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Category: Russia

Trump, Clouds and Silver Linings

Written by Wyn Rees.

Watchers of transatlantic security relations are despondent. President Trump appears to want to undo 70 years of US-European cooperation that has kept the two sides of the Atlantic working together. It is as if the new incumbent in the Oval Office is taking a wrecking ball to the foundations of the trans-Atlantic relationship, instead of just plumping the cushions in the penthouse. Yet this assessment exaggerates the significance of ‘Trumpism’ as manifested during his first month in office. It is timely to note that the ideas of Trump are far from new and that his policies are likely to suffer considerable constraints. This article looks at three salient issues.

Artificially inflating the threat from Russia does nobody any good

Written by Sumantra Maitra.

Much has been written lately about Russia “hacking” the US presidential elections, and how Vladimir Putin’s government is in a new Cold War with the West.

Molly Mckew, who advised Mikhail Saakashvili when he was president of Georgia, writes that the West is already fighting a war in defence of the values on which its liberal order is based. Like many others, she never attempts to define what exactly “The West” is, or what its contradictory state interests add up to. In the Financial Times, meanwhile, Lilia Shevtsova is even more pessimistic. She claims the current situation is without historical precedent, and that current Western strategy “requires ideological clarity, but the ambiguity of the post-Cold War world made the strategy irrelevant”.

Twin crises in Syria and Ukraine prove the West cannot restrain Russia

Written by David Galbreath.

Only days after the latest ceasefire agreement came into force in Syria, a United Nations aid convoy en route to Aleppo was attacked and destroyed. The UN was quick to declare this both a premeditated attack and a war crime. Citing air space intelligence, the US government released a statement accusing the Russian Air Force of responsibility, detailingthe presence of two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 fighter aircraft in the area at the time of the attack.

The Russian government has denied the accusations, stating that the US has “no facts”, and responded with drone footage of the convoy allegedly showing that anti-government militias were using it as cover. At the same time, it argued that the explosion did not come from the air, and was in fact a militant attack on the convoys. (The convoy was travelling through militant-held territory at the time of the strike.)

Why has Russia been flying airstrikes over Syria from an Iranian airbase?

Written by Moritz Pieper.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, made it very clear where his country stood in February 2013 when he answered speculation that Russia might intervene to stop the implosion of Syrian state structures in a war that by then had been raging for more than three years: “We will not be fighting for our positions … and creating ‘another Afghanistan’ for ourselves. Never, under no circumstances!”

When, in September 2015, Russia began airstrikes in support of the Syrian army’s troops, it was the first Russian military deployment in the Middle East since the infamous Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s. But Russia had always insisted that this was a limited air campaign and, five months after the start of the bombing campaign the following March, Moscow announced it was reducing its military presence in Syria.

After Warsaw: NATO, Russia and facing hybrid warfare

Written by Bettina Renz.

The Warsaw Summit Communiqué issued by the heads of state participating in the NATO summit in Warsaw from 8-9 July 2016 heavily focuses on the alliance’s capabilities required for dealing with ‘hybrid warfare’. This concept became prominent in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and has since established itself firmly in the official parlance not only of NATO, but also of various Western governments and military establishments. ‘Hybrid warfare’ describes an approach to war relying not only on conventional military means, but also on non-military means, such as information, disinformation, psychological operations and the use of proxy fighters. The idea gained traction in the aftermath of Crimea, because Russia achieved its objectives there with minimal use of force. This stood in stark contrast to the fairly traditional military campaigns Russia had conducted in Chechnya and in Georgia in 2008, which relied on heavy firepower. Russia’s approach in Crimea evoked fears in the West that Russia had found a new way of war that would be hard for NATO and the West to counter.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.