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[*] posted on 14-7-2018 at 06:28 PM

Dems to Trump: Cancel Putin meeting over hacking indictments

By: Joe Gould   13 hours ago

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON — Key Democratic lawmakers are calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to cancel his meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the indictment of 12 Russians hackers for meddling in the U.S. election.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va., House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith, D−Wash., 19 Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and were among Democrats who said Friday that Trump should back out of a one-on-one meeting at the Helsinki summit.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., was one of few Republicans to weigh in, saying if the president “is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward.”

The indictments expose a plot by Putin’s government to weaken American institutions, and despite warnings from military and intelligence leaders, he said. He further accused the White House and Congress of taking "insufficient action … to strengthen our cyber defenses, safeguard our election systems, and deter further destabilizing activities.”

The pressure came after the Justice Department announced Friday that indictments were handed down charging Russian intelligence officials with hacking various computers, including in Hillary Clinton’s Campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

“These indictments are further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win,” Schumer said in his statement.

“President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections. Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy.”

Reed, earlier in the week, spearheaded a measure supporting NATO, which passed 97–2 in the face of Trump’s confronting alliance members over burden sharing at their summit in Brussels . In an interview with MSNBC, Reed said Trump’s attacks on NATO were “doing what Vladimir Putin has been trying to do for many years now.”

“In light of this stunning indictment by the Justice Department that these Russian conspirators attacked our democracy and were communicating with Americans to interfere in our election, President Trump should immediately cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” Reed’s Friday statement said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel and the panel’s other Democrats sent Trump a letter Friday expressing deep concern about the President meeting with Putin in light of the accusations in the indictments, which they called “a direct attack on our democracy.” (Smith and HASC member Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., joined their letter.)

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who serves on the SASC and Senate Judiciary Commitee, joined the chorus of Democrats who said the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was not the witch hunt Trump and other Republicans have alleged. He also argued the Putin meeting should be cancelled.

“The attack on our democracy was a deliberate, destructive act of the Russian government,” Blumenthal said. “There was no 400 pound hacker sitting on his bed. This criminality was perpetrated and performed by Vladimir Putin’s fellow KGB thugs and intelligence agents acting on his behalf – and their purpose was to aid President Trump’s campaign.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a statement saying that while Trump should still attend the summit, he “must demand and secure a real, concrete and comprehensive agreement that the Russians will cease their ongoing attacks on our democracy.”

House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., seemed in a statement Friday, to suggest the indictments would provide Trump with ammunition to talk tough with Putin at the meeting, if he’ll use it, and he challenged his Republican colleagues: “Whose side are you on? Ours or Putin’s?”

One SASC Republican, Sen. Ben Sasse, reacted with a statement calling for unity against Putin, saying the Russian leader, “is not the President’s buddy.” He did not call for the meeting to be cancelled.

“The U.S. intelligence community knows that the Russian government attacked the U.S. This is not a Republican or a Democrat view – it is simply the reality,” said Sasse, of Nebraska. “All patriotic Americans should understand that Putin is not America’s friend, and he is not the President’s buddy. We should stand united against Putin’s past and planned future attacks against us.”
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[*] posted on 14-7-2018 at 08:35 PM

Russia 'Most Complex Threat to UK Life Since Cold War', Says CDS

(Source: British Forces News; issued July 12, 2018)

The head of Britain's Armed Forces says Russia's subversive tactics pose the biggest 'threat to our way of life since the end of the Cold War.'

Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) General Sir Nick Carter urged air chiefs from around the world to adapt for modern threats, or risk being defeated.

Speaking at the 2018 Chief of Air Staff’s Air Power Conference in London to senior figures from government, the military and business on the threats nations currently face, he said the previous clear-cut lines between war and peace are blurred.

The CDS described Russia as "probably the most complex and capable state-based threat to our way of life since the end of the Cold War".

He urged the RAF to stay ahead of the curve and embrace working with industry in order to develop air and space technology: "Fail to change now and our adversaries, slowly but surely, will overcome us."

The Director of Joint Warfare, Air Vice Marshal Bruce Hedley looked even further into the future:

"In the next 100 years I can't envisage where we'll be, but it'll be totally different.

"There is no doubt that we'll be talking about astronauts. We'll be out of this heavier than airspace, and into outer space.

"I'm sure we'll be looking at new civilisations...that's not too far to dream."

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[*] posted on 15-7-2018 at 08:05 PM

A Real Nuclear Triumph for Trump: Extend New START

By Alexandra Bell and Kingston Reif

on July 14, 2018 at 4:00 AM

As President Trump prepares to meet Vladimir Putin in a high-stakes one-on-one meeting, there is growing and legitimate concern in Washington and European capitals about concessions Trump might make in the hopes of getting along with the Russian strongman.

The anxiety is warranted, given President Trump’s public statements on NATO and the invasion of Ukraine, as well as his dismissal of Russian election interference. There is, however, a possible US-Russian compromise that should be welcomed and encouraged: the extension of the landmark New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START.

Yes, relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated significantly in recent years, with contacts cut off at many levels. Nevertheless, the two countries still have to talk about a basic, life-or-death reality: They possess between them over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, and each presents an existential threat to the other.

Given that grim fact, leaders in Washington and Moscow have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear threats.

Acknowledging that truth, President Trump told reporters on March 20 that he’d like to meet with Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.” Both the United States and Russia are spending massive sums to upgrade their Cold War-era arsenals and develop new types of weapons.

In this context, talking about New START makes sense. It is one of the few remaining bright spots in the US-Russia relationship.

Signed in 2010, the treaty requires the United States and Russia each to reduce strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed long-range missiles and bombers, and 800 deployed and non-deployed missile launchers and bombers by Feb. 5, 2018 — a deadline that both countries met.

New START also includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions to help ensure compliance — but the agreement will expire on Feb. 5, 2021. Under its terms, it can be extended by up to five years without further approval by the US Senate or Russian Duma if both presidents agree.

Extension of the treaty should be a no-brainer from both a security and an economic perspective. In March 2017, Gen. John Hyten, who leads US Strategic Command, told Congress that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.” New START monitoring provides real-time insights directly into Russian strategic forces – insights that cannot be gained in any other way. Further, the verifiable caps aid U.S. military planning by reducing the need to make worst-case assessments that could prompt additional costly nuclear force investments. Washington is already planning to spend at least $1.7 trillion to sustain and upgrade the current arsenal, which is based on the New START limits, over the next three decades.

If the treaty is allowed to lapse, there will be no limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces for the first time since the early-1970s. Even more dangerous is the fact that other arms control guardrails are in danger of collapsing. The United States determined that Russia is in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Heading off the risk of unconstrained and wildly expensive US-Russia nuclear competition demands maintenance of the one bilateral nuclear agreement that is actually working.

While the benefits of extending New START are manifest, obstacles remain. National Security Advisor John Bolton has long castigated the agreement, calling it “unilateral disarmament” and “an execrable deal.” In reality, the treaty places equal limits on both sides that provide mutual benefit.

Trump’s Secretaries of Defense and State appear to agree, as they both support the treaty.

Other Republican critics of New START argue that it should not be extended so long as Russia is violating other arms control agreements and developing new weapons, such as those unveiled by Putin in a speech last spring. But Russia’s development of new strategic systems actually reinforces the case for extending New START. The agreement provides for discussion and possible limitation of emerging strategic offensive arms. If Russia moves forward on any of these systems, the United States should insist on relevant discussions in the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the treaty’s implementing body.

But New START extension should never be used as a bargaining chip because it is too important to be gambled away. If the treaty disappears in 2021, Russia would be free to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed directly at the United States.

Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to extension might be Trump himself. He has denounced New START as another bad deal negotiated by his predecessor, like the Iran deal that he recently upended. As Trump prepares for his meeting with Putin, he should be reminded that the treaty provides the predictability that our military leaders want, the transparency that our intelligence community needs, and the stability that our allies deserve.

Agreeing to extend New START would be an easy win for Trump and the United States. By doing so he would be building on the arms control legacy of President Reagan. And it would allow him to claim, on the grandest of stages in Helsinki, that he struck a great deal to meaningfully reduce the nuclear threat.

Alexandra Bell is the Senior Policy Director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. She previously served as the Director for Strategic Outreach in the Office of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the Department of State. Kingston Reif is the Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the Arms Control Association.
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[*] posted on 16-7-2018 at 04:40 PM

UK spy poisoning probe turns to Russian agency cited in US poll hack

By Ellen Barry

16 July 2018 — 12:02pm

London: The same Russian military intelligence service now accused of disrupting the 2016 presidential election in the United States may also be responsible for the nerve agent attack in Britain against a former Russian spy — an audacious poisoning that led to a geopolitical confrontation this spring between Moscow and the West.

A US grand jury has indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers on charges of hacking the computer networks of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

British investigators believe the March 4 attack on the former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, was most probably carried out by current or former agents of the service, known as the GRU, who were sent to his home in southern England, according to a British official, a US official and a former US official familiar with the inquiry.

British officials are closing in on identifying the individuals they believe carried out the operation, said the former US official. At the same time, investigators have not ruled out the possibility that another Russian intelligence agency, or a privatised spin-off, could be responsible.

President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia are to hold a much-scrutinised meeting today (Monday) in Helsinki, Finland. For months, Trump has angrily belittled the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. But on Friday, the Justice Department announced a bombshell indictment of 12 GRU officers in the hacking of internal communications of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton presidential campaign.

The indictment detailed a sophisticated operation, intended to disrupt the US's democratic process, carried out by a Russian military intelligence service few Americans know about. But analysts and government officials say the GRU, now known as the Main Directorate of the General Staff, serves as an undercover strike force for the Kremlin in conflicts around the world.

The agency has been linked to Russia's hybrid war in Ukraine, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014. It has been involved in the seizing of Syrian cities on behalf of President Bashar al Assad. In more peaceful regions, the GRU is accused of creating political turmoil, mobilising Slavic nationalists in Montenegro and funding protests to try to prevent Macedonia's recent name change.

The poisoning of Skripal and his daughter with a military grade nerve agent is a different type of operation, one that falls into the tradition of Russian and Soviet intelligence practices toward traitors. Skripal served in the GRU for about 15 years but also worked as an informant for MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence service — a rare betrayal among GRU officers, and one that most likely required laborious effort to mitigate damage to the agency's networks.

Russian officials have denied their country's involvement in the poisoning of the Skripals, even as their British counterparts have accused the Kremlin of ordering the attack.

On Sunday, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, dismissed the involvement of the GRU. "Russia is in no way involved in this episode, he said. "We consider this whole thing a major provocation."

The investigation seems to be progressing steadily, said Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian intelligence services at the Institute of International Relations Prague.

"They have a pretty good sense of when these people travelled, they're going to be doing the full thing of checking the face of everyone on the plane, given that this is the land of CCTV," Galeotti said, referring to Britain. "At the very least, they have grainy photographs from CCTV of the people they assume were involved."

He added that the conclusions of the inquiry would have little impact on the military intelligence service.

"From the GRU point of view, what really matters is the opinion of one man," he said, "and he already knows what they did or didn't do."

Relations between Britain and Russia are now deeply strained. In April, Britain and many of its allies, including the United States, expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats — many of them officers with the GRU — as a protest against the poisoning. Russia retaliated with its own expulsions.

Before ordering the expulsions, Britain privately presented its case against Russia to other governments, including evidence that GRU cyberspecialists had hacked the email accounts of Skripal's daughter in 2013. Skripal and his daughter were under surveillance before the attack, her phone possibly infected with malware to track her whereabouts, the BBC reported this month.

Skripal's final post with the GRU was as a high-level personnel administrator, providing him with extensive knowledge of operations and individual agents. He was arrested in Russia in 2004 and later pleaded guilty to espionage, serving six years of a 13-year sentence before he was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap with the United States.

Skripal was living in Salisbury, England, before the poisoning attack. He and his daughter, who was visiting him from Russia at the time, have since recovered and are in hiding. The crime's repercussions continued last week with the death of a 44-year-old British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, who, the police say, most likely accidentally touched residue of the nerve agent used in the attack.

From the earliest days of the Skripal investigation, the GRU was a suspect, in part because harsh punishment for traitors is part of the agency's doctrine.

Viktor Suvorov, a GRU officer who defected to Britain in 1978, wrote in a memoir that inductees were shown a gruesome film of a defector, strapped to a stretcher, being slowly rolled into a furnace and burned alive. Though his account was disputed by some of his countrymen, it is beyond doubt that GRU defections were rare.

"Once you're a member of an elite military force like the GRU, there is no leaving it," said Nigel West, a British intelligence historian who has chronicled the lives of many defectors. "They do not defect. GRU are a military, disciplined elite. They know the consequences."

In interviews, several former Russian intelligence agents were sceptical that the GRU was behind the attack on the Skripals, in part because of its audacity.

In Soviet times, their more cosmopolitan KGB colleagues referred to GRU officers as "sapogi", or boots, suggesting that they were tough and rugged but not sophisticated in their methods, said Yuri B. Shvets, a former KGB agent posted to Washington in the 1980s.

"The GRU took its officers from the trenches," he said, unlike the KGB, which recruited from top universities.

Irek Murtazin, who worked closely with the GRU and now covers military affairs for Novaya Gazeta, said that the agency's assassinations tended to be unshowy affairs.

"He would have died from a heart attack or a stroke, a car would have run him over or a bum would have beat him up," Murtazin said. "There wouldn't have been any Novichok."

Assassinations, nonetheless, have long been part of Russian and Soviet intelligence practice, Galeotti said.

"That the GRU kills people abroad has been amply demonstrated in a variety of other cases," he said. "The GRU tends to be more of a kinetic agency — more a bullet in the head rather than an exotic poison. The ultimate point is, from the GRU point of view, it's the outcomes that matter."

New York Times
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[*] posted on 19-7-2018 at 01:47 PM

Rep. McCaul: Russian President Putin is an ‘Enemy of the United States’

By: John Grady

July 18, 2018 2:11 PM

An undated photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin Russian Presidential Press and Information Office Photo

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in his attempt to take back Ukraine, cow and subvert the Baltic NATO members and — for the first time since the late 1970s — re-assert the Kremlin’s military presence in the Mediterranean.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, said in backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with Russian advisers, air power, sea-launched cruise missiles and equipment, Putin has also beefed up Moscow’s submarine presence and operations in the eastern Mediterranean operating from two bases.

The 2014 takeover of Crimea, a part of Ukraine where Russia had been allowed to maintain a military presence following the break-up of the Soviet Union, provided a first step to its build-up in the Middle East, McCaul said in a wide-ranging talk.

Especially important militarily in Putin’s escalation of pressure on Crimea then was to retain Moscow’s control of Sevastopol, the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet with its access to the Mediterranean. Moscow had also established a base in Syria in the Cold War, but it has largely fallen into disuse until Putin took office.

Now, “we have detected [Russian submarines] off the coast of the United States” for the first time since the early 1990s — coming from bases in the Baltic as well. “These are the missile-carrying” subs, McCaul, who also serves as a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, added.

“Putin is an adversary, an enemy of the United States.” McCaul said the Russian leader “is paranoid over NATO” despite the “mixed messaging” from the administration of U.S. commitment to the alliance. The danger in that crossed signals is the same as it was with earlier administrations, he said. The risk is,”Our allies no longer trust us; our adversaries no longer fear us.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)

He noted, “one positive” from the recently completed Brussels NATO meeting is that the Europeans “are finally stepping up to the plate” to honor their commitment to raise their security spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic products.

The biggest reason for the new vigor in the alliance comes from Moscow’s aggressiveness, as it has for the last four years especially along its western borders — from the Baltic to the Black seas.

In Ukraine, Putin is ratcheting up kinetic and cyber pressure to have Kiev “come back to the mothership.”

The Russians “are throwing everything into it that they can” in terms of cyber warfare to do just that — disinformation on current events and the political situation in the country, anti-Western propaganda, disruption of public utility service and international financial transactions. “We’re learning a lot” from what Moscow is doing in “these really disruptive attacks” as well as what is attempting to do in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In his role as chairman of the Homeland Security panel, McCaul said there was no question Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections, as it has done in voting in Europe. “They’re going to do the same things” in the coming mid-term congressional vote this November. He added, “I think they’re targeting specific members of Congress” this time.

McCaul said, “I don’t understand the reluctance [of President Donald Trump] when he almost sided with Putin” in saying there was no interference by the Russian state in the presidential vote. “I was briefed on this threat in October 2016” and the attribution from American law enforcement and intelligence agencies led back to Russian military intelligence. He added that he told President Barack Obama then and Trump as he was taking office “to call out Russia and condemn it.”

China uses cyber differently than Russia, he said. “They have a plan to dominate economically and militarily by 2025.” He expects Beijing to “probably be our largest economic competitor” by then, and that’s where it is testing America most frequently. Its use of cyber has been for espionage, stealing 20 million national security clearances and similar numbers of private health records “with no consequences” for their thefts.
“They’re very aggressive” but “under the radar” of what may constitute warfare in this domain.

McCaul and others try to add a definition of what constituted “cyber warfare” to the defense authorization bill, but failed. He said the department, Homeland Security, his committee oversees is charged with protecting the United States’ domestically including a broadly defined infrastructure — from banks to power plants. The Pentagon is to defend the government’s security network and defeat and deter potential attackers.

China is expanding its economic influence well beyond Asia, especially in Africa and South America, in seeking dominance quickly. By using “payday loans,” low payments at first then large balloon ones as the term ends, the infrastructure appeals to developing countries, but future consequences can be great if they cannot meet the payments, he said. China then controls what it has built or is operating for them as it has done in Sri Lanka with a port.

McCaul said Beijing views Pyongyang as “a buffer against the United States” near its borders, but “China can help us” in negotiations over its nuclear and missile programs — if it chooses to do so. North Korea “is not a threat to China,” as it is to South Korea, Japan and the United States.

But he stressed the United States must remember that in any talks with Pyongyang that Kim Jong-un has a very different definition of denuclearization from Washington. “To North Korea its means the U.S. going to pull out of the peninsula” and also pull back its nuclear umbrella over Seoul if it were attacked.

The North Koreans “have never negotiated in good faith” and he retains “a healthy skepticism” that they will now. As desperate as North Korea is for hard currency and goods as more sanctions have been imposed on it for the continued weapons testing, they also have a history of undercover arms sales that needs to be monitored.

By having a nuclear arsenal, “that put them on the world stage” in the same was as it did Pakistan in the 1990s. Pakistan, at the time was engaged also in clandestine nuclear technology sales to North Korea and Iran, retains its nuclear weapons and is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. McCaul warned North Korea could follow a similar track in selling that technology.
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[*] posted on 20-7-2018 at 05:32 PM

Russia launches threats against Australia based on embarrassing mistake

By David Wroe

20 July 2018 — 3:57pm

Moscow has launched an extraordinary threat to target Australian journalists based on its false belief the Australian Federal Police are investigating the Kremlin-backed news outfit Russia Today.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow “reserves the right to take retaliatory measures whenever the rights of Russian journalists are being infringed upon” and threatened “tit-for-tat” measures.

She did not detail what kind of retaliation Moscow might undertake. But the threats appear to be based on an embarrassing misunderstanding by the Russian government and by Russia Today, better known as RT.

The AFP confirmed to Fairfax Media on Friday that it is not investigating RT, the news outlet that is widely regarded as a propaganda mouthpiece of President Vladimir Putin’s government.

RT is a 24-hour cable news channel and also a major website. As well as being available online in Australia, it is carried by Foxtel and some satellite providers as well as community television channels.

Ms Zakharova’s statement referred to a report in The Australian from last Saturday that stated the AFP had begun a handful of preliminary investigations under Australia’s new foreign interference laws. It did not state that RT was the target of any of these investigations, but it did refer to a separate mechanism - also recently passed by Parliament - that will force agents of foreign governments including potentially RT to register themselves on a list.

That was followed by a tweet from RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, that the outlet was being investigated and complaining it was for no other reason than “that we are RT”.

Ms Simonyan and the Russian government appeared to have confused Australia’s foreign interference legislation with the new foreign influence transparency register.

The Russian Embassy in Canberra also tweeted on Friday morning that “we keep a close eye on the recent developments surrounding the opening by @AusFedPolice of a preliminary investigation against @RT_com”.

In her statement, Ms Zakharova said that “if the media reports are confirmed, this would be yet another example of so-called solidarity”.

“Unfortunately, this has become all too common with Australia following in the footsteps of the US and Great Britain in trying to push the Russian media out of the international media space,” she said.

“All initiatives to this effect follow the same pattern. We understand all too well where decisions to launch campaigns of this kind come from, and how they are carried out on the ground.”

Tensions between Canberra and Moscow have risen lately because of the Turnbull government’s continuing calls for the Kremlin to take responsibility for the downing of flight MH17 in which 38 Australian citizens and residents were killed, and Canberra’s support for sanctions against the Putin government after the poisoning attack in Britain against former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
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[*] posted on 21-8-2018 at 10:54 AM

Russian military on alert for massive war games said to be the largest since Soviet games in the ’80s

By: The Associated Press   9 hours ago

Russian artillery vehicles roll through Dvortsovaya Square during the Victory Day military parade in Saint Petersburg on May 9, 2018. Now military forces in Russia are on alert in preparation for the massive exercise Vostok (East) 2018. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

MOSCOW — Russia’s military forces in the country’s east were put on high alert Monday ahead of massive war games that also involve China and Mongolia, the largest show of power in nearly 40 years, the Russian defense minister said.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the five days of military drills will pave the way for the Vostok (East) 2018 military exercise. Shoigu said those maneuvers, set for next month, will be the largest since the massive Soviet war games in 1981.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said President Vladimir Putin could attend the exercise.

Speaking to the top Russian military brass, Shoigu said army, air force and navy units will take part in the exercise that will be held across the Far East and Siberia. He added that military units from China and Mongolia will also take part.

As part of a smaller, separate military exercise this week under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security group dominated by Moscow and Beijing, Chinese warplanes landed Monday at a Russian air base in the Chelyabinsk region in the Ural Mountains.

The Russian military has increased both the scope and frequency of its maneuvers amid tensions with the West. It also has expanded military ties with China.

Moscow and Beijing have conducted a series of joint military maneuvers, including exercises in the South China Sea and navy drills in the Baltics last summer.

The two countries have forged what they described as a “strategic partnership,” expressing their shared opposition to the “unipolar” world — the term they use to describe perceived U.S. global domination.
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[*] posted on 28-8-2018 at 11:09 AM

Russia, the victim? Opposite NATO’s eastern flank, it’s an expansionist West causing anxiety

By: Matthew Bodner   12 hours ago

An honor guard soldier stands at the Eternal Flame at the Kremlin wall in Moscow on Dec. 7, 2009. (Ivan Sekretarev/AP)

MOSCOW — The past two years have kept NATO busy. Adding to the challenge presented by Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, U.S. President Donald Trump has spent much energy criticizing the trans-Atlantic military alliance and calling on members to spend more on defense, all the while trivializing the situation with Moscow.

But despite Western hand-wringing sparked by Trump’s rhetoric, Russia is not entirely pleased with the state of affairs of the past two years. Accustomed to being the unpredictable element in bilateral relations with Washington, Moscow has yet to square Trump’s pro-Russian rhetoric with his administration’s adversarial footing.

This shift in dynamics has caused increased anxiety among policymakers and analysts in Moscow. The hope once felt in Russia for a detente under Trump is fading, and prolonged confrontation is assumed. State media channels, themselves in wartime footing since 2014, routinely warn Russian citizens of war with an intransigent, expansionist West.

Adding to those anxieties are NATO’s ongoing efforts to modernize and expand military capabilities in central and eastern Europe.

“We don’t like the picture we are seeing,” said Vladimir Frolov, an independent political analyst in Moscow.

“NATO is getting serious about its combat capabilities and readiness levels. Trump may trash NATO and his European allies,” Frolov added, “but it is the capabilities that matter, and those have been growing under Trump.”

NATO has long been Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite foreign boogeyman and, as far as political footballs go, this one has been easy and fruitful to kick around at home.

Most of Putin’s legitimacy in recent years has been rooted in a well-designed domestic narrative of Fortress Russia under siege from foreign powers — with NATO being the focus of concern.

From the perspective of Russian military planners, tasked with devising a national defense for the world’s largest land power, NATO is more than a useful rhetorical scarecrow at home — though this helps secure funding for modernization and new hardware. NATO is one of Russia’s primary potential opponents, and therefore a focus of Russian military thinking.

And from that perspective, the situation looks concerning: NATO troops and hardware are being forward deployed to former Soviet satellites in eastern Europe; in June, the alliance unveiled a new initiative — dubbed the “Four 30s” — that will see a significant expansion of NATO’s rapid deployment capabilities; and Germany is considering rearming with an eye on Russia.

“Even the shouting match over the 2 percent spending, not to mention Trump’s lunatic call for 4.5 percent, is a significant concern for Moscow,” Frolov said. “Were Germany to start remilitarizing, approaching the capabilities level of the Cold War, we should be worried. And we would hate to see Poland emerge as the new Germany for U.S. forward basing and positioning.”

NATO has its own reasons for pursuing all of these initiatives: Russia. Many of the alliance’s members, particularly the newer ones on Russia’s borders in eastern Europe, were rattled by Moscow’s brazen annexation of Crimea and have spent the past four years calling for greater collective action to deter possible Russian moves on former Soviet states now in NATO.

Russia, in turn and for a variety of reasons — political expediency and military prudence — has seized on NATO’s efforts to bolster its own defense and spun that into rationale for sustained military expenditures amid economic recession.

Actors on all sides — Trump, NATO and the Kremlin — hold irreconcilable positions that sometimes feed into misunderstanding, mistrust and military bolstering.

The Kremlin has made confrontation with the West a cornerstone of its domestic legitimacy. Western politicians and pundits have honed in on Moscow with an intensity that makes their Russian counterparts nervous. And Trump cannot realistically deal with Russia in any way the Kremlin would like to see.

Under such conditions, the buildup is almost certain to continue.
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[*] posted on 28-8-2018 at 11:12 AM

I can understand some of the Russian concerns from their perspective BUT, I also remember who Russia has invaded, not just one country since Soviet days but two!

You want a relaxed NATO posture, chill out, withdraw, and become a reasonable nation for once in your misbegotten history!
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[*] posted on 29-8-2018 at 09:25 AM

New Russian ambassador appointment indicates growing likelihood of policy and trade disputes with Belarus

Alex Kokcharov - IHS Jane's Country Risk Daily Report

28 August 2018


On 24 August 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Mikhail Babich as the new Russian ambassador to Belarus.

He replaced Alexander Surikov, who had served as ambassador since 2006. Babich is a Russian career statesman who started his career in the armed forces and the security services. Since 2011 he served as presidential plenipotentiary in the Volga Federal District, serving as an intermediary between the Kremlin and the regional governments. According to the Russian media, Babich played a key role in decreasing the effective policy and budgetary powers of regional governments in the districts’ ethnic republics, including in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, which had been the centre of political separatism in the early 1990s.

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[*] posted on 5-9-2018 at 08:25 PM

Comment: Russia is rehearsing for a global war, and giving early warning to the West

Stephen Blank 5 hrs 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.

What are we to make of Russia's Vostok (East)-2018 exercise? From September 11-15, Russia's Far East will host Vostok-2018, the largest Russian military exercise since Zapad (West)-1981.

According to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, this latest exercise will engage some 300,000 Russian troops, over 1,000 aircraft, the Pacific and Northern Fleets, the entire Airborne forces, including 30 aircraft and fixed-wing helicopters, and Mongolian and Chinese troops.

These forces will allegedly exercise in something approaching real combat conditions. Observers have naturally focused on the exercise's size and scope, and on China's participation, but there are also other dimensions.

Clearly Russia is rehearsing a large-scale war. But since Russia is not demobilising in the West against NATO and the Ukraine, Vostok-2018 will likely stress and thus test Russia's steadily developing capability for mobilising the entire panoply of reservists and multiple militaries at its disposal, along with the civil administration.

Furthermore, since all exercises invariably parallel or contain sizable nuclear exercises, and Russia's two nuclear fleets are participating, this represents another example of rehearsing conditions for nuclear operations.

A global war likely includes nukes

By virtue of being in Asia, Russia can minimise the need to alert Western observers as to what is happening and circumvent existing treaties. Therefore, there is every reason to believe, along with Russian military correspondent Pavel Felgenhauer, that Moscow is rehearsing a global war scenario along with other smaller ones that may build into that.

Such a scenario likely includes nuclear weapon use, and substantial civilian and military mobilisation targeted against NATO.

The use of airborne forces also suggests that the initial period of the war will feature airborne invasions, something Ukraine must take note of as airborne operations are a long-standing Soviet calling card.

Including Chinese forces means more than signalling a lack of hostile intent or suspicion about Chinese capabilities and objectives, as occurred in Vostok-2010.

In conjunction with the growing identity of their foreign policies and impending deliveries of Russia's SU-35 fighter, China's presence here tends to confirm Russian analyst Vasily Kashin's remarks that this exercise points to an open declaration of a Russo-Chinese military alliance.

Moscow has previously sought such an alliance and it need not be a formal document such as NATO's Washington Treaty to meet Russo-Chinese requirements for an alliance.

Tokyo has nothing to show for its efforts

These issues comprise most of the assessments voiced by Western observers so far about this exercise. But there are two other significant conclusions to be drawn from Vostok-2018.

First, in Asia, Japan's quest for a rapprochement with Russia — based on the presumption that there is daylight between Russia and China, which Japan can enlarge and exploit for its benefit — has once again been dashed.

Despite six years of assiduous Japanese pursuit of Russia, Tokyo still has nothing to show for its efforts. Moreover, this exercise graphically and decisively demonstrates the growing intimacy between Moscow and Beijing.

Vostok-2018 suggests that Tokyo must rethink its government's entire Russian policy that increasingly appears to have been based on wishful thinking and illusions.

And beyond Japan, all of Asia has to take this likely alliance into consideration as a factor in their (and possibly Australia's) defence planning.

Naval deployments a result of typical paranoia

The second significant conclusion to be drawn from Vostok-2018 is actually occurring in the Mediterranean off Syria.

Moscow has trumped up a theory that the West is preparing to launch its own chemical strike in Syria, attribute it to the Assad regime, and then use that pretext to strike at that regime.

Based on this combination of typical paranoia and mendacity Russia has deployed ships from the Northern Fleet, Black Sea Fleet and Mediterranean Eskadra (Squadron) off Syria, including the deployment of nuclear-capable Kalibr missiles, supposedly to deter NATO and prepare for the Russo-Syrian attack on Idlib, the Syrian rebels' last holdout.

Instead, it is more likely that this exercise is part of Vostok-2018 because it is quite impractical to move those fleets to the Far East.

Moscow may be planning another Ukraine operation

Moscow has exercised its capability for a surge deployment to deter NATO, threaten nuclear use, and push it back from the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. This could also be in preparation for another operation against Ukraine.

Given Moscow's blockade of the Sea of Azov and Ukrainian shipping there, Ukraine's counter-moves in the Black Sea, and the continuing training and deployment of weapons and forces by Russia to this area, another invasion of Ukraine with a strong deterrent aimed at NATO cannot be excluded.

This bizarre theory about chemical weapons therefore probably is a smokescreen to conceal another part of Vostok-2018, namely a surge of the nuclear capable fleet into the Mediterranean to deter NATO from resisting an attack on Ukraine and threatening nuclear use.

This would conform to the apprehensions that Vostok-2018 is a rehearsal for a large, even global war. And it would also show Moscow the extent of its capabilities to mobilise simultaneously and rapidly over great distances large combined forces, and even possibly joint forces with China.

In this case, then Vostok-2018 is even larger than believed and even more significant than thought.

For Western defence planners this amounts to an unmistakable example of early warning, and must be assessed in that context.

Dr Stephen Blank is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.
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[*] posted on 15-9-2018 at 12:49 PM

Here’s the Real Message Behind Russia’s Big Far-East Wargame

By Mark Galeotti
The Atlantic

September 13, 2018

AP Photo/Sergei Grits

The week-long exercises, which kicked off yesterday, are intended as a show of might. But the country is in no position to wage a real conflict.

The headline figures for Russia’s Vostok (or “East”) military exercises, which began yesterday, are dramatic: 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 tanks and other vehicles, 80 ships, and 1,000 aircraft operating across more than half the country. That’s double the size of the British armed forces. It’s also twice the size of the last Vostok war games, held back in 2014. As if that weren’t enough, some 3,200 Chinese troops and 30 aircraft are also involved, along with a small Mongolian force.

Vostok will take the form of a week-long clash between two sides, fought on land, in the air, and in the waters off the Russian Far East. The drills will include staging parachute jumps, conducting “anti-terrorist operations,” and shooting down cruise missiles. The exercise will conclude with a review of the forces in the field, a photo opportunity featuring row upon row of tanks, troops, and miscellaneous hardware. In a way, that’s the whole point. Vostok is not just a big military-training drill—it’s a massive psychological-warfare operation and a geopolitical gambit, being undertaken by Russia as it regains much of its martial mojo and its ability to mount and coordinate complex operations.

That said, there’s a difference between showing off your hardware and testing your new tactics, and actually going to war. We shouldn’t assume that Russia actually wants to fight some major conflict. If nothing else, while Vostok’s scale shows that Moscow has regained the capacity for a continental-scale operation, it could hardly afford to fight one for real. It would have a hard time mustering this kind of army during wartime, when railway lines and communication hubs would be primary targets.

This exercise is part of what I have called “heavy-metal diplomacy”: Russia’s use of its military to overawe and misdirect the West. We’ve seen this kind of undiplomatic diplomacy at work in Europe, where Moscow has responded to debates in Sweden and Finland about joining nato with war games simulating Russian invasions. We also see this sort of diplomacy at work in the numbers game Vladimir Putin plays. In last year’s Zapad war games, Moscow lowballed the number of soldiers participating in order to keep it below the ceiling at which Western countries would be able to send inspectors under Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe rules. This time around, the Russians seem happy to play up those numbers. But the much-hyped 300,000 figure involves much false accounting—in practice, the real figure may well be closer to 150,000, which is admittedly still an impressive tally. Judging from past examples like Zapad, many of these soldiers are unlikely to leave their barracks. They’ll be “involved” in exercises at the command post, not ones out in the field.

More to the point, as the defense analyst Michael Kofman has noted: If even, say, only one regiment of a brigade is actually involved in Vostok, then Russia will include the entire brigade in its tally. This helps explain how the Russian army was able to reassure a population angry over proposed pension-age hikesthat no extra money would be spent on the war games.

Moving what amounts to a third of the entire Russian armed forces around Siberia and the Russian Far East isn’t cheap.

The bottom line is that Russia lacks the cash and the transport capability to move this many troops without causing disruption.

But Russia is happy to see the world swallow that 300,000 figure, because, like an animal puffing out its fur and baring its teeth when faced with a predator, it wants to look as formidable as possible. As an authoritarian nation, it spends more than it should on its military—more than a third of the total federal budget goes toward security, broadly defined. Putin has certainly managed to turn the demoralized and depleted armed forces he inherited into a capable, competent army.

Yet Putin is aware that the objective indicators do not help him make his case that Russia, with an economy smaller than that of Texas, should be treated as one of the great world powers. Instead, he relies on bluff and bluster, theater and shadow play.

He wants to project an image of a dangerous yet confident country, one that should be placated, not challenged. Hence, the pictures we’ll soon see of tanks rumbling across the steppe as rockets, drones, and gunships roar overhead are part and parcel of a campaign to make Russia (look) great again. That campaign also includes Putin’s claims that Russia will soon deploy nuclear-powered cruise missiles. (Prototypes have been tested four times in the past year and have crashed every time.) It’s good to be strong, but it’s more important to be seen as strong.

Vostok is also a geopolitical gambit. Not so long ago, the point of the exercise was to send a message to Beijing that Moscow would defend its borders. The inclusion of a relatively small Chinese contingent in this year’s edition isn’t quite the signal of a military alliance that some see, but it has certainly made the West take notice. It’s hard to escape the symbolism when as Russian and Chinese troops were training together, Putin and Xi Jinping were holding a summit and pledging closer business and political cooperation. At a time when Washington and Europe have tried to isolate Moscow diplomatically, this is clearly intended as a message that Putin is still capable of making connections with countries not willing to follow the West that aren’t named Syria, Nicaragua, or Venezuela.

But as Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Moscow Center has noted, Moscow is also sending a deeper message to Washington: We don’t want to lock ourselves into an alliance with a rising, richer, and more militarily powerful China. That way lies vassalage. If you push us too far, though, we’ll have no alternative.

So while a concerned nato watches Vostok to glean insights into Russia’s military capabilities, it’s at least as important to keep an eye on all the subtext.
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[*] posted on 7-10-2018 at 07:32 PM

U.S. Defense Chief Calls Alleged Russian Violation of Missile Treaty 'Untenable'

(Source: Radio Free Europe; issued Oct 04, 2018)

The U.S. defense secretary has again accused Russia of violating a key Cold War arms control treaty, calling the unresolved and increasingly tense dispute with Moscow "untenable."

Jim Mattis's remarks on October 4 after a meeting of NATO military leaders were the latest in a series of increasingly blunt statements by U.S. officials regarding the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

Russia has repeatedly denied U.S. assertions, first made publicly in 2014, that a ground-launched cruise missile Moscow has developed, and reportedly deployed, is in violation of the agreement, known as the INF treaty.

After years of public criticism of Moscow, U.S. officials last year started becoming more aggressive in their approach. And Russia acknowledged the existence of a missile identified by Washington, but denied that it had violated the treaty.

Earlier this week, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said U.S. forces might have to "take out" the Russian missiles if the dispute continues. She later clarified that she wasn't referring to an actual U.S. military attack.

"Russia must return to compliance with the INF treaty or the U.S. will need to respond to its cavalier disregard for the treaty's specific limits," Mattis said in Brussels.

"The current situation with Russia in blatant violation of this treaty is untenable," he said.

Congress has backed funding for a new missile program to counter the Russian weapon, and Mattis said earlier this year that defense planners were working on new low-yield nuclear weapons to force Russia back into compliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed Mattis's comments, saying Russia was imperiling the treaty, which is widely considered a "cornerstone" of European security

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[*] posted on 13-10-2018 at 08:37 PM

How to Fight Russian Infowar in Central Europe

Colleagues of jailed journalist Roman Sushchenko wear masks depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin during a protest in front of the Russian Embassy demanding his release in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.


OCTOBER 12, 2018


Traditional counter-propaganda techniques are decreasingly effective. The next steps will require focus, engagement, and new thinking.

After years of low awareness and fragmented approaches, the West is finally coming to grips with Russia’s hybrid warfare in Eastern Europe. The next steps will require focus, engagement, and new thinking.

Since 2014’s surprise military intervention in Crimea — which then-NATO Supreme Allied Commander Philip Breedlove dubbed ”the most amazing blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare” — a wealth of Western studies have documented the strategies used to undermine the democratic foundations and values of the EU and their promotion in Western Balkans and the countries of the Eastern Partnership.

Tactical, strategic, and long-term priorities have been put forward to educate the populace. Policy- and decision-makers can refer to the Center for European Policy Analysis’s 2016 report on winning the information war and the European Parliament’s 2016 analysis on strategic communication to counter propaganda. There are even bodies to coordinate the West’s response: the EU’s East StratCom task force and NATO’s StratCom Center of Excellence.

However, too little effort has been put into identifying precisely which citizens in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine) are most likely to believe the Russian narrative about the West.

(That malign narrative in a nutshell: the West is aggressive and expansionist; the EU will collapse under economic stagnation and refugee waves; Europe is a morally decadent civilization turning its back on Christian values; the candidate countries have no chance of real integration unless they accept gay marriage, compromise their values, and sell their resources for peanuts; etc.)

Online users tend to aggregate in communities of interest, which causes reinforcement and fosters confirmation bias, segregation, and polarization. Simply combatting disinformation through engaging in fact-checking will not be enough, as social identities could lead to biased narratives fomented by unsubstantiated rumours and mistrust. Different tests have shown that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among targeted groups; some even backfire and increase misperceptions. The power of conspiracy theories is not limited to the politically naïve; they can affect even the highly engaged or ideological segments of the population: what counts are personal predispositions and the simple and clear structure of conspiracy theories.

All of this means, as a recent Rand Corporation analysis acknowledged, that traditional counter-propaganda techniques are decreasingly effective. So what will work? Building trust between elected officials and citizens, promoting a more responsive approach to government, tailoring messages towards communities at risk and embracing personalized communication. But all of these will require conceptual innovations and long-term focus.

How should the West react?

Russia has continued to hone its use of propaganda tools, as seen during the Brexit campaign and the 2016 U.S. elections. But there are reasons for cautious optimism in the western Balkans and in Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia, where four broad strategies could undermine the Russian narrative and reduce the destructive potential of the Kremlin’s engagement strategies.

Deliver an unambiguous, empowering, and positive message. Western credibility is undermined by the current ambiguity about the limits and ambitions of EU and NATO. But Brussels is starting to tell the Western Balkans that there is a future for the worthy, and the Eastern Partnership counties also deserve a strategic promise and a credible commitment. The West should never underestimate the power of a positive message, appropriate investment schemes, and a clear timetable, even if the challenges to the Western integration of these countries are massive.

Speak to the people with confidence and modesty. Avoid a superior tone that clashes with national dignity. And history matters; any lack of awareness of main national narratives will serve Russia’s effort to portray an out-of-touch, imperialistic, and unsympathetic West. Therefore, more caution should be exhibited by officials in their statements, more consideration for local sensitivities should drive the political engagement strategy. The goal: alienating as few key political, economic, and social players as possible, while building Western consensus. Speak softly and help concretely with carrots, while carrying the big conditionality stick.

Offer tangible benefits and build societal leverage. In their discussion on what brought about democracy (or competitive authoritarianism) in Eastern Europe, Levitsky and Way distinguish between the power of leverage (the degree to which the governments are vulnerable to external pressure) and linkage (the density of ties and cross-border flows with the West). When competing geopolitical projects exists, the leverage will be reduced and what will matter will be the propaganda immunity built through linkage, through offering concrete ideational and material benefits.

First, the West should go beyond engaging with the local elites and design programs that directly target specific segments of the population, like local entrepreneurs for example—successful programs that led to European integration should be exported and localised in these communities. Invest in local civil society and media in smart way, in a manner that is likely to produce sustainable transformations. The West needs a local base as well, not just elite support who may vary depending on interests and election years.

Second, Western entry mechanisms in these countries should be refined to address better the local conditions. For example, projects and programs conducted through international or regional financial institutions should properly tackle not only underdevelopment, corruption, and the likes, but also the increasing levels of inequality and youth frustration. Inequality is associated with increasing polarization and with resentment, which could easily be speculated to damage societal solidarity and the West’s soft power.

Expose the truth about life in Russia. Russian propaganda focuses on the hypocrisy and failures of the West, but it does not present an alternative. In fact, this alternative does not exist: the Russian model is not a successful, exportable one. (Let us not forget the USSR “turned off the light” due to economic, not ideological, bankruptcy.) These days, Russia survives through megalomaniac events (with lavish spending beyond the necessities of good organization, such as the case of the Winter Olympics, World Cup or the May 9 parade), but this is like putting too much make-up on a wrinkled face: instead of hiding, it reveals even more. A comparative approach is highly detrimental to Russia. The citizens of the “targeted” countries by the West’s “charm and truth awareness offensive” should be exposed more to and made aware of these realities (by using documentaries, media reports, investigative journalism).

These are not short-term fixes; they require focus and engagement. Yet the western Balkans and Eastern Partnership could become a model for dealing with state-driven propaganda.

Radu Magdin is a strategic communications analyst and consultant. He has advised the prime ministers of Romania and Moldova.
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[*] posted on 17-10-2018 at 07:35 PM

Rosgvardiya tests new Kalashnikov firearms

Dmitry Fediushko, Moscow - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

16 October 2018

Kalashnikov says its Izhmash Mechanical Plant will launch serial production of the PL-15 pistol. Source: Kalashnikov

The Rosgvardiya, Russia's national guard, is testing new small arms designed by Rostec's Kalashnikov Group, a military source has told Jane's .

"The Rosgvardiya has started the operational evaluation and testing of the newest Kalashnikov AK-200 series of assault rifles, which is replacing the venerable AK-100 family. The service is also testing the Lebedev PL-15 9 mm (Para) pistol developed by the Kalashnikov Group," the source said.

A Kalashnikov representative told Jane's , "In 2019, Izhmash [Mechanical Plant, a Kalashnikov subsidiary] will launch serial production of the [PL-15] pistol".

The Rosgvardiya has already received an initial batch of AK-200-family 5.45 mm firearms. "The service has procured 476 AK-200 (6P34-1) 5.45 mm assault rifles and 60 AK-205 (6P47-1) 5.45 mm carbines," the military source said, adding that the Rosgvardiya was also considering the acquisition of AK-200-family firearms chambered for 7.62×39, i.e., the AK-203 assault rifle and AK-204 carbine.

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