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.

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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”.

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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.

Hardliners rise to power in Russian leadership rotation

In November, Russia made a large rotation of top leaders in the armed forces. Russian Defense Policy has looked at the people who have risen to glory. The overall trend is that successful command in combat is a key qualification for promotion.

The most prominent command change is that the Aerospace Forces got a new commander in chief. That is army Colonel General Sergey Surovikin who is currently the commander of the Russian forces in Syria.

About him, Russian Defense Policy notes:

No one would accuse Surovikin of being an uncontroversial figure. His biography features a number of incidents but nothing seems to stick to him.

As described on these pages in 2011 when he was reportedly considered to head the MOD’s new military police:

Kommersant gave details on Surovikin’s background. As a captain in August 1991, he was acting commander of the Taman division motorized rifle battalion responsible for the death of three Yeltsin supporters. He was arrested and investigated for seven months before charges against him were lifted.

As noted on these pages, he commanded the 34th MRD when one his colonels blew his brains out in front of the entire staff after an upbraiding from the commander. And Surovikin had a very short tenure as Chief of the GOU.

He seems an odd choice to be responsible for the army’s new enforcers of law and order. To be in charge of those charged with preventing dedovshchina and other barracks violence.

Not noted above is the fact that, as a major in 1995, he almost went to jail for the illegal possession and sale of a hand gun. This earned him one year of probation, and it later disqualified him from heading the MOD’s new military police force.

Sounds like a scrupulous bloke. I wonder what the air force officers hate the most: The fact that their new CINC has a history of misconduct, or the fact that he is from the Army?

Also interesting is this part, indicating that the Navy is increasing its focus on combat readiness in Kaliningrad and Crimea:

According to Izvestiya, the Navy also got a new deputy commander for ground and coastal troops General-Lieutenant Oleg Makarevich. The paper claims he’s second only to Surovikin in his “experience and charisma.” The position was made necessary because the land-based components of the navy have grown with army corps added to the fleets. The Navy is looking to Makarevich to smooth out their force structure and combat training, particularly in Kaliningrad and Crimea.

Sweden establishes new regiment on Gotland

The Swedish government has decided to form a new regiment on Gotland. From the beginning the regiment will count 350 soldiers but that number is expected to grow successively, reports svt.se. The headquarters for the new regiment will be in Visby. This is the first establishment of a new regiment in Sweden since World War II.

The decision is effective from 2018, which is just over two weeks away. However, many of the soldiers are already present on the island. Since the last regiment on Gotland was closed in 2005 there have been different subunits on the island, and the new regiment is largely an attempt to streamline the leadership.

It is hard to overstate the strategic importance of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. For both surveillance and as a possible launching position for missiles Gotland is perfectly situated just 150 kilometers off the coast of Latvia. With one of Sweden’s new Patriot batteries (or an equivalent American one) positioned on the Island it is possible to control the airspace over much of the Baltic Sea. An invasion of Gotland would therefore be an obvious move by Russia in case of a war.

Estonia receives Javelin anti-tank missiles

Estonia has received the first delivery of Javelin Block 1 missiles. Javelin is a man-portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missile that is produced by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. That announces the Estonian Ministry of Defense. The missiles will replace the old MILAN system in both the army and the voluntary Estonian Defense League.

Last year Estonia received pre-owned missiles of the Javelin Block 0 type from the U.S. Army. The Block 1 missiles that have been received this time are brand new from the factory.

In 2014 Estonia signed the deal to purchase the Javelin system from USA for the sum of $55 million. However, $33 million of that is payed by the US government as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.

Finland will buy large corvettes

Finnish chief of defense general Jarmo Lindberg to Defense News:

[In] the defense report that was finalized in June last year, the government stated that they are willing to fund strategic procurement programs first to the Navy, where six ships are going away, and they’re going to be replaced by four multipurpose corvettes of about 100 meters. And the anticipated cost of that is €1.2 billion.

As I wrote the other day, ocean capable corvettes are a very interesting class of ships.

Latvia more vulnerable to disinformation than other Baltic States

Latvia scores lower than the other Baltic States on the Disinformation Resilience Index (via icds.ee):

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: who is better equipped to counter disinformation? Estonia developed noticeably higher quality of systemic responses to disinformation campaigns than the other Baltic States. Lithuanians are much less exposed to Russian media environment as Russian-speaking part of population there is many times less numerous. While Latvia does relatively worse than the other two neighbors in withstanding the information threats.

Poland’s love-hate relationship with the EU

Tuula Koponen has a very interesting account of Poland’s troubled relationship with the European Union in Diplomaatia.ee. It seems like a love-hate relationship where Poland is in opposition to almost everything that the EU stands for, yet the EU is extremely popular among Poles with an 88 percent approval rating.

Kaczyński’s policy in Poland is based on the same values as Orbán’s in Hungary. Family, faith and fatherland are important. Both swear allegiance to democracy, but both find liberal democracy and multiculturalism as abhorrent as repressive communist power.

Poland thinks, like Hungary, that it is fighting foreign dominance. And, just like Hungary, Poland also wants to become a model state that the rest of Europe can learn from.

It is said that Orbán’s “illiberal democracy” has the same origin as Vladimir Putin’s in Russia. Even though the Polish model may look the same from outside, it is never acknowledged. Russia is now a strategic partner for Hungary, but Poland’s main enemy. Polish identity is based on opposition to Russia.

On the surface this has little to do with defense politics, but in the long term it is dangerous for the alliance cohesion if Poland has dramatically different values from the other NATO countries in the Baltic region.

Ocean capable corvettes could be affordable force enablers

Yesterday the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that Soobrazitelnyy, a corvette from the Baltic Fleet, had passed through the Suez Canal from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean. This was the latest in a series of press releases covering the journey of two Steregushchiy class corvettes and an auxiliary vessel from the Baltic Fleet.

The three ships Boiky, Soobrazitelnyy, and Kola departed from Baltiysk on 14 October, and it was announced that they would complete tasks in the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, the ministry’s press service has been generous with updates on the journey. Reports have been made on the passage of the Strait of Gibraltar, AAW and ASW exercises, a port visit in Limassol, how the ships split up with Boiky completing tasks in the Mediterranean (I suppose around Syria) and Soobrazitelnyy passing the Suez Canal to participate in anti-piracy operations and visit the port of Djibouti. With the ships reunited in the Mediterranean I suppose it is reasonable to assume that the group will head home soon, perhaps in time for Christmas which in Russia is on 7 January.

Obviously, with this massive press coverage one has to wonder whether the point of the whole journey was to generate attention. Nevertheless I do think that the proof of concept is really interesting. Medium sized warships that are large enough to endure the ocean yet small enough to be affordable could prove very useful in the future.

These are ships with a displacement around 2000 tons. Aside from the Russian Steregushchiy class, I think the German Braunschweig class and the British Batch 2 River Class are interesting examples of such warships. A look at the Baltic navies reveals that most only have ships that are much larger or much smaller.

For countries like Denmark, Norway, and Poland such medium sized warships could permit the country to participate in low-risk maritime security operations while the larger frigates could focus on tasks where their broad warfare capabilities are needed. For other countries like Sweden ocean capable corvettes could make it possible to participate at all.

Why don’t Russians revolt?

Aimar Ventsel asks the reasonable question Why Don’t Russians Revolt? on Diplomaatia.ee. He gives a good account of the deteriorating socio-economic situation in Russia and some interesting explanations why this does not lead to a revolt, including:

  1. Vladimir Putin has a magnificent image as a benevolent leader. The notion is that the president is not aware of local issues, and upon hearing about them is able to solve all problems.

  2. Western sanctions have been portrayed as targeted against the population, and every chance is used to repeat the story that Russia is under attack. This has nurtured a resilience in the population around the belief that life is hard, and one must suffer for the preservation of the nation.

  3. The government is the most important job provider in many areas.

  4. There are large regional differences in Russia, so people have different concerns and problems.

  5. Russians are generally proud of their country and its achievements in a variety of fields like sports, culture, manufacturing, etc.

But perhaps the most important point in Ventsel’s analysis is this:

Finally, it can be noted that, today, the race between a TV and a fridge has been won by the TV—the population of Russia has united to protect themselves against a foreign enemy. However, there is no reason to believe that wide-ranging riots and revolutionary upheavals would bring any good to Russia’s neighbours, at least.

A revolt would most likely be a disaster for both the Russians and their neighbors.