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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Russia has announced that it has set up a joint air defence system with Belarus.
As with so many joint projects between Moscow and Minsk, this appears to be a Russian idea that could remain largely on paper without Belarusian cooperation. But it does create an opportunity that Russia could exploit if relations with NATO and the West deteriorate further.
The significant point is not the announcement, but whether and how it is implemented. A notional joint air defence system between Russia and Belarus is a very old idea, and plans for the current incarnation date back to 2009. It’s not unique: previous announcements like this have been made with respect to Kazakhstan, for instance.… Seguir leyendo »
The close passes by Russian aircraft on two consecutive days this week were carried out far more aggressively than similar flights near the Donald Cook and the USS Ross in the Black Sea in 2014 and 2015. This and other recent behaviour by Russia is both dangerous and in breach of international agreements, and risks causing a serious incident.
Russia has been consistently testing the judgement and restraint of the US military. This trend has also seen aggressive and provocative manoeuvres against Western aircraft in Syria, in particular during a deployment by US F-15Cs and Es to Turkey in late 2015.… Seguir leyendo »
During a surprise three-day visit, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter is meeting senior Belarusian defence officials and President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Offering an exchange of defence attachés, Carpenter has reportedly said the main focus of US policy towards Belarus is now ‘steadfast support for its sovereignty and territorial integrity’.
As a former director for Russia at the US National Security Council, Carpenter will be fully aware of the risks involved in incautious moves in Minsk. With Moscow portraying itself as under threat from an encroaching West, Russia will have been watching tentative steps towards rapprochement between Belarus and the EU and US with concern.… Seguir leyendo »
The agreement on a limited cessation of hostilities in Syria has achieved some of its immediate aims of reducing bloodshed and creating conditions for the delivery of urgent humanitarian aid. But by meeting a wide range of Russian objectives, not limited to Syria itself, it also stores up trouble for the West. In particular, the agreement has confirmed for Russia that assertive military intervention is the most effective means of achieving swift and positive (for Moscow) foreign policy results.
Russia has every reason to be satisfied with the current agreement. It achieves a Russian goal that has been consistent since the beginning of the conflict in Syria: stopping military operations by opposition forces against the Assad government.… Seguir leyendo »