Russian aggression drives Swedish defense spending

Defense News reports: Sweden’s discomfort over Russia’s long-term political and military ambitions in the Baltic Sea and High North has risen further after a senior military chief stated the Nordic state could find itself under attack “within a few years.”

The warning, made by Swedish Armed Forces’ Maj. Gen. Anders Brännström, came the same week that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed, in the organization’s Annual Report, that Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers accompanied by Sukhoi Su-27 jets conducted a simulated “training” nuclear strike targeting key Swedish defense installations in March 2013.

Brännström stated, in an internal military document forwarded to officers and soldiers attending the armed forces’ Markstrids’ (Land Combat) conference in the sub-Arctic town of Boden, that the changed post-Cold War security landscape will require Sweden to downgrade international missions and prioritize reinforcing national defense readiness and capabilities. [Continue reading…]

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If Russia started a war in the Baltics, NATO would lose — quickly

Dan De Luce writes: If Russian tanks and troops rolled into the Baltics tomorrow, outgunned and outnumbered NATO forces would be overrun in under three days. That’s the sobering conclusion of war games carried out by a think tank with American military officers and civilian officials.

“The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members,” said a report by the RAND Corp., which led the war gaming research.

In numerous tabletop war games played over several months between 2014-2015, Russian forces were knocking on the doors of the Estonian capital of Tallinn or the Latvian capital of Riga within 36 to 60 hours. U.S. and Baltic troops — and American airpower — proved unable to halt the advance of mechanized Russian units and suffered heavy casualties, the report said.

The study argues that NATO has been caught napping by a resurgent and unpredictable Russia, which has begun to boost defense spending after having seized the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and intervened in support of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. In the event of a potential Russian incursion in the Baltics, the United States and its allies lack sufficient troop numbers, or tanks and armored vehicles, to slow the advance of Russian armor, said the report by RAND’s David Shlapak and Michael Johnson. [Continue reading…]

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Russia carried out practice nuclear strike against Sweden

Tupolev-Tu-22M3

The Local reports: When Russian planes carried out a simulated attack against Sweden in 2013, it included nuclear warfare, a Nato report has revealed.

The training mission by the Russian military took place just beyond the eastern edge of the Stockholm archipelago three years ago. It grabbed global headlines because Sweden’s military was slow to react due to staff being on vacation and had to rely on help from Nato.

Several Swedish media outlets had previously speculated that the exercises also included a simulated nuclear attack, but this was never confirmed.

Now, Nato’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has revealed that this was indeed the case – a revelation that appears in the defence alliance’s annual report.

The text, which was released last week but only widely reported in Sweden on Wednesday, also confirmed that four Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers had participated in the training exercise as well as two Sukhoi Su-27 jets. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. fortifying Europe’s east to deter Putin

The New York Times reports: President Obama plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russia from further aggression in the region.

The White House plans to pay for the additional weapons and equipment with a budget request of more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe in 2017, several officials said Monday, more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million. The weapons and equipment will be used by American and NATO forces, ensuring that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade in the region at all times.

Though Russia’s military activity has quieted in eastern Ukraine in recent months, Moscow continues to maintain a presence there, working with pro-Russian local forces. Administration officials said the additional NATO forces were calculated to send a signal to President Vladimir V. Putin that the West remained deeply suspicious of his motives in the region.

“This is not a response to something that happened last Tuesday,” a senior administration official said. “This is a longer-term response to a changed security environment in Europe. This reflects a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor.” [Continue reading…]

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As Poland lurches to the right, many in Europe look on in alarm

The New York Times reports: In the few weeks since Poland’s new right-wing government took over, its leaders have alarmed the domestic opposition and moderate parties throughout Europe by taking a series of unilateral actions that one critic labeled “Putinist.”

Under their undisputed leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, they pardoned the notorious head of the security services, who was appealing a three-year sentence for abuse of his office from their previous years in power; tried to halt the production of a play they deemed “pornographic”; threatened to impose controls on the news media; and declared, repeatedly and emphatically, that they would overrule the previous government’s promise to accept refugees pouring into Europe.

But the largest flash point, so far, has been a series of questionable parliamentary maneuvers by the government and the opposition that has allowed a dispute over who should sit on the country’s powerful Constitutional Tribunal to metastasize into a full-blown constitutional crisis — with thousands of protesters from all sides taking to the streets.

Countries across Europe have seen nationalist movements rise in popularity, particularly in the wake of the refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks in Paris. But Poland’s rightward lurch under the newly empowered Law and Justice Party is unsettling what had been the region’s strongest economy and a model for the struggling post-Soviet states of Eastern Europe. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: Poland’s government replaced the head of NATO members’ training facility in Warsaw after Defense Ministry officials and military police entered its provisional office after midnight on Friday.

The Counter Intelligence Center of Excellence was staffed with officials who weren’t supported by the Polish government, Deputy Defense Minister Bartosz Kownacki told RMF radio. The ministry appointed Colonel Robert Bala as the acting director of the center, which hasn’t yet been accredited by NATO, an alliance official said. [Continue reading…]

On November 12, AFP reported: Tens of thousands of protesters poured into Warsaw’s streets on Wednesday for a demonstration organised by the far right, marching under the slogan “Poland for the Polish” and burning an EU flag.

Police said 25,000 people joined the march, which marked the anniversary of Poland’s return to independence after the First World War, while organisers put the numbers at 50,000.

“God, honour, homeland,” chanted the protesters as they marched under a sea of red-and-white Polish flags.

Demonstrators trampled and burned a European Union flag at one point, while a banner added to the anti-EU theme with the slogan “EU macht frei” (“Work makes you free” in German), a reference to the slogan over the gates at Auschwitz.

“Yesterday it was Moscow, today it’s Brussels which takes away our freedom,” chanted one group of protesters.
Other banners read “Great Catholic Poland” and “Stop Islamisation”. [Continue reading…]

Ivan Krastev writes: The new government has pushed forward three staggering changes. The man chosen to oversee police and intelligence agencies is a party stalwart who received a three-year suspended sentence for abusing power in his previous role as head of the anti-corruption office, signaling that political loyalty is above the law.

The government has purged European Union flags from government press briefings, demonstrating that it sees Polish national interests in opposition to European values.

And it has weakened the country’s separation of powers by rejecting the previous Parliament’s nominees to the constitutional court — and instead appointed its own candidates, provoking a constitutional crisis.

Why has Poland, the poster child of post-Communist success and Europe’s best economic performer of the last decade, suddenly taken an illiberal turn? Why, despite the profound public mistrust of politicians, are people ready to elect parties eager to dismantle any constraints on government’s power?

For one thing, the Law and Justice Party bet on a form of illiberal democracy because it succeeded in Hungary. The Orban model of rebuking the European Union while accepting billions in aid money has worked. So have Mr. Orban’s efforts to consolidate power by demonizing his political opponents. Hungary’s economy has not collapsed as critics predicted; nor did Mr. Orban’s party lose at the ballot box. [Continue reading…]

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Range of frustrations reached boil as Turkey shot down Russian jet

The New York Times reports: As Turkey and Russia promised on Wednesday not to go to war over the downing of a Russian fighter jet, Turkey’s still-nervous NATO allies and just about everyone else were left wondering why, when minor violations of airspace are relatively common and usually tolerated, Ankara decided this time to risk a serious confrontation with Moscow by taking military action.

The reply from the Turkish government so far has been consistent: Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Turkey had repeatedly called in Russia’s ambassador to complain about bombing raids near its border and previous airspace incursions by Russian aircraft. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday evening — and a Pentagon spokesman later confirmed — that Turkish forces had warned the Russian plane 10 times in five minutes to leave before a Turkish F-16 shot it down.

“I personally was expecting something like this, because in the past months there have been so many incidents like that,” Ismail Demir, Turkey’s undersecretary of national defense, said in an interview. “Our engagement rules were very clear, and any sovereign nation has a right to defend its airspace.” [Continue reading…]

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Could downing of Russian jet over Turkey really lead to a wider war?

By David J Galbreath, University of Bath

The dangerous skies over Syria have now earned their reputation. The Turkish foreign ministry has confirmed that its forces had shot down a fighter aircraft near the Turkish border with Syria. The Russian foreign ministry confirmed soon afterwards that it has lost an SU-24 over Syria.

The situation remains tense: two pilots were filmed ejecting from the stricken aircraft; one is reported to be in the hands of pro-Turkish Turkmen rebels along the border but the fate of the other is unknown – early reports from Reuters said it had video of the second pilot seemingly dead on the ground.

Russian president, Vladimir Putin, called the incident a “a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists”. He said the shooting down would have “significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations”.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is understood to have cancelled a planned trip to Turkey and NATO announced there would be a meeting of its North Atlantic Council in Brussels to discuss the shootdown.

The bigger picture

This comes at a time, following the Paris attacks, when the US and its Western allies had been reaching a tentative agreement with Russia to solve the previous impasse over a possible transition of power in Syria. Turkey and other Sunni Middle Eastern states are ranged against the Assad regime and not happy at the prospect of a deal that would leave him in power – even if only on a temporary basis. Iran and Russia have been keen to see their Syrian ally remain in power, although Russia has been coming around to the idea of a transition but has steadfastly argued that it is imperative to defeat Islamic State militarily first.

[Read more…]

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What would the world look like if we defeated ISIS?

Paul Mason writes: Isis attacked civilians irrespective of their position on Islam or imperialist war; it attacked, specifically, symbols of a secular, liberal lifestyle. It did these things because that is what it is fighting: the west, its people, their values and their lifestyle.

In formulating the UK’s response – with or without Nato – the problems are large. The electorate mistrusts offensive military action. It fears – rightly on the basis of the evidence from Iraq and Afghanistan – that expeditionary warfare creates mainly chaos, opening a space for sectarian conflict, jihadism and killing civilians. Western electorates have no taste for the kind of allies we would need to reimpose the old “order” on the territories Isis operates in. Bashar al-Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are not only serial human-rights violators; they have each proved ready to attack those fighting Isis – the Kurds and the secular resistance.

But the biggest challenge comes if you imagine what victory would look like. Isis-held territory being reoccupied by armies that, this time, can withstand the suicide bombings, truck bombs and kidnappings that a defeated Isis would unleash. Mosques and madrassas across the region stripped of their jihadi preachers. A massive programme of economic development focused on human capital – education, healthcare and institution building – as well as physical reconstruction. Nonsectarian, democratic states in Iraq and Syria and an independent Kurdistan state spanning parts of both countries. To achieve this you would need to unleash surveillance, policing and military action on a scale that could only be acceptable to western electorates if carried out with a restraint and accountability not shown in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The alternative is to disengage, contain Isis, deal with the refugees and try to ignore the beheading videos.

In reality, this question is only really posed for three countries that have the power diplomatically and militarily to take significant action: Britain, France and the US.

But that’s not the main question Isis posed last Friday. The main question is the one John Maynard Keynes threw at Britain’s political leadership in 1939: what is the world going to look like when we win?

By answering this, the British and American populations were persuaded to endure total war in the fight against Nazism. So the question now is not how many bombs we want to drop on the HQ of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It is: what do we want at the peace conference, and what will our own society look like after the struggle is over? [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-led air war on ISIS in Syria has little allied support

The New York Times reports: As the United States prepares to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, the Arab allies who with great fanfare sent warplanes on the initial missions there a year ago have largely vanished from the campaign.

The Obama administration heralded the Arab air forces flying side by side with American fighter jets in the campaign’s early days as an important show of solidarity against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh. Top commanders like Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who oversees operations in Syria and Iraq, still laud the Arab countries’ contributions to the fight. But as the United States enters a critical phase of the war in Syria, ordering Special Operations troops to support rebel forces and sending two dozen attack planes to Turkey, the air campaign has evolved into a largely American effort.

Administration officials had sought to avoid the appearance of another American-dominated war, even as most leaders in the Persian Gulf seem more preoccupied with supporting rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Now, some of those officials note with resignation, the Arab partners have quietly left the United States to run the bulk of the air war in Syria — not the first time Washington has found allies wanting.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shifted most of their aircraft to their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Jordan, reacting to the grisly execution of one of its pilots by the Islamic State, and in a show of solidarity with the Saudis, has also diverted combat flights to Yemen. Jets from Bahrain last struck targets in Syria in February, coalition officials said. Qatar is flying patrols over Syria, but its role has been modest. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. brings F-15C dogfighters to counter Russians over Syria

The Daily Beast reports: The U.S. Air Force is deploying to Turkey up to a dozen jet fighters specializing in air-to-air combat—apparently to help protect other U.S. and allied jets from Russia’s own warplanes flying over Syria.

Officially, the deployment of F-15C Eagle twin-engine fighters to Incirlik, Turkey—which the Pentagon announced late last week—is meant to “ensure the safety” of America’s NATO allies, Laura Seal, a Defense Department spokesperson, told The Daily Beast.

That could mean that the single-seat F-15s and the eight air-to-air missiles they routinely carry will help the Turkish air force patrol Turkey’s border with Syria, intercepting Syrian planes and helicopters that periodically stray into Turkish territory.

But more likely, the F-15s will be escorting attack planes and bombers as they strike ISIS militants in close proximity to Syrian regime forces and the Russian warplanes that, since early October, have bombed ISIS and U.S.-backed rebels fighting the Syrian troops.

Seal declined to discuss the deployment in detail, but hinted at its true purpose. “I didn’t say it wasn’t about Russia,” she said.

Russia’s air wing in western Syria is notable for including several Su-30 fighters that are primarily air-to-air fighters. The Su-30s’ arrival in Syria raised eyebrows, as Moscow insists its forces are only fighting ISIS, but ISIS has no aircraft of its own for the Su-30s to engage.

The F-15s the U.S. Air Force is sending to Turkey will be the first American warplanes in the region that are strictly aerial fighters. The other fighters, attack planes and bombers the Pentagon has deployed — including F-22s, F-16s, A-10s and B-1s—carry bombs and air-to-ground missiles and have focused on striking militants on the ground.

In stark contrast, the F-15s only carry air-to-air weaponry, and their pilots train exclusively for shooting down enemy warplanes. It’s worth noting that F-15Cs have never deployed to Afghanistan, nor did they participate in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The war in Syria is different. [Continue reading…]

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NATO warns Russia after warplane enters Turkish airspace

The New York Times reports: NATO officials issued a warning to Russia on Monday, and the United States began what officials called urgent consultations with Turkey, after Turkish fighter jets intercepted a Russian warplane that entered its airspace over the weekend.

Russia’s actions were “an unacceptable violation” of Turkish airspace, NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said after meeting with the Turkish foreign minister, Feridun Sinirlioglu. Mr. Stoltenberg added, “Russia’s actions are not contributing to the security and stability of the region.”

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, speaking in Madrid during a news conference with his Spanish counterpart, said that American officials were conferring with Turkish counterparts over next steps.

“I don’t believe this was an accident,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to comment publicly. [Continue reading…]

McClatchy reports: A Russian warplane on a bombing run in Syria flew within five miles of the Turkish border and may have crossed into Turkey’s air space, Turkish and U.S. officials said Sunday.

The incident raises new concerns that Russia’s armed intervention in Syria could spill over to neighboring countries, lead to an unintended military confrontation and trigger an even bigger regional conflict.

A Turkish security official said Turkish radar locked onto the Russian aircraft as it was bombing early Friday in al Yamdiyyah, a Syrian village directly on the Turkish border. He said Turkish fighter jets would have attacked had it crossed into Turkish airspace.

But a U.S. military official suggested the incident had come close to sparking an armed confrontation. Reading from a report, he said the Russian aircraft had violated Turkish air space by five miles and that Turkish jets had scrambled, but that the Russian aircraft had returned to Syrian airspace before they could respond. [Continue reading…]

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Doctors Without Borders: Kunduz airstrike was ‘war crime’

NPR reports: NATO in Afghanistan says it will lead an investigation into an airstrike in Kunduz this weekend that hit a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital, killing 22 people — an attack that the humanitarian organization, also known as Doctors Without Borders, has called “a war crime.”

A U.S.-led airstrike on the northern Afghan city was carried out on Saturday but the circumstances surrounding it remain murky. NATO acknowledges only that the raid occurred near the charity’s hospital.

The NATO coalition says it “has directed a preliminary multi-national investigation known as a Casualty Assessment Team.” It says that an initial investigation would be complete in “a matter of days.” [Continue reading…]

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Top NATO general: Russians starting to build air defense bubble over Syria

The Washington Post reports: While Russia’s stated goal in moving into Syria is to fight the Islamic State, NATO’s top commander believes Russia’s new presence includes the first pieces of an intricate layer of defensive systems deployed to hinder U.S. and coalition operations in the region.

“As we see the very capable air defense [systems] beginning to show up in Syria, we’re a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean,” said Breedlove to an audience at the German Marshall Fund Monday.

A2/AD stands for anti-access/area denial. During the early stages of warfare, A2/AD could have been a moat around a castle, or spikes dug into the ground — anything to keep the enemy off a certain swathe of territory. In the 21st century, however, A2/AD is a combination of systems such as surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-ship missiles deployed to prevent forces from entering or traversing a certain area — from land, air or sea. [Continue reading…]

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Europe and U.S. pay cost of inaction against Syria’s Assad

Yaroslav Trofimov reports: The Syrian refugee crisis overwhelming Europe has shattered the illusion, often used to justify inaction, that in the modern world there is such a thing as a distant war in a faraway land.

Over the past four years, 250,000 Syrians have died, most of them killed by the Assad regime against which the West has refused to intervene. More than half of the population has been forced to flee their homes, with four million refugees pouring first into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — and now many of them to Europe.

As Europe’s frontiers have collapsed, millions more are likely to follow suit, overland or by sea. This has already turned Syria from a thorny foreign-policy issue into a full-blown domestic emergency that threatens the cohesion and social peace of the European Union and lays bare the costs of the West’s policy of nonintervention against the regime.

“The Syria conflict is a lot closer to Europe than the U.S. — and the interest in solving it should have been regarded as a vital one at least here in Europe,” said Guido Steinberg, an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and the German federal government’s former adviser on international terrorism.

“But the Europeans really have no clue how to deal with a major regional crisis in the Middle East. We needed the U.S. — but the U.S. wasn’t there.” [Continue reading…]

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Bad news for Putin as support for war flags beyond Russia’s ‘troll farms’

By Ivan Kozachenko, University of Aberdeen

Eastern Ukraine has recently seen its worst period of attacks by Russian-backed separatists since they captured the town of Debaltseve in February. It had fallen in the days after the two sides reached the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement. Ukraine, Russia and the West have repeatedly underlined the importance of Minsk 2, but whether it has been implemented remains questionable. The latest conflict has coincided with a period of Russian military escalation that recently prompted UK defence secretary Michael Fallon to suggest that Moscow was preparing for war with NATO and the West.

The battle to control public opinion is taking place in parallel, as we have seen most recently with the case of Lyudmila Savchuk, a Russian journalist who went undercover in a Kremlin-backed agency whose staff were tasked with pushing pro-Putin views online. This has helped back up efforts by Russia in the traditional media to portray the heroic struggle of the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk (DNR) and Luhansk (LNR) against the “Kiev Nazi Junta”, for example, while constantly denying any Russian military involvement.

[Read more…]

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