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6 new weapons Putin revealed in his State of the Nation address

Alexander Mercouris

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By far the greater part of President Putin’s State of the Nation address on 1st March 2018 was devoted to economic issues.  However inevitably it was the part of his address which touched on new weapons systems which attracted the most attention.

Here they are

(1) Sarmat heavy ICBM

This is the best known of the new strategic nuclear weapons systems that President Putin touched on in his State of the Nation address.  In fact we have discussed it previously.

Here is what President Putin had to say about it

Sarmat will replace the Voevoda system made in the USSR. Its immense power was universally recognized. Our foreign colleagues even gave it a fairly threatening name.

That said, the capabilities of the Sarmat missile are much higher. Weighing over 200 tonnes, it has a short boost phase, which makes it more difficult to intercept for missile defence systems. The range of the new heavy missile, the number and power of its combat blocs is bigger than Voevoda’s. Sarmat will be equipped with a broad range of powerful nuclear warheads, including hypersonic, and the most modern means of evading missile defence. The high degree of protection of missile launchers and significant energy capabilities the system offers will make it possible to use it in any conditions…..

Voevoda’s range is 11,000 km while Sarmat has practically no range restrictions.

As the video clips show, it can attack targets both via the North and South poles.

Sarmat is a formidable missile and, owing to its characteristics, is untroubled by even the most advanced missile defence systems.

Sarmat’s range has previously been disclosed to be 17,000 km.  Putin says it weighs 200 tonnes – roughly the same as its predecessor Voevoda – and double what had been reported previously.

One aspect of the Sarmat which Putin did not touch on is that it may have revived a 1960s Soviet concept referred to in the US as ‘FOBS’ (‘Fractional Orbital Bombardment System’).

The idea behind FOBS was that an ICBM would place its nuclear warheads in low earth orbit from where, after orbiting for a short time, they would fall upon their targets on earth.

Such a system would have no range limit, whilst the orbital flight path of the warheads would not reveal the target location.

It would allow a path to North America over the South Pole, hitting targets from the south, which is the opposite direction to the one from which US early warning systems are oriented.

Putin’s references to the Sarmat having “practically no range restrictions” and being able to “attack targets via the North and South Poles” suggests strongly that it uses a FOBS system.

If so then there is a huge irony to this.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 was supposed to ban nuclear weapons being placed in earth orbit.  However the US government – presumably because at that time it had a FOBS programme of its own – decided that FOBS did not violate the Outer Space Treaty because a FOBS warhead was technically not in orbit as it did not make a complete cycle of the earth.

FOBS was then supposed to be banned by the SALT II Treaty agreed by US President Carter and Soviet President Brezhnev in 1979.  However the SALT II Treaty was never ratified by the US Senate, and never came into legal force.

The US therefore had two opportunities to ban FOBS in 1967 and 1979, and passed up both.

The result is that with the coming of Sarmat it now quite possibly faces the prospect of having such a system deployed against it, which had it been less intransigent in pursuing its weapons programmes it might have prevented.

Needless to say, a nuclear warhead falling upon the US from space and coming towards the US from any direction is effectively impervious to interception by any of the missile defence systems the US has created or is planning.

The two next systems which President Putin discussed appear to use shared nuclear reactor technologies.  They are a nuclear powered cruise missile and a nuclear powered underwater drone.

(2) Nuclear powered cruise missile

Here is what President Putin had to say about this system

Russia’s advanced arms are based on the cutting-edge, unique achievements of our scientists, designers and engineers. One of them is a small-scale heavy-duty nuclear energy unit that can be installed in a missile like our latest X-101 air-launched missile or the American Tomahawk missile – a similar type but with a range dozens of times longer, dozens, basically an unlimited range. It is a low-flying stealth missile carrying a nuclear warhead, with almost an unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory and ability to bypass interception boundaries. It is invincible against all existing and prospective missile defence and counter-air defence systems. I will repeat this several times today.

In late 2017, Russia successfully launched its latest nuclear-powered missile at the Central training ground. During its flight, the nuclear-powered engine reached its design capacity and provided the necessary propulsion.

Now that the missile launch and ground tests were successful, we can begin developing a completely new type of weapon, a strategic nuclear weapons system with a nuclear-powered missile……

You can see how the missile bypasses interceptors. As the range is unlimited, the missile can manoeuvre for as long as necessary.

The key breakthrough is in miniaturising a nuclear reactor so that it can be fitted inside the engine of a cruise missile with dimensions similar to those of the US Tomahawk and the Russian Kh-101 cruise missiles.

This is a revolutionary breakthrough which – as President Putin says – gives Russia’s subsonic cruise missiles effectively unlimited range.

This incidentally negates any advantage the US might obtain by siting land based cruise missiles in Europe as it did in the 1980s.

In the 1980s the USSR had no effective counter since whilst US land based cruise missiles based in western Europe could reach the territory of the western USSR, Soviet land based cruise missiles based on Soviet territory or in eastern Europe could not reach the territory of the continental United States.

With the imminent deployment of a Russian nuclear powered cruise missile with unlimited range – and therefore capable of reaching the continental United States from Russian territory – that advantage has now gone.

As President Putin says a subsonic nuclear powered cruise missile is moreover essentially invulnerable to the anti ballistic missile system the US is currently deploying.

However though small and stealthy cruise missiles are difficult targets, they are not immune to interception.

The effectiveness of these missiles may therefore depend on how many of these missiles Russia can build?

If it can build large numbers of them then it is possible that US defences might become overwhelmed.  However that depends on the cost of the nuclear motor.

(3) Nuclear powered underwater drone

The existence of this drone has been known about for some time, ever since November 2015 in fact when the existence of this drone (referred to as “Status-6”) was briefly – and perhaps intentionally – disclosed by Russian television.

Here is what Putin had to say about it

Now, we all know that the design and development of unmanned weapon systems is another common trend in the world. As concerns Russia, we have developed unmanned submersible vehicles that can move at great depths (I would say extreme depths) intercontinentally, at a speed multiple times higher than the speed of submarines, cutting-edge torpedoes and all kinds of surface vessels, including some of the fastest. It is really fantastic. They are quiet, highly manoeuvrable and have hardly any vulnerabilities for the enemy to exploit. There is simply nothing in the world capable of withstanding them.

Unmanned underwater vehicles can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, which enables them to engage various targets, including aircraft groups, coastal fortifications and infrastructure.

In December 2017, an innovative nuclear power unit for this unmanned underwater vehicle completed a test cycle that lasted many years. The nuclear power unit is unique for its small size while offering an amazing power-weight ratio. It is a hundred times smaller than the units that power modern submarines, but is still more powerful and can switch into combat mode, that is to say, reach maximum capacity, 200 times faster.

The tests that were conducted enabled us to begin developing a new type of strategic weapon that would carry massive nuclear ordnance.

The purpose of the drone when launched against the continental United States would appear to be to create a tsunami wave 500 metres tall, which apart from causing massive loss of life would also radioactively contaminate a large area of the US coast.

It is assumed that in its nuclear tipped form the drone carries a large thermonuclear cobalt warhead of up to 100 megatons – twice the power of the so-called ‘Tsar Bomb” detonated by the USSR in 1961 – which would be by a very great distance the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built.

Here is how Wikipedia describes the drone

It appears to be a torpedo-shaped robotic mini-submarine which can travel at speeds of 185 km/h (100 kn).[7][10][13] More recent information suggests a top speed of 100 km/h (54 kn), with a range of 10,000 km (5,400 nmi; 6,200 mi) and a depth maximum of 1,000 m (3,300 ft).[14] This underwater drone is cloaked by stealth technology to elude acoustic tracking devices.[10] Its size appears to be 1.6 metres in diameter, and 24 metres long.[8] The warhead shown in the leaked figure is a cylinder 1.5 meters in diameter by 4 meters in length, giving a volume of 7 cubic meters. Comparing this to the volumes of other large thermonuclear bombs — the 1961 Soviet-era Tsar Bomba itself measured eight meters long by 2.1 meters in diameter — indicates that the yield is at least several tens of megatons, generally consistent with early reports.

As Wikipedia rightly says, the indiscriminate nature of this weapon system when used in its nuclear tipped form means that it is intended to be a weapon of last resort intended to inflict maximum damage upon an enemy in case Russia’s land based missile arsenal is disabled by a first strike.

Two further points can be made about this drone.

The first is that its nuclear reactor almost certainly shares technologies with that used in the engine of the nuclear powered cruise missile discussed above.

The second is that President Putin’s words show that it also comes in a form with a conventional warhead, and that in this version it is intended to be used as an anti-carrier weapon.

 (4) Aircraft launched Kinzhal hypersonic missile

It has been know for some time that Russia is developing long range hypersonic missiles, and President Putin provided details of one of them

Countries with high research potential and advanced technology are known to be actively developing so-called hypersonic weapons. The speed of sound is usually measured in Mach numbers in honour of Austrian scientist Ernst Mach who is known for his research in this field. One Mach is equal to 1,062 kilometres per hour at an altitude of 11 kilometres. The speed of sound is Mach 1, speeds between Mach 1 and Mach 5 is called supersonic, and hypersonic is above Mach 5. Of course, this kind of weapon provides substantial advantages in an armed conflict. Military experts believe that it would be extremely powerful, and that its speed makes it invulnerable to current missile and air defence systems, since interceptor missiles are, simply put, not fast enough. In this regard, it is quite understandable why the leading armies of the world seek to possess such an ideal weapon.

Friends, Russia already has such a weapon.

The most important stage in the development of modern weapons systems was the creation of a high-precision hypersonic aircraft missile system; as you already know for sure, it is the only one of its kind in the world. Its tests have been successfully completed, and, moreover, on December 1 of last year, these systems began their trial service at the airfields of the Southern Military District.

The unique flight characteristics of the high-speed carrier aircraft allow the missile to be delivered to the point of discharge within minutes. The missile flying at a hypersonic speed, 10 times faster than the speed of sound, can also manoeuvre at all phases of its flight trajectory, which also allows it to overcome all existing and, I think, prospective anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence systems, delivering nuclear and conventional warheads in a range of over 2,000 kilometres. We called this system Kinzhal (Dagger).

President Putin’s description makes it clear that this is an aircraft launched hypersonic standoff (ie. long range) missile, with the carrier aircraft being presumably Russia’s current TU-160 and TU-95 strategic bombers and Russia’s prospective PAK-DA stealth bomber.

President Putin says that development of this missile is complete and that it is already on flight test with aircraft of the Southern Military District, presumably at Engels airforce base in southern Russia.

President Putin gave a range for the Kinzhal – which may share technologies with the pending Zircon hypersonic anti ship missile – of 2,000 kilometres, and gave it a speed of Mach 10.

If the Kinzhal is indeed about to enter service as President Putin says – and there is no reason to disbelieve him – then it will be the first strategic hypersonic standoff missile to enter service with any military.

(5) Avangard hypersonic projectile

This is a completely different and much more advanced hypersonic weapons system than Kinzhal.

Here is what President Putin had to say about it

A real technological breakthrough is the development of a strategic missile system with fundamentally new combat equipment – a gliding wing unit, which has also been successfully tested……

……I am pleased to inform you that successfully completed experiments during these exercises enable us to confirm that in the near future, the Russian Armed Forces, the Strategic Missile Forces, will receive new hypersonic-speed, high-precision new weapons systems that can hit targets at inter-continental distance and can adjust their altitude and course as they travel. This is a very significant statement because no country in the world as of now has such arms in their military arsenal…..

Unlike existing types of combat equipment, this system is capable of intercontinental flight at supersonic speeds in excess of Mach 20.

As I said in 2004, in moving to its target, the missile’s gliding cruise bloc engages in intensive manoeuvring – both lateral (by several thousand km) and vertical. This is what makes it absolutely invulnerable to any air or missile defence system. The use of new composite materials has made it possible to enable the gliding cruise bloc to make a long-distance guided flight practically in conditions of plasma formation. It flies to its target like a meteorite, like a ball of fire. The temperature on its surface reaches 1,600–2,000 degrees Celsius but the cruise bloc is reliably guided.

For obvious reasons we cannot show the outer appearance of this system here. This is still very important. I hope everyone understands this. But let me assure you that we have all this and it is working well. Moreover, Russian industrial enterprises have embarked on the development of another new type of strategic weapon. We called it the Avangard.

We are well aware that a number of other countries are developing advanced weapons with new physical properties. We have every reason to believe that we are one step ahead there as well – at any rate, in the most essential areas.

Unlike Kinzhal this system is clearly still in development.

President Putin’s description of it makes it clear that unlike Kinzhal this is a projectile not a missile ie. it glides to its target at hypersonic speed (Mach 20) and is not powered by an onboard motor.  Though President Putin did not release any picture of what it would look like, it probably somewhat resembles the caption picture, which supposedly illustrates a similar Chinese system.

Probably the launch system for Avangard is the new heavy Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, with Avangard possibly being launched from near earth orbit.

In other words Avangard appears to be an advanced hypersonic warhead for the Sarmat, though it should be said that President Putin’s words were – intentionally – somewhat vague about it.

Avangard’s advantage over FOBS is that it is a manoeuvring warhead with a longer and more flexible range than a FOBS warhead.  Conceivably it could also be used with a conventional warhead for example to attack carrier groups.

That the Russians have been working on a hypersonic glide warhead vehicle has been known about for some time, and it is known that work on such systems is also underway in the US and China.

President Putin’s comments suggest that the Russians believe their system is further advanced in development than the parallel systems being developed in the US and China.

(6) Laser weapons 

President Putin spoke of ‘laser weapons’ being already in service with the Russian military.  However when referring to these weapons he gave almost nothing away

We have achieved significant progress in laser weapons. It is not just a concept or a plan any more. It is not even in the early production stages. Since last year, our troops have been armed with laser weapons.

I do not want to reveal more details. It is not the time yet. But experts will understand that with such weaponry, Russia’s defence capacity has multiplied.

Those interested in military equipment are welcome to suggest a name for this new weaponry, this cutting-edge system.

Of course, we will be refining this state-of-the-art technology.

These words do not make it clear whether these laser weapons are strategic or tactical weapons.  Nor did the accompanying video, which showed a laser weapon being deployed from a trailer, make clear their purpose.  Possibly they are some sort of anti aircraft or anti satellite system.

President Putin’s presentation has provoked a mixture of incredulity and ridicule in the US, with claims that the weapons systems he unveiled do not exist or that Russia cannot afford them, and that his presentation was a bluff.

This is despite President Putin’s warning that his presentation is not a bluff

Now we have to be aware of this reality and be sure that everything I have said today is not a bluff ‒ and it is not a bluff, believe me ‒ and to give it a thought and dismiss those who live in the past and are unable to look into the future, to stop rocking the boat we are all in and which is called the Earth.

In fact apart from the laser weapons and the nuclear powered cruise missile all of the weapons systems President Putin spoke about in his State of the Nation address have previously been discussed in open literature.

Thus the fact that the Russians were developing a hypersonic warhead glide vehicle, a nuclear powered underwater drone, a hypersonic standoff cruise missile, and the new Sarmat heavy ICBM, were things that were already previously known and talked about.

The Pentagon has even confirmed Russian tests of some of these systems: for example the underwater drone is known to have been tested in 2016 in the Arctic seas.

These systems do involve important technological breakthroughs, but the one area where the Russians appear to be farthest ahead of the West – and where President Putin’s presentation today will cause the Pentagon the greatest concern – is in Russia’s success in miniaturising nuclear reactors to the point where they can be used to power Tomahawk sized cruise missiles.

Rosatom – Russia’s giant state owned corporation which directs Russia’s nuclear industry – is known to be at the forefront of nuclear reactor technology, and the Russians have a long history of developing and building small nuclear reactors, as for example in their ocean reconnaissance satellites of the 1980s and – reputedly – in their current Sarov submarine, so skepticism about President Putin’s claim that they have developed a nuclear reactor small enough to fit into the engine of a Tomahawk sized cruise missile is unwarranted.

A nuclear reactor small enough to fit inside the engine of Tomahawk sized cruise missile could in theory also be used in engines to power civil and military manned aircraft, giving them effectively unlimited range.

The Soviets did in fact experiment with a nuclear powered bomber (the TU-95LAL) in the early 1960s.

However concerns about the effectiveness of reactor shielding for the crew and about the environmental effect of an accident put paid to the idea of nuclear powered aircraft in the 1960s, and despite the huge technological advances since then the same concerns would almost certainly defeat any project for a nuclear powered manned aircraft today.

As to the affordability of these weapons, the reality is that apart from the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle warhead – which has its analogues in the US and China, and which Russia was previously known to be developing – none of the weapons systems discussed by President Putin in his State of the Nation address look especially expensive.

Probably the most costly of these systems apart from Avangard is the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which uses technologies with which the Russians are highly experienced.

In summary, these are real weapons or – in the case of the still being developed Avangard – real programmes, and there is no reason to doubt that they will all shortly be deployed with the Russian armed forces, just as President Putin says.

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EU and Japan ink free trade deal representing over 30% of global GDP

The free trade agreement represents a victory for free trade in the face of growing protectionism

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In a bid to preserve free trade and strengthen their trade partnership, the European Union and Japan have finished a free trade zone agreement that has been sitting in the pipeline for years.

The present global economic outlook provided the needed spur to action to get the ball rolling again and now it has finally reached the end zone and scored another point for free and open trade against the growing influence of protectionism, which has been creeping up with alarming rapidity and far reaching consequences in recent months.

Under the deal, Japan will scrap tariffs on some 94% of goods imported from Europe and the EU in turn is canning 99% of tariffs on Japanese goods.

Between the European Union and Japan, the trade deal impacts about 37% of the world’s GDP, making it one of the largest and impactful of such agreements.

The Japan Times reports:

Top European Union leaders and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed an economic partnership agreement Tuesday in Tokyo, a pact that will create a massive free trade zone accounting for 37 percent of the world’s trade by value.

European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hastily arranged their visit to Tokyo after Abe was forced to abruptly cancel plans to attend a July 11 signing ceremony in Brussels in the aftermath of flooding and mudslides in western Japan.

Japanese officials said the signing is particularly important to counter intensifying protectionism worldwide triggered by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Negotiations on the pact between Japan and the EU, which started in 2013, had stagnated for a time but regained momentum after Trump took office in January 2017.

“We are sending a clear message that we stand together against protectionism,” Tusk said at a joint news conference with Abe after they signed the agreement.

“The relationship between the EU and Japan has never been stronger. Geographically we are far apart, but politically and economically we could be hardly any closer,” Tusk said. “I’m proud today we are taking our strategic partnership to a new level.”

Tusk stressed that the EU and Japan are partners sharing the same basic values, such as liberal democracy, human rights and rule-based order.

Abe also emphasized the importance of free and fair trade.

“Right now, concerns are rising over protectionism all around the world. We are sending out a message emphasizing the importance of a trade system based on free and fair rules,” he said.

The pact will create a free trade bloc accounting for roughly 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Japan and the EU hope to have the agreement, which still needs to be ratified by both parties, come into force by March.

Under the EPA, tariffs on about 99 percent of Japan’s exported goods to the EU will eventually be eliminated, while duties on 94 percent of EU’s exported items to Japan will be abolished, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The EPA will eliminate duties of 10 percent on Japan’s auto exports to the EU seven years after the pact takes effect. The current 15 percent duties on wine imports from the EU will be eliminated immediately, while those on cheese, pork and beef will be sharply cut.

In total, the EPA will push up domestic GDP by 1 percent, or ¥5 trillion a year, and create 290,000 new jobs nationwide, according to the government.

“The world is now facing raging waves of protectionism. So the signing ceremony at this time is particularly meaningful,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said earlier this month on condition of anonymity.

“The impact for Japan is big,” the official said.

Fukunari Kimura, an economics professor at Keio University, said the EU is now trying to accelerate the ratification process.

“This is a repercussion of President Trump’s policies. They will try to ratify it before Brexit in March of next year,” he said in an interview with The Japan Times last week.

But the deal has raised concerns among some domestic farmers, in particular those from Hokkaido, the country’s major dairy producer.

According to an estimate by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, the EPA will cut national production in the agriculture, fishery and forestry industries by up to ¥114.3 billion a year, with Hokkaido accounting for 34 percent of the predicted losses.

“The sustainable development of the prefecture’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries is our top priority. We need to make efforts to raise our international competitiveness,” Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi said during a news conference July 10.

Japan and the EU had reached a basic agreement on the EPA in December.

Tokyo also led negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in January 2017.

In March, 11 countries including Japan signed the so-called TPP11, or a revised TPP pact that does not include the U.S.

“The Japan-EU EPA is another important step for Japan to strengthen its trade relationship with key trading partners, and demonstrate that trade liberalization is alive and well, even if the United States is taking a different stance,” wrote Wendy Cutler, a former acting deputy U.S. Trade Representative, in an email sent to The Japan Times last week.

“The EU deal also reduces Japanese dependence on the U.S. market and thus increases its leverage to resist unreasonable trade demands by the United States,” she wrote.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the EU, which accounts for 22 percent of the world’s GDP, was the destination for 11.4 percent of Japanese exports in 2016. In the same year, the figure for the U.S. was 20.2 percent and 17.7 percent for China.

In 2016, Japan’s exports to the EU totaled ¥8 trillion, while reciprocal trade was ¥8.2 trillion.

The deal provides tariff relief for both parties and can improve the quantity of trade between them, expand the economy and create many jobs. It also helps to further diversify their trade portfolios in order to mitigate the prospect of a single global trade partner wielding too much influence, which in turn provides a certain amount of cover from any adverse actions or demands from a single actor. In this way, current trade dependencies can be reduced and free and diversified trade is further bolstered.

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Russia just DUMPED $80 billion in US debt

The US Treasury published a report naming those countries that are the largest holders of US bonds. The list includes 33 countries, and for the first time Russia is no longer in it.

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Russia has stopped “inching towards de-dollarization” as I wrote about on July 3rd, and has now energetically walked out of the list of largest holders of US government bonds, hence this update. For the two months ending in May 2018, Moscow has offloaded more than $80 billion in US Government debt obligations.

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The $30 billion “minimum” listing Rubicon has been crossed by Russia.

As of the end of May, Russia had bonds worth only $ 14.9 billion. For comparison: in April, Russia was on the Treasury list with bonds totaling $48.7 billion. Even then it was offloading US$ debt securities as Russia owned in March over $96 billion. At the end of 2017, Russia had US treasury securities worth $102.2 billion. It is anyones guess what Russia will own when the June and July figures are released in August and September – probably less than today.

This simply serves as a confirmation that Russia is steadfastly following a conservative policy of risk diversification in several areas such as financial, economic, and geopolitical. The US public debt and spend is increasingly viewed as a heightened risk area, deserving sober assessment.

So where have all the dollars gone? The total reserves of the Russian Central Bank have not changed and remain at approximately the equivalent of $ 457 billion, so what we are seeing is a shift of assets to other central banks, other asset classes, just not US$ government bonds.

During the same time (April-May) as this US$ shift happened, the Russian Central Bank bought more than 1 million troy ounces of gold in 60 days, and continues.

For comparison sake, the maximum Russia investment in US public debt was in October 2010 totaling $176.3 billion. Today it is $14.9 billion.

The largest holders of US government bonds as of May are China ($ 1,183.1 billion), Japan ($ 1048.8 billion), Ireland ($ 301 billion), Brazil ($ 299.2 billion), Great Britain ($ 265 billion).

Using the similar conservative metrics that the Russian Central Bank has been rather successfully applying through this geopolitically and economically challenging period with the US and the US Dollar, it may not stretch the imagination too much that other countries such as China may eventually follow suit. Who will finance the debt/spend then?

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Assessing the Putin-Trump Helsinki summit: neither a breakthrough nor a damp squib but a possible start towards detente

The US and Russian Presidents took the first step towards ending the downward spiral in their countries’ relations but the obstacles ahead remain formidable.

Alexander Mercouris

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The US and Russian Presidents took the first step towards ending the downward spiral in their countries' relations but the obstacles ahead remain formidable.

The summit meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has finally taken place in Helsinki to thunderous condemnation on the part of many in the West.

Some talk luridly of the beginning of the end of the West.  Others talk hysterically of treason.

Others see the summit as a damp squib, which will change nothing and which will leave the relationship between the US and Russia and between Russia and the West essentially unchanged, with the current state of hostility continuing indefinitely unabated.

In my opinion both views are wrong (the first obviously so) and both misunderstand, and in the case of the first wilfully misrepresent, what actually happened in Helsinki.

I discussed the background to the summit in an article I wrote a month ago for The Duran at a time when first reports that the summit was in the offing were beginning to circulate.

In that article I said that there was no possibility that Putin would make unilateral concessions to Trump over the status of Crimea or over the conflict in Ukraine and that the idea that he would agree to the US and Ukrainian proposal for a peacekeeping force to be deployed to the Donbass was certainly wrong and that that idea had already been categorically ruled out by the Russians.

I was also skeptical that there would be any sort of ‘grand bargain’ between the US and the Russians over Syria.

On the subject of Syria, in the weeks leading up to the summit there were some media reports suggesting that Donald Trump was coming under pressure from Israel, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates to agree a deal at the summit with Putin whereby Russia would be granted sanctions relief and possibly even recognition of Crimea, US troops in Syria would be withdrawn, and in return the Russians would agree that Iranian forces would be expelled from Syria.

The Russians were clearly concerned about these reports.  Not only did they go out of their way to deny them, but Putin and Lavrov held talks in Moscow on 12th July 2018 with Ali Akbar Velayati, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s Special Adviser on International Relations, in order to reassure the Iranians that they were not true.

As I explained in my lengthy discussion of Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Moscow on Victory Day, it would in fact be wholly contrary to established principles of Russian foreign policy for the Russians to agree to a ‘grand bargain’ like this.

From the Russian point of view relations between Iran and Syria are relations between two sovereign nations and are none of Russia’s business.

Not only is it not Russia’s business to interfere in whatever relations Iran and Syria have with each other, but Russia lacks the means to do so anyway, with any request from Moscow to Tehran and Damascus to sever or downgrade their relations certain to be refused, and with Russia having no means to force either country to comply with such a request save through steps which would put at risk its relations with both of these countries.

All Russia would achieve were it ever to make such a request would be to damage to its relations with Iran and Syria and lose face and face accusations of bad faith from the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel when it failed to follow through.

Here is what I said about how Putin would respond to a demand from Netanyahu to rein in the Iranians in Syria if it were made to him during Netanyahu’s Victory Day visit, and nothing which has happened since would have caused Putin to change his position

Contrary to what some people are saying, I think it is most unlikely that Putin would have given Netanyahu any assurances that Russia would act to rein in Iranian activities in Syria.

If Netanyahu asked Putin for such assurances (which I also think unlikely) Putin would almost certainly have told him what the Russians always say when faced with requests for such assurances: Iran and Syria are sovereign states and Russia cannot interfere in arrangements two sovereign states make with each other.

I suspect that the source of some of the stories about a ‘grand bargain’ between Putin and Trump involving the role of the Iranians in Syria is the regular discussions the Russians have with the Israelis, the Iranians and the Syrians whereby the Russians pass on to the Iranians and the Syrians Israeli concerns about the presence of Iranian forces in Syria in particular locations and about specific actions which the Iranians take.

A good example of these sort of discussions was an exchange between Putin and Netanyahu during Netanyahu’s most recent trip to Moscow on 11th July 2018.  The Kremlin’s website reports Netanyahu and Putin saying the following to each other

Benjamin Netanyahu: ……….Of course, our focus is on developments in Syria, the presence of Iran. This is not new to you. Several hours ago, an unmanned aerial vehicle entered the territory of Israel from Syria and was successfully brought down. I would like to emphasise that we will counter any and all attempts to violate our air or land borders.

Cooperation between us is an essential, key factor that can stabilise the entire region. So, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to meet with you and discuss these things.

Vladimir Putin: We are aware of your concerns. Let us discuss them in detail.

(bold italics added)

The Russians are not engaged here in discussions over some sort of ‘grand bargain’ to remove all Iranian troops from Syria, which as I have said they would see as counterproductive and impossible.  Rather they are engaged in the classic diplomatic exercise of conflict prevention: keeping the Israelis, the Iranians and the Syrians informed about each other’s moves and red lines in order to prevent an uncontrolled escalation of the conflict between them, which might risk an all-out war, which nobody wants, and which the Russians are doing their best to prevent.

Recent reports of an understanding between the Israelis, the Iranians and the Syrians supposedly brokered by the Russians whereby Iranian forces agreed not to participate in the Syrian army’s ongoing military operations in south west Syria close to the Israeli occupied Golan Heights are a case in point.

The Iranians and the Syrians  agreed to this, not because the Russians forced them to but because it is in their interest to.  The Syrian army does not need Iranian help to defeat the Jihadis in southwest Syria so keeping the Iranians away from the area allows the Syrians to clear the area of the Jihadis without risking a military confrontation with Israel.

Needless to say, just as the Russians were not prepared to make concessions on Crimea and Donbass or on Syria, so they were not prepared to back Donald Trump’s ongoing campaign against Iran.

Not only are the Russians deeply committed to the JCPOA (which they partly brokered) but they are also committed to improving their relations with Iran.   In addition, given that the ongoing US campaign against Iran is clearly intended to achieve regime change there, the Russians are bound to oppose it because they oppose regime change everywhere.

If the Russians were not prepared to make unilateral concessions to Trump on Crimea, Donbass, Syria or Iran, neither was Trump despite all the pre-summit scaremongering going to make unilateral concessions to Russians.

Stories that Trump would announce a cancellation of US military exercises in Europe or even a withdrawal of US troops from Europe had no basis in reality, and needless to say nothing like that happened.  Nor did Donald Trump recognise Crimea as Russian or announce that he would lift sanctions on Russia.

The question of the sanctions and of the recognition of Crimea as Russian requires a little discussion since there is a widespread view that Trump is prevented by the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATS) from either lifting the sanctions or from recognising Crimea as Russian

This is something of a misconception.  In reality, as I discussed last year at the time when CAATS was enacted, CAATS is unconstitutional, as Donald Trump himself carefully explained in his Signing Statement, because of the unconstitutional restrictions it places on the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy.

If and when Donald Trump decides that the time has come to lift the sanctions and to recognise Crimea as Russian, then all he has to do is apply to the US Supreme Court to have CAATS set aside.   His Signing Statement shows that he has had legal advice that it will do so.

That point has not yet been reached for political not legal reasons.  In the meantime it is an error to think of CAATS as the insuperable constraint on Donald Trump’s actions that many appear to believe it is.

Trump did not commit himself to lift the sanctions, and he did not recognise Crimea as Russian, not so much because of the legal constraints placed upon him by CAATS but because doing so would have put at risk his political position in the US in advance of November’s mid-term elections, and because – compulsive deal-maker that he is – he is hardly likely to take such radical steps without first getting something in return anyway.

One of the fundamental problems caused by the hysterical campaign which is being waged against Donald Trump is that it causes even many of Donald Trump’s supporters to believe that he is more supportive of Russia’s positions on a variety of issues than he really is.  The result is that he is constantly suspected of being prepared to make unilateral concessions to the Russians when unilateral concessions are precisely the sort of things which as a self-professed master deal-maker he is known to most abhor.

Donald Trump is – as he repeatedly says – an America First nationalist, and his overriding priority is to make what he considers to be the best possible deal for the United States.  Unilateral concessions just don’t come into it and it is a fundamental error to think that they do.

Putin understands all this very well, as he made clear during his joint press conference with Trump in Helsinki.

VladimirPutin: Regarding whom you can believe and whom you can’t, you shouldn’t believe anyone. What makes you think President Trump trusts me and that I fully trust him? He defends the interests of the United States of America. I defend the interests of the Russian Federation. We do have converging interests, and we are seeking common ground. We have issues that we disagree on so far. We are seeking options to settle these differences and make our work more constructive.

Which brings me to the fundamental reason for the summit, and why it is also a mistake in my opinion to see it as an empty show or a damp squib.

Donald Trump sought the summit – it is clear that the initiative for the summit came from him – because as he has repeatedly said since before he was elected President, prior to the summit he did not know Putin well.

The number of times Trump has said this is in fact practically beyond count.  For example, he said it during a news conference in Miami on 27th June 2016

I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. … I never met Putin….

He also said it during the second Presidential debate on 9th October 2016

I don’t know Putin….

Trump has gone on to say the same thing again and again since.  He has also repeatedly said that only time would tell whether he and Putin would get on with each other and would be able to come to agreements with each other.

A fundamental prerequisite for any successful negotiation is for the two parties to the negotiation to know each other’s minds so that a modicum of trust and understanding – essential if any agreement is to be reached – can be established between them.

As a businessman Trump knows this very well.  He therefore needed to meet with Putin in a lengthy one-to-one encounter in order to get to know Putin properly so as to see whether Putin is in fact the sort of person he can negotiate and eventually do a deal with.

That is the reason why Trump insisted that his first meeting with Putin should take the form of a one-to-one encounter.

That by the way is absolutely standard practice in negotiations – both commercial negotiations and diplomatic negotiations – with leaders of negotiating teams often meeting privately in one-to-one meetings in order to get to know each other better to see whether a deal between them is even possible.  Once a proper relationship between them is established the full negotiating teams can be brought into the negotiations in what in diplomacy are called ‘plenary sessions’.  Needless to say it is during the plenary sessions – with each side’s experts present – that the details are discussed and ironed out.

Not only is this standard practice in negotiations – Putin does it all the time – but it is simply not true as some people are suggesting that there was no one else present in the room when Putin and Trump met with each other.

Both Putin and Trump obviously had interpreters present.  Trump doesn’t speak Russian and Putin speaks English badly.  The job of the interpreters – who are full time state officials – is not just to interpret what the leaders say to each other but also to prepare a written transcript (a “stenographic record”) of what they said.

Once this transcript is written up – something which normally takes no more than a few days – it is circulated to senior officials including in the US case to the US President’s two most important foreign policy advisers, Bolton and Pompeo.  By now it is highly likely that Bolton and Pompeo have already seen and read through the transcript, and that they therefore know exactly what Putin and Trump said to each other.

Since the one-to-one meeting was first and foremost a “get-to-know” you session, no binding agreements would have been reached during it, and neither Putin nor Trump – each in their own way an experienced negotiator – would ever have imagined that they would be.

In summary, the one-to-one meeting between Putin and Trump is not a sign of some secret understanding between them; far less is it a case of an “intelligence asset” meeting his “controller” as some are crazily suggesting.

On the contrary it is further proof of what each of them has repeatedly said at various times: before the summit they did not know each other well, so that the summit was called precisely in order to give each of them the opportunity to get to know the other better.

The essential point about the summit is that Putin and Trump did find that they could deal with each other and did discover areas of common concern which in time it might be possible for them to build on as they search for areas of agreement between them.  During their joint press conference Putin confirmed as much

We do have converging interests, and we are seeking common ground. We have issues that we disagree on so far. We are seeking options to settle these differences and make our work more constructive.

As for the points of possible convergence, Putin in his usual structured way set them out

I consider it important, as we discussed, to get the dialogue on strategic stability and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on track. We made a note with a number of concrete proposals on this matter available to our American colleagues.

We believe that continued joint efforts to fully work through the military-political and disarmament dossier is necessary. That includes the renewal of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, the dangerous situation surrounding the development of elements of the US global missile defence system, the implementation of the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, and the topic of deploying weapons in space.

We are in favour of continued cooperation in the sphere of combating terrorism and ensuring cybersecurity. Notably, our special services are working together quite successfully. The most recent example of that is the close operational interaction with a group of US security experts as part of the World Cup in Russia that ended yesterday. Contacts between the special services should be made systematic. I reminded the President of the United States about the proposal to reconstitute the anti-terror working group.

We covered regional crises extensively. Our positions do not coincide on all matters, but nonetheless there are many overlapping interests. We should be looking for common ground and working more closely, including at international forums.

Of course, we talked about regional crises, including Syria. With regard to Syria, restoring peace and harmony in that country could serve as an example of successful joint work.

Of course, Russia and the United States can take the lead in this matter and organise cooperation to overcome the humanitarian crisis and help refugees return to their hearths.

We have all the requisite elements for effective cooperation on Syria. Notably, Russian and American military have gained useful experience of interaction and coordination in the air and on land.

I would also like to note that after the terrorists are routed in southwest Syria, in the so-called “southern zone”, the situation in the Golan Heights should be brought into full conformity with the 1974 agreement on the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces.

This will make it possible to bring tranquillity to the Golan Heights and restore the ceasefire between the Syrian Arab Republic and the State of Israel. The President devoted special attention to this issue today…..

We paid special attention to the economy. Obviously, there is interest in cooperation in the business circles of both countries. The US delegation was one of the biggest at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in May. It consisted of over 500 US entrepreneurs.

To develop trade and investment, President Trump and I agreed to establish a high-level group that would unite captains of Russian and American business. Business people better understand how to go about mutually beneficial cooperation. Let them consider what can be done and make recommendations

The emphasis – as I discussed in my article of a month ago – is on arms control, though Putin also seems to have gone out of his way to reassure Trump that the restoration of the Syrian government’s control over southwest Syria would not put in jeopardy Israel’s position in the Golan Heights.  In addition there also seems to have been a fair amount of discussion about future economic cooperation.

The result was an agreement between Putin and Trump to reopen channels of communication between their governments and to meet regularly with each other as they feel their way towards a rapprochement.

To be clear, that rapprochement will not mean and is not intended to mean that the US and Russia will cease to be adversaries and will become friends.

Instead what is being discussed are steps to bring to a stop the downward spiral in their relations, with each side obtaining a better understanding of the other side’s moves and red lines, so that hopefully geopolitical disasters like the 2014 Maidan coup can be avoided in future.

That would be a major advance over what has existed previously given that since the USSR collapsed in 1991 the US has refused to acknowledge that Russia has any right to any opinions at all, let alone act independently or set out red lines.

Needless to say the more often Putin and Trump meet the more ‘normalised’ relations between the US and Russia become, with each meeting provoking less controversy than the previous one, with the whole process beyond a certain point becoming routine so that it attracts ever less attention and (hopefully) eventually becomes uncontroversial.

It is because the powerful forces in the US who scorn the idea of a ‘geopolitical ceasefire’ and want ever greater confrontation between the US and Russia do not want to see relations ‘normalised’ in this way that their reaction to the summit has been so hysterical.

As of the time of writing it is these people who in the media and on twitter are making the running.  However it may be a mistake to see in the volume of the noise they are making a true reflection of their influence.

Last February’s Nuclear Posture Review suggests that there is a very powerful constituency within the US and specifically within the Pentagon which might potentially support the sort of ‘geopolitical ceasefire’ with Russia that Donald Trump appears to be gradually working towards.

The Nuclear Posture Review shows that some sections of the US military understand how dangerously overstretched the US has become as it responds simultaneously to challenges from Russia in Europe and from China in the Pacific.  Both Putin and Trump mentioned during their news conference the extent to which their respective militaries are already in contact with each other and are working well together

Donald Trump: Well, our militaries do get along. In fact, our militaries actually have gotten along probably better than our political leaders for years, but our militaries do get along very well and they do coordinate in Syria and other places. Ok? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin:……..On the whole, I really agree with the President. Our military cooperation is going quite well. I hope that they will continue to be able to come to agreements just as they have been…..

That may be a sign that there is more understanding of what Donald Trump is trying to do – at least within the US defence establishment – than the hysteria the Helsinki summit has provoked might suggest.

Overall, provided it is clearly understood that what Putin and Trump are working towards is a detente style ‘geopolitical ceasefire’ and not ‘friendship’ – and certainly not an alliance –  it can be said that their summit in Helsinki was a good start and a success.

What happens now depends on whether the forces of realism and sanity in the US can prevail over those of megalomania and hysteria.  Given how entrenched the latter have become unfortunately no one can count on this.

However some sort of process which may in time lead to detente and an easing of tensions between the nuclear superpowers has begun.  Given the circumstances in which it has been launched that is more than might have been expected even a short time ago, and for that one should be grateful.

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