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US media’s Russiagate fake news have destroyed the dreams of Russian liberals

The US Russophobic press is its own worst enemy, having thoroughly discredited Russian liberals who idealize their western counterparts

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(TheNation) – The US Department of Justice (and the mainstream US media following its lead) gave a royal gift to the “ideological hawks” in the Kremlin, one that even the boldest propagandists dared not dream of. The Russian television channels Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik have been forced to register as “foreign agents”; the stormy (and completely unsurprising) reactions have escalated the information wars, whose consequences are difficult to predict.

Russian lawmakers reacted to the DOJ’s decision emotionally and quickly: In just a few days, amendments were passed without discussion on the media law, adding paragraphs on foreign media and “foreign structures distributing information.” The law regulating non-commercial organizations can now impose on them the status of a foreign agent. “This is a very broad formulation,” says Galina Arapova, director of the Mass Media Defence Centre, media lawyer, and member of the board of Article 19. “It applies to all foreign mass media and foreign structures that produce information for an unlimited circle of readers or viewers; the important part is that they receive foreign money. Obviously, all non-Russian mass media and Internet sites will be considered foreign. Every lawyer understands the absurdity of ‘transferring’ to foreign mass media registered in other countries the norms of the law on non-commercial foreign agent organizations that are registered on Russian territory, and which therefore must follow Russian legislation. This is beyond political control; this is a farce. Russian law cannot force a foreign company registered in another country to present financial reports to the Ministry of Justice if the company doesn’t even have a representative office in Russia. By the way, the Law on Mass Media governs the distribution of foreign mass media on the territory of Russia as well as the registration of their bureaus. It is clear that the new amendment is aimed primarily at the media whose target audience is the Russian reader. The amendment is essentially a declarative political statement.”

In other words, all mass media with foreign financing can be put on the list of “agents” and will be required to present financial documentation, information on employees, and other information to the Russian authorities. Noncompliance brings astronomical fines and even a block on information resources. The basis for inclusion on the agent list is not defined and in fact all foreign companies might be subject to it, from The New York Times to The Herald of Zimbabwe.

Russia’s Presidential Council on Human Rights immediately responded with harsh criticism of the initiative and asked for at least a postponement, since the amendment texts had many errors and contradictions. It must be said that in the last few years the Council has been calling on Parliament and the president to repeal the law on foreign agents, which until now applied only to NGOs and made life very difficult not only for more than a hundred organizations on the list but for the work of civil society as a whole. Moreover, there were fears that the latest proposals, which essentially made it impossible for foreign mass media to work in Russia, was not the end—that the screws would be tightened even more. The speed with which the president signed the amendments supported this concern. But the greatest blow was the US Congress’s decision to take away the accreditation of RT journalists. In response, some Russian parliamentarians proposed taking away the accreditation of all American journalists by the State Duma. However, journalists feel that it is almost impossible for this to happen, since accreditation for foreign correspondents in Russia is given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the meantime, the Voice of America, Radio Liberty and its departments, such as Kavkaz Realii and Krym Realii, have already been informed that they need to register as foreign agents. At the moment of writing, there are nine US media outlets on the list. The consequences of these decisions will be much harsher for them than for RT in the United States. The OSCE, the International Federation of Journalists, and other international organizations have called for both countries, Russia and the United States, to rescind their decisions, which are contrary to the principles of freedom of speech and of journalists not persecuting each other. The appeals have not been heard. On the contrary, the information war is heating up.

It is impossible to predict what will happen next. But even if, by some miracle, reason prevails over the ambitions of decision-makers on both sides of the Atlantic and these hasty decisions are repealed, journalism as whole will still suffer irreplaceable losses. It is certain that in any case RT will receive additional billions of rubles from the Russian budget to expand its activity in the world. That is, the money that theoretically could have been spent on developing public mass media, training journalists, developing social programs in local newspapers, exchanges, and much more.

There is no doubt that American programs that aim to counteract “Kremlin propaganda” will also receive funds that theoretically could have been spent on reviving once active and fruitful contacts and joint programs for Russian and US journalists. It looks as if we can forget about future development of dialogue among journalists. And it is also perfectly clear that the search for a fifth column and internal enemy, in the media as well, will become more active in Russia. The familiar pattern is that every new anti-Russian sanction by the West leads not to hostility of citizens toward the state, but just the opposite—an increased consolidation of the obedient majority around the regime, a readiness to forgive all its sins in exchange for resistance to the foreign enemy, and to new repressive measures against independent voices, whose number is rapidly diminishing. This happened with the Magnitsky Act and the sanctions of the last three years. Indeed, the Russian press has come up with a telling phrase: In response to foreign aggression, Russia will “bomb Voronezh”—that is, take it out on its own people.

Russiagate managed in a few months to strike a much stronger blow against the prospects of improving relations than all the years of the Cold War and the arms race together. The mutual trust of the elites is gone. The rules of the game, once reliably observed, have been violated. The worst part is that trust is lost between the people and the intellectuals of both countries. There is another danger that has not been fully comprehended—the basic theses that provided the necessity and possibility of dialogue have been put into doubt. The hybrid war that mixes truth and fake, interpretation and fact, vileness and virtue is a fight without rules in a dark room. One can now say to an audience of millions what until recently was considered unthinkable. The concepts of decency and measure have been cast aside. The battlefield belongs to moral marauders. No one believes anyone anymore.

Experts feel that the abyss between our professional communities will continue growing and it will be even harder to rebuild bridges of understanding and cooperation between anything. The propaganda hysteria on television is not going away, nor will the search for the internal enemy and the fifth column.

Who wins by this? Who benefits from Russiagate? Why is this happening?

Some believers in conspiracy theories in Moscow say that the massive attack on little-known RT and Sputnik—totally without influence on American audiences—resembles a special operation to promote them: Now everyone knows who they are. The historian Ivan Kurilla, a specialist in Russian-American relations and author of Frenemies, has a better explanation: This is not the first time that Russia has been used in the United States in order to define its own identity. Similarly, Russia has used the image of America to solve its own domestic issues throughout the centuries. This promoted the creation of numerous persistent myths, vividly portrayed in movies in Hollywood and by Mosfilm, that were rather removed from reality. The short period of embrace during perestroika ended with a nearly total loss of interest in Russia among the US establishment. The unconsidered description of Russia as a “second-rate provincial state,” the condescending attitude toward Russia, the unwillingness to take its interests into account and try to understand the country’s reality ended with a steep decrease in relations, a rise in anti-American rhetoric long before Crimea and the subsequent anti-American campaign in the mass media, including the statement by Dmitry Kiselev, head of the state agency Russia Today, that Russia could turn the United States into “radioactive ashes.” Russiagate in the Russian press is represented as the hysterical reaction of the superpower to its gradual loss of world sovereignty and fear of the growing “Russia’s unique power.”

For today’s Russian liberal, the intensification of Russiagate is profoundly wounding. First of all, the Russian liberal truly believes in the stability of US democratic institutions per se. The very thought that the strongest democracy in the world could be shaken—and the holiest of holies, the election, be influenced—by some hackers, even the most highly qualified, is intolerable and impossible, almost insulting. The American adherence to the rule of law, replacement of presidents, and transparency of procedures, even complicated ones, is a standard, a model to follow, for generations of liberal-minded Russians. No Russian liberal seriously believes that Russian hackers, however numerous and adept, could influence the elections. Nor could Chinese, Iranian, or US hackers.

Russian intellectuals cannot understand the US press’s stubborn insistence on the exclusive role of Russian hackers, trained by special services. They do not believe Russian propaganda and understand that any reference to the “Russian trace” plays into the hands of the current masters of the Kremlin; they wonder why the US media has to talk about it constantly. The rare press mentions that suggest the US establishment and press are not at all interested in Russia but only in their own problems and that the “Russian trace” is a poorly chosen form of confronting the current administration (for it could have some other trace) creates even greater frustration. The Russian intelligentsia have traditionally believed that their American brethren sincerely want to support democratic reforms and liberal forces in Russia—that they want to promote the primacy of law, transparency of the market, the growth of civil society, and the free development of the arts. They remember how, in the “stagnation” years, US journalists overcame all obstacles in order to meet with Soviet dissidents, or how Slavic scholars supported samizdat authors and opened the world’s eyes to the reality of Soviet life never covered by Soviet propaganda. Journalists and Slavists, together with Soviet liberal intellectuals and dissidents on both sides of the ocean, created a powerful platform for the renewal of the political landscape in the perestroika era. This heroic, without exaggeration, period to which dozens of the leading intellectuals of both countries devoted their best years, has come to an end. New subjects do not fit the old frames. Today US journalists, and Western journalists as a whole, limit themselves to predictable reports about Russia as a dangerous country with an unpredictable and aggressive leader—and nothing more.

The situation is bitterly disillusioning for Russian liberal journalists. Russiagate killed the beautiful dream of the perfection of the US system of government, respect for the law, and the excellence of the US press. A generation of my Russian colleagues grew up holding US journalists, analysts, and researchers as role models. Even in Soviet times, despite the imposed propaganda, college journalism departments did not hide respect for the American way. The fact that this idealized image of US journalism does not always correspond to reality causes a bitter, almost childish, hurt. How could the best press in the world violate its own principles for political aims? How then, does it differ from Russian propagandists? Even more painful is the condescending attitude toward Russians and the clear unwillingness to look more deeply at the complicated situation in the country. This hurt, these unmet expectations for understanding and sympathy, is a time bomb. It may become a real obstacle to future dialogue.

The historian Vladislav Zubok, a professor at the London School of Economics, notes that this attitude toward the complexity of post-Soviet Russia began long ago, when in the 1990s Americans preferred to support “their guy” in the Kremlin and ignored the contradictions in the country. Then, as the contradictions grew sharper and democracy slowed down, the United States simply forgot about Russia: The star correspondents worked in other regions; Russian studies programs were reduced; and information about the country appeared only in stories about extraordinary news events, like Pussy Riot, but there was no serious analysis for readers. Nor is there any serious analysis now. Russiagate leads further and further away from it.

The bitter understanding that playing the Russia card in the information war is an easy way to deal with a political opponent gives rise to a quiet inner protest in the Russian liberal. Notes of hurt and disappointment appear with greater frequency in the independent mass media, as the number of outlets continues to diminish. Economic difficulties are not helping the development of independent media. It is said that the current advertising market in Russia cannot support private press, and managers have to seek additional financing, which most often comes from state structures. The variety of voices in the Russian media landscape is narrowing. The departure of foreign media from the Russian information space—and that is what the new legislative decision might bring—will seriously reduce variety. Of course, in the digital age total isolation as in Soviet times is impossible. But the information milieu will be different.

The dramatic nature of this moment lies in the fact that unlike during the Cold War, when professionals—politicians, image-makers, officials—were involved in the ideological standoff, today ordinary people are involved as well. That did not happen under Brezhnev and Reagan. Today everyday people hate the virtual enemy seriously and emotionally. I don’t remember ever witnessing such anti-American sentiment in Russian society in my entire life. As Olga Alexeyeva, editor-in-chief of Gazeta.ru, said in a recent interview, even a sophisticated reader has trouble finding information on real events in the thickets of fake news and emotional content.

Effort on both sides is needed if Russian and American readers and viewers are to see the true faces of one another. This is work for scholars and scientists and journalists, not just politicians. Citizen diplomacy is needed, so that when relations between our countries improve (which historically is inevitable), politicians will have support in renewing our needed conversation.

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Michael McFaul, what have YOU done to help improve US-Russia relations?

The former US ambassador to Russia has proven to be quite adept at chastising Russia at every turn, even in retirement. But what exactly has McFaul done to create an atmosphere of lasting peace between Moscow and Washington?

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It was the summer of 2013 when I had my first and only encounter with Michael McFaul, then-US Ambassador to Russia. It was a Saturday afternoon, and a black sedan pulled into the parking lot of the prestigious Anglo-American School, a private learning facility located in the outskirts of Moscow where foreign diplomats and corporate executives enroll their kids.

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A burly driver opened the door and into the scorching sun appeared, in all his excellency, Michael McFaul. After exchanging brief pleasantries, the ambassador strolled to the bleachers on the opposite side of the field to await the beginning of a children’s baseball game; a bit of an anticlimactic turn compared to the grand entry. I remember thinking to myself at the time, as he took a seat by himself across the pitch, ‘There goes the loneliest man in the world.’

Sooner than I would have imagined, my impression of the ambassador and his unenviable situation in Russia was confirmed. Several months later, McFaul abruptly resigned from his government post after just two years on the job, returning to the dusty halls of academia from where he had first emerged to work in the Obama administration.

Despite his retirement, and being banned from Russia, McFaul continues to elicit inflammatory opinions on ‘Putin’s Russia’ on a regular basis. Few of these verbal fusillades prove helpful at injecting some semblance of sanity back into the US-Russia relationship.

This week, for example, McFaul went head-to-head against Steven Seagal, the Hollywood actor and martial arts expert who was just appointed as Russia’s ‘special representative on humanitarian relations with the US.’ Seagal’s work includes, among other duties, “promoting bilateral ties in a wide range of fields including culture, art, science, education, sports, public and youth exchanges.”

Considering the basement-level status of the US-Russia relationship, it would seem that any attempt to forge bonds between the two nuclear powers deserves some applause, even if it’s just a polite golf clap. That logic doesn’t apply if you’re Michael McFaul. Following the appointment, McFaul promptly fired up his Twitter account to pedantically slam Seagal for using British spelling as opposed to American while announcing his new post. Our esteemed academic, however, broke the first rule of social-media sparring by failing to ensure that his own tweet was grammatically sound.

In any event, McFaul went on to predict that Seagal would ultimately fail to “achieve any success in improving Russian-American relations,” not only because the Hollywood actor has “almost no influence” in the United States, but because – wait for it – “he has no experience in diplomacy.”

As the attentive reader will recall, the lack of diplomatic credentials was precisely the main argument against McFaul’s two-year stint as US ambassador. Not only was the Stanford professor the first non-career diplomat to serve as US ambassador to Russia, he arrived in Moscow with a rather odd CV, which included a doctorate dissertation devoted to the “theory of revolution in an international context.” To complicate his stay in Russia even more, one of McFaul’s very first orders of business in Moscow was to meet with members of the Russian opposition – and at the very same time street protests and color revolutions were becoming all the rage. How’s that for diplomacy?

The story gets better. Judging by a recent request put forward by Russia’s general prosecutor’s office, in which it specifically named Michael McFaul as a person of interest in the criminal case against Bill Browder, the British financier who is wanted in Russia for illegally moving $1.5 billion out of the country, it would suggest that the ambassador was not limited to just meeting with political agitators. McFaul, however, has denied any wrongdoing.

This was just the later innings, as it were, of what appears to have been a doubleheader the professor was playing. Before being nominated to the position of US ambassador, Michael McFaul was a senior adviser of the Obama administration, where he went on to become the architect of the much-maligned US-Russia ‘Reset.’

You know a program is doomed from the start when not even the US State Department is able to correctly translate the idea into Russian. For a man who is so concerned with proper spelling, you’d think he would have gotten that one right.

Yet it was much more than just poor translating skills that ensured the demise of the ‘Reset;’ the failure was a result of Washington’s absolute refusal to cooperate with Russia on the US missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Any serious discussion on the US-Russia bilateral relationship is incomplete without mentioning this part of the story.

Initially pledging to “shelve” the brainchild weapon system of the Bush administration (just months after McFaul’s ‘Reset’ is announced in March 2009), the Obama administration shifted gears, telling the world it would opt for a scaled-down version of the system instead, all the while holding out the carrot of cooperation to Moscow.

However, unless the Obama administration committed itself to a real partnership with Russia, McFaul’s ‘Reset’ would have to be interpreted for what it arguably was: an elaborate smokescreen to soften up Moscow into believing the White House had honorable intentions. As events strongly indicate, it did not. Fortunately for Russia, it did not fall for the ruse. It got to work developing ways to balance the military scales that were beginning to dangerously tip due to a US-made weapon system on its very doorstep.

That much was underscored by Vladimir Putin’s recent state of the nation address in which he revealed the introduction of advanced weapon systems that make “obsolete” any missile defense shield in the world. Had the Obama administration not taken a cynical and deceptive approach to its ‘diplomatic’ relations with Russia, as demonstrated by McFaul’s fake ‘Reset,’ the world would not be perched on the precipice of disaster as it is today.

These days, the former US ambassador continues to muddy the bilateral waters, dispatching tirades against Russia via Twitter to his 339,000 followers, many of whom share the same jaded views, which has a tendency to occur whenever ideas are cultivated in an echo chamber.

It may go down as the tragedy of our days that the Obama administration, believing Russia was down for the proverbial count, dispatched to Moscow a non-diplomat at the precise moment when diplomacy between the two nuclear powers was more important than ever. In hindsight, it was a dangerous move on the global chessboard that will have ramifications on international politics for many decades to come. Nevertheless, Russia not only survived the challenge, but it looks quite capable of defending its long-term interests.

It is a regrettable conclusion, but I would argue that Michael McFaul and his colleagues in the Obama administration view Russia’s stunning revival, as witnessed on both the military and economic fronts, as a genuine ‘failure of diplomacy’ on their part. Faced with that sort of cynical, duplicitous approach to Russia, the bilateral relationship needs many more sincere ambassadors of peace, like Steven Seagal, working tirelessly on behalf of friendship between the two countries.

Via RT

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Crimea vs. Afghanistan – Which is More Occupied?

Let’s compare Russia’s “occupation” of Crimea with an occupation that the US is not demanding a swift end to: the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

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Both sides of the aisle can agree on this important thing — which has achieved a growing, bi-partisan, academic and popular consensus in the United States during the past four years.

It is this: the second biggest threat to peace on earth and to the global rule of law (right behind either Trump or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, depending on your affiliation) is the 2014 vote by the people of Crimea to re-join Russia.

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Now, the vote by the people of Crimea to re-join Russia has another, more common name: ‘The Seizure of Crimea.’

This infamous seizure is hard to grasp. It involved a grand total of zero casualties. The vote itself has never been re-done. In fact, to my knowledge, not a single believer in the ‘Seizure of Crimea’ has ever advocated for re-doing the vote. Coincidentally, polling has repeatedly found the people of Crimea to be happy with their vote.

I’ve not seen any written or oral statement from Russia threatening war or violence in Crimea. If the threat was implicit, there remains the problem of being unable to find Crimeans who say they felt threatened. If the vote was influenced by the implicit threat, there remains the problem that polls consistently get the same result.

Of course, a U.S.-backed coup had just occurred in Kiev, meaning that Crimea was voting to secede from a coup government. The United States had supported the secession of Kosovo from Serbia in the 1990s despite Serbian opposition.

When Slovakia seceded from Czechoslovakia, the U.S. did not urge any opposition. The U.S. government supports the right of South Sudan to have seceded from Sudan, although violence and chaos reigned. U.S. politicians like Joe Biden and Jane Harman even proposed breaking Iraq up into pieces, as others have proposed for Syria.

But let’s grant for the sake of argument that the Crimean vote was problematic, even horrendous, even criminal. There is no question that Russia had military forces in Crimea and sent in more, something I believe I can non-hypocritically oppose, since I’m not the U.S. government and I advocate for the abolition of the U.S. military.

Even so, how does the “occupation” of Crimea rise to the level of greatest threat to peace on earth?

Compare it to a trillion dollars a year in U.S. military spending, new missiles in Romania and Poland, massive bombing of Iraq and Syria, the destruction of Iraq and Libya, the endless war on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S.-Saudi devastation of Yemen and the creation of famine and disease epidemics, or the explicit threats to attack Iran, not to mention world-leading weapons dealing to dictatorships around the globe by the good old U.S. of A.

I’m sure your average American would rather visit “liberated Mosul” than “annexed Crimea,” but should we deal with facts or slogans?

Let’s take one example of an occupation that the U.S. government is not demanding a swift end to: the U.S./NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

I don’t propose comparing the horrors of the so-called longest U.S. war — as if the wars on Native Americans aren’t real — with World War II or Iraq. I propose comparing them with the people of Crimea voting to make their little piece of land part of Russia again. Which is more barbaric, immoral, illegal, destructive, and traumatic?

Most countries polled in December 2013 by Gallup called the United States the greatest threat to peace in the world (Russia came in as the 12th greatest threat), and Pew found that viewpoint increased in 2017.

Some in the United States seem to share the world’s view of the matter. “The Taliban had surrendered a few months before I arrived in Afghanistan in late 2002,” Rory Fanning tells me, “but that wasn’t good enough for our politicians back home and the generals giving the orders. Our job was to draw people back into the fight. I signed up to prevent another 9/11, but my two tours in Afghanistan made me realize that I was making the world less safe. We know now that a majority of the million or so people who have been killed since 9/11 have been innocent civilians, people with no stake in the game and no reason to fight until, often enough, the U.S. military baited them into it by killing or injuring a family member who more often than not was an innocent bystander.”

Eleanor Levine, active with Code Pink, says, “Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people, not the USA and not NATO.”

“How would you feel,” she asks, “if Afghanistan occupied the USA? How would you feel if your towns and streets were patrolled by an occupying force? How would you feel if your schools, homes, stores, banks, agriculture and jobs, were controlled by Afghanistan? I am betting you cannot imagine this possibility. But try hard to imagine how it would feel. Try really hard to imagine it because it is the everyday experience of Afghans who want to live life as Afghans and raise their children as Afghans in their own country. Try to think, what have Afghan people done to the USA and NATO to deserve continuous interference and control from afar?”

Here’s my proposal. The people of Afghanistan should hold a public referendum and vote immediately to become the 51st U.S. state. Not only would they then have made themselves seized, conquered, attacked, raped, and occupied in the bad, Russian senses of the terms. But if they sent along some photos of themselves in a note to the U.S. Congress, they’d get U.S. troops out of their country and achieve its total independence from the United States by the following afternoon.

Via DavidSwanson.org

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The Russian Su-35 is the plane the US Air Force should fear

The Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E is the top Russian air-superiority fighter in service today, and represents the pinnacle of fourth-generation jet fighter design. It will remain so until Russia succeeds in bringing its fifth-generation PAK-FA stealth fighter into production.

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The maneuverability of the Su-35 makes it an unsurpassed dogfighter. However, future aerial clashes using the latest missiles (R-77s, Meteors, AIM-120s) could potentially take place over enormous ranges, while even short-range combat may involve all-aspect missiles like the AIM-9X and R-74 that don’t require pointing the aircraft at the target. Nonetheless, the Su-35’s speed (which contributes to a missile’s velocity) and large load-carrying abilities mean it can hold its own in beyond-visual-range combat. Meanwhile, the Flanker-E’s agility and electronic countermeasures may help it evade opposing missiles.

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The Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E is the top Russian air-superiority fighter in service today, and represents the pinnacle of fourth-generation jet fighter design. It will remain so until Russia succeeds in bringing its fifth-generation PAK-FA stealth fighter into production.

Distinguished by its unrivaled maneuverability, most of the Su-35’s electronics and weapons capabilities have caught up with those of Western equivalents, like the F-15 Eagle. But while it may be a deadly adversary to F-15s, Eurofighters and Rafales, the big question mark remains how effectively it can contend with fifth-generation stealth fighters such as the F-22 and F-35.

History

The Su-35 is an evolution of the Su-27 Flanker, a late Cold War design intended to match the F-15 in concept: a heavy twin-engine multirole fighter combining excellent speed and weapons load-out with dogfighting agility.

An Su-27 stunned the audience of the Paris Air Show in 1989 when it demonstrated Pugachev’s Cobra, a maneuver in which the fighter rears its nose up to 120-degree vertical—but continues to soar forward along the plane’s original attitude.

Widely exported, the Flanker has yet to clash with Western fighters, but did see air-to-air combat in Ethiopian service during a border war with Eritrea, scoring four kills against MiG-29s for no loss. It has also been employed on ground attack missions.

The development history of the Su-35 is a bit complicated. An upgraded Flanker with canards (additional small wings on the forward fuselage) called the Su-35 first appeared way back in 1989, but is not the same plane as the current model; only fifteen were produced. Another upgraded Flanker, the two-seat Su-30, has been produced in significant quantities, and its variants exported to nearly a dozen countries.

The current model in question, without canards, is properly called the Su-35S and is the most advanced type of the Flanker family. It began development in 2003 under the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KnAAPO), a subcontractor of Sukhoi. The first prototypes rolled out in 2007 and production began in 2009.

Airframe and Engines

The Flanker family of aircraft is super-maneuverable—meaning it is engineered to perform controlled maneuvers that are impossible through regular aerodynamic mechanisms. In the Su-35, this is in part achieved through use of thrust-vectoring engines: the nozzles of its Saturn AL-41F1S turbofans can independently point in different directions in flight to assist the aircraft in rolling and yawing. Only one operational Western fighter, the F-22 Raptor, has similar technology.

This also allows the Su-35 to achieve very high angles-of-attack—in other words, the plane can be moving in one direction while its nose is pointed in another. A high angle of attack allows an aircraft to more easily train its weapons on an evading target and execute tight maneuvers.

Such maneuvers may be useful for evading missiles or dogfighting at close ranges—though they leave any aircraft in a low-energy state.

The Flanker-E can achieve a maximum speed of Mach 2.25 at high altitude (equal to the F-22 and faster than the F-35 or F-16) and has excellent acceleration. However, contrary to initial reports, it appears it may not be able to supercruise—perform sustained supersonic flight without using afterburners—while loaded for combat. Its service ceiling is sixty thousand feet, on par with F-15s and F-22s, and ten thousand feet higher than Super Hornets, Rafales and F-35s.

The Su-35 has expanded fuel capacity, giving it a range of 2,200 miles on internal fuel, or 2,800 miles with two external fuel tanks. Both the lighter titanium airframe and the engines have significantly longer life expectancies than their predecessors, at six thousand and 4,500 flight hours, respectively. (For comparison, the F-22 and F-35 are rated at eight thousand hours).

The Flanker airframe is not particularly stealthy. However, adjustments to the engine inlets and canopy, and the use of radar-absorbent material, supposedly halve the Su-35’s radar cross-section; one article claims it may be down to between one and three meters. This could reduce the range it can be detected and targeted, but the Su-35 is still not a “stealth fighter.”

Weaponry

The Su-35 has twelve to fourteen weapons hardpoints, giving it an excellent loadout compared to the eight hardpoints on the F-15C and F-22, or the four internally stowed missiles on the F-35.

At long range, the Su-35 can use K-77M radar-guided missiles (known by NATO as the AA-12 Adder), which are claimed to have range of over 120 miles.

For shorter-range engagements, the R-74 (NATO designation: AA-11 Archer) infrared-guided missile is capable of targeting “off boresight”—simply by looking through a helmet-mounted optical sight, the pilot can target an enemy plane up sixty degrees away from where his plane is pointed. The R-74 has a range of over twenty-five miles, and also uses thrust-vectoring technology.

The medium-range R-27 missile and the extra long-range R-37 (aka the AA-13 Arrow, for use against AWACs, EW and tanker aircraft) complete the Su-35’s air-to-air missile selection.

Additionally, the Su-35 is armed with a thirty-millimeter cannon with 150 rounds for strafing or dogfighting.

The Flanker-E can also carry up to seventeen thousand pounds of air-to-ground munitions. Historically, Russia has made only limited use of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) compared to Western air forces. However, the capability for large-scale use of such weapons is there, if doctrine and munition stocks accommodate it.

Sensors and Avionics

The Su-35’s most critical improvements over its predecessors may be in hardware. It is equipped with a powerful L175M Khibiny electronic countermeasure system intended to distort radar waves and misdirect hostile missiles. This could significantly degrade attempts to target and hit the Flanker-E.

The Su-35’s IRBIS-E passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar is hoped to provide better performance against stealth aircraft. It is claimed to able to track up to thirty airborne targets with a Radar-cross section of three meters up to 250 miles away—and targets with cross-sections as small 0.1 meters over fifty miles away. However, PESA radars are easier to detect and to jam than the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars now used by Western fighters. The IRBIS also has an air-to ground mode that can designate up to four surface targets at time for PGMs.

Supplementing the radar is an OLS-35 targeting system that includes an Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) system said to have a fifty-mile range—potentially a significant threat to stealth fighters.

More mundane but vital systems—such as pilot multi-function displays and fly-by-wire avionics—have also been significantly updated.

Operational Units and Future Customers

Currently, the Russian Air Force operates only forty-eight Su-35s. Another fifty were ordered in January 2016, and will be produced at a rate of ten per year. Four Su-35s were deployed to Syria this January after a Russian Su-24 was shot down by a Turkish F-16. Prominently armed with air-to-air missiles, the Su-35s were intended to send a message that the Russians could pose an aerial threat if attacked.

China has ordered twenty-four Su-35s at a cost of $2 billion, but is thought unlikely to purchase more. Beijing’s interest is believed to lie mostly in copying the Su-35’s thrust-vector engines for use in its own designs. The Chinese PLAAF already operates the Shenyang J-11, a copy of the Su-27.

Attempts to market the Su-35 abroad, especially to India and Brazil, have mostly foundered. Recently, however, Indonesia has indicated it wishes to purchase eight this year, though the contract signing has been repeatedly delayed. Algeria is reportedly considering acquiring ten for $900 million. Egypt, Venezuela and Vietnam are also potential customers.

Cost estimates for the Su-35 have run between $40 million and $65 million; however, the exports contracts have been at prices above $80 million per unit.

Against the Fifth Generation

The Su-35 is at least equal—if not superior—to the very best Western fourth-generation fighters. The big question, is how well can it perform against a fifth-generation stealth plane such as the F-22 or F-35?

The maneuverability of the Su-35 makes it an unsurpassed dogfighter. However, future aerial clashes using the latest missiles (R-77s, Meteors, AIM-120s) could potentially take place over enormous ranges, while even short-range combat may involve all-aspect missiles like the AIM-9X and R-74 that don’t require pointing the aircraft at the target. Nonetheless, the Su-35’s speed (which contributes to a missile’s velocity) and large load-carrying abilities mean it can hold its own in beyond-visual-range combat. Meanwhile, the Flanker-E’s agility and electronic countermeasures may help it evade opposing missiles.

The more serious issue, though, is that we don’t know how effective stealth technology will be against a high-tech opponent. An F-35 stealth fighter that gets in a short-range duel with a Flanker-E will be in big trouble—but how good a chance does the faster, more-maneuverable Russian fighter have of detecting that F-35 and getting close to it in the first place?

As the U.S. Air Force would have it, stealth fighters will be able to unleash a hail of missiles up to one hundred miles away without the enemy having any way to return fire until they close to a (short) distance, where visual and IR scanning come into play. Proponents of the Russian fighter argue that it will be able to rely upon ground-based low-bandwidth radars, and on-board IRST sensors and PESA radar, to detect stealth planes. Keep in mind, however, that the former two technologies are imprecise and can’t be used to target weapons in most cases.

Both parties obviously have huge economic and political incentives to advance their claims. While it is worthwhile examining the technical merits of these schools of thought in detail, the question will likely only be resolved by testing under combat conditions. Furthermore, other factors such as supporting assets, mission profile, pilot training and numbers play a large a role in determining the outcomes of aerial engagements.

The Su-35 may be the best jet-age dogfighter ever made and a capable missile delivery platform—but whether that will suffice for an air-superiority fighter in the era of stealth technology remains to be seen.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring .

Via The National Interest

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