Russia’s foreign policy toward USA is not schizophrenic

Professor Kimberly Marten tries to explain an apparently schizophrenic Russian foreign policy toward the United States in this policy memo on PONARS Eurasia.

She comes up with four possible explanations:

  1. Putin succumbed to his own ignorance and biases.
  2. Putin’s advisors are afraid to tell him the truth.
  3. Inconsistent foreign policy is the result of infighting in Putin’s inner circle.
  4. Disparate members of Russia’s intelligence network are controlling foreign policy with negative consequences for state interests.

I think there are a few additional explanations to consider.

It’s not about Russia: Nobody can figure out Donald Trump

Marten gives two examples of inconsistencies in Russia’s foreign policy toward the United States.

The first one Continue reading

More US soldiers and Baltic Sea Policing Mission among ICDS recommendations for NATO

How should the United States and NATO prioritize their resources to the Baltic States? That is the topic of this policy paper that Erik Marmei and Gabriel White have written for ICDS.

The policy paper outlines a series of weaknesses with the defense in the Baltic States. It is pointed out that despite the fact that all three Baltic States spend more that NATO’s 2 percent of GDP goal, there will not be enough local funding to create a credible defense against the threat from Russia. …Continue reading

The Baltic nations would be hard to beat

One of the things that I didn’t touch on in my description about how a war between Russia and the West will play out was the resistance that the populations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would muster after a Russian occupation. That was a deliberate omission because you just can’t fit everything into one piece, but to be fair this is indeed so important that it deserves attention. …Continue reading

More dire predictions following US sale of Javelin missiles to Ukraine

Michael Kimmage for War on the Rocks in connection with the American decision to provide anti-tank missiles to Ukraine:

Both sides interpret their own actions as defensive. The greater the need to defend from the other’s aggression, the more an expansion of military assets makes sense — hence, the provision of “defensive lethal weapons.” Hence, Russia, chooses to …Continue reading

Proxy wars seem to be a thing again

Sébastien Roblin for War of the Rocks in connection with the American decision to provide Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine:

Michael Kofman, an analyst with extensive knowledge of Russian military affairs, was skeptical that a “few missiles” would be of any serious military benefit in a New York Times column in August. He wrote that the Javelin is “expensive and impractical” for Ukraine, especially compared to using the same money to purchase a larger number of new Ukrainian ATGMs.

Kofman also warned that if Javelin missiles result in dead Russians, Moscow could “signal back” with dead Americans. One obvious avenue for retaliation would be providing weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Earlier in 2017, the military and State Department claimed they had evidence Russian agents were providing small arms to the Taliban. This could theoretically be stepped up to heavier weapons.

Maybe former Soviet republics don’t like to be Russia’s “sphere of interest”

Mikhail Barabanov in Moscow Defense Brief:

Russia holds the Zapad drills along its western borders once every four years; the previous such event took place in 2013. This year, however, the reaction from some of Russia’s neighbors to the west has been nothing short of hysterical.
For all the Western concerns, the scenario of the main phase of the drills was purely defensive, and focused on defending an allied state (Belarus) from hostile actions and then a direct invasion by the West. In that sense, the scenario was fully in line with the Putin administration’s perception of the domestic and external threats facing Russia. The exercise was a fairly typical reflection of how Russia believes it should act in the former Soviet republics to protect its “sphere of interests” from any encroachment by foreigners. It did not imply any major military operations beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. As with the famous “Gerasimov Doctrine” (which reflects Russian views of how the West operates, but which Western commentators choose to interpret as Russia’s own preferred course of action), the [Zapad] 2017 drills were not a simulation of a Russian act of aggression. Rather, they reflected the growing concern in the Russian military-political leadership about increasingly blatant Western meddling in former Soviet republics.

Gee, I wonder what caused the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to become so hysterical.

More on Germany’s trouble to keep equipment moving

Sébastien Roblin for The National Interest in a piece called Germany Does Not Have One Working Submarine:

One unfortunate consequence is that the submarine crews are completely unable to gain badly needed operational experience. Only by mid-2018 will three German submarines be operational, followed by possibly a fourth that November.

But the kicker is that the Deutsche Marine would not be able to deploy its full submarine force even if all six were in operational condition. According to Bartels, there are only three trained crews available to man the six Type 212As.

Indeed, the German military, which transitioned to being a purely volunteer force in 2011, has struggled to fill its ranks […]

Low readiness rates afflict other branches of the Germany military as well. For example, Germany is currently expanding and upgrading its fleet of Leopard 2 tanks. However, according to NTV, out of 244 Leopard 2 tanks already in service, only ninety-six are combat-ready, while eighty-nine are awaiting spare parts, seven are devoted to R&D and fifty-three are under maintenance or receiving upgrades. Of fourteen new A400M transport planes, sometimes none are in operational condition; one broke down in February 2017 while transporting Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. In 2015, it was revealed that out of ninety-three Tornado strike jets officially in service, only thirty were combat ready.

Meanwhile some are still speculating how Germany could possibly spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Good article about what a war with Russia would look like

In connection with Zapad 2017, Russia said that the exercise was about training defensive maneuvers. BILD has an article that claims otherwise:

However, BILD recently spoke to two leading analysts from a western intelligence service who revealed that Zapad 2017 was neither an “anti-terror exercise” nor “purely defensive”, but a “dry run” for a “full-scale conventional war against NATO in Europe”.

I don’t think this should come as any surprise. In fact, from a Russian point of view an offensive move is the only approach that makes sense in case of a war. So it is fully meaningful that they would train how to turn a defensive action into an offensive.

The rest of the article is a good account of how such a war may pan out, and how Russia could use their weapons. It is well worth the read for this alone.

The most interesting part, though, I think was this bit explaining what could lead to a war in the first place:

One of the sources explained to BILD what a trigger for such events could be. “I am always asked, is this an offensive or a defensive operation? The answer is, it is an escalation operation”. So-called “coloured revolutions”, for example in Belarus or other post-Soviet states, could lead to the war that was trained in Zapad 2017. “Such a revolution, which would of course be ‘a plot by the CIA’, according to them, could get Russia involved. If the US or another NATO country then gets involved, this could be the starting point for the scenario they trained for in September”.

I think that’s exactly right. Only I’d add that a color revolution in Russia itself is also a real possibility that could be extremely dangerous.

Poland connects the European security puzzle

Natalia Wojtowicz suggests that Poland can play leading role in connecting regional security initiatives to make EU and NATO strategies more coherent.

Guest post by

Judging by the growing engagement of Europe in security cooperation, the times have never been more supportive for a combined strategy. Defense spending is on the rise, new structures are established, and old ones reinforced. The Russian strategy of “divide and conquer” has brought the responding “ally and counter”.

…Continue reading

Putin joke shows Russian narrative about the West

This week Russian president Vladimir Putin held a press conference in Moscow in the presence of no less that 1600 journalists. And if anybody should doubt the narrative that exists in Russia about the West, I think the following answer to a question about international relations and defense spending gives a good illustration:

“We didn’t run away from any agreements. But what did USA do? They set up launching systems where missile interceptors can be exchanged for medium range missiles. We protect our safety without getting caught in an arms race. Our defense spending is balanced by due attention to several needs: We must ensure the safety without breaking the economy. Next year we will spend 2.8 trillion Rubles on defense. But the United States will spend 700 trillion Dollars. Try to feel the difference. But we are satisfied with what we spend. Could we possibly spend any less? Let me tell you a joke: An officer asks his son ‘Have you seen the dagger?’ The son answers, ‘I exchanged it for a watch’. The officer replies, ‘And then when a robber comes, kills me and your mother, rapes your sister, you will go into the street and say ‘The time in Moscow is 12:30’?’“

I guess nobody ever accused Putin of being a funny man. But comparing the United States to a robber, killer, and rapist must be about the least funny joke that I can think of.