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Despite defense ministry fear mongering, is there really a Russian threat to the UK?

‘History shows that those who pick fights with Russia are seldom glad that they have done so’

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(Hitchen’s Blog) – I can’t blame the Army for trying to save itself from the current mad round of cuts, but could there be anything more ludicrous than a warning that we need to beef up the Army because it can’t cope with an attack on Britain by Russia? Likewise we could not cope with an attack on Britain by Klingons (who don’t as far as I know exist), or, come to that, by the Chinese People’s Republic (which does exist).  But these attacks are not likely, let alone imminent.

I say, please plan for what is realistically likely, rather than frightening people with bogeymen, and so perhaps creating the preconditions for a war which, if you had not been so silly, would never have happened.

General Sir Nick Carter, head of the army, was all over the media this morning warning of the Muscovite threat.

What is he talking about? Years ago, the great conservative satirist Michael Wharton (who wrote under the name ‘Peter Simple’ in the old Daily Telegraph, a very different newspaper from the one that now bears that name) invented a war between Sweden and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was then a country in the South-East of Europe, not having been dismantled to suit the convenience of the EU. It was also about as far as one could get from Sweden, while staying in the European landmass.

I forget what grievance had sparked this fictional conflict. One day I shall write a Wikipedia entry on the Suedo-Yugoslav war (I wonder how long it will take them to notice) which will doubtless explain all these things.

But the real lasting joke was of course that the two enemies could never find each other. They had nothing to fight about, no common border, no territorial dispute. It could have lasted for decades without an actual shot being fired.

Much the same is true of our relations with Russia. We have no land or maritime border. We have very little mutual trade or any other connection which might lead to war. We are far away from each other.

Silly media reports contrive to suggest that Britain is ceaselessly ‘confronting’ or ‘escorting’ Russian ships or planes which fly through international waters or airspace near our islands. But read them carefully. They often seem to suggest that Russian planes have violated our airspace. As far as I know, this has not happened. Likewise, Russian naval vessels have a perfect right under the International Law of the Sea, to pass through the North Sea and the Channel (I have checked the laws on this) provided they undertake no hostile action. Indeed, it would be hard to see how else they could get from their home ports to Atlantic or Mediterranean destinations unless they took these routes.

As I have pointed out in myriad posts on this indexed, archived and searchable blog, Russia is not a very significant country, even though it takes up a lot of space on the map. Its GDP, the best measure of economic importance, is roughly the same as that of Italy, a country which rightly does not trouble us.

Its nuclear weapons are unusable (like ours). Most of Russia’s conventional army and air force is deployed to defend its home territory, because (unlike us)  it has no natural physical borders in the shape of seas or mountain-ranges, and is vulnerable to invasion (see recent history). Its second most important city suffered countless deaths by starvation thanks to a siege by German invaders within living memory.

Many widely-believed myths about Russia are not true. Russia did not start the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia. The EU’s own Tagliavini report concluded that this was begun by Georgia.

Russia has long regarded NATO eastward expansion as hostile and expansionist, and sought to counter it through diplomatic warnings at the highest level. These were ignored. NATO expansion was not the consequence of some desire by the peoples of the region. The Baltic States, for instance, gained their independence from Moscow in 1991 and maintained it for many years without any threat or danger, without needing to join NATO. Expansion was in fact the result of expensive lobbying of the US Senate by American arms and manufacturers in the 1990s, exposed by the New York Times at the time. It was specifically warned against by George Kennan, architect of the containment of the USSR, who came out of retirement aged 93 to say it was dangerous folly.

Russia’s response only became military when NATO countries openly backed the violent overthrow of a non-aligned government in Ukraine in a lawless putsch, and its replacement (contrary to the Ukraine constitution and with armed men present in the Kiev Parliament building) by a pro-NATO regime. Russia’s response has in fact been highly limited and cautious. Russia has as legitimate a claim to Crimea (largely populated by Russians who were prevented from voting on their future by the Ukrainian government in 1992) as Britain has to the Falklands, and at least as good a claim as NATO Turkey has to North Cyprus. Russia’s troops were stationed in Crimea quite legally in accordance with international treaties. Russia is undoubtedly using covert and undeclared forces in Ukraine, but it should be pointed out that Western countries have done the same or similar things, notably in the Middle East and SE Asia. It is at the very least likely that NATO countries have also taken (and continue to take) covert action in Ukraine, and in my view laughable to suggest that they have not.  But the important thing is that the conflict was initiated by Western, not Russian action. Russia’s principal policy since 1989 (dictated by economic weakness which still persists) has been to retreat without violence from the countries it previously occupied. It did so on the basis of what it took to be promises that NATO (an alliance against whom, by the way?) would not expand into the areas from which Russia had withdrawn.

I have no purpose in writing the above except that it is the truth and that (having witnessed some of it) I hate war and wish to ensure that we do not wander into one through stupidity and ignorance. I also have some experience and knowledge of the region, having lived in Moscow form 1990 to 1992 and travelled in the former USSR reasonably extensively.  I regard Vladimir Putin as a sinister tyrant, repeatedly say so in unequivocal terms and have no relationship, direct or indirect, with the Russian state or any of its organs.  If we are truly so worried about Russian internal politics, it is odd that we were entirely complacent, and even supportive while Boris Yeltsin was using tanks to bombard his own Parliament back in 1993. The fact was that Yeltsin let the west push him around, whereas Putin does not. That, and not Mr Putin’s internal regime, is the reason for the change in posture towards Russia. Beware of this stuff. History shows that those who pick fights with Russia are seldom glad that they have done so, once the combat is over.

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According to Ukraine, the Crimean Bridge doesn’t exist (VIDEO)

Ukraine tries to deny the reality of the completion and soundness of the Crimean Bridge, though Ukraine was unable to build it, itself.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia’s VESTI News is truly an entertaining channel at times. This news service is strongly supported by the Russian government, and one of the criticisms it receives from Russian people is that it is an “extreme” propaganda house, telling all manner of crazy stories to distract its watchers’ attention away from the real problems that Russian people face at home.

No doubt there is truth to this, as this is a technique certainly duplicated in the US, Great Britain and elsewhere. Every nation has the right to its own propaganda. However, Vesti also seems to have a lot of fun making fun of other nations’ propaganda, and here they found a great one. Apparently, Ukraine’s propaganda ministry is trying to make the assertion that the Crimean Bridge collapsed and its debris is floating around in the Kerch Strait, “with the tectonic plates.”

See for yourself.

According to Ukrainian scientists and even “psychics”, this bridge is doomed to fall into the Kerch Strait once a sufficient earthquake hits it. Some claims appear even to say that the bridge already is not there, or at least, is not there in the way the Russian news sources have described it.

Of course, the VESTI team erupts into its famous snark, talking about how the bridge is very much alive and well and that it is the new “pride of Russia,” and so on.

This bridge is indeed quite an engineering feat, being completed only about three years after the rejoining / annexation / invasion / hostile takeover / or was it a voluntary referendum? of Crimea to the Russian Federation. This is a rapid speed for such a major project, but it is not very unusual for such projects to progress rather quickly when they are done with a will.

Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai) is presently by far the tallest building in the world, reaching skyward 828 meters, over half a mile into the sky. It took a little over four years to construct this landmark building, and it was done steadily and with a will to completion. Its would-be successor is not having as smooth an experience, for the Jeddah Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has hit problems, and even though this tower is projected to go only about 130 meter higher (reaching a significant milestone of one kilometer tall), its construction started in 2013, and as of the latest update, only 63 floors are completed.

The Crimean Bridge was built with a will to make a point, presumably to Ukraine, the rest of Russia and the world:

This is the New Russia. Look what we can do!

And, they did a marvelous feat of engineering in a very short time.

VESTI indeed does try to make some people feel better by pointing out the problems of other countries. Sometimes that is a distraction. But sometimes it is worth a serious bit of consideration.

Ukraine has a leader most of its people apparently cannot stand, who is a warmonger and a crybaby at the same time, begging the West for help while breathing threats against Russia.

While there are no doubt many, many wonderful people there trying to do wonderful things, it does seem to be that the country is suffering because of its willingness to be a pawn of the West. Russia is feeling the Western squeeze and it is not pleasant, but the Russians also seem to know that they can get themselves through this, and so they have reason to be glad when the country makes a good accomplishment such as the Crimean Bridge. The political and geopolitical importance of this project is such that it is very likely that all sorts of great engineering went into the bridge. It is prudent, and Russians seem to understand prudence very, very well.

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Second group of Su-57 stealth fighters to be requested in 2020

The second Su-57 contract will feature fighters with the advanced engine design that was under development while the prototypes were made.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The contract for a second order of Russian Su-57 stealth fighters is expected to be signed in 2020, according to an unnamed source in Russia’s aircraft-making industry. TASS, the Russian News Agency, reported on this on Wednesday, 16 January:

The second contract to manufacture 13 Su-57 fighter jets for the Russian Aerospace Forces is to be signed next year, a source in Russia’s aircraft-making industry told TASS on Wednesday.

“In 2020, we plan to sign the second contract to manufacture and deliver 13 Su-57 fighter jets, some of them equipped with the second-stage engines,” he said. “The preliminary timeframe for the new contract is five years.”

The first contract envisages the delivery of two fifth-generation aircraft in 2019-2020.

“In line with the contract signed in 2018, one serial Su-57 jet with first-stage engines will be delivered to the Aerospace Forces this year, the other aircraft featuring the same type of engine – in 2020.”

The aircraft’s manufacturer, the United Aircraft Corporation, refrained from commenting on the report.

The Su-57 is a fifth-generation multirole fighter designed to destroy all types of air targets at long and short ranges and hit enemy ground and naval targets, overcoming its air defense capabilities.

The Su-57 took to the skies for the first time on January 29, 2010. Compared to its predecessors, the Su-57 combines the functions of an attack plane and a fighter jet while the use of composite materials and innovation technologies and the fighter’s aerodynamic configuration ensure the low level of radar and infrared signature.

The aircraft has been successfully tested in Syria.

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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

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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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