The CSS Blog

Russian Military Activity in Syria: March 15 – April 18, 2016

Aircraft Fighter Jet, courtesy mashleymorgan/flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 20 April 2016.

Russia remains a decisive actor in Syria despite announcing its limited drawdown on March 14. It has since reshaped the nature of its deployment and military operations in ways that continue to bolster the Assad regime’s position on the ground as well as at the negotiating table, while allowing Russia to maintain its strategic military foothold along the Eastern Mediterranean. Russian military contributions continue to shape the battlefield momentum of pro-regime operations through the deployment of alternative assets to theater such as advanced rotary wing attack aircraft. Russia retains the capacity to escalate its fixed-wing strikes to support pro-regime operations, as shown in operations against ISIS in Palmyra in late March and more recently against armed opposition forces in Aleppo.

Russian air operations pivoted once again to Aleppo as of April 6, following weeks of strikes primarily carried out in support of pro-regime ground operations against ISIS in central Homs Province. Pro-regime forces supported by Russian and regime airstrikes have resumed operations to encircle and besiege armed opposition forces in Aleppo City. Russian air operations have regularly targeted opposition-held terrain in Aleppo province throughout its air campaign in Syria, beginning condition-setting efforts for pro-regime operations to encircle and besiege Aleppo City as early as October 2015. Russian air support has been a pivotal component of pro-regime operations to encircle Aleppo City, bringing regime forces within five kilometers of besieging opposition forces inside the city as of February 2016.

» More

The Swedish Counter-Intelligence Report on Hostile Russian Activities in the Region in a Comparative Context

IBM Blade Center with two HS22 and twelve HS21 Blade servers installed. Courtesy Bob Mical/Flickr

This article was originally published by PISM on 24 March 2016.

The Swedish counter-intelligence service’s latest annual assessments highlight the growing interest of Russian intelligence in Sweden’s national security issues. Soon after the publication of the unclassified version of the report, a series of cyberattacks on Swedish media took place. The increase in hostile Russian intelligence activities has been seen as connected to a public debate about the prospects for closer relations between Sweden and NATO. The U.S. perception of the Russian threats presented by Sweden’s counter-intelligence services does not deviate from public assessments by other Scandinavian countries’ assessments. This might suggest that the increased Russian activities are part of some broader strategy concerning Northern Europe.

On 17 March 2016, the Swedish Security Service (Säkerhetspolisen, or SÄPO) published an unclassified version of its annual assessment of intelligence and terrorist threats. The chapter on Russian disinformation and psychological operations stirred public interest and was followed by a series of coordinated and massive cyberattacks (DDoS-style, or “distributed denial of service”) on a number of websites in Sweden. A DDoS attack on 19 March resulted in seven of the main Swedish newspapers’ internet portals being unavailable.

» More

Nord Stream 2: Trust in Europe

Nord Stream – two pipes are welded together, courtesy Bair175/wikipedia

This article was originally published by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) in its Policy Perspectives series (Vol. 4/4, March 2016).

The prospect of building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany is dividing the EU into two camps. By following geopolitical considerations, both sides are neglecting the concept of a liberalized natural gas market and are overlooking Europe’s favorable position in current international gas trade.

Key Points

  • Nord Stream 2 has turned out to be a symbolic conflict about how to deal with Russian gas imports and infrastructure projects
  • The German government has lost diplomatic reputation and credibility by politically backing Nord Stream 2
  • The EU needs to make clear, in how far a market approach or in how far a geopolitical approach is structuring its natural gas policies in general
  • When sticking to its liberalized gas market model, the EU Commission will have to evaluate Nord Stream 2 under existing regulation, not based on an undefined foreign policy assessment

When Russia’s Gazprom and its five European partners (BASF, E.ON, Engie, OMV and Shell) signed a declaration to build two new pipelines through the Baltic Sea (‘Nord Stream 2’) in September 2015, this came as a real surprise for most observers. The project would increase existing capacity from 55 to 110 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year by 2019. Gazprom would act as the main shareholder with a stake of 50 percent in the Swiss-based pipeline company. Nord Stream 2 will follow a similar route along the seabed as the first pipeline project that started deliveries in 2011. The project is completely financed by its shareholders and does not receive financial support from public sources of the EU or a Member State. It is clear that from the Russian side, not only the aspect of defending and maybe even the possibility of enlarging market shares in Europe, but also the geopolitical motivation of circumventing Ukrainian territory and reducing payments for Ukrainian transit play an important role in the project. After the Black Sea pipeline project ‘South Stream’ to Bulgaria was cancelled in 2014 and considerations to involve Turkey in the transit business have been put on hold, the Baltic Sea seems to be Gazprom’s most reliable and secure route to retain a hold on its most important market: Europe.

» More

Making Russia Think Twice about Nuclear Threats

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 9 March 2016.

On September 11, 2013, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, writing in The New York Times, issued “A Plea for Caution From Russia.” Putin sought to communicate directly with the American people, warning against U.S. and Western unilateral military action in Syria — in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own citizens — without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council. Such an action, Putin warned, would be destabilizing, deepen the cycle of regional violence, and potentially throw “the entire system of international law and order out of balance.” Putin further chastised the United States for its alarming tendency to intervene militarily in overseas civil wars and implied that U.S. strategies for dealing with problem states were encouraging the spread of nuclear weapons. Putin’s plea: “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”

We know that this “plea for caution” was nothing more than an effort to protect a Russian client state dressed up in the language of political and legal principle. How else can we understand Russia’s unilateral, unsanctioned military intervention in the Syria conflict in September 2015? Cynical? Maybe, but of even greater concern than Russian hypocrisy in the Middle East is its nuclear saber-rattling in Europe and elsewhere. On this issue, it is imperative that the Kremlin heed a genuine plea for caution from the United States and reconsider its policy of using the language — and practice — of nuclear force to coerce and intimidate. This policy truly does have the potential, to use Putin’s words, to be destabilizing and to undermine the international order. And it could set in motion responses that would heighten strategic competition and risk and, in the process, damage Russia’s own interests.

» More

Germany and Russia: Berlin’s Deadly Self-Delusions

Putin propaganda art, courtesy volna80/flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 15 February 2016.

There is a German word for nearly everything. An unquestioned lifelong self-delusion is referred to as a life-lie, a Lebenslüge. When it comes to Germany’s policies vis-à-vis Russia there are plenty of such self-delusions that drive Berlin’s foreign policy. This fact is more important given that Berlin heads the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which runs the two observer missions that are supposed to monitor the implementation of the Minsk II agreements in Ukraine. In January 2016, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, laid out the priorities for the OSCE chairmanship — and they could hardly be more revealing. They indicate all that is wrong with the German approach to European security. Steinmeier seems to believe that the current insecurity in Europe is the result of a lack of trust stemming from a breakdown in communications between Moscow and Western nations. No wonder, then, that Germany’s emphasis is on dialogue to restore trust and ultimately make Europe secure again.

Unfortunately, this logic has it backwards. There is indeed a lack of trust. However, that lack of trust is a direct consequence of Russian aggression, not Western miscommunication. Approaching Russia with suspicion and mistrust — as many Eastern European nations do — is the only sane reaction, given that Russia has invaded a neighbor, annexed part of its territory, and tried to divide the rest of the country while threatening half a dozen other countries in Europe, all based on a “blood and soil” ideology.

» More

Page 1 of 20