Defence and Security

Armed in Error

In the belief that Russia could be drawn into greater military cooperation by “engagement” (an unclear term that can be interpreted several ways), Western countries, particularly Germany, directly supported and trained the Russian military – and this even continued until recently, when Russia began its attacks on Ukraine. An article by Josh Rogin in the Daily Beast states that in 2011, for example,

the German defense contractor Rheinmetall signed a $140 million contract to build a combat simulation training center in Mulino, in southwest Russia, that would train 30,000 Russian combat troops per year. While the facility wasn’t officially scheduled to be completed until later this year, U.S. officials believe that Germany has been training Russian forces for years.

Rheinmetall defended the project even after the invasion of Crimea, up until the German government finally shut it down late last month. But many tracking the issue within the U.S. government were not happy with Germany’s handling of the Russian contract, and worry that some of the training may have gone to the kind of special operations forces now operating in and around Ukraine.

Moreover, it also appears that the German help was going not only to Russia’s traditional armed forces but also in a high degree to the sophisticated GRU Spetsnaz units that are now being deployed in the new Russian strategy of intervening “on behalf” of Russian-speakers abroad whenever the latter claim discrimination. While it looks as though now the era of military cooperation with Russia is at an end, some observers are wondering whether the realization of what was really happening may have come too late.

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The Futurists

Epcot07The science – or some would say the art – of futurology emerged as an academic or semi-academic discipline in the 1960s under the influence of writers like Herman Kahn, Dennis Gabor,Wendell Bell and Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the Dymaxion House and the Geodesic Dome. In the 1960s and 70s “futures studies” – based on the analysis of possible futures and their causation patterns – became fashionable both in the United States and in Europe. While the American branch of futurology tended to focus mostly on practical projects – Stewart Brand’s Buckminster Fuller-influenced counter-cultural Whole Earth Catalog being one of the most notable – in Europe there was a tendency to prefer theoretical speculations about the long-range future of humanity and the Earth. Although nowadays futurology is a term that – in a Western context, at least – mostly belongs to a bygone era, the term “futures studies” has survived, and still represents a considerable body of scientific, pseudoscientific, sociological and historical research associated with ecology and sustainable development.

In the Soviet Union futurology developed along rather different lines, and was mainly associated with government-controlled national economic, industrial and defence projects. Even today, more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the study of military futurology is alive and well in Russia, where it provides an underpinning and rationale for the current large-scale modernization and expansion of the country’s military and defence capabilities. A glance at the website of the Russian Armed Forces broadcasting company Zvezda reveals a wide range of documents and videos devoted to the subject of Russia’s place and role n the world, while journals like Voyennaya Mysl’ (Military Thought) and Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kur’yer present many articles and links to material of a more detailed kind.

As Stephen Blank points out in a recent Eurasia Daily Monitor article, the central task of institutions like the Academy of Military Sciences is to predict and assess military and other threats to Russia, and to elaborate ways of reacting and responding to them:

For Russian writers and officials, not only will contemporary and future war be a war of high-tech precision-strike complexes, it will also encompass a broad range of information warfare or even attempts at creating major economic disasters through conventional, non-nuclear, high-tech, precision strikes. This involves war from earth (or in the case of submarines underwater) to space to the digital realm. Indeed, Russia plans to create cyber warfare units by 2017 (RIA Novosti, January 30). Similarly Russia’s long-range aircraft will start using foreign airfields in 2014 to perform their missions (Interfax-AVN Online, January 22). Furthermore, writers like Konstantin Sivkov, First Vice President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, call for imitating the United States’ move to a global strike capability using non-nuclear missiles. This capability is ostensibly for use against terrorists, but clearly also encompasses major theater war (Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kuryer Online, January 22). Colonel Sergei G. Chekinov (Reserve) and Lieutenant-General Sergei A. Bogdanov (Ret.), prominent writers on information operations, even argue that “non-traditional forms of armed struggle will be used to cause earthquakes, typhoons and heavy rainfall” that can damage not just the economy, but aggravate the overall socio-psychological climate in any targeted country (Military Thought, October–December 2013).

The Snowden Puzzle

Published at almost the same time as Edward Lucas’s ebook, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick’s full-length (200+pp) study of the Snowden case – Privacy for Thee and Not For Me: The Movement for Invincible Personal Encryption, Radical State Transparency, and the Snowden Hack – is now available on Scribd.

In her author’s preface, Fitzpatrick likens the case to a Rubik’s cube:

Turn the colorful cube one way, and it seems as if Edward, a 29-year-old systems analyst who said he became troubled by secret practices “done in our name”, was only concerned about civil rights… Turned in another direction, and it seemed that his coercive action… was in fact presenting Congress and the courts with an undemocratic fait accompli.

Although the author does not claim to provide a solution to the puzzle, her book analyses its many and various pieces in extensively sourced detail, so that others may reach a conclusion for themselves.

History Lessons

In the aftermath of the Volgograd bombings, most of the commentary in Western media has focused on the likelihood that the explosions were the work of forces controlled by Doku Umarov and his “Caucasus Emirate”. In the Interpreter magazine, Andrew Bowen writes that

it is still a safe bet that the bombings can be attributed to the Caucasus Emirate, Russia’s homegrown Islamist insurgency. With that, and the upcoming Olympic Games, in mind, we can analyze the threat and potential for further attacks in the region and in Sochi by attempting to understand who the terrorists are and what they are capable of

and he says that

Rightly, the Russian authorities consider the threat as high enough to warrant the impressive security efforts.

Nearly all of the commentators persist in viewing the recent bombings and their social and political context from a Western perspective. Although the Caucasus Emirate is said to be “homegrown”, it is regarded in much the same light as Al Qaeda, while the Russian “authorities” (by which are meant counter terrorist and counter intelligence forces) and their efforts to control the situation are seen as equivalents to security and intelligence services in the West. In other words, the Volgograd bombings are viewed essentially in essentially the same light as terrorist attacks in the West, and the perpetrators are considered to be the equivalent of Islamist groups in London, Madrid or other Western capitals.

The analyses by observers like Andrew Bowen, Mark Galeotti and others tend to focus heavily on listings of Russia’s security preparations for the Olympics, together with a rundown of the assumed structure of the Islamist cells in Dagestan and Ingushetia. with much emphasis on “suicide bombers” and their “psychological preparation”. Very many such analyses look ahead to the Sochi Olympics, and link the atrocities to a desire by the Islamists to disrupt the Games. What is almost entirely missing from these articles is any attempt to set the recent events in a historical perspective, and particularly in the context of the long and shadowy relationship between the growth of Islamism in the North Caucasus and the activities of Russia’s security services. Although Bowen mentions “the gradual transformation of a Chechen nationalist/independence inspired resistance to a more regional Islamist insurgency”, he does not follow this up with a consideration of why the transformation took place, or of the agencies, including the Russian state authorities, that helped to make it possible. In particular, he fails to set the recent bombings in the historical context of other, similar bombings in the past, some of which were attributed by Alexander Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya to special operations by Russian secret services.

This lack of historical analysis and awareness is all the more striking as some of the commentators, like Galeotti, have been researching Russian history and security issues since at least the late 1980s.

The narrative of “suicide bombings” to “disrupt the Olympics” makes good headlines for Western media, but it does not do a great deal to help our understanding of events that go far beyond Sochi and may have much wider repercussions for global politics as a whole. In the context of Volgograd the Syrian conflict, and Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad, is one area that deserves much closer scrutiny. It’s time that Western defence correspondents and analysts broadened their approach to such events to include some historical depth, a consciousness of the details of the Chechen conflict, and the story of Chechen independence, for it is there that the roots of the present troubles can be found. In Russia’s brutal and mindless suppression of dissent in the North Caucasus, and its attempts to destroy it by every possible means, whether it be military force, propaganda, or subversion, lies the answer to the questions many are raising now.   

SKOLKAN – 2

One aspect of the upcoming “Steadfast Jazz” NATO military exercise, to be held  from 2-9 November, that may give pause for thought is that in it parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway are deemed to be enemy territory, an article in Finland’s Hufvudstadsbladet explains. 

According to Svenska Dagbladet

Sweden and Finland have been cut into fictional states that previously belonged to a fictional empire, Skolkan. These former Skolkan countries are independent and economically developed but are also marked by corruption, paranoia and a desire to expand.

Three of the six countries (Torrike in central Sweden, Bothnia in western Finland and the new island Lindsey in the Norwegian Sea) are hostile and threaten NATO.

The fourth country, Framland in eastern Norrland, is NATO-friendly, while the fifth, Arnland in southernmost Sweden is a failed state. The sixth country, Otso, in eastern Finland is a neutral buffer state against Russia.

The NATO countries are the same as in reality, except that northern Norway has been added to with a part of Sweden –  western Lapland. 

Russia and Belarus to the east are not involved in the game but are classified as neutral.

 

SKOLKAN

In a response to Zapad 2013, the Russian/Belarusian Baltic Sea military exercises in which land, sea and air forces took part in a simulated confrontation with NATO  forces, in November NATO will hold its Steadfast Jazz exercise, which is based on the so-called SKOLKAN scenario. This will likewise focus on the Baltic Sea region, and will feature the defence of a NATO member. An article on the NATO website gives some information:

The change in how NATO trains is one of the most significant organisational modifications for the Alliance in the last 25 years. In addition to revisiting the challenges associated with conducting operations in and from the sovereign territory of NATO Nations and how imperative it is to partner with host-nation governments and military forces, SKOLKAN also allows for the integration of emerging challenges such as cyber defence, ballistic missile defence and energy security into a complex training environment.

 

Zapad-2013 continues

Via http://www.tvr.by/eng/news.asp?id=10270&cid=16

 Military training “Zapad-2013” continues

The large landing ships of the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea forces involved in the strategic exercises “Zapad-2013” set the course for Kaliningrad where they will disembark the Belarusian landing troops. The troops will participate in the maneuvers in anti-aircraft and anti-diversionary defense of the ship formation. According to the plan of the military training, the Belarusian military men will also participate in the final stage of “Zapad-2013” on the polygons of the Baltic fleet.