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Assessing Russia’s military strength

Is America Seeking “Preventive War” to Forestall the Rise of Russian Power?

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This article was originally published by www.unz.com

There is a popular point of view in some of Russia’s political circles, especially among those who profess monarchist views and cling to a famous meme of 1913 Tsarist Russia development statistics, that WW I was started by Germany to forestall Russia’s industrial development which would inevitably challenge Germany’s plans on domination of Europe. A somewhat similar argument could be made for the WW II, but, in general, preventive wars are nothing new in human history. While “preventive” argument may or may not be a valid one regarding WW I, there is no doubt that it could be used, among others, when explaining the origins of a war.

A classic example of such “preventive” war is, of course, US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the mayhem which ensued there when US, as was stated then, “prevented” Saddam from obtaining Weapons of Mass Destruction, that is nuclear weapons, which, of course, he never had and wasn’t intent on obtaining. It is becoming increasingly clear that “preventive war” has become a preferred instrument in the hands of Washington establishment, be it Iraq, Libya or Syria.

But what about Russia, one may ask, or China. Are “preventive wars” against them possible? Taken at face value the question may seem strange—both China, and especially Russia are nuclear armed states which can defend themselves. They do have deterrents and that supposedly should stop any attempt on any kind of war on them. This all is true but only so far. One may consider the current geopolitical situation in which China has all but created a new alternative economic power pole, and in which the US finds herself increasingly in the position of the still extremely important but second and, eventually, even third place player in Eurasian economic development. The United States doesn’t like being in second and doesn’t take such a reality kindly.

But for Washington, whose political discourse is based on American exceptionalism and foreign policy now is defined completely in terms of military power, emergence of a “peer” military power is absolutely unacceptable. While China is an economic giant and is now arguably the largest economy in the world, she still has a long way to go until she becomes a true “peer” to the United States militarily. This is not the case with Russia. It becomes also true when one begins to look at doctrinal and technological developments both in the US and Russia. The contrast is startling, even if one considers a very dubious US intelligence analysis on Russia.

Russia’s military doctrine and posture are explicitly defensive. Power Projection in Russian strategic considerations is secondary, if not tertiary, to the defense of Russia proper and her immediate geographic vicinity which can roughly be defined as about 80-85% of territory of the former USSR. This is not the case with the United States who is a consummate expeditionary power and fights wars not on own territory, and whose population and political elites are not conditioned by continental warfare.

Arthur J. Alexander in his Decision Making In Soviet Weapons Procurement came up with quantification of what he called “classes of forces” (or constants) influencing aggregate defense expenditures for USSR. This quantification remains virtually unchanged for modern day Russia. To quote Alexander, two of the most “heavy” constants he mentions are: “History, culture and values–40-50 percent. International environment, threat and internal capabilities–10-30 percent”. Taken by their maxima, 50+30=80%, we get the picture. 80% of Russia’s military expenditures are dictated by real military threats, which were, time after time over centuries, realized for Russia and resulted in the destruction and human losses on a scale incomprehensible for people who write US military doctrines and national security strategies. This is especially true for Neocon “strategists” who have a very vague understanding of the nature and application of military power—expeditionary warfare simply does not provide a proper angle on the issues of actual defense. The nation whose 20th Century losses due to wars from WW I, to Civil War to WW II number roughly in 40-45 million range, would certainly try to not repeat such ordeals. Even famous Russophobe and falsifier, Richard Pipes, was forced to admit that:

Such figures are beyond the comprehension of most Americans. But clearly a country… must define “unacceptable damage” differently from the United States which has known no famines or purges, and whose deaths from all the wars waged since 1775 are estimated at 650,000—fewer casualties than Russia suffered in the 900-day siege of Leningrad in World War II alone. Such a country (Russia) tends also to assess the rewards of defense in much more realistic terms.

In layman’s lingo, the United States lacks geographic, historic, cultural, economic and technological pressures to develop and have a coherent defensive military doctrine and weapons which would help to implement it. As Michael Lind writes:

The possibility of military defeat and invasion are usually left out of discussion….in the United states and Britain. The United States, if one discounts Pearl Harbor has not suffered a serious invasion from 1812; Britain, though it has been bombed from the air in the (20th century), has been free from foreign invasion even longer….Elsewhere in the world, political elites cannot as easily separate foreign policy and economics.

Russia lives under these pressures constantly and, in fact, Russians as ethnos were formed and defined by warfare. Russia is also defined by her weapons and it is here where we may start looking for one of the most important rationales for anti-Russian hysteria in Washington which have proceeded unabated sincethe return of Crimea in 2014, in reality even earlier.

1. The Western analytical and expert community failed utterly in assessing Russia’s both economic and, as a consequence, military potential. The problem here is not with Russia, which offers unprecedented access to all kinds of foreigners, from businessmen and tourists to political and intelligence (overt and covert) professionals. The problem is with Western view of Russia which as late as three years ago was completely triumphalist and detached from Russia’s economic realities. That is the reality not defined by meaningless Wall Street economic indices.

It took a complete and embarrassing failure of the West’s economic sanctions on Russia to recognize that the actual size of Russia’s economy is about that of Germany, if not larger, and that Russia was defining herself in terms of enclosed technological cycles, localization and manufacturing long before she was forced to engage in the war in Georgia in 2008. Very few people realistically care about Russia’s Stock Market, the financial markets of Germany are on the order of magnitude larger, but Germany cannot design and build from scratch a state of the art fighter jet, Russia can. Germany doesn’t have a space industry, Russia does. The same argumentation goes for Russia’s microelectronics industry and her military-industrial complex which dwarfs that of any “economic” competitor Western “economists” always try to compare Russia to, with the exception of US and China, and then on bulk, not quality, only. Third or Second World economies do not produce such weapons as Borey-class strategic missile submarines or SU-35 fighter jets, they also do not build space-stations and operate the only global alternative to US GPS, GLONASS system.

Whether this lesson will be learned by the combined West is yet to be seen. So far, the learning process has been slow for US crowd which cheered on US deindustrialization and invented a fairy tale concept of post-industrial, that is non-productive, virtual economy.

The Russian economy is not without problems, far from it—it still tries to break with the “heritage” of robbery and deformities of 1990s and still tries to find its way on a path different from destructive ideology of Russia’s “young reformers” who still dominate policy formulation, be it from the positions of power or through such institutions as notorious High School of Economics.

Yet, it seems this economy which was “left in tatters” or was an economy of a “gas station masquerading as a country”, is the only other economy in the world which can produce and does produce the whole spectrum of weapons ranging from small arms to state-of-the-art complex weapon and signal processing systems. No other nation with the exception of the US and Russia, not even China, can produce and procure a cutting edge military technology which has capabilities beyond the reach of everyone else.

Here, the US establishment, also known as the Neocon interventionist cabal, it seems, has begun to wake up to actual reality, not the fictitious one that the US can allegedly create for itself. Such as the fact that Russia, in a planned and well executed manner, without any unnecessary fanfare, launched a complete upgrade of her naval nuclear deterrent with the state of the art SSBNs of Borey-class (Project 955 and 955A). Three submarines of this type are already afloat while other 5 are in a different stages of completion and this is the program which most of US Russia “analysts” were laughing at 10 years ago. They are not laughing anymore.

Today it is US Navy which is in dire need for upgrade of its nuclear deterrent, with the youngest of Ohio-class SSBN, SSBN-743 USS Louisiana, being 20 year old. The future replacement of venerable Ohio-class SSBNs, a Columbia-class is slated to go into production in 2021 that is if the R&D will go smoothly. But one has to consider a feature which became defining of US R&D and weapons procurement practices—delays and astronomical costs of US weapons, which, despite constantly being declared “superior”, “unrivaled” and “best in the world” are not such at all, especially for the prices they are offered both domestically and abroad. As in the case with above mentioned Columbia-class SSBN, the GAO expects the cost of the whole program to be slightly above 97 billion dollars and that means that the average cost for each sub of this class will be around 8.1 billion dollars. That is much more than the cost of the whole—8 advanced submarines—program of Russia’s naval nuclear deterrent.

And this single example demonstrates well an abyss in fundamental approaches to the war between US and Russia: not only do Russian weapons rival those made in US, they are much-much less expensive and they provide Russia with this proverbial bang for a buck, also known in professional circles which deal with strategy and operation’s research as cost/effectiveness ratio. Here, United States is simply no competition to Russia and the gap not only remains, it widens with ever-increasing speed. As Colonel Daniel Davies admitted: “The truth is, the United States is nowhere near as powerful and dominant as many believe.” That brings us to a second issue, of doctrines, operational concepts and weapons themselves.

2. A complete inability to see the evolution of Russia’s Armed Forces is another failure which not only irritated but continues to irritate US military-political establishment since it proved them completely wrong. Economic “blindness” factored in here very strongly—it was inevitable in a system that looks at the world through a grossly distorted Wall Street monetarist spyglass. Many times it was pointed out that direct linear comparison, dollar-for-dollar, of military budgets is wrong and does not reflect real military, in general, and combat, in particular, potentials in the least.

While the US Navy was busy spending 420 million dollars per hull on its 26-ship fleet of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), Russian Navy spent two times less per unit on a frigates whose combat capabilities dwarf those of any LCS in any aspect: ASW, Air Defense and Sensors, including the ability to launch supersonic anti-shipping cruise missiles from 600 kilometers and land-attack missiles from 2500. The same goes to much smaller and even much cheaper missile corvettes of Buyan and Karakurt classes which can engage any US Navy’s targets, let alone something of LCS caliber.

Experiences with a technological embarrassment known as F-35 merely confirm the fact that US is being tangled in a bizarre combination of unrealistic doctrinal views, unachievable technological and operational requirements and, in general, a complete failure to follow Sun Tzu’s popular dictums of “Know Thy Enemy” and “Know Thy Self”. On both counts the US policy makers and doctrine mongers failed miserably.

As late as two years ago a number of US Russia’s military “experts” declared that Russia’s ground forces return to division structure was merely “symbolic”. Symbolic they were not, with Russia resurrecting both divisions and armies as appropriate operational-tactical and operational-strategic units in order for a large scale combined arms operations. While following closely the evolution of US forces within the framework of initially much touted Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), Russia never changed her focus on the large scale combined arms operations. This came as a nasty surprise on 08/08/2008 when the elements of the supposedly “backward” Russian 58th Army demolished NATO and Israel trained, and partially equipped, Saakashivili’s Army in a matter of 96 hours. Nobody celebrated this victory and Russian Army was subjected, somewhat justifiably, to scathing criticism from many quarters. But it was clear already then that combined arms operations of large army units remain a principle method of the war between peer-to-peer state actors. The issue then, in 2008, was that US didn’t consider Russia a peer and even near peer “status” was grudgingly afforded due to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Things changed dramatically after the coup in Kiev and junta unleashing a war in Donbass. Brigade and Division size forces there engaged in a full blown combined arms warfare, including head to head armor clashes, employment, especially for LDNR forces, of full C4ISR capabilities and Net-Centric warfare principles. So much so that it created a cultural shock for US military’s COIN crowd, which got used to operate in the environment of total domination over its rag-tag lightly armed guerilla formations in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And it was then, and later, in 2015, demonstrated by Russia’s Syria campaign, that the realization of an inability to defeat Russia conventionally began to dawn on many in D.C. establishment. Thus the whole premise of last quarter century “Pax Americana”—alleged conventional military superiority over any adversary—was blown out of the water. American military record of the last quarter century is not impressive for a power which proclaimed herself to be a hyper-power and as having the most powerful military in history. As US Marine Corps Captain Joshua Waddle bitterly admitted:

“Let us first begin with the fundamental underpinnings of this delusion: our measures of performance and effectiveness in recent wars. It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Objective analysis of the U.S. military’s effectiveness in these wars can only conclude that we were unable to translate tactical victory into operational and strategic success”.

Delusion, of course, being the fact of US expecting a decisive tactical and technological superiority on the battlefield. Overwhelming empirical evidence tells a completely different story:

1) United States military in future conflicts will have to deal, in case of conventional conflict against near-peer, let alone peer, with adversary who will have C4ISR capability either approaching that or on par with that of the US. This adversary will have the ability to counter US military decision cycles (OODA loop) with equal frequency and will be able to produce better tactical, operational and strategic decisions.

2) US real and perceived advantage in electronic means of warfare (EW) will be greatly reduced or completely suppressed by present and future EW means of adversary thus forcing US forces fight under the conditions of partial or complete electronic blindness and with partially or completely suppressed communications and computer networks.

3) US will encounter combat technologies not only on par but often better designed and used, from armor to artillery, to hyper-sonic anti-shipping missiles, than US military ever encountered.

4) Modern air-forces and complex advanced air defense systems will make the main pillar of US military power—its Air Force—much less effective.

5) Last but not least, today the US military will have to deal with a grim reality of its staging areas, rear supply facilities, lines of communications being the target of massive salvos of long-range high subsonic, supersonic and hyper-sonic missiles. The US military has never encountered such paradigm in its history. Moreover, already today, US lower 48 are not immune to a conventional massive missile strike.

But above all, if to finally name this “peer”, which is Russia, and that is who pre-occupies the minds of former and current Pentagon’s and National Security brass, in case of conventional conflict Russians will be fighting in defense of their motherland. Here Russia has a track record without equals in human history. Meanwhile, if the current military trends continue, and there are no reasons for them to stop, the window of opportunities for the Neocon cabal to attack Russia conventionally and unleash a preventive war is closing really fast (if it ever existed). That is what drives to a large extent an aggressive military rhetoric and plans, such as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s doctrine and war mongering.

By mid 2020s Russia’s rearmament program will be largely complete, which will allow Russia’s Armed Forces to field and float a technology which will completely prevent NATO from exercising any illusions about the outcome of any conventional war in Russia’s geographic vicinity, including her littoral, and that will mark the end of US designs on Eurasia by military means. It wouldn’t matter how many carrier battle groups US will be able to move to forward areas or how many submarines, or how many brigades it will be able to deploy around Russia it will not be able to defeat Russia conventionally. With that, especially when one considers China’s growing military potential, comes the end of Pax-Bellum Americana, the one we all hoped for this election cycle.

At this point, the only locality where the US can hope to “defeat” Russia is in Syria, to reassert, even if for a little while longer, itself as “greatest military in history”. But even there the window of opportunities is closing fast since the Russian conventional response in Europe would be devastating. As Colonel Pat Lang’s blog noted: “If Russia decides to call our bluff and escalate things Trump will likely preside over a public humiliation that will explode America’s military delusions of grandeur”.

Today, the United States in general, and her military in particular, still remain a premier geopolitical force, but increasingly they will have to content with the fact that the short-lived era of self-proclaimed superiority in every single facet of modern nation-states’ activity is over, if it ever was the case to start with. Will the US “Deep State” unleash a preventive war to prevent Russia from serving US with the pink slip for its position as world’s chaos-monger or will it be, rephrasing the magnificent Corelli Barnett: “US Power had quietly vanished amid stupendous events of the 21stCentury, like a ship-of-the-line going down unperceived in the smoke and confusion of battle”. This is the most important question of the 21st Century so far, but knowing US deep state ignorance of Russia one can never discount its insanity and an acute case of sour grapes.

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Ukraine’s Cult of Stepan Bandera: Not a Detail, but a Cornerstone

Unlike Poroshenko with his aerial bombings of the Russian-speaking Donbass in 2014 and 2015, Bandera killed the “wrong” victims, the representatives of those nations that are valued even by the modern Western media.

Dmitry Babich

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Authored by Dmitry Babich via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


During the recent years of the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, there has been one issue where the Western mainstream press simply cannot fully ignore or reject the Russian arguments. This issue concerns the life and actions of Stepan Bandera (1909-1959) and his followers from what is known as the “Banderite” faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN, a far-right organization that took terrorist actions against Polish and Soviet officials from the 1920s to the 1950s and which is now legally protected from any criticism in Ukraine).

THE “WRONG” AND “RIGHT” VICTIMS

Because Bandera was born on January 1, 1909, celebrations of his birthday have become disgusting New Year’s rituals in Ukraine in recent years, with thousands participating in Nazi-style torch-lit marches that include shouted protests against “Putin’s Russia” and rants such as, “Jews out!” which are heard by everyone except the police. This New Year was no exception, since the current Ukrainian government under President Petro Poroshenko (who publicly identified himself as a Banderite after taking office in 2014) officially added Bandera’s 110th birthday to the list of Ukraine’s most important anniversaries. This time, there were several quiet voices of condemnation heard in Poland, Israel, and even the US. Why? In truth, torches, masks, political murders, and mob attacks against “pro-Russian” public figures are nothing new in post-Maidan Ukraine. And these things usually pose no problem for the mainstream press of the US and its allies. So, why is Bandera an exception?

The answer is ethnic, as awful as that may sound. Unlike Poroshenko with his aerial bombings of the Russian-speaking Donbass in 2014 and 2015, Bandera killed the “wrong” victims, the representatives of those nations that are valued even by the modern Western media, with its double and triple standards. In the 1930s Bandera killed Polish officials, in the 1940s his people killed civilian Jews and Polish peasants, and these are groups whose plight even the New York Times cannot ignore today. If Bandera’s infamous slogan “Death to enemies!” had been directed only against “disloyal” Russians and anti-Banderite Ukrainians (the groups currently persecuted by Poroshenko), Bandera would have been no different from his modern admirers in the Ukrainian government. But Bandera’s followers from the OUN decimated the Jewish population of Lvov and Kiev in 1941, trying to curry favor with the advancing Germans. And between 1943 and 1944, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), taking its orders from Bandera’s OUN officers, ethnically cleansed his native Western Ukraine of ethnic Poles, killing from 70,000-100,000 of them (the infamous “slaughter of Volhynia”). The aim was to create an “ethnically pure” Ukraine before the arrival of the Red Army in late 1944. Documents published by the Polish historian Grzegorz Motyka indicate that Bandera and the OUN hoped that the Red Army would soon be replaced by Anglo-American domination. “His strategy was to clean up the house before the arrival of the real master,” Motyka concludes in his book.

THE LADY OF THE RADA VS. ISRAEL’S PRESIDENT

The American domination took another 70 years, but it did come. And now the Banderites’ (and Poroshenko’s) only historic disagreement with the West is over the infamous “ethnic cleansing,” to which Bandera’s “glorious heroes” subjected Ukraine in 1941-1944. When Israeli President Reuven Rivlin dared to raise the issue during his visit to Ukraine in 2016, he got a scolding from the vice speaker of the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada), Irina Gerashchenko: “The Israeli president allowed himself some incorrect and undiplomatic words about the OUN’s tragic history,” Gerashchenko said at the time. “It was highly inappropriate, especially now, when Ukraine is fighting for its independence.” Gerashchenko forgot to mention the fact that Babi Yar, the burial site of some 30,000 Jews killed by German and Ukrainian Nazis in Kiev in 1941, was vandalized nine times between 2015 and 2016, according to data provided by the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.

WHY THE WEST WANTS TO FORGET, BUT CANNOT

In the immediate aftermath of the Maidan coup in 2014, the mainstream press was ready to forget even that, since an honest account of Bandera’s activities between 1939 and 1959 could rekindle memories of the undesirable parallels to the “resistance to Russian occupation” by Poroshenko’s army in the Donbass in 2014 and 2015. Between the summer of 2014 and the winter of 2015, about 10,000 people died there, victims of the aircraft and tanks sent by Poroshenko (just months earlier, the US and the EU had been unable to abide the use of truncheons by the police of the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych). At the time, the NYT called Bandera the “Ukrainian nationalists’ hero.” Obviously, the NYT’s authors were taking their cues from the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum, with her Banderite headline, “Nationalism is exactly what Ukraine Needs” in the once-glorious New Republic.

But here the mainstream press tried to kill off a memory that will never die — the memory of how Hitler’s East European Nazi allies participated in the destruction of the region’s Jewish population in the early 1940s. This was something not even Anne Applebaum could make people forget.

In his articles in the American press, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolinsky, tried to explain to the American public that Bandera’s cult is not an isolated, unpleasant phenomenon: Stepan Bandera never acted alone, he represented a crudely nationalist ideology. Unfortunately, this ideology reigns triumphant in modern Ukraine behind the “liberal” façade displayed for the West. For example, Dolinsky notes that Poroshenko’s hypocritical speeches memorializing Jewish victims can be heard next to, say, a memorial to OUN activist Ivan Rogach, whose newspaper called Jews “the greatest enemy of the people” in 1941. “The Ukrainian leadership set itself on the course of rehabilitating anti-Semitism and introducing censorship of history,” concludes the official statement of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human-rights group, famous for its work to bring Nazi criminals to justice.

THE RUSSIAN QUESTION BEHIND THE JEWISH ONE

If the West cannot afford to be completely silent about Bandera’s participation in the Holocaust, it is willingly ignoring another huge injustice that is inseparable from Bandera’s cult in modern Ukraine — the erasure of the Russian and anti-Banderite component of Ukraine’s historic memory. In 2017, Kiev’s Vatutin Avenue was renamed Bandera Avenue, resulting in an outcry in Russia and complete silence in the West. This avenue, a major thoroughfare in the Ukrainian capital, had originally been named in honor of General Nikolai Vatutin, who liberated Kiev from Nazi occupation in 1943 and died in a shootout with the OUN’s guerillas in 1944. At the time, there was no question about where America’s sympathies lay: the fight against Hitler was not yet over, and Vatutin, born in 1901 to a peasant family living immediately adjacent to the future Russian-Ukrainian border, was a useful ally for the United States. Will Bandera and his modern followers be a good replacement? Only someone with Poroshenko’s plans for Ukraine or with Anne Applebaum’s views on history could agree.

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Entering a Major Regional Re-set – The Syria Outcome Will Haunt Those Who Started This War

It should be obvious now that we are entering a major regional re-set.

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Authored by Alastair Crooke via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The Middle East is metamorphosing. New fault-lines are emerging, yet Trump’s foreign policy ‘hawks’ still try to stage ‘old movies’ in a new ‘theatre’.

The ‘old movie’ is for the US to ‘stand up’ Sunni, Arab states, and lead them towards confronting ‘bad actor’ Iran. ‘Team Bolton’ is reverting back to the old 1996 Clean Break script – as if nothing has changed. State Department officials have been briefing that Secretary Pompeo’s address in Cairo on Thursday was “ slated to tell his audience (although he may not name the former president), that Obama misled the people of the Middle East about the true source of terrorism, including what contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. Pompeo will insist that Iran, a country Obama tried to engage, is the real terrorist culprit. The speech’s drafts also have Pompeo suggesting that Iran could learn from the Saudis about human rights, and the rule of law.”

Well, at least that speech should raise a chuckle around the region. In practice however, the regional fault-line has moved on: It is no longer so much Iran. GCC States have a new agenda, and are now far more concerned to contain Turkey, and to put a halt to Turkish influence spreading throughout the Levant. GCC states fear that President Erdogan, given the emotional and psychological wave of antipathy unleashed by the Khashoggi murder, may be mobilising newly re-energised Muslim Brotherhood, Gulf networks. The aim being to leverage present Gulf economic woes, and the general hollowing out of any broader GCC ‘vision’, in order to undercut the rigid Gulf ‘Arab system’ (tribal monarchy). The Brotherhood favours a soft Islamist reform of the Gulf monarchies – along lines, such as that once advocated by Jamal Khashoggi .

Turkey’s leadership in any case is convinced that it was the UAE (MbZ specifically) that was the author behind the Kurdish buffer being constructed, and mini-state ‘plot’ against Turkey – in conjunction with Israel and the US. Understandably, Gulf states now fear possible Turkish retribution for their weaponising of Kurdish aspirations in this way.

And Turkey is seen (by GCC States) as already working in close co-ordination with fellow Muslim Brotherhood patron and GCC member, Qatar, to divide the collapsing Council. This prefigures a new round to the MB versus Saudi Wahhabism spat for the soul of Sunni Islam.

GGC states therefore, are hoping to stand-up a ‘front’ to balance Turkey in the Levant. And to this end, they are trying to recruit President Assad back into the Arab fold (which is to say, into the Arab League), and to have him act, jointly with them, as an Arab counter to Turkey.

The point here is obvious: President Assad is closely allied to Iran – and so is Moscow and Turkey. To be fashionably Iranophobic – as Pompeo might wish the GCC to be – simply would spoil the GCC’s anti-Turkey ‘play’. Syria indeed may be (justly) skeptical of Turkey’s actions and intent in Syria, but from President Assad’s perspective, Iran and Russia are absolutely crucial to the managing of an erratic Turkey. Turkey does represent an existential Syrian concern. And trying to lever President Assad – or Lebanon or Turkey – away from Iran, would be absurd. It won’t happen. And the GCC states have enough nous to understand this now (after their stinging defeat in Syria). The Gulf anti-Iranian stance has had ‘the burner’ turned sharply down, (except when their need is to stroke US feathers).

They can see clearly that the Master of Ceremonies in the Levant – putting together the new regional ‘order’ – is not Mr Bolton, but Moscow, with Tehran (and occasionally Ankara), playing their equal part ‘from behind the curtain’.

Presumably, America’s intelligence services know, (and Gulf states certainly are aware), that in any case, Iranian forces are almost all gone from Syria (though of course Syria’s ‘Iranian connection’ remains as firm, as ever) – even as Pompeo and Israel say the precisely the opposite: that they are pushing-back hard at the ‘threatening’ Iranian military ‘footprint’ in Syria. Few in the region will believe it.

The second notable emerging regional fault line then, evidently is the one that is opening between Turkey and the US and Israel. Turkey ‘gets it’: Erdogan ‘gets it’ very clearly: that Washington now deeply distrusts him, suspects that Turkey is accelerating into Moscow and Beijing’s orbit, and that DC would be happy to see him gone – and a more NATO-friendly leader installed in his stead.

And it must be clear to Washington too ‘why’ Turkey would be heading ‘East’. Erdogan precisely needs Russia and Iran to act as MCs to moderate his difficult relations with Damascus for the future. Erdogan needs Russia and Iran even more, to broker a suitable political solution to the Kurds in Syria. He needs China too, to support his economy.

And Erdogan is fully aware that Israel (more than Gulf States) still hankers after the old Ben Gurion ideal of an ethnic Kurdish state – allied with Israel, and sitting atop major oil resources – to be inserted at the very pivot to south-west and central Asia: And at Turkey’s vulnerable underbelly.

The Israeli’s articulated their support for a Kurdish state quite plainly at the time of Barzani’s failed independence initiative in Iraq. But Erdogan simply, unmistakably, has said to this ‘never’ (to Bolton, this week). Nonetheless, Ankara still needs Russian and Iranian collaboration to allow Bolton to ‘climb down his tree’ of a Kurdish mini-state in Syria. He needs Russia to broker a Syrian-led buffer, vice an American-Kurdish tourniquet, strapped around his southern border.

It is unlikely however, that despite the real threat that America’s arming of the Kurds poses to Turkey, that Erdogan really wants to invade Syria – though he threatens it – and though John Bolton’s ‘conditions’ may end by leaving Turkey no option, but to do it. Since, for sure, Erdogan understands that a messy Turkish invasion of Syria would send the delicately balanced Turkish Lire into free-fall.

Still … Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia now all want America gone from Syria. And for a moment, it seemed it might proceed smoothly after Trump had acquiesced to Erdogan’s arguments, during their celebrated telephone call. But then – Senator Lindsay Graham demurred (against the backdrop of massed howls of anguish issuing from the Beltway foreign policy think-tanks). Bolton did the walk-back, by making US withdrawal from Syria contingent on conditions (ones seemingly designed not to be met) and not tied any specific timeline. President Erdogan was not amused.

It should be obvious now that we are entering a major regional re-set: The US is leaving Syria. Bolton’s attempted withdrawal-reversal has been rebuffed. And the US, in any event, forfeited the confidence of the Kurds in consequence to the original Trump statement. The Kurds now are orientated toward Damascus and Russia is mediating a settlement.

It may take a while, but the US is going. Kurdish forces (other than those linked with the PKK) are likely to be assimilated into the Syrian army, and the ‘buffer’ will not be directed against Turkey, but will be a mix of Syrian army and Kurdish elements – under Syrian command – but whose overall conduct towards Turkey will be invigilated by Russia. And the Syrian army will, in due time, clear Idlib from a resurgent al-Qaida (HTS).

The Arab states are returning to their embassies in Damascus – partly out of fear that the whipsaw of American policy, its radical polarisation, and its proclivity to be wholly or partially ‘walked-back’ by the Deep State – might leave the Gulf unexpectedly ‘orphaned’ at any time. In effect, the GCC states are ‘hedging’ against this risk by trying to reconnect a bifurcated Arab sphere, and to give it a new ‘purpose’ and credibility – as a balance against Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood (Syria’s old nemesis).

And yet – there remains still another layer to this calculus, as described by veteran Middle East journalist, Elijah Magnier:

“Indeed the Levant is returning to the centre of Middle East and world attention in a stronger position than in 2011. Syria has advanced precision missiles that can hit any building in Israel. Assad also has an air defence system he would have never dreamed of before 2011 – thanks to Israel’s continuous violation of its airspace, and its defiance of Russian authority. Hezbollah has constructed bases for its long and medium range precision missiles in the mountains and has created a bond with Syria that it could never have established – if not for the war. Iran has established a strategic brotherhood with Syria, thanks to its role in defeating the regime change plan.

NATO’s support for the growth of ISIS has created a bond between Syria and Iraq that no Muslim or Baathist link could ever have created: Iraq has a “carte blanche” to bomb ISIS locations in Syria without the consent of the Syrian leadership, and the Iraqi security forces can walk into Syria anytime they see fit to fight ISIS. The anti-Israel axis has never been stronger than it is today. That is the result of 2011-2018 war imposed on Syria”.

Yes. This is the third of the newly emergent fault-lines: that of Israel on the one hand, and the emerging reality in the Syrian north, on the other – a shadow that has returned to haunt the original instigators of the ‘war’ to undermine Syria. PM Netanyahu since has put all the Israeli eggs into the Trump family ‘basket’. It was Netanyahu’s relationship with Trump which was presented in Israel as being the true ‘Deal of the Century’ (and not the Palestinian one). Yet when Bibi complained forcefully about US withdrawal from Syria (leaving Syria vulnerable, Netanyahu asserts, to an Iranian insertion of smart missiles), Trump nonchalantly replied that the US gives Israel $ 4.5 billion per year – “You’ll be all right”, Trump riposted.

It was seen in Israel as an extraordinary slap to the PM’s face. But Israelis cannot avoid, but to acknowledge, some responsibility for creating precisely the circumstances of which they now loudly complain.

Bottom line: Things have not gone according to plan: America is not shaping the new Levantine ‘order’ – Moscow is. And Israel’s continual, blatant disregard of Russia’s own interests in the Levant, firstly infuriated, and finally has provoked the Russian high command into declaring the northern Middle East a putative no-fly zone for Israel. This represents a major strategic reversal for Netanyahu (and the US).

And finally, it is this repeating pattern of statements being made by the US President on foreign policy that are then almost casually contradicted, or ‘conditioned’, by some or other part of the US bureaucracy, that poses to the region (and beyond) the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. The pattern clearly is one of an isolated President, with officials emptying his statements of executive authority (until subsequently endorsed, or denied, by the US bureaucracy). It is making Trump almost irrelevant (in terms of the setting of foreign policy).

Is this then a stealth process – knowingly contrived – incrementally to remove Trump from power? A hollowing out of his Presidential prerogatives (leaving him only as a disruptive Twitterer) – achieved, without all the disruption and mess, of formally removing him from office? We shall see.

And what next? Well, as Simon Henderson observes, no one is sure – everyone is left wondering:

“What’s up with Secretary Pompeo’s extended tour of the Middle East? The short answer is that he is trying to sell/explain President Trump’s “we are leaving Syria” policy to America’s friends … Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Manama, Bahrain; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE); Doha, Qatar; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Muscat, Oman; Kuwait City, Kuwait. Wow, even with his own jet and no immigration hassles, that’s an exhausting itinerary … The fact that there now are eight stops in eight days, probably reflects the amount of explaining that needs to be done.”

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Kaspersky Lab snags former NSA contractor stealing hacking tools

Semi-buried article did see publication on Politico and Fox News, but Kaspersky Lab was not vindicated for its help in solving this case.

Seraphim Hanisch

Published

on

In a time known for Smear Campaigns of the Strangest Kind, we have seen Russia blamed for being there, for interfering and preventing the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Presidency, putting Donald Trump in the White House instead. One of Russia’s companies, Kaspersky Lab, has a particularly notable history of late; that is to say, this computer security company has found itself on the receiving end of quite frankly, illegal levels of slander and punishment without cause from the US government. Kaspersky Lab owner and CEO tried very hard to come to the US to discuss these matters with a Congressional committee, only to have the meeting shelved into limbo.

However, the truth made itself manifest when it became known that Kaspersky Lab actually helped the American FBI catch Harold T. Martin III, who was found to be attempting to steal some of the American government’s most sensitive hacking tools. This fact emerged on Wednesday, January 9, 2019, when sources familiar with this investigation spoke to The Politico magazine. Politico says the following in its report:

[Kaspersky Lab’s] role in exposing Martin is a remarkable twist in an increasingly bizarre case that is believed to be the largest breach of classified material in U.S. history.

It indicates that the government’s own internal monitoring systems and investigators had little to do with catching Martin, who prosecutors say took home an estimated 50 terabytes of data from the NSA and other government offices over a two-decade period, including some of the NSA’s most sophisticated and sensitive hacking tools.

The revelation also introduces an ironic turn in the negative narrative the U.S. government has woven about the Russian company in recent years.

Under both the Obama and Trump administrations, officials have accused the company of colluding with Russian intelligence to steal and expose classified NSA tools, and in 2016 the FBI engaged in an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit the company and get its software banned from U.S. government computers on national security grounds. But even while the FBI was doing this, the Russian firm was tipping off the bureau to an alleged intelligence thief in the government’s own midst.

“It’s irony piled on irony that people who worked at Kaspersky, who were already in the sights of the U.S. intelligence community, disclosed to them that they had this problem,” said Stewart Baker, general counsel for the NSA in the 1990s and a current partner at Steptoe and Johnson. It’s also discouraging, he noted, that the NSA apparently still hasn’t “figured out a good way to find unreliable employees who are mishandling some of their most sensitive stuff.”

The Politico piece as well as Fox News’ variant still seem somewhat determined to keep that negative narrative in place, with Fox assessing that the FBI had a “strange bedfellow” in the investigation, and what appears to be an absolutely enormous presumption in Politico’s piece:

The first message sent on Aug. 13, 2016, asked one of the researchers to arrange a conversation with “Yevgeny” — presumably Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky, whose given name is Yevgeny Kaspersky. The message didn’t indicate the reason for the conversation or the topic, but a second message following right afterward said, “Shelf life, three weeks,” suggesting the request, or the reason for it, would be relevant for a limited time.

However, there are many people in the world named “Yevgeny” (Evgeny, or Eugene) in Russia, and presumably many Evgenys in Kaspersky Lab itself. The notion that the CEO of the company would be involved in this appears to be an absolutely enormous leap of logic.

The maintenance of a negative narrative about Kaspersky Lab has been one of the most frustratingly effective examples of American propaganda in use since Russia overall became increasingly used as America’s newest scapegoat.

This is also not the first time that Kaspersky Lab saved the day for an American intelligence agency. In 2017 the same company’s services found 122 viruses on an NSA employee’s computer.

Kaspersky Lab itself is a highly sophisticated company based in Moscow, Russia, specializing in securing computers against malware, viruses, ransomware and all manner of invasive efforts by the bad guys out on the ‘Net, and among the providers of such services it consistently rates among the best in the industry, including in US surveys. While US retailers Best Buy, Office Depot and the US government have banned selling or running Kaspersky Lab software, European allies of the US have not even breathed the slightest bit of discontent with the AV provider. The narrative is the only thing that is actually wrong, and since Evgeny Kaspersky’s education was largely at the Academy that trained former KGB personnel, (now called FSB), the anti-Russia narrative in the US the acronym “KGB” is usually enough to alarm most low-information American news readers and watchers. 

However, logic and awareness of life in modern Russia, point to the fact that getting an education on security at the FSB Academy ought to be equivalent to the same education at the CIA. Who would know better about how to create security than those people specially trained to compromise it? However the propaganda vantage point that Kaspersky afforded the US government in its drive to get rid of President Donald Trump made the Russian company too juicy a target to ignore.

Over the last year or two, however, this narrative has slowly been falling apart, with this Politico article being a significant, though still small vindication of the company’s prowess and abilities.

That a Russian Internet Security company could succeed where American enterprises failed, and especially where it helped the Americans catch a man who was stealing very powerful hacking tools, is a significant story, indeed.

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