Tag Archives: NATO

Putin Picks New Paratrooper Chief With Crimea Experience

The paratroopers are an elite unit of the Russian military, with great significance in the Ukraine conflict.

Russia has appointed the man accused of presiding over operations that led to the annexation of part of Ukraine as the commander of the its infamous airborne forces (VDV), the Ministry of Defense announced on Monday.

Continue reading Putin Picks New Paratrooper Chief With Crimea Experience

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NATO military convoy in Hungary is heading to Ukraine – Ukrainian soldiers battling Russian tanks at Lugansk

katonai konvoj
Hungarian military convoy is heading to Ukraine as NATO continues support for Kiev

NATO continues to support Ukraine with military equipment against pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk. 

Ukrainian troops on Monday were battling a Russian tank contingent in the eastern city of Lugansk, Kiev said, accusing Moscow’s army units of moving into large cities in the region.

Continue reading NATO military convoy in Hungary is heading to Ukraine – Ukrainian soldiers battling Russian tanks at Lugansk

Putin threatens to take Warsaw, Riga, Vilnius and Bucharest in two days

Putin threatens to take Warsaw, Riga, Vilnius and Bucharest in two days

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has stated that he can bring troops into Warsaw, Vilnius and a number of other capitals of the EU and the NATO countries.

This information is revealed in a short message of the EU foreign policy service, a German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung writes.

As stated by the newspaper, Putin had told so to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.

In his turn, Poroshenko passed along the content of the conversation to the president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, “Evropejskaya Pravda” informs.

Putin: Russian army may enter Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Romania in few days

“If I had wanted, I would have brought troops within two days not only to Kyiv, but to Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest,” Putin told to Poroshenko.

Besides, as the German newspaper informs, Putin recommended the Ukrainian president “not to rely on the EU too much”, as if required, he can “influence and block passing a decision at the level of the European Council.”

Hackers breach some White House computers

Hackers thought to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified White House computer networks in recent weeks, sources said, resulting in temporary disruptions to some services while cybersecurity teams worked to contain the intrusion.

White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said that the intruders did not damage any of the systems and that, to date, there is no evidence the classified network was hacked.

“In the course of assessing recent threats, we identified activity of concern on the unclassified Executive Office of the President network,” said one White House official. “We took immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity. . . . Unfortunately, some of that resulted in the disruption of regular services to users. But people were on it and are dealing with it.”

The FBI, Secret Service and National Security Agency are all involved in the investigation. White House officials are not commenting on who was behind the intrusion or how much data, if any, was taken.

“Certainly a variety of actors find our networks to be attractive targets and seek access to sensitive information,” the White House official said. “We are still assessing the activity of concern.”

U.S. officials were alerted to the breach by an ally, sources said.

Recent reports by security firms have identified cyber-­espionage campaigns by Russian hackers thought to be working for the government. Targets have included NATO, the Ukrainian government and U.S. defense contractors. Russia is regarded by U.S. officials as being in the top tier of states with cyber-capabilities.

In the case of the White House, the nature of the target is consistent with a state-sponsored campaign, sources said.

The breach was discovered two to three weeks ago, sources said. Some staffers were asked to change their passwords. Intranet or VPN access was shut off for awhile, but the email system, apart from some minor delays, was never down, sources said.

White House officials said that such an intrusion was not unexpected.

“On a regular basis, there are bad actors out there who are attempting to achieve intrusions into our system,” said a second White House official. “This is a constant battle for the government and our sensitive government computer systems, so it’s always a concern for us that individuals are trying to compromise systems and get access to our networks.”

The Russian intelligence service was believed to have been behind a breach of the U.S. military’s classified networks, which was discovered in 2008. The operation to contain the intrusion and clean up the computers, called Buckshot Yankee, took months.

That incident helped galvanize the effort to create U.S. Cyber Command, a military organization dedicated to defending the country’s critical computer systems — including those in the private sector — against foreign cyberattack, as well as helping combatant commanders in operations against adversaries. The command is expected to have some 6,000 personnel by 2016, officials said. 

When directed by the president or defense secretary, Cyber Command can undertake offensive operations.

Great-power politics – The new game

A CONTINENT separates the blood-soaked battlefields of Syria from the reefs and shoals that litter the South China Sea. In their different ways, however, both places are witnessing the most significant shift in great-power relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Syria, for the first time since the cold war, Russia has deployed its forces far from home to quell a revolution and support a client regime. In the waters between Vietnam and the Philippines,

America will soon signal that it does not recognise China’s territorial claims over a host of outcrops and reefs by exercising its right to sail within the 12-mile maritime limit that a sovereign state controls.

For the past 25 years America has utterly dominated great-power politics. Increasingly, it lives in a contested world. The new game with Russia and China that is unfolding in Syria and the South China Sea is a taste of the struggle ahead.

Facts on the ground

As ever, that struggle is being fought partly in terms of raw power. Vladimir Putin has intervened in Syria to tamp down jihadism and to bolster his own standing at home. But he also means to show that, unlike America, Russia can be trusted to get things done in the Middle East and win friends by, for example, offering Iraq an alternative to the United States (see article).

Lest anyone presume with John McCain, an American senator, that Russia is just “a gas station masquerading as a country”, Mr Putin intends to prove that Russia possesses resolve, as well as crack troops and cruise missiles.

The struggle is also over legitimacy. Mr Putin wants to discredit America’s stewardship of the international order. America argues that popular discontent and the Syrian regime’s abuses of human rights disqualify the president, Bashar al-Assad, from power. Mr Putin wants to play down human rights, which he sees as a licence for the West to interfere in sovereign countries—including, if he ever had to impose a brutal crackdown, in Russia itself.

Power and legitimacy are no less at play in the South China Sea, a thoroughfare for much of the world’s seaborne trade. Many of its islands, reefs and sandbanks are subject to overlapping claims. Yet China insists that its case should prevail, and is imposing its own claim by using landfill and by putting down airstrips and garrisons.

This is partly an assertion of rapidly growing naval might: China is creating islands because it can. Occupying them fits into its strategy of dominating the seas well beyond its coast. Twenty years ago American warships sailed there with impunity; today they find themselves in potentially hostile waters (see article).

But a principle is at stake, too. America does not take a view on who owns the islands, but it does insist that China should establish its claims through negotiation or international arbitration. China is asserting that in its region, for the island disputes as in other things, it now sets the rules.

Nobody should wonder that America’s pre-eminence is being contested. After the Soviet collapse the absolute global supremacy of the United States sometimes began to seem normal. In fact, its dominance reached such heights only because Russia was reeling and China was still emerging from the chaos and depredations that had so diminished it in the 20th century.

Even today, America remains the only country able to project power right across the globe. (As we have recently argued, its sway over the financial system is still growing.)

There is nevertheless reason to worry. The reassertion of Russian power spells trouble. It has already led to the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine—both breaches of the very same international law that Mr Putin says he upholds in Syria (seearticle).

Barack Obama, America’s president, takes comfort from Russia’s weak economy and the emigration of some of its best people. But a declining nuclear-armed former superpower can cause a lot of harm.

Relations between China and America are more important—and even harder to manage. For the sake of peace and prosperity, the two must be able to work together.

And yet their dealings are inevitably plagued by rivalry and mistrust. Because every transaction risks becoming a test of which one calls the shots, antagonism is never far below the surface.

American foreign policy has not yet adjusted to this contested world. For the past three presidents, policy has chiefly involved the export of American values—although, to the countries on the receiving end, that sometimes felt like an imposition.

The idea was that countries would inevitably gravitate towards democracy, markets and human rights. Optimists thought that even China was heading in that direction.

Still worth it

That notion has suffered, first in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the wider Middle East. Liberation has not brought stability. Democracy has not taken root.

Mr Obama has seemed to conclude that America should pull back. In Libya he led from behind; in Syria he has held off. As a result, he has ceded Russia the initiative in the Middle East for the first time since the 1970s.

All those, like this newspaper, who still see democracy and markets as the route to peace and prosperity hope that America will be more willing to lead.

Mr Obama’s wish that other countries should share responsibility for the system of international law and human rights will work only if his country sets the agenda and takes the initiative—as it did with Iran’s nuclear programme. The new game will involve tough diplomacy and the occasional judicious application of force.

America still has resources other powers lack. Foremost is its web of alliances, including NATO. Whereas Mr Obama sometimes behaves as if alliances are transactional, they need solid foundations. America’s military power is unmatched, but it is hindered by pork-barrel politics and automatic cuts mandated by Congress.

These spring from the biggest brake on American leadership: dysfunctional politics in Washington. That is not just a poor advertisement for democracy; it also stymies America’s interest. In the new game it is something that the United States—and the world—can ill afford.

Washington guided Greece in bailout talks, envoy reveals

Washington had advised the previous SYRIZA-Independent Greeks government not to clash head-on with Germany and to show a willingness for reform in the weeks and months leading up to the July 13 agreement on a third bailout between Greece and its lenders.

A secret telegram sent to Athens by Greece’s Ambassador to the US, Christos Panagopoulos, on July 16 synopsized the relations between the two countries over the previous months. The copy seen by Kathimerini suggests that Washington showed a keen interest in keeping Greece in the eurozone and had consistently provided advice on how the government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras should handle relations with the rest of the eurozone.

Washington, for instance, advised Athens to avoid verbal attacks on the German government and to try to create a broad alliance including countries like the UK, France, Italy and Austria. The US made it clear that the coalition would have to convince these countries that it was serious about implementing reforms if they were to then, in turn, offer their support.

Panagopoulos also explains in his note that Washington’s strategy was to stress the geopolitical importance of keeping Greece in the single currency and the need for the eurozone to agree a further reduction of Greek debt. The Greek ambassador suggests that the US government also encouraged the International Monetary Fund to be vocal on the issue of debt relief.

Sources also told Kathimerini that it was Washington who emphasized the geopolitical angle to the Greek issue through NATO. On June 19 NATO deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said a Greek exit would “indeed have repercussions” for the alliance. He told a security conference in Bratislava that NATO was “worried about” a Grexit. His comments came just after Greece and Russia agreed a pipeline deal.

Panagopoulos describes in his telegram that there was frequent and extensive contact between Athens and Washington, including officials from the Treasury and the State Department, during the protracted negotiations that led to the signing of the third bailout in Brussels.

Russia: We warned the Yanks about Islamic State

A joke making the rounds among Russian officials and hacks who take a keen interest in what is going on in the Middle East these days goes something like this: How will the Yanks deal with the Islamic State group?

They will create “Islamic State 2”, a bigger and better armed group, and let it deal with the original Islamic State group. And what happens when “Islamic State 2” turns against them as it happened with the original Islamic State? They will create “Islamic State 3”, and so on.

But seriously, the rise and spread of the Islamic State group is no laughing matter. Now that the US and its allies have finally woken up to the dangers of the spread of the extremist group, the worry in Moscow is that the hotheads in the Pentagon and at Nato headquarters in Brussels will decide to start hitting Islamic State positions in Syria along with “other targets” there as well – for instance, Syrian army positions.

US President Barack Obama has already announced his plan to deal with the group, promising to lead a “broad coalition” that will “roll back this terrorist threat”. In Moscow, the fear is that the US will seize this opportunity to intervene in Syria.

The Libyan scenario

According to Valeriy Fenenko from the Moscow Centre for International Security, the US can actually use the presence of the Islamic State group in Syria as a pretext to implement the “Libyan scenario”.

“The Americans are bound to try to compensate for their failure last fall,” he says. “At first, it will be air strikes against terrorists and then, in parallel, it may amount to helping the moderate opposition. The US may start a creeping interference, like it happened in Bosnia,” he said.

In any event, Russian diplomatic efforts are in full swing. According to one Russian source, Moscow is trying to prevent possible air strikes in Syria by the US, UK and others, in the same way it did last year when the danger of air strikes was growing by the day.

“Our people in Arab and European capitals were desperately trying to find some sort of solution last year,” he said. “The threat of a regional war that could escalate into a world war was taken very seriously by the Kremlin. And this scenario is in the cards again.”

The feeling in Moscow is that the recent Nato summit in Newport, Wales, missed out on a great opportunity to involve Russia in finding a solution to the spread of the Islamic State group and other militant groups associated with it across Iraq and the Middle East generally. Not to mention, the very real threat of these violent men entering European countries, and even reaching the US.

“The Russians have been warning the Americans ever since the civil war broke out in Syria that it was very dangerous to arm the opposition there,” one former Russian general who was in charge of anti-terrorist operation told me. “There was no chance that the arms destined for the so-called moderate opposition would not end up with the likes of the Islamic State. Not to mention that lots of it was coming as well from ‘liberated’ Libya.”

The same bandits

What worries Russian officials is the stubborn refusal of the Obama administration to talk to President Bashar al-Assad’s government about a possible joint effort in defeating the Islamic State group in Syria.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov said recently, it doesn’t make sense for the West to help the Iraqi government to fight the Islamic State group but deny cooperation to Assad who is fighting “the same bandits”.

Some Russian analysts are saying that the bigger problem of the current crisis is that the Islamic State group runs its recruitment campaigns not just in the Middle East but in Europe as well.

Different figures are cited over the number of Europeans who have joined the ranks of the group in the past several months, but if you consider that the number of fighters has risen – according to Russian estimates, from about 6,000 in June to over 30,000 at present – it can be assumed that we are talking about thousands of young Muslims travelling from Europe to fight in what they believe is a holy war.

The senseless war in Gaza has probably indirectly boosted the Islamic State group’s recruitment campaign, making it easier to claim that the West and Israel are hellbent on wiping out the Muslims in the Middle East. It remains unclear as to why Israel’s armed forces attacked Gaza during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and conducted blanket air strikes that were bound to take a heavy toll on the civilian population.

In the opinion of Russian experts, this looked more like a smokescreen for US failures in Iraq and Libya rather than an attempt to wipe out Hamas’ arsenal and top commanders. From a military point of view, Benjamin Netanyahu’s war achieved absolutely nothing, except perhaps giving Hamas a boost in popularity.

The danger for Russia from the Islamic State group is that some of its members come from Chechnya and Dagestan, the two Muslim republics in the south of Russia, and there is a risk that the group can find sympathisers and supporters there and even start to build a network across the Caucasus.

That is why Moscow is now calling on all parties to make a joint effort to destroy the Islamic State group before it becomes truly international.

However, as the president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems Konstantin Sivkov points out, the military option is only part of the solution in tackling the Islamic State group.

He says that air strikes would not be enough and that it’s crucial to also fight its ideology and cut off its finances that are now flowing through perfectly legal banking channels.  The war against the Islamic State group is fraught with dangers. It might get out of control and drag the whole region into a much wider conflict.

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