Keir Giles

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Vladimir Putin last week gave details of Russia’s stated intent to base tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The flurry of alarmist reporting on what this meant highlights much of what is wrong with Western responses to Russian nuclear intimidation.

How Putin’s words have been spun in the West may be a surprise to Moscow — but there’s no doubt it will be a highly gratifying one. Because Russia has already “used” nuclear weapons. It’s used them highly successfully without firing them, by trading on empty threats about potential nuclear strikes to very effectively deter the West from fully supporting Ukraine against Russia’s imperialist war.…  Seguir leyendo »

A soldier with the Ukrainian Army tests a drone, near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on November 25. Leah Millis/Reuters

To understand Russia and Ukraine’s very different ways of fighting, a good first place to look is up.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been described as the “first full-scale drone war.”

That description may be a little misleading – all of the ways in which we have seen drones being employed in the conflict have precedents, some of them dating back over a decade.

And this isn’t the first war in which the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been so thoroughly integrated into operations.

But it is true that the fighting in Ukraine represents the first long-term, sustained conflict where all the currently available uses for drones are an indispensable part of combined operations – and on both sides.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Ukrainian soldier inspects the wreckage of a destroyed Russian armoured column on the road in Bucha, north of Kyiv. Photo by Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

The patterns of behaviour by the occupying troops now emerging as Ukraine liberates areas around Kyiv have direct implications for how the war between the two countries can – and must – be ended. It is now harder for Ukraine’s friends and supporters to ignore what Ukrainians – and other countries bordering Russia – have known from the start: that they are defending themselves against a war of annihilation.

Organized mass murder of civilians in the occupied areas of Ukraine is not only a natural function of the manner in which Russia fights wars. It also flows entirely logically from the image of Ukraine that has been relentlessly inculcated by Russian domestic propaganda over the course of a decade.…  Seguir leyendo »

The German Chancellor's foreign and security policy adviser Jens Plotner (left) enjoys a hot drink before talks with Russia and France on strengthening stability in Europe. Photo by Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images.

Russia should be pleased with what it has achieved by parking part of its army within reach of Ukraine. Ahead of the upcoming US-Russia meeting and later planned talks within the OSCE and the NATO-Russia Council, there is every sign Russia may end up getting something for nothing – which will only confirm for Moscow that military threats are the best way to achieve its goals.

Russia’s demands have been widely written off as unrealistic. But based on past performance, Moscow has good reason to believe that it can extract substantial concessions. This belief will have been strongly encouraged by the responses to date of US president Joe Biden – both the early mention of finding an ‘accommodation’ for Russia’s concerns, and the promise of negotiation which endorses Moscow’s demands as acceptable for discussion.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian servicemen in a trench on the front line with Russia-backed separatists near Svitlodarsk in the Donetsk region. Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images.

Russia’s proposed new security treaties with the US and NATO are so unrealistic that it is widely suspected they are designed to be rejected out of hand to give Moscow an excuse to escalate its war on Ukraine.

But the Kremlin may have entirely different outcomes in mind. Based on past performance it is reasonable for Moscow to hope that at least some of the treaty proposals will be accepted. And there are plenty of options for attacking Ukraine that are less costly, and more manageable, than another land invasion.

It is true the draft treaties should be emphatically rejected because even though some may superficially appear reasonable, the way they would be implemented (and breached) by Russia means nothing in them should be acceptable.…  Seguir leyendo »

Conscripts depart by train for military service with the Russian army. It is estimated the autumn military call-up in Russia in 2021 is likely to draft up to 127,500 men. Photo by Sergei Malgavko\TASS via Getty Images.

As Russia assembles both the means for conducting an attack on Ukraine and the excuses for doing so, its demands for avoiding a conflict are expanding rapidly. How the US, NATO, and the West respond to those demands and the overt military threats accompanying them will have far-reaching consequences for the future direction of Russia as a state, and consequently for the security of Europe.

Russia’s drive to dominate Ukraine and dictate its future stems from Moscow’s implicit assumption of entitlement and exceptionalism. Western optimists may continue to hope for a more benign Russia, one that doesn’t terrorise its subjects or threaten its neighbours.…  Seguir leyendo »

British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender in the port of Odessa on Ukraine's Black Sea coast. Photo by Konstantin Sazonchik\TASS via Getty Images.

HMS Defender entered the Black Sea knowing it would be an eventful visit. Between friendly port stops in Ukraine and Georgia, passing by the tense region of Russian-occupied Crimea was bound to be a serious business.

Moscow likes to claim that foreign ships or aircraft in its vicinity change course and retreat when challenged by Russian forces. It is usually a fiction, but Russia needs to tell its people two stories – that it is under threat from a dangerous, aggressive West, but also that Russia itself is strong and can protect itself and see off unwelcome intruders.

This leads it not only to carry out aggressive and dangerous manoeuvres close to Western aircraft and ships on and above the seas around Russia, but also to concoct fanciful stories about the supposed power and reach of Russian weapons, including in the Black Sea.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ryanair passenger plane from Athens, Greece finally lands at its intended destination of Vilnius International Airport after being diverted to Minsk by Belarus authorities. Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP via Getty Images.

The recent action against a civilian flight between two EU capitals has removed any remaining doubt Belarus is content to continue down the path of becoming a rogue state. There could be no clearer statement that President Lukashenka has turned his back on the West and abandoned any restraint or concern for international censure.

Since the rigged presidential election in August 2020, Lukashenka has placed all his bets on Moscow and Russia has been quick to take advantage of the military opportunities this offered. Russian troops have held demonstrative exercises showing how speedily they can be inserted by air directly from Russia onto Belarus's borders with Poland and Lithuania – all with full cooperation from Minsk.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man prays in the Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images.

The bad news from Russia continues to come thick and fast with the ongoing slow-motion murder of Alexey Navalny in prison and the continuing presence of Russian troop concentrations on the Ukrainian border, both of which present significant policy challenges to supporters of human rights and of Ukraine’s independence.

But the disclosure of a direct attack by Russia on a NATO and EU member state – a massive explosion in an ammunition depot in the Czech Republic back in 2014 – is an action to which a failure to respond assertively would be both inexcusable and highly dangerous.

The Czech authorities say the explosion was the work of the same two Russian military intelligence officers – Aleksandr Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga – who carried out the 2018 Salisbury poison attack.…  Seguir leyendo »

A mass rally in Grodno, Belarus where factory workers went on strike in protest against the election results and actions of law enforcement officers. Photo by Viktor Drachev\TASS via Getty Images.

Having failed to swiftly translate popular support into tangible political achievements, there are signs the protests against the fraudulent presidential election in Belarus may be losing momentum in the face of the state’s resilience and still-confident security and enforcement apparatus.

Attempts to blame the unrest on the West have focused on groups Lukashenka and Russia can both call enemies. And now Aliaksandr Lukashenka is not only inventing anti-Russian policies supposedly held by the opposition, such as suppressing the Russian language and closing the border with Russia, but also a supposed military threat from NATO.

Border movements

Increased military activity inside Belarus does give Lukashenka a wider range of options.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Belarus president Aliaksandr Lukashenka skiing in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. Photo by SERGEI CHIRIKOV/AFP via Getty Images.

Amid outrage and revulsion at Belarus’s fraudulent election and the subsequent savage repression of protests, Western responses must be planned with half an eye on Russia. Not just for what is often described as the risk of ‘driving Belarus into Russia’s arms’ but also for the danger of unilateral Russian action, with or without Belarusian acquiescence.

In the past six years, there have been endless discussions of what might prompt another Russian military intervention in Europe after Ukraine. In many of these scenarios, it is precisely the situation currently unfolding in Belarus that has been top of the list, with all the wide-ranging implications for security of the continent as a whole that would follow.…  Seguir leyendo »

An airlifter of the Russian Aerospace Forces prepares to fly to Serbia carrying equipment and professionals during the COVID-19 crisis. Photo by Russian Defence Ministry\TASS via Getty Images.

Both Russia and China have mounted combined charm offensives and disinformation campaigns on the back of the pandemic. Shipments of ‘aid’ – reportedly of questionable utility and quality - have gone hand in hand with a concerted effort to deflect any blame from China for the early spread, and an ongoing drive by Russia to undermine states’ confidence and have sanctions lifted.

These concurrent operations have very different objectives, as Russia seeks to subvert international order while China is continuing its bid to demonstrate global leadership - but in both cases, they are seeking long-term gains by exploiting the inattention and distraction of their targets.…  Seguir leyendo »

Celebrations in March marking Poland's 20 years as a NATO member. Photo: Getty Images.

Under NATO’s ‘enhanced forward presence’ programme, small additional contingents from other NATO allies join the host nation’s troops in Poland and the Baltic states to bolster deterrence against any further Russian military adventurism.

These contingents have inevitably become the targets for malign Russian information activities. But so have their communities and families at home.

In the Russian view of information warfare, there is no front line and rear areas, and no non-combatants. According to Russia’s Chief of General Staff General Valeriy Gerasimov, a key feature of modern warfare in the information domain is ‘simultaneous effects to the entire depth of enemy territory’.…  Seguir leyendo »

American and Russian flags in Helsinki on 16 July. Photo: Getty Images.

President Donald Trump's joint press conference with Vladimir Putin has sparked anger, embarrassment and shame in the United States. But there are two key aspects of the summit that are being overlooked. They are that, first, anybody who was surprised by Trump's willingness to accommodate President Putin has simply not been paying attention; and second, that it could all have been so much worse. In fact, both the United States and its European allies may have got off lightly.

Trump's reluctance to recognize Russia as an adversary that means harm to the US was already well demonstrated before the summit, as was his unwillingness to address Russia’s aggressive behaviour against the US and its friends and partners in Europe and beyond.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Belarusian tank participates in the 2017 International Army Games in Russia. Photo: Getty Images.

In Russia and neighbouring Belarus, preparations are underway for Zapad - a major military exercise to be held in September. The two countries' Western neighbours are worried. Zapad is Russian for 'West', and of all the different major exercises in the Russian military calendar, it causes the most excitement and concern because it is the one that most closely resembles practice for invading those neighbours.

As a result, this regular event receives a lot more attention than other Russian manoeuvers of similar size. Held every four years, the exercise can even develop its own mythology: much of the Western coverage said that the 2009 exercise ended with a simulated nuclear attack on Warsaw, Poland, even though there is no evidence at all from unclassified sources to suggest this was the case.…  Seguir leyendo »

Police block the road during a demonstration in Minsk. Photo by Getty Images.

What happened?

25 March is the anniversary of a short-lived independent Belarusian state in 1918, and traditionally a day for rallies organized by opposition groups. This year it also followed a series of smaller protests about a controversial new law penalizing so-called ‘social parasites’ who do not work a certain number of days each year. Demonstrations were permitted in a number of provincial towns, but not in the capital.

The response by the authorities was firm, but not dramatic by local standards. Just over 700 people were arrested, with most released the same day either without charges or awaiting trial. The following day, more arrests were made at rallies in support of those detained the day before.…  Seguir leyendo »

Donald Trump with HR McMaster, the new national security advisor, and his chief of staff, Keith Kellogg. Photo: Getty Images.

The appointment of the widely-respected Lieutenant General HR McMaster as national security advisor follows a week of strong messages delivered to Russia, including in face to face talks. While the US administration fights allegations of Russian influence at home, three of its most senior officials have been abroad sending firm messages directly to Moscow.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson knows from experience what is effective and what is not in negotiations with Russia, and emphasized the defence of American interests ahead of his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke at NATO of the need to negotiate with Russia ‘from a position of strength’, and for Russia to ‘prove itself’.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dutch soldiers take part in a NATO troop exercise in Estonia. Photo via Getty Images.

British troops are to be stationed in Estonia from May 2017, as part of a NATO plan to improve the defences of its front-line states. This is a small but essential step to discourage possible assertive moves by Russia. The geography of the Baltic means that being in place before a crisis is essential - because after it begins is too late. Russia has been practising for years at blocking access to the region, and for NATO to fight its way through to protect its allies would be vastly harder than simply being present to start with.

Local populations in the host countries are pleased to see NATO troops arrive as a concrete demonstration of commitment to their security.…  Seguir leyendo »

Military personnel walk in the underground communication tunnel of the training centre for urban warfare in Pabrade, Lithuania. Photo by Getty Images.

NATO is moving forward with its plans to set up multinational battalions in Poland and each of the three Baltic states. Estimates of the total size of this commitment vary in the range of 3,000–4,000 troops spread between the four countries. It’s understandable that NATO is being reticent about detailing precise numbers. But finding out the overall shape of these new measures agreed at July’s Warsaw Summit – and consequently realizing that they are entirely unthreatening in nature – requires a close reading of NATO statements and some deduction. By making people work hard to realize its defensive intent, NATO is failing in a core task of strategic communications.…  Seguir leyendo »

Among the many assessments of the fallout from last week’s Brexit referendum, one strong theme is the notion that without Britain, the Continent and its alliances would be left weaker and less able to face down an assertive Russia. The worst of these predictions assume that non-membership in the European Union precludes any security cooperation with it at all, which is unlikely even in the messiest of divorces. But the referendum has revealed another very real vulnerability, one that lies within the heart of the United Kingdom, and one that Russian President Vladimir Putin would only be too happy to exploit.…  Seguir leyendo »