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

Is there an epidemic of pneumonia among soldiers in Leningrad Oblast?

Almost 1000 draftees from Leningrad Oblast have been hospitalized in less than two months, reports Ekho Moskvy. According to the radio station, most of the soldiers have been diagnosed with pneumonia.

There are no official statements about the apparent epidemic. Ekho Moskvy says that the sick soldiers are brought to the hospital in Saint Petersburg in other cars than ambulances in order to hide the number of infections. The report says that the sick soldiers come from at least five different military installations in Leningrad Oblast. …Continue reading

Russian military moves from Windows to Linux

The Russian military has decided to move away from Microsoft Windows on all computers. The decision is grounded in security concerns connected with using an operating system that is produced abroad. That reports Izvestia.

Instead there will be installed a version of Astra Linux on all computers in the Russian Armed Forces. LibreOffice will be used as office suite. …Continue reading

What to expect for Russian Baltic Fleet in 2018

The press service of the Russian Western Military District has announce a few things to expect from the Baltic Fleet in 2018, reports RIA Novosti.

Most notably there will be established another air defense unit with S-400 missiles. The fleet will also receive a new missile corvette. In addition to these things the general modernization of the materiel will continue. …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.

Russia’s aircraft carrier begins three year modernization

A contract has finally been signed regarding the modernization of Russia’s only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, reports TASS. The work is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2018 and to last for three years.

Originally the modernization should have started in September, but due to a lack of finances the work could not begin at that time. Now the ambitions for the modernization have been lowered, and finances for the maintenance have been provided with the 2018-2027 defense program.

Franz-Stefan Gady made a good roundup of the expected modernization and the status of Admiral Kuznetsov in The Diplomat back in October.

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.

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.