metal Exchange. Its listed share price on the Hong Kong exchange has fallen 58 per cent this week.

It is a foretaste of what lies in store for Russia's corporate elite as the Mueller investigation uncovers the whole ghastly truth about Kremlin cyber-aggression against the US political system. Whatever the White House may or may not want to do, the policy is being pushed by a wrathful Congress intent on avenging what some call a Russian Pearl Harbor.

No Americans can deal with sanctioned entities, and no Europeans can do so lightly without provoking the US Treasury under "secondary sanctions" clauses, if they have any commercial dealings with the US. Belgium-based Euroclear said immediately that it would comply.

Investors must now contend with the prospect that almost any oligarch could be targeted and that any Russian asset - including sovereign bonds - could be tainted and plunge in value overnight. This risks a collective rush for the exits since nobody wants to be trapped in a fire sale. Sberbank shares are down 17 per cent over the last two days even though it is not on the list.

Russian vice-premier Arkady Dvorkovich has promised to rescue sanctioned companies, implying that the state will cover the debts of private firms and state-owned companies if need be. Yet the Reserve Fund is exhausted and was shut down in December. Much of the residual $US67 billion Welfare Fund is committed. The Kremlin will have to tap the central bank's $US453 billion portfolio of foreign reserves. "If the sanctions go on long enough and the circle expands, the cushion may not be enough" warned Vedomosti.

To be clear, the country is not facing an imminent financial crisis. The floating rouble acted as a shock absorber through the oil and commodity crash. Russia survived the trauma. What it faces instead is "neo-stagnation", to borrow from former British ambassador Sir Andrew Wood. It is caught in a self-feeding cycle of decline as infrastructure crumbles and young brains leave.

The deep recession of 2015 and 2016 may be over but per capita income is stuck at $US8,800 and industrial wages are now lower than in eastern China - let alone Poland. The post-Soviet convergence with the West has stalled. There is no new growth model for the 21st century. The drastic plan of autarky and import substitution launched three years ago by President Putin to break dependence on commodities - 80 per cent of exports during the boom - has come to little. Reliance on foreign farm machinery was to be cut 56 per cent by 2020, and engineering equipment by 34 per cent. None of this is happening.

Russia is still hostage to oil and gas. Energy provides a tolerable living for now but US shale has entirely changed of global oil industry, capping each rise in prices with a surge of new drilling. It has become a structural headwind. Russia's own production costs are rising as the old fields decline by 5 per cent a year in Western Siberia. The energy ministry warns that output could halve by 2035 unless there is a wave of investment.

The coming surge of US liquefied natural gas (LNG) has deprived Mr Putin of his pricing power in Europe. He was able to charge $US12 (MMBtu) in the glory days of 2012. Today his gas fetches around $US5.

By the mid-2020s, other powerful forces will be at work. Electric vehicles will probably have reached take-off; battery costs will have come down far enough to give wind and solar an edge over gas. By then the fossil industry will be looking tired.

Mr Putin wasted Russia's oil bonanza from 2005 to 2014 on hubristic rearmament. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said the military budget rose 8.1 per cent in real terms in 2014 and another 15 per cent in 2015 when the economy was already contracting. Finance minister Alexei Kudrin resigned with a warning that it would ruin the country, and that is exactly what it did.

The Russian military added a fleet of new Su-34 long-range combat aircraft, and batteries S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, even as pauperisation spread. It coincided with the negligent disarmament of the West, made worse by Europe's austerity overkill.

This misalignment created a window that Mr Putin has exploited. The window is about to close again. Russia can no longer afford the rent, and the West is rearming fast.

A nuclear-armed Sparta under a despotic leader with totalitarian propaganda tools can of course be very dangerous. But please don't call Putinism a success.




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[*] posted on 28-4-2018 at 10:35 PM


Mattis Seeks Waivers for US Allies, Partners to Buy Russian Arms


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, center, attends a hearing on the Department of Defense budget posture, with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and Defense Under Secretary and Chief Financial Officer David Norquist, right, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Thursday April 26, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Military.com 27 Apr 2018 By Richard Sisk

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is arguing for waivers to let U.S. allies and partners avoid sanctions for buying Russian arms. The move could include giving Turkey and India a pass on the purchase of advanced S-400 anti-air defense systems.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, Mattis said "national security exceptions" must be made to the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in the long-term interests of the U.S.

"There are nations in the world who are trying to turn away from formerly Russian-sourced weapons and systems," he said.

Those same nations, he said, currently need to keep the Moscow supply line open to replenish their legacy systems.

"We only need to look at India, Vietnam and some others to recognize that eventually we're going to penalize ourselves" in the future by strict adherence to CAATSA, Mattis said.

He pointed to Indonesia, which has become increasingly vital to the Trump administration's overall South Asia strategy.

"Indonesia, for example, is in the same situation -- trying to shift to more of our airplanes, our systems, but they've got to do something to keep their legacy military going," Mattis said.

CAATSA was passed by Congress last year to punish Russia for its invasion of Crimea, support of separatists in Ukraine, and involvement in Syria. President Donald Trump, who had doubts about the Russia sanctions, reluctantly signed the bill last August.

Mattis called on Congress to include "national security exceptions" in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019 but acknowledged that Russia's sale of the S-400 systems is "causing a lot of concern."

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Ankara earlier this month to firm up the proposed $3 billion sale of the S-400 systems, billed as "F-35 killers," to NATO ally Turkey.

The U.S. and NATO allies have warned Turkey that the S-400s are not compatible with other NATO systems, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pressed on with the deal.

Last week, State Department Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Turkey is risking sanctions under CAATSA, adding that it could also be cut off from buying the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

India is also in the final stages of a potential $5 billion to deal for the S-400s, dubbed the Sa-21 Growler by NATO. India began bargaining with Russia on S-400 sales after regional rival China signed off on its own purchase of the S-400 systems.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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[*] posted on 3-5-2018 at 12:35 PM


Russia, Despite Military Ventures, Cut Defense Spending by Most in Decades

(Source: Radio Free Europe; issued May 02, 2018)

Western sanctions and a long recession forced Russia's military to slash spending by 20 percent last year, its first drop in nearly two decades, a closely followed think-tank report said.

Despite Russia's flexing of its military muscle around the world, with its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine, and its involvement in the Syrian civil war since 2015, Moscow has been forced to cut military spending in a way that throws future operations into question, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a report released late on May 1.

Russia's sharp military cutback occurred while military spending reached a post-Cold War high elsewhere around the world in 2017, led by higher spending in the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia, the report said.

While global military spending rose by 1 percent to $1.74 trillion, Russia's spending fell 20 percent to $66.3 billion, the report said.

As a result, Russia dropped to fourth place in the ranking of the world's biggest military spenders, overtaken by Saudi Arabia, the report said.

It was Russia's first military cutback since 1998, a year of major crisis when Russia's economy collapsed and it defaulted on its debt. The following year Vladimir Putin took power as prime minister and, on New Year's Eve, became president.

The report said the latest cuts in military spending were also due to economic woes -- a deep, two-year recession brought on by a collapse in oil prices in 2014, and Western sanctions imposed over Russia's aggression in Ukraine the same year.

"The military budget has been restricted by economic problems that the country has experienced since 2014," said Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher at the think tank.

Prior to last year, Russia protected the defense budget from cuts and instead pared spending in other areas, such as infrastructure and education, he said, but in 2017, it got to the point where Moscow had no option but to "spread the pain."

"It's no longer possible to keep defense at a high level or keep it growing," Wezeman said. "For Russia, it means they may have to swallow their pride."

Russia's economy began a weak recovery with growth of 1.5 percent last year. But given the big fall in government revenue caused by the recession and sanctions, Russian spending on defense is expected to stay flat through 2020, or possibly even fall somewhat further, adjusted for inflation, he said.

Wezeman said the cuts have had the biggest impact on defense procurement and military operations because "those are the quickest things to cut."

Wezeman told Reuters that Russia may have undertaken some of its military interventions since 2014 to show its military remained powerful even though its economy was weak.

"Russia definitely has a very clear feeling it has to show that it is still a major power, and you show that by undertaking operations in, for example, Syria, by showing up on the Atlantic Ocean with your navy," he told Reuters.

The revenues Russia generates from exporting oil, gas, aluminum, and other commodities has rebounded since the recession but still remain far below levels set in 2014.

One question is whether Russia will have to cut military spending further in light of Putin's recent call for more spending on social programs such as health care and education to support higher living standards. Some officials at the Kremlin have called for lower military spending to free up funds for such domestic initiatives.

The Kremlin said in March that Russia would cut its defense budget to less than 3 percent of gross domestic product within the next five years.

According to the think-tank report, the United States continues to spend the most on its military by far at $610 billion a year, accounting for 35 percent of global expenditures -- more than the next seven highest-spending countries combined.

All 29 NATO allies together spent $900 billion last year, accounting for 52 percent of total world spending, it said.

China's military spending of $228 billion as a share of world expenditures rose to 13 percent last year, up from 5.8 percent in 2008.

-ends-
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[*] posted on 3-5-2018 at 01:18 PM


It wasn't like they had a choice, you can't spend non-existent funds, no matter what most left-wingers will try and tell you.



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[*] posted on 3-5-2018 at 05:18 PM


It's also why any Russian Military capability uplift announcements are treated with reservation by many..................
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[*] posted on 5-5-2018 at 02:23 PM


New Putin term to bring changes for Russian defence sector

Reuben F Johnson, Kiev - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

04 May 2018

Key Points

- President Putin's fourth term in office is expected to herald changes to how Russia's defence sector is managed
- Military modernisation has been a key tenet of the Putin Administration

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s swearing-in for an unprecedented fourth term in office on 7 May is also expected to bring changes in how Russia’s defence-industrial sector is managed. Putin, who was elected for another six-year term in March, has made a more than decade-long major rearmament and military modernisation programme one of the centrepieces of his rule.

One of the major changes anticipated is the replacement of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin with the current head of the Ministry for Trade and Industry (MPT), Denis Manturov.

(141 of 696 words)
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[*] posted on 10-5-2018 at 09:37 AM


Russia’s hypersonic missile debuts alongside new military tech at parade

By: Matthew Bodner   6 hours ago


A Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet carries the high-precision hypersonic missile Kh-47M2 Kinzhal during the Victory Day military parade. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

MOSCOW ― For many Russians, the annual Victory Day parade in Moscow is an opportunity to reflect on their wartime history and mourn losses that touched nearly every family in the former Soviet Union and neighboring states. But the parade now has for several years served another purpose: the exhibition of Russia’s latest and greatest weapons systems and platforms.

In that regard, the parade has struggled in recent years to live up to 2015’s 70th anniversary parade, where a wide variety of new hardware was unveiled for the first time. But this year’s parade saw some noteworthy additions to Russia’s future arsenal. But the greatest item of interest was perhaps the hardest to see.

During the parade’s finale — a flyby of nearly every type of aircraft flown by the Russian Air Force — two unaccompanied MiG-31 fighter jets made their pass over central Moscow.

Although the MiG-31 is a distinct and interesting aircraft, the items of interest were mounted below their bodies: hypersonic missiles.

It was the first public debut of the Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile, one of President Vladimir Putin’s doomsday super weapons unveiled at a controversial speech about nuclear modernization in March.

The weapon is a modified Iskander-M ballistic missile designed to be launched by a MiG-31 traveling at supersonic speeds.
Several pieces of new hardware that have been seen at military trade shows also made their Victory Day parade debut — namely the new Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter jet, which bares a strong resemblance to the American F-22. Two of the jets, decorated in a kind of gray-on-white camouflage pattern, came midway through the aerial part of the parade.


Troops from Russia's recently created National Guard interior troops join Russia's Victory Day parade this year. (Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)

On the ground — apart from ground forces — attendees got a glimpse of the Uran-6 and Uran-9 unmanned combat vehicles, the latter of which recently saw testing in Syria.

But the biggest hitter seen in this part of the parade was the BMPT-72 Terminator tank. The heavily armed vehicle is built upon a T-72 chassis and armed with a variety of close-quarters and anti-tank weapons to provide infantry support in urban environments. It has been one of the most-talked about development projects since 2015’s unveiling of the T-15 Armata main battle tank.


Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Victory Parade. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

And, of course, just as interesting as the hardware on display was who attended the parade. Putin’s guests of honor were Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During the parade, Putin gave a speech decrying attempts to rewrite the history of the war (read: challenge the Kremlin’s official patriotic narrative of those events).

In a move that is certain to find controversy in some quarters, Netanyahu was seen wearing an orange and black St. George’s ribbon, a Russian symbol that has seen newfound popularity in recent years as a patriotic token of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It has strong associations with pro-Kremlin sentiments, and in Russia it is an easy way to signal anti-Western patriotism.

Steven Seagal was also in attendance.
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[*] posted on 10-5-2018 at 03:31 PM


Somewhat telling that Nethanyahu wore a St George ribbon while Vucic did not....



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[*] posted on 22-5-2018 at 06:46 PM


Russian military to receive Sarmat ICBM in 2020

Nikolai Novichkov, Moscow - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

21 May 2018

Delivery of the new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to Russia’s military is scheduled for 2020, President Vladimir Putin said. He told a meeting with top military and defence industry officials in Sochi on 18 May, “The systems, which will beef up our strategic forces in the foreseeable future, I mean, first of all, the Sarmat system, which is to be delivered to the troops in 2020, the Avangard system, the delivery of which is scheduled for 2019, and other systems are being tested according to the original schedule.”

The Russian president recalled that several advanced systems are becoming operational, namely, the Kinzhal air-launched missile system.

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[*] posted on 12-6-2018 at 05:47 PM


Russia’s Real Target Is US Alliances & Ukraine, Not Elections: CIA Veterans

"I don’t think that Vladimir Putin, who I think is a realist, wants to destroy us or our democracy, (though) they did meddle… and they will do it again if they can," Bearden said. "They will continue to stir the pot, (but) I think they’re as amazed by what we’re doing to ourselves as perhaps we are.”

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

on June 11, 2018 at 3:41 PM


A BMP infantry fighting vehicle stands in front of a Ukrainian flag.

CENTER FOR THE NATIONAL INTEREST: Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not targeting America’s elections but its alliances, three ex-CIA experts said here, and Russia’s chances of doing so look better than ever. Interference in US elections is probably retaliation for American support of pro-democracy movements in places the Kremlin really cares about, especially Ukraine, which they are desperate to keep out of NATO.

Russia was not seriously trying to get Trump elected in 2016, agreed George Beebe, former head of Russia analysis at the CIA, and fellow CIA veteran Peter Clement, former director of the Office of Russian and Eurasian Analysis. If the Russians had really wanted to create an electoral crisis, they could have done far worse than troll farms and fake news. What if, instead just probing electoral systems, they had actually hacked the vote count in key states, or even just leaked information claiming they did?

Instead of trying to get Trump elected, Clement said, the Kremlin was taking revenge on Hilary Clinton, hoping to undermine her probable presidency. Why? Because, as Obama’s Secretary of State, she had supported democracy movements and “color revolutions” against pro-Putin autocrats in Ukraine and other places. It’s the spread of democracy in Russia’s “near abroad,” not democracy 4,000 miles away in the US, that Putin sees as an existential threat.

The three retired spooks made their observations before the contentious G-7 summit, but events at the G-7 only support their point about the vulnerability of US alliances. President Trump entered the meeting threatening trade war with America’s closest allies and urging the group to readmit Russia.

He departed a day early — skipping sessions on the environment — while denouncing the joint communiqué the US had already signed.

“We were far less vulnerable across the board during my time,” lamented Milton Bearden, who headed the CIA stations in both Moscow and Islamabad and ran the covert support to the Afghan insurgency against the Soviets. The Cold War alliance had its strains, but US commitment took the tangible form of over 300,000 young men on European soil. For their part, the Soviets reminded everyone of the threat with periodic barbarities such as Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, or Afghanistan in 1979. “Today it’s different,” Bearden said. “I think that the Europeans, at this point, could manage to believe almost anything about the United States.”

That’s not to say Trump is doing what Russia wants. To the contrary, “there’s got to be some disappointment there (in the Kremlin),” Beebe said. Trump made campaign promises to pull out of regional conflicts, for instance, but then reinforced the US presence in Afghanistan and bombed the Assad regime in Syria, both countries Russia sees as its sphere of influence.


Defense of the Baltic States and Poland against a notional Russian missile barrage. (CSBA graphic)

The Best Defense, Moscow-Style

From a Russian point of view, meddling in US elections is something “you can to some degree construe as defensive,” Beebe said. “They want us to knock off the democracy crusade. Democracy by itself doesn’t threaten them, but threatening to spread democracy abroad — and in Russia itself — (that) they find threatening.”

It’s hard for Americans to appreciate the deep sense of vulnerability caused by Russia’s history of successive invasions by Mongols, Poles, Swedes, French, and Germans. With few natural defensive barriers to the east or west, Russian elites have generally sought security in accumulating military power and territory, often favoring a strategy of “the best defense of a good offense.” From this perspective, it’s a disaster to see NATO influence expand into lands once either dominated by Moscow — like East Germany — or directly ruled from it — like Poland (under the tsars) and Estonia (as late as 1991).

In former Soviet/Russian territories such as Ukraine or Georgia, Clement said, “if the perception is NATO or even the EU is making inroads — because they seem to see the EU as leading to NATO — they’re going to react.” That doesn’t mean conquering whole countries, he noted. Because NATO’s rules prohibit admitting any country with ongoing territorial disputes, all Russia has to do is contest a sliver of Ukraine (e.g. Crimea) or Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) to keep them perpetually out of the alliance.

Not all of Russia’s lost lands are created equal, however. “They will take risks for gain in Ukraine,” Bearden said. “They wouldn’t take risks to bring the Baltic States back in.”

“Ukraine (is) the most important country in the world from Russia’s perspective,” agreed Beebe. “They believe they’ve got the most to lose there.”

Ukraine holds a place in Russian hearts and minds that is hard to explain to Americans. Except for a period of tenuous independence in 1917-1920, Ukraine had been Russian territory since 1795. Eastern Ukraine, where Moscow is now waging a proxy war, fell under Russian control in 1657 (well before the United States existed). Even the name “Russia” comes from “Rus,” identifying the country with the medieval principality whose heartland lay in modern Ukraine and whose capital was Kiev (rather as if the entire modern US called itself “Texassia” and kept doing so even after Texas seceded).

Putin himself invoked Kievan Rus in making his claim to Crimea. For a Russian nationalist like Putin, the idea that Ukraine does not belong to Russia is painful and humiliating.



The Fault’s Not In Our Stars

It’s also America’s fault, according to the often conspiratorial worldview of ex-KGB agents like Putin, Milton Bearden said. “All of the KGB officers I knew blamed us for everything that happened,” he said. In their “perhaps faulty” view of history, “it’s payback time for the United States.”

But it’s payback within limits, a secondary effort to their main push in what Russians call the near abroad. “They want to corral American power, counterbalance it,” said Beebe, not “destroy” it, which would open economic, geostrategic and even nuclear cans of worms Moscow can’t cope with.

“I don’t think that Vladimir Putin, who I think is a realist, wants to destroy us or our democracy, (though) they did meddle… and they will do it again if they can,” Bearden said. “They will continue to stir the pot, (but) I think they’re as amazed by what we’re doing to ourselves as perhaps we are.”

“I don’t think Putin seeks to destroy the US,” agreed Clement. “A lot of our internal domestic problems are in fact of our own doing, (though the Russians) have very skillfully exploited it.”

“I would submit today that the United States is going through a period of rather significant domestic problems, a crisis in confidence that is generated largely from within,” Beebe said. “We’re projecting many of those domestic problems and fears onto Russia.” In truth, we’re doing plenty of that damage to ourselves and by ourselves.
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[*] posted on 13-6-2018 at 01:30 PM


High-Tech Firepower: Russia Develops New Space Laser Cannon

(Source: Sputnik News; posted June 10, 2018)

More fantastical Russian ego-building..........

A company affiliated with the Russian space agency Roscosmos is reportedly moving to develop a powerful new laser capable of evaporating targets in orbit for the benefit of all mankind.

Researchers at the Scientific and Industrial Corporation ‘Precision Instrument Systems’ (NPK SPP), a subsidiary of Roscosmos, are developing a new technology which would allow for the vaporizing of potentially harmful space debris via a focused laser beam, according to a report submitted to the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The proposal drafted by the scientists involves creating “an optic detection system which includes a solid-state laser and a transmit/receive adaptive optical system.”

The company confirmed the existence of this document, but declined to elaborate any further.

The scientists intend to use the massive soon-to-be-built telescope at the Altay Optical-Laser Center and convert it into a laser cannon. The device is expected to be powered by a solid-state generator, though the project team has yet to choose which model to use.

The cannon is expected to be able to gradually vaporize space debris objects through laser ablation.

Earlier it was reported that there are at least 13,000 space debris objects orbiting Earth, according to the Russian space control system.

In 2016 Roscosmos scientists determined that if the issue of space debris is not addressed, in one or two centuries it may clog Earth’s orbit and make space launches nearly impossible.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This laser “cannon” will just as easily destroy satellites as space debris, of course.)

-ends-
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