Saturday, March 08, 2014

Punish Russia? Why some Pentagon officials would prefer restraint. - CSM

Christian Science Monitor on the Northern supply route into Afghanistan


Today, roughly 40 percent of the supplies for US troops in Afghanistan move through the NDN, including food, water, and building materials. It is against the terms of the NDN for the Pentagon to use the route for anything that explodes – such as, say, ammunition – as well as other sensitive items including weapons and cryptological equipment.

It’s also a highly impractical route for shipping back large military trucks and other vehicles, which officials prefer to ship through Pakistan.

Flying a mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle – the US military’s heaviest – out of Afghanistan, for example, uses “ungodly amounts of fuel,” the official adds, and only two of them can fit on a C-17 transport plane at any given time.

And shipping it through the NDN would mean it must travel through five countries and incur sizable customs fees.

Indeed, the port at Karachi “is our preferred method of shipping everything out of Afghanistan,” says the senior defense official, since it tends to be the most cost-effective.

However, travel through the region remains precarious, since it is frequented by insurgents who wouldn’t mind targeting US military supplies and the people who transport them.

Late last year the Pentagon was forced to stop shipments through one supply route to Pakistan – through the Torkham Gate in Afghanistan – because the US military was worried about threats to its contracted drivers.
“Protesters were stopping vehicles,” the senior official says, “And we don’t know what’s going to happen then. It’s a heck of a risk to take.”

For that reason, the percentage of US military trucks and supplies being shipped back to the US through Pakistan dropped from 56 percent in November to 44 percent in the past month, according to Pentagon figures.

As the US military prepares to draw down in Afghanistan, the NDN – through which some five percent of US military materials are currently being moved out of the country – likely will continue to grow in importance, particularly if President Obama pursues a “zero option” and pulls all US troops from the war by the end of the year.

“That’s why we want to keep the NDN open,” the senior defense official says. “We can surge more material up and out through the network if we need to do that.”

-bth: original article worth reading in full.  One can assume given this supply issue and Afghanistan and India's endorsement of Russia's stealth invasion of Ukraine, that the Paki/US relations are about to improve dramatically.

India Backs Russia’s ‘Legitimate Interests’ in Ukraine - The Diplomat

On Thursday a senior Indian official appeared to endorse Russia’s position in Ukraine in recent days, even as Delhi urged all parties involved to seek a peaceful resolution to the diplomatic crisis.

When asked for India’s official assessment of the events in Ukraine, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon responded:

“We hope that whatever internal issues there are within Ukraine are settled peacefully, and the broader issues of reconciling various interests involved, and there are legitimate Russian and other interests involved…. We hope those are discussed, negotiated and that there is a satisfactory resolution to them.”

The statement was made on the same day that Crimea’s parliament voted to hold a referendum for secession from Ukraine.

Local Indian media noted that Menon’s statement about Russia’s legitimate interests in Ukraine made it the first major nation to publicly lean toward Russia. As my colleague Shannon has reported throughout the week, many of China’s public statements could be interpreted as backing Russia in Ukraine, despite Beijing’s own concerns about ethnic breakaway states and its principle of non-interference...

 -bth: Sad to say but observing India's endorsement of Russia's stealth invasion of the Ukraine is revealing as to how things stand in Asia.

Odessa: Putin's Next Stop in Ukraine? - Real Clear Defense


For decades, the key to Russian influence over Ukraine has been its supply of natural gas to the country. Ukraine imports approximately 65% of its natural gas from Russia, giving Russia major influence over the country's foreign as well as domestic affairs. Whenever Ukraine has strayed too far from the Russian orbit, Russia has "turned off the tap" to quite literally freeze the Ukrainian people and their industries. Likewise, Russia has extended very lucrative natural gas terms to Ukraine to achieve political objectives, such as a long-term lease on Sevastopol that now extends until 2042, with an option to extend it to 2047.

Ukraine can import crude oil and gasoline via its bulk fuel terminals in Sevastopol and Odessa, the two major ports in Ukraine. Until recently, it hasn't been economical or even technically possible to import large amounts of natural gas into Ukraine via the sea. However, this has changed in the past five years and there are now serious discussions underway to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminals in Odessa in order to break the Russian grip on Ukraine's energy supply. According to energy industry reports, Ukraine has considered building at least one major LNG receiving terminal to be operational by 2018 at five potential sites. All five are at, or within 50 miles of, Odessa.

If Odessa and its environs remain free from Russian interference, Ukraine could significantly diversify its energy supply in the next 10 years and reduce its dependence on Russian energy.

But if Russia pushes beyond the Crimean peninsula to capture the city of Odessa and the nearby coastal areas of southern Ukraine, Russia would eliminate Ukraine's ability to import significant volumes of LNG directly and prolong its ability to influence Ukraine through manipulation of its natural gas supply....
Further, the military should block major and minor roads Russian forces could use to access Odessa. This should begin with the highways leading out of the Crimean peninsula through the cities of Armyans'k and Chonbar, 200 and 250 miles from Odessa respectively. It should also send forces to block the longer coastal route from Russia on Ukraine’s eastern border.
Russia could potentially secure Odessa via amphibious assault from Sevastopol and other Russian ports along the Black Sea such as Novorossiysk, but amphibious attacks are among the most difficult of all military operations and would likely only be attempted if Odessa was left relatively undefended. Hence, even a limited garrisoning and defense of the Odessa-area coast might succeed in deterring such an action.

Finally, Russia could use its forces in the breakaway state of Transnistria, currently estimated to be at approximately 1,200 heavily armed troops, to move directly to the Odessa area. The Russian-occupied capital, Tiraspol, is only 60 miles from Odessa, putting Russian troops within a few short hours from Odessa on the M-16 highway. If the Ukraine military does not block that road to Odessa, it might be read as an open invitation to take the crucial city. Russia could fly a significant number of airmobile troops directly from Russia to Tiraspol to execute a larger movement of troops over time. Curioiusly, there seems to be little or no general reporting about the disposition or movement of troops in the Transnistria.

So far, Russia’s conquest has been bloodless. Ukraine may succeed in preventing further Russian aggression by raising the military stakes with an affirmative defense of Odessa.

Therefore, while all the world is focused on Crimea and the Russian anschluss of that key province, the Ukrainian government and military should do its very best to prevent another Russian fait accompli by securing its permanent access to the sea. With the Crimea solidly in Russian hands, the future of Ukraine lies in Odessa....

 Commander Vescovo served for 20 years as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer with specialties in operational targeting and counter-terrorism. The opinions reflected herein are those of the author and do not represent the views of the United States Navy.

-bth: full article well worth reading in full. 

Ukraine Crisis: EU Concerned about Cost of Sanctions on Russia - Der Spiegel

.... Britain should "be prepared to join other EU countries in imposing 'visa restrictions/travel bans' on Russian officials," the paper advised. It added that Britain should "not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close London's financial center to Russians."

The message is clear: The British economy, which profits immensely from wealthy Russians, should be protected from potential fallout from the ongoing stand-off over Ukraine. Sanctions of some sort, it has become increasingly clear, will almost certainly be imposed, particularly with EU leaders gathering in Brussels on Thursday to develop a joint bloc response.

But the document photographed outside Downing Street reflects the deep wariness in the EU of the potential costs associated with punitive action against Moscow. Brussels wants to send a message, while preventing excessive backlash.....

Nevertheless, with tough rhetoric having come out of several European capitals in recent days, and equally pointed retorts emanating from Moscow, it seems likely that some form of tit-for-tat looms. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday said that EU sanctions could come as soon as Thursday. In response, Russian parliament has warned that Moscow would respond in kind, according to a Wednesday report on the Voice of Russia website.

Countermeasures from Russia could prove painful to the EU, particularly when it comes to the energy sector. Germany, for example, imports more than a third of its natural gas and oil from Russia; other European countries are vastly more dependent on Moscow for their energy needs. Theoretically, Europe could compensate by turning to Norway for its natural gas needs, but energy prices would spike as a result.

...The US is keeping a close eye on Europe's sanctions debate, knowing full well that America alone is unable to exert sufficient pressure on Moscow. The US isn't even among Russia's top 10 trading partners. "The Americans can only exert effective economic pressure on Russia together with Europe," says transatlantic expert Jack Janes of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies in Washington....  
It is now up to the Europeans to decide how far they want to go. And given the wildly varying degrees of enthusiasm for sanctions, it seems safe to assume that they won't go far. Several Eastern European countries have emerged as hardliners, but the further the distance from Ukraine, the less the enthusiasm for confronting Russia. The Austrians, too, expressed skepticism of punitive measures on Wednesday, with Finance Minister Michael Spindelegger saying that in the Ukraine crisis, the focus should not be put on sanctions.

Germany is somewhere in the middle, with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressing the creation of a forum for direct Ukraine-Russia talks over sanctions. Gernot Erler, the German government's coordinator for relations with Russia, has also been cautious. "I would warn against imposing sanctions at the current point in time," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Tuesday. "Such a move could ruin chances for achieving a political solution, as small as the window for such a solution might appear."...

-bth: an article worth reading in full.

Russian Defence Ministry to stop receiving US inspectors under New START Treaty

“We are ready to take this step in reply to the Pentagon’s statement on the suspension of cooperation between the defence ministries of Russia and the United States,” a highly-placed source said

 The Russian Defence Ministry will stop receiving foreign inspectors under the New START Treaty and the Vienna Document of 2011, a highly-placed source in the ministry told ITAR-TASS on Saturday, March 8.

“We are ready to take this step in reply to the Pentagon’s statement on the suspension of cooperation between the defence ministries of Russia and the United States,” he said.

“Since such inspections are a confidence-building measure, there can be no normal regular bilateral contacts on compliance with the treaty now that the U.S. has basically announced ‘sanctions’,” the source said. “We take the unjustified U.S. and NATO threats against Russia over its policy with regard to Ukraine as an unfriendly gesture that allows us to declare force majeure,” he added.

New START that entered into force on February 5, 2011 allows each country to have 1,500 deployed warheads and 700 intercontinental ballistic missiles, sea-based ICBMs and bombers on combat duty.
The new START Treaty was signed by President Obama and then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Prague on April 8, 2011. The previous Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expired on December 5, 2009.

The main instrument for mutual control over compliance with the treaty is inspections, during which inspectors have to confirm the declared number of strategic offensive weapons....

-bth: The situation will begin to cascade as relations worsen one step at a time. Leaders in both countries seem to have forgotten what the cold war era was like and how detrimental it was to all participants. These steps now taken will be difficult to reverse.  Trust is a terrible thing to lose when so much is at stake.

Cyber Snake plagues Ukraine networks

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights. An aggressive cyber weapon called Snake has infected dozens of Ukrainian computer networks including government systems in one of the most sophisticated attacks of recent years. Also known as Ouroboros, after the serpent of Greek mythology that swallowed its own tail, experts say it is comparable in its complexity with Stuxnet, the malware that was found to have disrupted Iran’s uranium enrichment programme in 2010. ... -bth: what is interesting about these Russian cyber attacks is that they allow the fig leaf of anonymity while everyone presumes that the Russians did it.

Telegraph review of recenty Russian history in the Crimea

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Ukraine crisis: This is the de-facto annexation of Crimea

London's lucrative Russia ties hang over sanctions debate - Reuters

...More Russians have received special "Tier-1 investor visas", whose award is tied to investing at least 1 million pounds in British assets, than citizens of any other country since the visas were introduced in 2008, Home Office data shows.

Such links have been a boon to Britain's real estate agents, luxury goods purveyors and more importantly, its strategically important financial and professional services industries.

Some British allies including France and Poland have vocally backed economic sanctions on Russia if it does not pull back its troops from Ukraine. President Barack Obama has imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on those involved in the Russian military intervention in Crimea.

Cameron has warned Moscow it will pay "significant costs" but an official document unwittingly exposed to a photographer's lens this week suggested London opposed trade sanctions and shutting its financial capital to Russians.

The Foreign Office declined to say what role, if any, commercial interests were playing in Britain's approach to sanctions but analysts said they were a key factor.

"We've got more to lose than the Americans. Kerry is happy to push for sanctions because it won't cost them as much," said Ruben Lee, CEO of financial markets consulting firm Oxford Finance Group.

Analysts predict that Cameron will at most back token measures such as visa restrictions on a small number of senior Russian officials, rather than bar a wider range of possibly Kremlin linked billionaires.

"When someone says 'I'm coming to see my lawyers who I pay 5 million a year to and stay in my 10 million pound house in Surrey,' are the British government really going to refuse a visa?," said Andrew Wordsworth, partner at London-based risk consultancy GPW, which has Russian clients....

-bth: the Reuters article is worth reading in full.  Basically the Brits aren't going to support sanctions because much of the skimmed oligarch money from Ukraine and Russia goes to London City boys. They are bought and paid for.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Saudi, UAE, Bahrain recall their envoys from Qatar - AP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said Wednesday they have recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in the clearest move yet underscoring their apparent displeasure over Doha's support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt and elsewhere the region....

-bth: there are nuanced differences between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain that Americans do not see or fully understand.