Tag: Vladimir Putin

As Russia threatens, Sweden ponders joining NATO

Vladimir Putin’s mock attacks on Scandinavia could make the Swedes end 200 years of neutrality

SWEDEN’S Aurora-17 drill, which continues until the end of September, is the biggest war game that the supposedly neutral country has carried out for 23 years. Not only does it involve 19,000 of Sweden’s armed forces (about half of them), including its Home Guard, but also more than 1,500 troops from Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Norway and America.

All except Finland are members of NATO, the big western alliance.

The size of the exercise and its main focus, the defence of Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea some 350km (220 miles) from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, is a reflection of how insecure Sweden feels.

Vladimir Putin, having gobbled up Crimea and attacked Ukraine, is flexing his muscles near the Baltics and Scandinavia. Russia’s massive Zapad-17 military exercise, which finished this week, involved sending 100,000 troops to Belarus and the Baltic to practise repelling the “Western Coalition”.

Foreign observers were banned, as they never are from NATO exercises. (Perhaps luckily: a Russian helicopter reportedly fired missiles at spectators by mistake, though the government denies this.)

There have been plenty of other causes for disquiet. In March 2013 Russia sent two Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers, escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters, across the Gulf of Finland to within 40km of Gotland.

Su-27UB , Su-27P and Tupolev Tu-22M3

The planes only veered off after carrying out what NATO analysts believed was a dummy nuclear attack on targets in Sweden. After many years of static or declining defence spending, Sweden had to rely on Danish F-16s, part of NATO’s Baltic air-policing operation, to respond.

In 2014 a Russian submarine penetrated the Stockholm archipelago, departing without being found. Since then Russia has stepped up the frequency of menacing, no-notice military drills in the region.

Small wonder many Swedes think they should end 200 years of neutrality by joining NATO. If they did, any Russian attack on Sweden would be treated as an attack on America and its 28 NATO allies.

All the main Swedish opposition parties want to join, apart from the ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats, who like many European populists have a curious fondness for Mr Putin.

Polls suggest that a plurality of Swedes favour NATO membership. A Pew survey earlier this year found 47% in support of membership and 39% against.

But for now the Social Democratic-Green coalition government, in office since 2014, wants to get as close as possible to NATO without actually joining it.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, is the author of a policy that tries to square the contradictions in the country’s security policy.

Part of the “Hultqvist doctrine”, as it is known, is to improve Sweden’s neglected capacity for self-defence. Military spending is rising—by about 5% annually in real terms over the next three years—and conscription is being reintroduced next year.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister

The other part is building closer defence co-operation with its non-NATO neighbour, Finland, as well as with America and Baltic littoral states in NATO. All of which Aurora-17 is meant to demonstrate.

Both Sweden and Finland also entered into a “host country support agreement” with NATO, which allows alliance forces to move through their territory and pre-position kit by invitation.

Mr Hultqvist himself is suspected of hankering after NATO membership. But for now the government has ruled it out. There is still a good deal of anti-Americanism on the Swedish left (which Donald Trump does little to dispel).

There is also a fear, expressed by the foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, of provoking Mr Putin (who has promised to “eliminate the threat” were Sweden to join NATO). Many observers doubt that Finland, where popular support for NATO is lower, would be ready to make a joint decision in favour of membership—something Swedish NATO boosters see as crucial.

There are good reasons why NATO itself might be keen for Sweden (and Finland) to join its fold. Defence of its Baltic members would be much harder without guaranteed access to Swedish ground and airspace. As a member, Sweden would be far more integrated with NATO’s command-and-control systems. Interoperability of its forces with those of the alliance would improve, making them more effective in a fight.

Sweden’s NATO question is being fudged for now, but it will loom large in next year’s general election. If the Swedes do eventually make the jump, Mr Putin will have only himself to blame.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “A funny kind of neutrality”

 

Vladimir Putin’s Would-Be Replacements Are Playing the Long Game

When it comes to Russian politics, it seems that what’s old is new again, and again, and again, and again.

Vladimir Putin has already spent almost 14 years as president — and boasts two other stints as the country’s prime minister.

But when Russians cast their votes in the presidential election six months from Monday, polls suggest Putin will almost certainly be re-elected to a fourth term running the world’s largest nation in terms of landmass.

And while the subsequent election in 2024 may seem far away, analysts say some of his opponents are under no illusions about their prospects at the ballot box this March.

“The scenarios for Putin running and losing are hard to spin. People will run against him, but nobody honestly thinks they can beat Putin,” said Olga Oliker, the director of Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They know they can’t win the election, but they can demonstrate their presence and plan for a future when winning elections becomes possible.”

Social-Media Star

While several candidates are expected to throw their hat into the ring, the one who has unnerved the Kremlin the most appears to be Alexei Navalny, a 41-year-old Russian lawyer, activist and anti-corruption blogger.

Navalny has been found guilty of embezzlement — charges he says were fabricated to deny him a slot on the ballot.

Alexei Navalny

Navalny announced his candidacy in December but the Russian Election Commission later effectively barred him from participating in the election, concluding that he committed a “serious crime” and was therefore not eligible to run for president.

While not being allowed much time on state television, Navalny uses his blog, with 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube and more than 2 million followers on Twitter, to get his message out.

Mark Galeotti, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague, says the Kremlin may have initially contemplated the possibility of allowing Navalny to run before deciding he was “too dangerous.”

“Giving him the kind of national platform that would allow him to become a registered candidate would be considered too risky,” Galeotti said.

In 2013, after Navalny was charged with embezzlement, the White House said it was “deeply disappointed and concerned” by the “politically motivated” ruling.

“Navalny’s harsh prison sentence is the latest example of a disturbing trend aimed at suppressing dissent in civil society in Russia,” then-White House spokesman Jay Carney told a news briefing.

According to Galeotti, Navalny is looking beyond 2018 and is trying to grow his personal brand.

The opposition politician is also ramping up his anti-corruption efforts.

“Corruption is the absolute Achilles heel of [Putin’s] government,” Galeotti said. “Everyone knows about it and everyone resents it. It’s one of the few issues that can unite people across the board. But up to now, it has been regarded much like the Russian weather — something that’s to be endured rather than changed.”

He said Navalny would aim to convince Russians that “it is conceivable that something can be done about it.”

Galeotti added: “He is playing the long game.”

‘This Is Not a Real Election’

Putin remains very popular. One poll conducted by a Russian non-governmental research organization found that 66 percent of respondents wanted Putin to remain president after the 2018 election.

His 83 percent approval rating would be the envy of any Western leader. The number has been hovering above 80 percent since spring 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and endorsed a bloody pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine.

However, analysts have long questioned Russian approval polls.

Studies show that in authoritarian states, polls can overstate the popularity of incumbent leaders by between 5 and 20 percent because many respondents give the answers that they think are expected of them.

Pollsters have also long complained that many people refuse to speak to them — which means no one, not even the Kremlin, knows what many Russians really think about the government.

(ALEXEI DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL/EPA)

The 64-year-old Putin has not officially declared his candidacy yet, but experts suggest little should be read into that.

“This is not a real election,” Galeotti said, adding that few doubted that Putin would run and emerge victorious on March 18.

Mathieu Boulegue, a research fellow with the Russia and Eurasia program at the London-based Chatham House think tank, said Navalny and other liberal opposition leaders know Putin voters are a “lost cause.”

But Boulegue said that they “can appeal to the younger voters — those who don’t feel they recognize themselves politically in Putin’s Russia.

It’s all about the appeal and mobilizing the forces towards winning at some point when the moment will be right, but right now, the moment is not right for them.”

Galleotti says the list of candidates running against Putin is likely to include “usual suspects” like ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Sergey Mironov of the “A Just Russia” faction and Gennady Zyuganov of the Communists.

Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky

The latter finished second in the 2012 election and captured 17.2 per cent of the vote — compared to around 64 percent for Putin.

Galeotti said there is a strong youth-driven youth movement within the Communist Party made up of people who don’t align with the traditional Marxist-Leninist ideology and want to see real change.

“They are unhappy with this sort of dinosaurian Communist party elite and the way that they have allowed themselves to become house-trained,” he said.

Galeotti also predicted that several potential successors to Putin will get “road-tested” to see if they are a good fit at some point.
“Right now though, there is no one around whom Putin sees as a potential successor,” he said.

Boulegue said he expects Putin to remain in the picture of Russian politics for a very long time.

“Whether it is as a kingmaker for someone else, by controlling Russian politics from the shadows, or actually staying in the spotlight by becoming a prime minister and changing the constitution to give the prime minister all the power,” he said.

Experts see little chance of a dark-horse candidate who can give Putin a run for his money emerging between now and March.

“Absent something cataclysmic, this will be a very managed election,” Oliker said. “So no one will run who isn’t allowed to run.”

 

 

Putin to Inspect Zapad-2017 Exercise Tomorrow

Lukashenko, Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspecting Zapad 2013

MOSCOW, September 17. /TASS/.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Monday, September 18, will inspect the Zapad-2017 joint strategic exercise in the Leningrad region, the Kremlin’s press service said on Sunday.

“The supreme commander-in-chief will inspect actions of the Armed Forces of the Union State of Russia and Belarus at the main stage of the joint strategic exercise Zapad-2017 on the Luzhsky range,” the statement reads.

Zapad-2017 exercise

A large-scale exercise Zapad-2017 began in Russia and Belarus on Thursday at three proving grounds in Russia and six in Belarus with 12,700 troops (7,200 Belarussian and 5,500 Russian ones taking part). Also involved in the exercise are about 70 planes and helicopters, 680 ground vehicles, including about 250 tanks, 200 artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers and mortars and ten ships.

The main purpose of the exercise is to improve the compatibility of command and control centers, test new documentation and let commanders of all levels practice planning and control of operations on the basis of experience gained in the latest military conflicts.

The exercise will last till September 20.

 

As ZAPAD ’17 Begins, NATO Should Not Forget Russia’s Arctic Ambition’s

Unchallenged, Moscow is forging ahead with its northern ambitions, which leave the West vulnerable.

The world is not short of hotspots: Syria; North Korea; Libya; Ukraine… But one of the hottest is also one of the coldest – the Arctic, which is rapidly becoming the front line in a new Russian game of expansion. On Franz Josef Land, an ice-covered, desolate archipelago well into the Arctic circle, Russia has just opened a new military base. If Nato is to respond, which it must, then Britain, positioned at the gateway to the Arctic Ocean, will be at the heart of the showdown.

This little-known geo-political battle began almost 20 years ago, when Vladimir Putin came to power. The following year, 2001, Russia submitted an application to the United Nations asserting that a vast unclaimed area of the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole, should be subject to Moscow’s oversight. Initially rejected, the bid was resubmitted two years ago; if successful, it would see Russia’s boundaries enlarged by 463,000 square miles.

The Russian flag was even planted on the central Arctic seabed 10 years ago, with the Kremlin aiming to exploit the area’s unique ambiguity of governance. For in contrast to the Antarctic, which is largely land beneath the ice, the Arctic is mostly just frozen seawater and thus subject to maritime jurisdictions, which are often less than clear.

Russian efforts in the frozen north are only partly territorial, however. Crucial resources are also at stake. A study released by the United States Geological Survey in 2008 estimated that 13 per cent of the world’s remaining oil and 30 per cent of its natural gas reserves are in the Arctic. Russia wants to harvest these; its official Arctic policy, adopted in 2008, makes clear that Moscow’s ambition is to turn the Arctic into the country’s “strategic resource base”.

To this end, it has spent the past decade militarising the region – far outstripping Western efforts. In 2007, it resumed the Cold War-era practice of long-range air patrols over the Arctic. A year later, the formidable Northern Fleet resumed surface patrols of its waters. Meanwhile, Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic is reportedly reaching levels not seen since the Cold War.

TOR M2DT Arctic Air Defense Missile System

As part of an intense programme of military modernisation, Russia has established an Arctic Joint Strategic Command to coordinate all of these activities, made considerable investments in a number of new Arctic brigades, and re-opened Soviet-era military bases as well as building new facilities. The polar region is now a major site for its war games.

As a result, the West is vulnerable. The US has only one icebreaker capable of operating in Arctic waters, and this vessel is 10 years past retirement. Russia, however, has 40, and is developing an additional 11 as part of its efforts to control the Northern Sea Route for shipping.

Russian Navy Ship Yamal – Nuclear-Powered Icebreaker

In response to Moscow’s actions, Nato is believed to be considering the revival of the Atlantic Command, dissolved after the Cold War. But what else can be done? During the Cold War, the so-called Greenlandiceland-uk Gap, the principal choke point between Russia’s Northern Fleet in the Arctic and its strategic interests in the North Atlantic, was probably the most minutely observed stretch of ocean on the planet – with the Royal Navy playing a principal role.

The “GIUK Gap” receded in importance after the Soviet Union collapsed. But now, as Russia becomes more assertive, the UK – together with Nato allies – is scrabbling to recover its capabilities there. In July 2016, the Ministry of Defence announced it would spend £3bn to buy nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft, in order to monitor activity across the North Atlantic.

A British Royal Air Force crewman mans a radar station aboard a Boeing P-8A Poseidon in this photo from 2014. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Nato has long ignored the Arctic. This must change. It needs to ensure that there is a common understanding of the region’s security challenges as well as a comprehensive policy to address them.

Artur Chilingarov, Russia’s special envoy to the Arctic, said on Wednesday that he expects the UN to approve the extension of Russia’s Arctic boundaries. Suppose the opposite were to happen, however, and Russia were to use force to secure its interests, just as in Ukraine and Syria. How would Nato react?

 

Russia’s plan to manipulate UN Peacekeeping forces in Donbas

Pro-Russian rebels openly mock Ukraine

On 5 September, during a press conference at the BRICS (Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa) summit in China, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would propose a draft resolution to the UN Security Council on the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in Donbas.

A relevant document was submitted on the same day. Moscow’s initiative, however, does have a few conditions. The peacekeeping forces would offer protection to the OSCE mission in Donbas and be deployed only on the demarcation line between the Ukrainian forces and the forces of the separatists backed by Russia.

Ukrainian Forces to the North and West in Blue. Russian Separatists are situated to the South-Est

Furthermore, their deployment would take place after both parties to the conflict have withdrawn heavy matériel. President Putin also emphasised that the deployment of the UN peacekeeping forces should be agreed during direct negotiations with separatist leaders and must be approved by the UN Security Council.

The Ukrainian side has been probing the possibility of the deployment of UN forces in Donbas as an alternative to the Minsk Accord since 2015. However, it was only on 3 February 2017 that the draft proposal for deployment of an armed UN peacekeeping mission was presented in the speech of Kostiantyn Yeliseyev, deputy head of the administration of President Petro Poroshenko.

Officially, Kyiv announced it during a telephone conversation of the participants of the so-called Normandy Format (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia) during a summit of its heads of state on 24 July this year.

President Poroshenko talks with the ‘Normandy Format’ (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia)

According to President Poroshenko, the need to deploy UN peacekeeping forces and to vest them with the UN Security Council’s mandate is an effect of “Russia’s categorical unwillingness to achieve peace in Donbas.” On 22 August, the Ukrainian president stated that he intended to present a detailed plan for the deployment of the mission in Donbas during the next session of the UN General Assembly (12–25 September). Before that, Ukraine also suggested that an armed OSCE mission be deployed in the region.

Commentary

The Russian proposal is above all of a tactical character because Moscow’s primary goal is to torpedo Kyiv’s initiative concerning the deployment of peacekeeping forces in the occupied part of Donbas and at the same time to put the blame on Ukraine and the USA for the expected failure of the Russian proposal.

The Kremlin’s initiative can also be linked with the recently observed hardening of the US stance on the conflict, particularly including with the announcement that arms supplies to Ukraine are possible.

Signs of this include President Putin’s ambiguous statement in which he warned that US weapons supplies to Ukraine might lead to the conflict spilling over onto the territory of Ukraine and to “the separatists sending weapons to other conflict areas critical for those who pose problems to them.” President Putin’s statement, which was in essence blackmail addressed to the USA, may suggest that Russian weapons will be supplied to other areas where US forces are engaged.

(AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, pool)

Moscow in fact is not interested in the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in Donbas. Their presence would not be beneficial to the Kremlin as it would potentially restrict Russia’s full freedom of action in the conflict area, which includes periodically escalating the conflict in order to apply pressure on Kyiv. However, Moscow is trying to simulate efforts to end the conflict, thus manifesting its constructive stance on the Ukrainian conflict to the West. This is partly effective, one proof of which is the statement of the German minister of foreign affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, who called the draft resolution “a change in Russia’s previous policy that we cannot waste.”President Putin’s words have met with a negative reaction in Ukraine. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that Russia, being the aggressor country, cannot be a participant of the peacekeeping mission under the aegis of the UN and that its deployment does not require consent from the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ in Donbas.

Iryna Herashchenko, deputy speaker of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and Ukraine’s representative in the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk, rejected Putin’s initiative, viewing it as an attempt to distort the idea of the deployment of the UN peacekeeping forces in the conflict area in Donbas announced in Kyiv.

The conditions of deployment of the peacekeeping forces put forward by the Kremlin are unfavourable to Ukraine, because this would mean recognising the separatists as a subject of international negotiations, while the UN mission would only extend to the contact line that would maintain the situation of the lack of international supervision on the Ukrainian-Russian border in Donbas (currently controlled by Russian services and separatist forces).

Russian separatist forces

Not all the details of the Ukrainian initiative concerning the UN peacekeeping mission are known at present. It envisages the deployment of peacekeeping forces across the entire territory that is outside the central government’s control between the demarcation line and the Ukrainian-Russian border. Peacekeeping forces would monitor the security situation and the demilitarisation process in the region.

In Kyiv’s intention, the deployment of the international mission will contribute to freezing the conflict. The Ukrainian ideas of deploying an armed UN or OSCE armed mission which have appeared since 2015 have never been officially presented in the form of an open concept nor have they been ever presented in the form of a coherent concept or put forward as a resolution on the UN forum.

Most likely, Kyiv was probing these issues via diplomatic channels but they did not receive support from France and Germany and were in fact sabotaged by Russia (despite the suggestions that it might support them which Russia made from time to time).

UN Peacekeepers are likely to be replaced with pro-Russian forces

The Ukrainian proposal of deploying peacekeeping forces fits in with the context of Kyiv’s other actions concerning Donbas. Since spring, the government has been preparing an act under which Russia will be recognised as an aggressor and the territories of Donbas which are currently outside the central government control will be recognised as temporarily occupied territories.

The act is also expected to vest the president with the right to announce martial law and to use armed forces in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. The final wording of the act has not been agreed as yet; the government is planning to put the document to a vote in parliament already this year.

 

Vladimir Putin warns world faces ‘global catastrophe’ over North Korea

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the escalating crisis over North Korea’s weapons program risks developing into a “global catastrophe” with mass casualties.

But Putin, speaking in China on Tuesday, cautioned against “military hysteria” and said that the only way to resolve the crisis was through diplomacy.

He warned that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has calculated that the survival of his regime depends on its development of nuclear weapons. Kim had seen how western intervention in Iraq had ended in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein after which the country was ravaged by war, Putin warned, and Kim was determined not to suffer the same fate.

“Saddam Hussein rejected the production of weapons of mass destruction, but even under that pretense, he was destroyed and members of his family were killed,” Putin said.

“The country was demolished and Saddam Hussein was hanged. Everyone knows that and everyone in North Korea knows that.”

On Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Kim was “begging for war” and urged the UN Security Council to adopt the strongest sanctions measures possible to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

But speaking at the closure of the BRICs summit in Beijing — which hosted the leaders of Brazil, India, China and South Africa — Putin said that while Russia condemned North Korea’s latest actions, imposing any kind of sanctions would be “useless and ineffective.” Kim would rather starve his people than see his regime overthrown, he said.

“They will eat grass but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security,” he said.

The latest escalation of the crisis came on Sunday when Pyongyang announced it had conducted a sixth nuclear test, which it claimed was of a hydrogen bomb. The claim has not been independently verified, but seismological data indicated that the weapon was the most powerful ever to be detonated by Pyongyang.

North Korea claims it now has the capability of mounting a thermonuclear weapon on a long-range missile capable of striking the United States.

 

Weapons experts say it’s almost impossible to verify if the warhead and missile could be successfully paired unless North Korea were to fire a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

North Korea has test-fired a number of missiles this summer, including two long-range ones in July and an intermediate-range one in August that overflew the Japanese island of Hokkaido. South Korea has claimed that the North is making preparations for another ICBM test.  

Putin said it was clear that Pyongyang already had a nuclear capability — and in any case, no missile defense system could offer adequate protection against conventional long-range artillery.

“We know that North Korea has nukes, we also know that North Korea has long-range artillery and it has other types of weapons and there are no weapons against long-range artillery — and these weapons can be difficult to locate.

“So we think that this military hysteria will not lead to good results. It could lead to global catastrophe with lots of victims.”

In response to the latest tests, the South Korean Navy announced Tuesday it conducted live-fire drills off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula to check its “immediate operational readiness” after the country’s air force and army conducted their own joint drills. It had already mounted a huge show of military force on Monday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke with US President Donald Trump on Monday and agreed to lift current restrictions on the payload weight of South Korea’s ballistic missiles, according to a South Korean presidential spokesman.

CNN’s Taehoon Lee, Josh Berlinger and Sarah Faidell contributed to this article.

Send UN peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine, Putin says

A Ukrainian serviceman patrols at the humanitarian aid center in Avdiivka, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Evgeniy Maloletka

Russia will ask the United Nations to send peacekeeping troops to eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin says.

Putin told journalists Tuesday that armed peacekeepers could provide safety for staff of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which is monitoring the ceasefire there. “It would help resolve the problem in eastern Ukraine,” said Putin.

More than 10,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists. A peace deal is in place but fighting has continued on and off.

Ukraine previously asked for peacekeepers but the separatists have opposed that. German officials said Tuesday they were surprised about Putin’s call for peacekeepers but supportive of such a move.

Putin also warned that any decision by the United States to supply weapons to Ukraine would further the fighting and spark a backlash that could see pro-Russian separatists to expand their military campaign in the region. “It’s hard to imagine how the self-declared republics would respond,” Putin said. “Perhaps they would deploy weapons to other conflict zones.”

 

By conducting searches at Russian trade mission US undermine int’l law – Kremlin spokesman

Russian president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov. Mikhail Metzel/TASS

Moscow expressed complete rejection and profound regret over searches at the Russian trade mission in Washington, Russian president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday, adding that the Russian-US relations continue to degrade.

“Evidently, we can express profound regret over this violation of international law,” he told journalists. In his words, such actions “undermine international law” and “run counter to the convention on diplomatic relations.”

“It cannot but cause utter rejection and profound regret,” he stressed. “Steps are being made (by the US) that entail further degradation of the Russian-US relations.”

“A month ago, one could think that there were no further worsening in our relations but the US side is demonstrating that is can go further and further on that path,” Peskov noted. “We regret it.”

The Kremlin spokesman refrained from answering the question about Moscow’s possible response measures. “Let us wait until the Russian head of state expresses his point of view on that matter,” he said.

When asked whether Putin has been informed about what happened in Washington, Peskov answered in a question, “And how do you think?” “When one of the biggest world nations tramples down international law, the president of another biggest world nation is immediately informed about that,” he added.

On August 31, the United States authorities demanded Moscow close its consulate general in San Francisco, trade mission in Washington and its office in New York by September 2.

Earlier, the Russian foreign ministry said in statement that on September 2 the United States authorities had seized the buildings of Russia’s consulate general in San Francisco and trade mission in Washington, which are Russia’s property and enjoy diplomatic immunity.

Apart from that, Russian personnel was denied access to the premises the Russian trade mission rents in New York. Moscow described the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the United States as an openly hostile step and called on the US authorities to return the diplomatic facilities immediately.

 

 

NATO worried about monitoring loopholes as Russia preps for massive war games

U.S.173 airborne brigade soldiers leave a C-17 aircraft during their arrival in Latvia.

Weeklong Zapad drills begin Sept. 14, Western nations skeptical of Russian troop numbers.

NATO said Wednesday it will send three experts to observe military exercises between Russia and Belarus next month, but alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wants the two countries to allow broader monitoring.

Russia and Belarus say the Zapad 2017 exercise, which runs from Sept. 14-20 not far from the borders of NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, will involve less than 13,000 troops, but NATO believes that number will actually be into six figures. Under international rules, the two should allow wider access to monitors if troop numbers exceed that figure.

NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said the three experts will attend so-called Visitors’ Days in Belarus and Russia after they were invited to attend.

But she said international rules permit monitors to have much wider access, including briefings on the exercise, opportunities to talk to soldiers and overflights.

The rules governing military exercises are enshrined in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s so-called Vienna Document.

Russian Naval Infantry Assault Troops disembark from a Zubr class (LCAC) air-cushioned landing craft.

Servicemen take part in the joint war games Zapad-2013, attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, who both still lead their respective countries. (Alexei Druzhinin/RIA)

Stoltenberg is calling for the Vienna Document to be revamped, and believes he can muster enough support to ensure that unannounced war games, or snap exercises, can be watched with “snap monitoring,” or that small, multiple manoeuvres under different commands be recognized as one big exercise, loopholes he says Moscow is exploiting.

“It’s especially important now, because tensions are higher than they used to be. There is more military activity, more exercises and therefore it’s even more important that we avoid incidents and accidents or misunderstandings,” he told The Associated Press on Friday, in Orzysz, Poland.

Canadian team in Latvia

Stoltenberg was in Orzysz to thank those in the 1,200 U.S.-led battlegroup, based near Russia’s Kaliningrad region and Belarus, for their service. NATO has a total of around 4,500 troops based in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in response to Russia’s renewed assertiveness.

They include a Canadian-led NATO group in Latvia that involves about 450 Canadian soldiers.

NATO allies are concerned that Moscow might leave military equipment behind in Belarus when the exercises are over, perhaps to use later should President Vladimir Putin want to send troops quickly across the border, as he did in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.

Zapad

Information and statistics on Russia’s Zapad 2017 military exercise. (Reuters)

Lt.-Gen. Alexander Fomin, Russia’s deputy defence minister, has rejected Western “myths about the so-called Russian threat.”

“The most improbable scenarios have been floated,” he said Tuesday. “Some have reached as far as to claim that the Zapad 2017 exercises will serve as a ‘platform for invasion’ and ‘occupation’ of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine.'”

Fomin said the Russian Armed Forces were inviting foreign observers to the manoeuvres, which will involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops, about 70 aircraft, up to 250 tanks, 200 artillery systems and 10 navy ships.

But Lungescu said the invitations are no substitute for real observation under the Vienna Document.

“Russia and Belarus are instead choosing a selective approach that falls short. Such avoidance of mandatory transparency only raises questions about the nature and purpose of the exercise.”

In eastern Poland, U.S. 2nd Cavalry Regiment Lt.-Col. Christopher L’Heureux said NATO troops remain in a state of readiness, but will not overreact to developments across the border.

“If something goes sideways, we’ll be ready to address that, but we’re not going to do anything special,” he told AP.

 

Russia mobilizes for ZAPAD 2017. But how prepared is the Baltic Region?

 

A pair of Sukhoi Su-24M Heavy Strike Aircraft

The Russian practice, known as Zapad-17, seems to be the biggest exercise in the history of the Russian Federation. Ukraine’s Security Council has concluded that a total of 230,000 to 240,000 people will participate.

Western reviewers have talked about up to 100,000 participants.

Zapad-17, which starts officially on September 14th, can be described as a seizure exercise in which Russia’s ability to mobilize and go to war quickly will be practiced. The exercise takes place every four years, where the main exercises rotate between the different Russian military areas.

At the 2009 exercise, Russia was pursuing Warsaw in Poland with tactical nuclear weapons. Outside the exercise period, but the same year as Zapad-13, Russia practiced tactical nuclear weapons attacks against Sweden.

This year’s training activities are located both to neighboring Belarus and to Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Pskov and Smolensk oblast, as well as in the Baltic Sea.

Russia will also put its rail system on trial, as well as cyber-fighting units and nuclear weapons forces.

Officially, Russia is hacking up its exercises, all in order to avoid current Western inspections. According to the OSCE’s Wi-Fi document, more than 13,000 exercises have to be pre-advertised, as countries such as Sweden and Finland, as well as the NATO Alliance, have the right to send their own observers.

But this border is on the side of Russia, and takes advantage of the opportunity to test preparedness.

Emergency preparedness checks need not be pre-notified in accordance with the Wiendokument and are without obligation to invite observers. So what the paper is a little exercise, or several small ones is in fact a giant exercise that Russia keeps visitors away from.

And here’s an important difference between NATO’s open, transparent and long-term practice and Russian secret culture.

The exercise also means full mobilization in Kaliningrad, and that the reserves for the 76th airland division in Pskov have been called up.

The Russian Federation enclave of Kaliningrad.

Exercise in Russia has also been used several times to mask future military operations against other countries. During Kavkaz-08, the Russian troops remained in the field to shortly attack Georgia.
Zapad-13 was used to pinch and plan for the aggression against Ukraine, which was then carried out in 2014.

Center-15 was used as “cover up” to hide what kind of help was sent to Assad in Syria.

Last week, two Russian fighter aircraft violated Swedish airspace east of Gotland. It is based on this experience that nervousness in the West is particularly great, what really happens after the exercise? US Commander in Europe, General Ben Hodges, has been warned that Zapad may be a “Trojan horse” that places Russian soldiers and equipment in Belarus and can then be moved on.

And there are signs of increased number of provocations. Last week, two Russian fighter aircraft violated Swedish airspace east of Gotland.

Russia’s attempt to send the Kruzenstern school ship with 164 cadets on board to Mariehamn on Åland during Zapad-17 was stopped this week. Åland’s demilitarized position means that Finland is responsible for the defense of Åland without being allowed to prepare for this in peacetime.

The Russian Navy Cadet Training Ship Kruzenstern

But Finland also has the power to deny “state ships” to call at Åland. What is now used with Kruzenstern. The Finnish Chief of Staff has announced refusal, without further explanation. The most likely is Russia wanted to test Finland’s reactions with the visit, although a nightmare scenario is the ship would have been used for “green men”. “Green men” refers to masked soldiers in unmarked green army uniforms and carrying modern Russian military weapons and equipment that appeared during the Ukrainian crisis of 2014.

Åland’s demilitarized status and the legal basis of the 1921 Åland Convention and the bilateral peace agreement with the Soviet Union in 1940 (as confirmed in Paris 1947) makes the island’s vulnerability at least as great as Gotlands in the increasingly hot Baltic region.

Instead, the Russian propaganda now learns to grind additional laps of fears of terror from the event surrounding the school ship.

The official reason behind the planned schooling visit was a visit because Mariehamn wants to host Tall Ships Race 2021. Instead, the Russian propaganda now learns to grind additional laps of fears of terror from the event surrounding the school ship.

But already the week before the current visit, Åland is visited by a Swedish-Russian “peace action”. There, activists from Sweden and Russia will conduct activism during an escalating scenario. From Sweden, two environmentalist parliamentarians, Carl Schlyter and Annika Lillimets participate.

No participant from Finland is expected to have a strong reaction to being just an external influence on Åland. “Peace activists” thus help to increase the security policy tension.

Finland has also announced that it is running local defense exercises to improve government cooperation, among other things. It should also be read in plain text to be able to handle “green men”. The troops practice in Kajanaland, South Karelia, South Savolax, Southern Finland and Satakunta.

Finnish Civil Defence Exercises are underway as of 30 August 2017

The message that Finland is close to its friends was strengthened when President Niinistö visited Donald Trump in the White House on Monday evening, Swedish time. There, the US President stressed the ties to Finland and that the USA was “very protective, extremely protective” in the Baltic Sea Region.

At the same time, Trump avoided direct questions if he regards Russia as a threat, yet stressing that if threats appear “we’ll handle them.”

“We are doing everything to preserve peace in the Baltic Sea area,” said President Sauli Niinistö from the Speaker’s Court in the White House. “When I met Putin a few weeks ago, I asked about the Chinese navy practicing Russia. Putin replied that that exercise was not aimed at anyone. Then I found out that we are practicing with the United States and Sweden, and it is not aimed at anyone either. ”

Prior to Zapad’s practice, NATO has strengthened with, among other things, 600 skid hunters in the Baltics. It is not an impressive numeral but should be seen as a signal to Russia that if one finds something, one gets to fight with more Americans, and in itself it can be war-restrained.

In Sweden, Zapad partially coincides with its own defense defense exercise Aurora 17 (18-27 September), where almost half of the Swedish defense team participates in 19,000 people together with connections from Finland, Denmark, Norway, Estonia, Lithuania, France and the United States.

Aurora is the largest Swedish exercise of nearly a quarter of a century and an important reconciliation in the work of getting a defense consisting of two brigades. This is comparable to the fact that the Swedish defense in 1971 had 31 brigades.

Preparations are in full swing for the Swedish Armed Forces exercise Aurora this September. All Swedish air wings will participate.

But despite the fact that the Russian exercise is expected to be closer to five times as big as the total Swedish defense and twelve times as high as Aurora-17, the Swedish debate and media reports are more dominated by various peace activists demonstration plans and questioning of Swedish practice.

One who walks in these footsteps is Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt who equals the level of provocations between the Russian offensive nuclear weapons exercise with the defense force’s defense exercise.

Some major protests against the Russian aggressive exercise, including nuclear weapons, we can not see from the peace movement in Sweden. So Gudrun Schyman, Sven Hirdman, with several teachings, continues to wear shades, earlobes and eyelashes to continue living in another reality.

And as the Ukrainian Security Council notes on its website: “Zapad-17 is another step for Russia to promote confrontation on the European continent. It requires a truly serious response from both West and Ukraine. The state leadership, Ukrainian defense and other security and detention agencies are now taking the necessary steps to protect our state. ”

The warning for autumn storms in the Baltic Sea area is thus here. There may be a lot of cold to handle both accidental and deliberate incidents.

By the way, Peter Hultqvist is the best defense minister Sweden can have in this position.

Swedish Defence minister Peter Hultqvist and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

By Patrik Oksanen, security and defense policy consultant for several of the MittMedia Group’s liberal and center party leader pages. Oksanen is a daily editor of Hudiksvalls Tidning and currently a political editor at ÖP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russia’s risky military exercise

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the closing stage of Zapad 2013

September will be a nervous month in Eastern Europe, according to Peter Apps, the global affairs columnist for the Reuters news agency. He is referring to Russia’s largest military exercise since the Cold War.

The September 14 drill (known as Zapad (West) 2017) has raised concern in Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and elsewhere.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sees both conventional and nuclear posturing as a useful tool to reassert Moscow’s status as a world power and intimidate nearby enemies. The three years since Russia’s annexation of Crimea have seen a dramatic increase in Moscow’s military activity.

But Russia’s escalating confrontation with the West goes well beyond that, writes Apps. He explains that Moscow, Washington and other Western governments understand that any direct conflict between Russia and the West would prove disastrous. Instead, the face-off is worsening in wider, often weirder ways. And while many Americans would blame Moscow, many Russians see it differently.

Despite signs that US President Donald Trump would still like to be in Putin’s good graces, Congress and much of the US government simply will not let him – particularly as probes into Russian election hacking and the Trump campaign’s Moscow links gather steam. With a continuous drip feed of allegations and revelations, it will become ever more toxic to relations.

On August 2, Trump signed a bill to impose new sanctions demanded by Congress. This showed that Capitol Hill, not the president, now may be calling the shots.

Back in Moscow, Apps notes that most experts agree Putin prioritises his personal survival above all else. In his early years in power, Putin’s authority derived heavily from Russia’s economic prosperity and stability. Now, however, the Kremlin propaganda machine focuses on his role in restoring the country’s militaristic and national pride. If sanctions begin to undermine the Russian economy, this may only intensify.

As for the upcoming Zapad exercise, this will probably follow what is now the traditional Russian pattern of ending with a simulated nuclear strike on an enemy city or military force. The last “Zapad” exercise in 2013 had Warsaw as the simulated target.

According to Apps, this is Moscow’s way of reminding its neighbours and potential adversaries of just what is at stake if tensions rise too high. The irony is that it will simply guarantee that a nervous world could get even more so.

 

Political and Military News Distribution Service