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Category archive for: Russia

Litvinenko inquiry: 25 years on from the Cold War, espionage endures

Written by Rory Cormac.

Claims made by former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko as he lay dying of radioactive poisoning in a London hospital bed have been backed by public inquiry. Litvinenko accused Russian agents of putting him there and went to his grave pointing the finger at the Kremlin.

Litvinenko had become a critic of president Vladimir Putin and had fled to Britain, where he worked for MI6.

The inquiry into his death, conducted by British judge Robert Owen, found that the murder was executed under the “probable” direction of the FSB – Russia’s intelligence and security service. Going further than many had expected, he also said the killing was “probably approved” by president Vladimir Putin himself. Continue reading Litvinenko inquiry: 25 years on from the Cold War, espionage endures

What is going on in Ukraine now?

Written by Lance Spencer Davies.

On the face of it, the conflict in Ukraine seems to have stabilised somewhat. Sporadic shelling aside, the last few months of 2015 saw the “hot” phase of the conflict in eastern Ukraine wind down to a relative calm.

Both parties’ forces have been slowly withdrawing in accordance with the latest ceasefire agreement, and while there were some isolated clashes between the opposing parties over the Christmas period, they haven’t derailed the current plans. Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains optimsitic about achieving progress in the negotiations. Continue reading What is going on in Ukraine now?

Could downing of Russian jet over Turkey lead to a wider war?

Written by David J Galbreath.

The dangerous skies over Syria have now earned their reputation. On November 24 2015, the Turkish foreign ministry confirmed that its forces had shot down a fighter aircraft on the Turkish border with Syria. The Russian foreign ministry confirmed soon afterwards that it has lost an SU-24 over Syria.

The situation remains tense: two pilots were filmed ejecting from the stricken aircraft; one is reported to be in the hands of pro-Turkish Turkmen rebels along the border but the fate of the other is unknown – early reports from Reuters said it had video of the second pilot seemingly dead on the ground. Continue reading Could downing of Russian jet over Turkey lead to a wider war?

US fears a Russian attack on undersea internet cables that could plunge world into chaos

Written by David Stupples.

It may sound far-fetched at first, but there’s a growing fear of the damage a newly aggressive Russia might inflict in a time of tension or conflict simply by damaging or cutting the undersea cables that carry almost all of the West’s internet traffic.

The New York Times reported that Russian submarines and spy ships were aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables. Could they be preparing for a new form of warfare?

The perfect global cyber attack could involve severing the fibre-optic cables at some of their hardest-to-access locations in order to halt the instant communications on which the West’s governments, military, economies and citizens have grown dependent. Effectively this would cripple world commerce and communications, destabilise government business and introduce uncertainty into military operations. A significant volume of military data is routed via this internet backbone. Continue reading US fears a Russian attack on undersea internet cables that could plunge world into chaos

Putin meets Assad in Moscow – and runs rings around his Western critics

Written by Christopher Read.

With the sudden news of a surprise meeting with Bashar al-Assad in Moscow, Vladimir Putin has once again left his critics in the West with egg on their faces. Even before the visit, Russia’s entry into the Syrian conflict had surprised the US-led coalition with both its speed and its efficiency.

Against all expectations and with minimal intelligence leakage, Russia crisply executed refurbishment of the Latakia airbase and set about moving into the Syrian morass in a businesslike and determined fashion. For the first time since 1945, American and Russian forces are, at least on the surface, fighting alongside one another – and being forced to work out how to do that.

The symbolism is inescapable. These events fit a pattern stretching back more than two centuries, where distrust of Russia by Britain (and its successor on the global stage, the US) is punctuated by major wars in which they actually find themselves, uneasily, on the same side. Only in the Crimean War of 1854-6 were they directly opposed. They stood together in the major conflicts to defeat Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler. Continue reading Putin meets Assad in Moscow – and runs rings around his Western critics

Putin’s Syria plans have forced Obama to face a terrible dilemma

Written by Simon J Smith.

Russia’s nascent Syria campaign has certainly gotten off to a rocky start: international scepticism of its aims, provocative forays into Turkish airspace, missiles apparently crashing in Iran.

But with the Pentagon abandoning a key programme to train the Syrian rebels it accuses Moscow of attacking, it’s clear that the game is changing fast on both sides. In a few short days, Moscow has already forced the US’s hand – and it could yet profoundly change the two countries’ relationship.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Obama administration initially tried to “reset” relations with Russia, and for a brief period, NATO resumed dialogue with Russia through the NATO-Russia Council. Russia even contributed to a 2011 NATO exercise, Bold Monarch. Continue reading Putin’s Syria plans have forced Obama to face a terrible dilemma

Russian cooperation with Iran and Iraq has broader consequences than saving Assad

Written by Nader Habibi and Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee.

The sudden launch of Russia’s military operations in Syria late last month caught the United States and regional players by surprise.

It began with an announcement that defined the primary objective of the mission as a confrontation with the Islamic State (ISIS) in cooperation with the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.

The strategy involves three components. First, Russia is expanding its military facilities in Syria. Second, Russia remains committed to the survival of Assad’s regime and its fight against ISIS in Syria. Third, Russia announced an intelligence sharing and flight corridor agreement with Iran and Iraq. Continue reading Russian cooperation with Iran and Iraq has broader consequences than saving Assad

Putin as Patron in Syria

Written by Kimberly Marten.

Russian President Vladimir Putin loves surprises, so perhaps we should take his unexpected military foray into Syria as par for the course. But there is little chance that Putin’s Syria adventure will actually serve Russian national interests.

The Russian economy is in poor shape, given the collapse of global oil prices and the added aggravation of continuing Western sanctions. Putin’s military refurbishment plans had already been scaled back as a result, and ordinary Russians have started to suffer from reduced employment and rising prices. The state budget will now be stretched further by the Syrian intervention. And although Russia is Syria’s main source for weapons, Syrian purchases are a small fraction of Russia’s global arms market, according to data collected by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, so Putin is probably not just trying to protect those sales. Continue reading Putin as Patron in Syria

Just how dangerous are the skies over Syria?

Written by David J Galbreath.

Washington greeted reports of the Russian air force’s first wave of airstrikes on September 30 with fierce rhetoric. Moscow, said defence secretary Ash Carter, was “pouring gasoline on the fire” in Syria.

The strikes reportedly hit rebels fighting pro-government forces in various towns including Hama, Homs and Jisr al-Shughour in the west of the country, a long way from areas further east where Islamic State holds sway. Kremlin spokesmen claimed that their airstrikes attacked 12 IS targets – but this has been disputed by people on the ground in Syria who posted video of the explosions on social media.

Russia’s decision to join the bombing party in Syria follows a summer of fruitless and inconsequential diplomacy and raises important questions about who is bombing who and what these campaigns aim to achieve. Continue reading Just how dangerous are the skies over Syria?

Why Putin ended up gambling on airstrikes in Syria – and what might come next

Written by Scott Lucas.

For those watching closely, the signal for Russia’s first airstrikes came in a statement early on September 30 by Kremlin spokesman Sergei Ivanov, just after the upper house of the parliament authorised military operations:

To observe international law, one of two conditions has to be met – either a UN Security Council resolution or a request by a country, on the territory of which an airstrike is delivered, about military assistance.

In this respect, I want to inform you that the president of the Syrian Arab Republic has addressed the leadership of our country with a request of military assistance.

Within hours, witnesses were reporting that Russian jet fighters were bombing parts of Hama and Homs Provinces in western Syria. Activists said scores of people – almost all civilians – had been killed, disseminating videos and photographs of slain or injured children. Continue reading Why Putin ended up gambling on airstrikes in Syria – and what might come next