Thursday, September 20, 2018

Kremlin's geopolitics in context

1)      5-20-16    Sweden already has strong circumstantial evidence and other information suggesting that these incidents are part of Russia’s increasingly brazen hybrid warfare forays against Sweden.  Respected experts in the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) and the Swedish security service Säpo believe, according to a variety of sources, that Russia is behind several or all of the incidents.
  At the moment the public does not know the real strength of Swedish forensic evidence.  Fear of an escalation could also result in the outside world never finding out.  The same concerns could cause officials to go on the offensive or seek to quash information because of this report by  The current stance in NATO as well as in Sweden and Finland, which are not members of the Western military alliance, is for officialdom and national governments to curb escalation by hiding as many serious incidents as possible.  The idea is that transparency could lead to a public outcry for countermeasures against Russia, which according to the prevailing doctrine could spin the situation out of control.
  In what could be in accordance with such a strategy Swedish authorities issued a statement Friday stating the events the last few days are unrelated.  However experts tell, the statement is probably closely linked to what the country feels it currently is able to legally prove.  What intelligence it has and what the intel analysis might show, is a different matter altogether.  Intel source protection might also be a significant factor in what the country can and/or is able to share with the public.
  However the strategy of deflection is probably unwise, some analysts say, in the face of a Russia that is known for constantly flexing its military muscle and testing the limits of what it can get away with.  There is also disagreement on the national government level in several countries, including Norway, about this the silent approach.
  Russia has developed sophisticated methods for hybrid warfare, also called non-linear or ambiguous warfare, under the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine (named for chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov).  Through various means, without Russia openly being behind them, the country seeks to seize the advantage without the burden of conventional military action.  Cyber attacks, extortion, kidnapping, information operations, coercive diplomacy, attempting to create conflicts that may give the military room to manoeuvre, harassment and manipulation of social media are just some of the tools....
  As Sweden was reporting on-going cyber attacks to NATO, the alliance also detected jamming of various communication channels for air traffic in the Baltic Sea region.  The signals were traced to a new communications mast that Russia set up in its military enclave of Kaliningrad, south of Lithuania.
  Just a few days after those incidents in Sweden and the Baltic Sea, hackers launched attacks on power companies in Ukraine.  The first of at least three attacks occurred on 15 November, and was a major one, on a scale with a later 15 December attack.  A third attack took place on 23 December that was smaller than the previous two, but drew the attention of the Western news media.  The hackers switched off electrical power for several hundred thousand households during the depths of cold winter in Ukraine.
  According to NATO sources, Russian special forces also attacked key points in Ukrainian power grid in tandem with and in support of those cyber attacks.
  That method of operation has clear similarities to recent incidents in Sweden, sources tell  Analysing events in Sweden easily shows how they could fit into a military plan of operation.  In any military conflict an advantage could be gained by controlling or crippling:  1) Power, 2) Transport (rail/aviation/shipping/roads), 3) Command and Control (telecoms, military and civilian communication, emergency information systems and hostile weapons systems), 4) News and public information platforms, 5) Water and Food supplies.  An edge could also be gained in causing chaos and confusion, leaving the defenders unable to consider options before it was too late.
  Russia appears to have already tested vulnerability and ability to reduce functionality for the first four categories in Sweden.  In recent years Russia has developed superior electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, which is a major concern for NATO.  Russia appears to have the upper hand over the United States, NATO’s most important member, when it comes to electronic warfare.  Experts say many US weapons systems are extremely vulnerable to Russia EW systems.
  Russia has adopted a highly aggressive line in the Baltic Sea, as has reported in several articles, including those about a secret NATO special forces exercise in Estonia in April 2015.  Russia responded with an iron fist of intelligence prowess.  Among other things reported that the Estonian Internal Security Services KAPO informed NATO that Russian special forces were believed to have operated within the Estonian territory at the time.
  Those revelations drew a lot of attention in Estonia and led to intense efforts to dismiss the claims as absurd by Estonia’s prime minister and various levels of the Estonian government.  But none of them managed to pinpoint any factual errors in’s reporting on the issue.
2)       12-19-17    The relationship between Sweden and Finland with NATO has also contributed to the changing security environment in the region.  In addition Moscow’s recent behavior in the Baltic and elsewhere in Europe provides tangible evidence that Russia is becoming more of a threat to Sweden and Finland and the independence of their foreign policies.
  Both Sweden and Finland have officially acknowledged the worsening security situation in the Baltic Sea region.  Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven admitted that “the situation in the Baltic region has deteriorated.”  In its most recent defense report The Prime Minister’s Office warns that Finland’s political leaders and armed forces must increase their readiness to defend against crises and military contingencies....
  Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is the most visible cause of the rising tensions in the Baltic Sea region.  After his military attack against Georgia in 2008, Vladimir Putin’s second invasion of a neighbor in six years, made all of the countries on Russia’s border more concerned about their security and sovereignty.  For example, in March 2014 only 25% of Finns polled said that Russia was a security threat to their country.  After Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, that figure had risen to 43%.  Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist directly blames Russia for the changes in regional security....
      But Russia’s aggressive behavior is not limited to just Georgia and Ukraine.  Russia’s has also targeted Sweden and Finland with different levels of hostile behavior that are also contributing to the security problem in the Baltic region.  This hostile behavior includes public threats from Russian leaders, conventional coercion from the Russian military, cyber attacks from agents working with Russian intelligence agencies, and hybrid interventions organized by the Russian government.
  One of the most ominous signs of rising tensions in the Baltic Sea region have been the public threats made by Russian leaders against Sweden and Finland over their potential membership in NATO.  In 2012, the Chief of Russia’s General Staff General Nikolai Makarov not only questioned Helsinki’s right to hold military exercises on Finnish territory, he also argued that “cooperation between Finland and NATO threatens Russia’s security.”  In 2015, Russia’s ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, warned that if Sweden joined NATO, “there will be counter-measures… Russia will have to resort to a response of the military kind.”  A few months ago, Putin himself renewed this threatening behavior by sharply condemning the possibility of Sweden joining NATO.  “We will interpret that as an additional threat for Russia and we will think about how to eliminate this threat.”  Putin also threatened Finland that if it joined NATO, Russia would have to move its military closer to its border.  It is no wonder that a report commissioned by Finland’s foreign ministry warned that, “Russia will attempt to thwart any move by Finland or Sweden to join NATO.”
  Russia has also used its military directly to try to intimidate Sweden and Finland.  The most famous example was the Easter incident of 2013.  NATO publicly disclosed that in March of that year, Russian bombers simulated nuclear attacks on Sweden.  In addition Russian military aircraft have violated Finnish airspace on multiple occasions.  Russian warplanes have also violated the airspace of Sweden.  There have also been maritime violations of the sovereignty of Sweden and Finland.  A few months after Russia began it military aggression against Ukraine, the Swedish military spent three days searching for “foreign underwater activity” near Stockholm.  This was widely interpreted as a response to a Russian submarine in Sweden’s territorial waters.  A few months later Finland dropped depth charges to chase away a similar unidentified object that had violated its maritime border.
  Russia has also been active performing hostile actions against Sweden and Finland in the cyber domain.  In just nine months in 2016 Sweden received 60 serious cyber attacks.  Perhaps the most notorious example was the 2015 cyber attack on Sweden’s air traffic control system that grounded flights at several airports across the country.  According to sources in the Swedish government and NATO, the evidence pointed to Russia as the source of the problem....
   According to a study by the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Russia has made Sweden the target of “a wide array of active measures.”  A key element of this hybrid warfare has been a coordinated misinformation campaign against Sweden.  After signing a cooperation agreement, the defense ministers of Sweden and Denmark addressed this growing problem.  They stated that when nations “cannot clearly distinguish false news and disinformation from what is true, we become increasingly unsafe.”  Last year the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) released a report that detailed the hostile Russian activities being conducted against Sweden.  The threat is so significant that Prime Minister Stefan Löfven admitted he could not rule out Russia trying to influence the next Swedish national election in 2018.
  Finland has also been a target of Russia’s hybrid campaign.  According to the New York Times, Finland “has emerged as a particularly active front” in Russia’s information wars.  Helsinki has verified approximately twenty cases of misinformation operations against Finland in the past few years.
  The non-alignment policies of the current governments in Finland and Sweden are another source of uncertainty in the Baltic Sea region.  This uncertainty from Helsinki and Stockholm contributes to the growing uncertainty across the Baltic Sea region over the behavior of Russia, the US and NATO in future crises.  The combination of uncertainty from the great powers and the non-aligned states is decreasing stability and security in the area.
  Since the end of the Cold War Sweden and Finland have experienced a historic change in their security policies.  They have made political and defense commitments to other countries thus they are no longer neutral and consider themselves to be non-aligned, while at the same time they are unlikely to be uninvolved in regional crises.  In 2009 Sweden announced a new unilateral Declaration of Solidarity.  “Sweden would not stand passive if a neighbor is threatened or attacked.”
  Finland has not taken such a unilateral step.  But both Sweden and Finland are members of the EU and through the Lisbon Treaty have committed themselves to assist other EU members through the Article 222 which calls for common action against terrorist attacks and man-made disasters.  After the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, France invoked the overlooked article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty which states that EU members have “an obligation of aid and assistance” to other members that are victims of “armed aggression.”
  In addition Sweden and Finland (along with Norway, Denmark and Iceland) also committed themselves to the Nordic solidarity clause of 2011 which called for joint action in the case of attacks or man-made disasters.  “Should a Nordic country be affected, the others will, upon request from that country, assist with relevant means.”  Furthermore Sweden and Finland have also increased their defense cooperation with NATO and bilaterally with NATO members since 2014.  It is safe to say that there exists at least a certain level of ambiguity about the role of Sweden and Finland in any future crises in the Baltic Sea region.  Their current governments may prefer this uncertainty, but it does come at a cost for their national security and regional stability.
  If national defense is a bedrock of both Swedish and Finnish defense policy, the “NATO option” is another key element.  Both countries view NATO’s presence in the Baltic Sea region as a positive and stabilizing influence.  Sweden and Finland also view NATO membership as option that can be selected at the time and manner of their choosing.  But Russia’s heavy-handed actions to impede Montenegro from joining the Alliance, show that Putin is willing to make the “NATO option” much more difficult for prospective members such as Sweden and Finland.
  Montenegro has indicted fourteen individuals for planning a coup against the parliament and the assassination of its prime minister in 2015.  The objective was to install a pro-Russia government that would stop Montenegro’s almost completed path to joining NATO.  Montenegro officials identified Eduard Sismakov and Vladimir Popov as members of the GRU (Russia’s military intelligence agency) and the two leaders that oversaw the planning of the coup.  There is ample evidence tying the assassination/coup attempt to Russia, including encrypted Russian phones and a money trail leading back to GRU headquarters in Moscow.
 3)       Kjell Grandhagen has a long military career which includes the leadership of Norwegian military intelligence in the period 2010-2016.  He was one of several keynote speakers in the Army Summit 2018, an annual event organized by the Norwegian Ministry of Defense.
  Grandhagen’s speech comes as new satellite images reveal a massive Russian rearmament in the Kola Peninsula, only few kilometers from Norway.  As reported by the Barents Observer, Russia is building about 50 brand new reinforced large weapons bunkers at Okolnaya Bay north of Northern Fleet main base Severomorsk as well as in submarine base Gadzhiyevo.  The military buildup is significantly strengthening Russia’s military power and its bastion defense capability in the Barents- and Norwegian Sea. 
  Lieutenant General Kjell Grandhagen argues that Russia over the past decade not only has boosted its naval and missile capacities in the north but also significantly strengthened its ground force capabilities.  Several recent exercises, including the enormous ongoing Vostok-2018, shows a major capability to quickly move forces across the big country....«However difficult it might be to defend Finnmark, there is an obligation for any nation state to defend its territorial integrity and population.  This is obviously a moral and ethical question but just as much a consequence of international law,» he underlined and made clear that «Finnmark does not border to the impossible.  Yes, Finnmark is difficult to operate, but let me tell you one thing:  If Finnmark is hard to defend, it is even more hard to attack and conquer.»
10-5-17    Russia remains the leading partner of Central Asian countries in the sphere of security and defense amid persistent instability in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an article published on October 4 in Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.  The article titled “Russia and Central Asia:  a Partnership Tested by Time” is devoted to the 25th anniversary since the Russian Federation and the countries of Central Asia established diplomatic relations.
In October 2016, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) adopted the Collective Security Strategy – a program for the organization's development until 2025.  The document includes an expanded list of challenges to be addressed.  The terrorist threat is the issue of primary concern.
  In August, the US announced its new strategy on Afghanistan, increasing the military presence and giving more freedom to field commanders.  It was outlined with few details but even what has been made known so far shows the policy is nothing new.  The Islamic State is losing ground in Iraq and Syria to make it look for other regions to go.  Central Asia is a possible destination to create a threat for Russia and its friends and allies.
  Combat Brotherhood-2017 military exercise began on October 3 in Russia’s Rostov region involving more than 12,000 personnel, over 1,500 pieces of hardware as well as 90 aircraft from all six CSTO member states: Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.  The training event has three stages to encompass the territories of four member countries, including the mountainous terrain and desert lands in the southern part of Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The final stage of the Combat Brotherhood 2017 exercise will include missions of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Force contingents in Tajikistan from November 10 to 20. This is the first time when all the episodes are to be performed within a single concept.  The training includes a joint operation to isolate an armed conflict in a non-member state located in the Caucasus.
  Tajikistan borders Afghanistan.  This country is immediately threatened by the instability as the situation in the neighboring state continues to deteriorate.  With an estimated 10,000 jihadist militants currently amassed along 
Afghanistan’s 1,300 km border with Tajikistan, Russia’s military presence is a major guarantor of the country’s security.  In May Russia reinforced its forces there with a battery of Uragan multiple rocket launcher systems, which have an effective firing range of up to 35 kilometers.  The military facility in Tajikistan houses the second largest ground force of the Russian military outside the country after Syria.
A total of some 7,000 Russian troops are now stationed at two military facilities collectively known as the 201st military base spread over three locations - Dushanbe, Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube.  In October 2012 Russia and Tajikistan signed an agreement extending the deployment term of the base until 2042. Russia’s military presence is expected to increase up to 9,000 by 2020.
  Kyrgyzstan is negotiating the deployment of another Russian military base on the border with Tajikistan.  It was announced by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sapar Isakov in an interview with Russia’s RIA Novosti on October 2.  "The presence of a military unified base is an important argument that holds back the situation on the border of Afghanistan with Tajikistan," the prime minister said. During his visit to Russia on June 19-24 this year, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev said he wanted Russia to establish a second military base in his country.
  Russia established its military presence Kyrgyzstan in the early 2000s, following an urgent request from the country’s authorities, which faced an international terrorism threat from militants infiltrating the country from Afghanistan.  Kant airbase, located some 40 kilometers from the capital, Bishkek, houses Su-25 ground attack planes and Mi-8 military transport helicopters.  The base is a part of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force, the joint task force of the CSTO.
Recently Uzbekistan, a non-CSTO country, has shown willingness to increase defense ties with Moscow.  The joint five-day Russian-Uzbekistani military exercise, which began on October 3, at the Forish mountain training range, in Uzbekistan’s Dzhizak region.  This is the first joint military exercise between the two countries in 12 years.  According to the exercise scenario Uzbekistani and Russian soldiers will collaborate in dismantling armed militias operating in mountainous terrain.  Uzbekistan’s decision to hold joint military drills with Russia is a highly significant development, as it opens the door for Uzbekistan to eventually rejoin the Russia-led CSTO.
  The organization has become a key instrument to counter regional challenges as well as political and military threats with its scope revitalized.  The situation in Afghanistan is close to critical.  It requires urgent steps to be taken to enhance the capability to respond.  The time is not wasted as Russia and its Central Asian friends and allies prepare to fend the threat off.
4)       8-20-18  Earlier this week Russia offered to bail out China from the trade war with Washington.  Moscow offered 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of arable land available to Chinese farmers to meet its large-scale demand for soybeans — and of course prevent a massive soybean shortage that would lead to political/social upheavals across the country.
  Nevertheless some analyst and experts are skeptical about the quality of the plots available. As reported by South China Morning Post, several Chinese investment firms have shown a keen interest in solidifying an agreement with Moscow.
Valery Dubrovskiy, director of investment for the Far East Investment and Export Agency, a non-profit organization, said on Tuesday that Chinese, Russian and other surrounding countries have already expressed tremendous interest in the farmland.  “We expect most of the investment to come from China,” he said. “We expect 50 percent from China, 25 percent from Russia and 25 percent from other countries, like Japan and Korea.”
  Dubrovskiy said that all of the 3 million hectares of farmland in Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District is now available to farmers, adding that the region could become a hotspot for dairy farming or the growing of crops such as soybeans, wheat and potatoes.
  Given historical Chinese claims to the area and Russia’s declining population, Moscow might be inviting in a houseguest they can’t make leave.
  A floating population of tens of thousands Chinese traders and seasonal workers continually moves back and forth across the border, one of the longest in the world. The immigrants settle not only in border areas but increasingly deeper into Russian territory and some backlash is imminent. These developments raise several questions for Russia as to the migration’s impact, China’s long-term plans for Siberia and potential Chinese dominance in the region. And yet diplomatic relations between China and Russia have never been better. China and Russia enjoy mutual cooperation in the spheres of defense, technology, energy and bilateral trade. Why would China take any steps which would destroy such mutually rewarding relations?
5)      7-20-18   The US Defense Department approved a $200 million military aid package to Ukrainian forces on Friday, bringing the total amount of American weapons and equipment sent to support Kiev’s fight against Russian-backed separatists in the country to $1 billion.
  The military support package will include new “capabilities to enhance Ukraine’s command and control, situational awareness systems, secure communications, military mobility, night vision, and military medical treatment,” according to a Pentagon statement.
6)        9-19-18    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Russia on Monday of “cheating” on U.N. sanctions on North Korea and said Washington has “evidence of consistent and wide-ranging Russian violations.”…
  Haley told the U.N. Security Council that Russia was helping North Korea illegally obtain fuel through transfers at sea, had refused to expel a North Korean who the council blacklisted last year and had pushed for changes to an independent U.N. report on sanctions violations to cover up breaches by Russians.
7)    9-14-18      Russia is holding its largest military exercises since the Cold War in the far eastern part of the country and for the first time it has invited contingents from China and Mongolia.
  About 36,000 tanks and 300,000 Russian troops, a third of the country’s military personnel, are on maneuvers in the vast expanses of eastern Siberia.  China has sent more than 3,000 troops.
  The skies are patrolled by 1,000, aircraft, including strategic long-range bombers.  In the Arctic and Pacific oceans, 80 Russian warships are conducting mock battles and landing drills.
8)         9-19-18     Polish President Andrzej Duda has called the Russian-German natural gas pipeline project, Nord Stream 2, "a huge threat" to energy security in Europe…

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