Analysis 02-22-2019


Putin Threatens U.S. over INF Weapons

The already tense relations between Russia and the US grew colder this week.  The threats included naval maneuvers, political rhetoric during Russia’s State-of-the-Nation speech, new weapons systems, and arrests of a prominent American investor in Russia.

In the latest indicator of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West, the Russian Navy is reportedly shadowing an American warship, the USS Donald Cook, as it transited the Dardanelles Strait on Tuesday.

The US ship is in route to its second Black Sea deployment in under a month and fourth since the dangerous Kerch Strait incident.

There were also threatening words in addition to military maneuvers in Putin’s first major public address since the US formally pulled out of the INF arms-control treaty.  The INF Treaty bans medium range ground launched missiles with a range of 310 to 3,400 miles.  Both sides have accused each other of violating the treaty at one time or another.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Wednesday that Russia would point its new arsenal of hypersonic missiles – which can purportedly defeat NATO’s ABM systems – directly at the US if it dares to reintroduce ground-based intermediate-range missiles to Europe.

The announcement comes after the US said it would withdraw from a key Cold War era arms treaty over what it said were Russian violations, prompting a similar move from Moscow.

“Russia does not intend to be the first to deploy such missiles in Europe,” Putin said during the annual state of the nation address.

“If (the US) develops and deploys them in Europe… this will dramatically exacerbate the international security situation, creating serious threats to Russia,” he said.

According to Fox News, Putin threatened to deploy Russia’s new Zircon missiles, which Putin said can fly at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of 620 miles and are part of the country’s drive to upgrade its defensive capabilities against an increasingly hostile environment with the US and NATO.

Putin also took a few moments to praise Russia’s weapons program, comparing the new Avangard hypersonic missile to the 1957 launch of Sputnik-1, the world’s first manmade satellite, which was built by the Soviet Union. The weapon has demonstrated that Russia has the technological capabilities to surpass the US, according to RT.

And in another warning that will likely aggravate the US defense community, Putin revealed that Russia has been carrying out successful tests of its Burevestnik cruise missile and the Poseidon nuclear-powered underwater drone.

“It seemed until recently that Russia can’t make a breakthrough in defense technologies.  But we made it,” Putin gloated.

Though Russia won’t deploy weapons preemptively, Putin said that if the US does place weapons in Europe, Russia will deliver an “asymmetric” response and target not only the host countries of those weapons, but “decision-making center” in the US (presumably Washington).

Still, Putin said he’s hoping the US and Russia can work out their differences.

“We don’t want confrontation, particularly with such a global power as the US.”

With the US and Europe reportedly close to agreeing on a fresh raft of sanctions against Russia, Putin saw these moves as a “destructive” US policy of targeting Russia.

Hypersonic weapons aren’t the only new technologies that Russia is developing.  Russia unveiled a “Kamikaze” drone at the IDEX-2019 arms show in the United Arab Emirates.

The Drone, called the KYB UAV is a precision suicide drone manufactured by the Kalashnikov Group, which also manufacturers the world-famous AK-47 assault rifle.  The drone can travel at speeds of 50 – 80 miles per hour with a 6.6-pound warhead and a flight duration of up to 30 minutes.

The Kalashnikov Group has also started shipping the Kalashnikov AK-103, a third-generation assault rifle, to Saudi Arabia.


Naval Maneuvers

However, the biggest threat to peace is where US and Russian military units are in proximity and mistakes can lead to war.

The Russian navy is reportedly shadowing an American warship, the USS Donald Cook, as it transits the Dardanelles Strait.

A US Navy statement confirmed that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer began transiting the strait on Tuesday on a mission to conduct what it called “maritime security operations” and to “enhance regional maritime stability” with NATO allies and partners in the region. According to Russia’s TASS news agency “the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s guard ship Pytlivy tracked the US vessel’s movements at the time.”

Meanwhile, America is showing a shift in military thinking as it changes the focus of its military training.

For the first time in decades, the US Marine Corps is spending more time training in snow and winter conditions, a shift from the focus on desert training that has been the priority for the past thirty years.  This is due to a realization that probable threats like Russia, China, and North Korea have long, cold winters and as the US withdraws from the Middle East, there is less chance of fighting in a desert environment.

 “We haven’t had to deal with these things. We’ve been very focused on Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. William F. Mullen, head of the Marines’ Training and Education Command. “What we really have to do is wake folks up, expose them to things that they haven’t had to think about for quite a while.”


Political Arrests?

One of Russia’s most respected American investors, Michael Calvey has been arrested, even though he has good relations with the Russian government and has been investing in Russia for a quarter of a century.

The arrest has sent a panic amongst other foreign investors in Russia as they worry that they could be arrested by the FSB (the successor to the KGB), especially if a business dispute occurs.

Calvey had been one of the few investors who chose to retain their Russian businesses after 2014 embargos on Russia caused by the hostilities with the Ukraine.

The American investor was arrested after a fellow stockholder in a Russian bank accused him of striping the bank of its assets.

The arrest has prompted investors to shy away from Russian stocks and securities in recent days.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first arrest of a prominent American in Russia.  Less than two months ago, Russia arrested Paul Whelan, a 48-year-old former US Marine, who was involved in private security services.  He was arrested meeting with a Russian citizen in his room at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow.  He has been accused of spying on Russia.

Many think that the circumstances under which he was arrested, and the American response indicated he was actually spying on the Russians for the Americans.

Many experts think both Americans might be bargaining chips for Moscow to ensure the return of Maria Butina, who plead guilty for trying to establish unofficial lines of communication with groups in Washington.


The Russian Strategy

So, why the increasing hostility with Washington currently?  With the Special Prosecutor due to end his investigation of Trump’s relationship with Russia and probably finding little evidence of collusion, it would make more sense for Moscow to use this period to repair relations.

The theme that Russia controls Trump has tended to hurt relations as Trump is forced to take a harder line with Russia to avoid any charges that he is favoring Putin.  That is one reason that after two years in office Trump hasn’t had any serious summit meeting with Putin – a historical staple of American and Russian (or Soviet) diplomacy since the Cold War.

It also seems that Russia is starting to focus more on China according to a Politico editorial.  The editorial noted, Moscow just isn’t interested in the continent [Europe] anymore.” It’s now “All about China.”

The author, Bruno Maceas, argues that Moscow is no longer pursuing European integration following sanctions and the unraveling of the INF treaty.  Meanwhile, China is more willing to jeopardize its relations with the US because Russia doesn’t pose an economic threat as the US does.

From Putin’s point of view, Russian-Chinese hegemony would end the American led global order and force Europe to look to the East for economic advantages.


The Trump-Russia Investigations

The wild card in the US-Russian relations is the Special Prosecutors report on Trump-Russian collusion, which is expected to come out in the near future and could determine US-Russian relations for the next decade.

Although the bipartisan Senate report found no evidence of collusion and Muller hasn’t been able to indict anyone on colluding with the Russians, the outcome of the report will have a major impact on future American-Russian relations.

If, as many expect, there is little to tie Trump with the Russians, it will free Trump’s hands and he can work towards having a summit with Putin, where many of these issues can be negotiated and possibly be solved.  Putin, in a verbal acknowledgement that he preferred peace said, “We don’t want confrontation, particularly with such a global power as the US.”

Putin also shared a concern of Trump’s that other countries could continue to develop weapons that were banned for the US and Russia under the INF treaty.  This opens the possibility of a multilateral INF treaty if Trump has the political maneuverability to work with Russia and China to craft such a deal.

However, if there is evidence of collusion, Trump will be forced to maintain an antagonistic relationship with Russia.  He will also find much of his time taken up in defending himself against possible attempts to remove him from office.

No matter what, some of Trump’s opponents will try to keep the Russia story going, especially going into the next presidential election in 2020. However, as American voters are growing tired of the collusion claims of the last 2 ½ years, they will have little impact, unless new evidence comes out.


Pompeo’s Tough Diplomacy on Display in Europe

By Helle C. Dale

Heritage Foundation

February 21, 2019

Europeans routinely complain about being neglected by U.S. administrations. As much as Europeans doted on then-President Barack Obama, he indeed treated them with benign indifference, taking their support for granted. But now, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo having made his way through their capitals last week, Europeans have gotten a taste of a new and tougher style of engagement that is making some bristle.

Pompeo had several priorities to cover: Re-establishing the close relationship between the United States and Central Europe, which the George W. Bush administration had nurtured so successfully in the early years of the 21st century. Pressing Europeans against doing business with Iran, which they persist in, even after the Trump administration walked away from the Iran nuclear deal. Warning of the influence of Russia and China, as they seek to exploit and deepen differences between the United States and Europe. Pompeo’s five-day visit, begun on Feb. 11, focused on reinforcing U.S. relations with Central Europe, with stops in Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. A lack of U.S. engagement in the region under Obama opened the door to Chinese and Russian investment and influence.

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Beyond Algeria’s Presidential Election

By Haim Malka

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 13, 2019

More than 100 candidates have declared their interest in running for president when Algeria heads to the polls on April 18. They range from a former general to an Islamist politician to a housewife. Despite the buzz over old and new faces, all eyes are fixed on one man: 81-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The president, who suffered a stroke in 2013, recently announced that he would seek a fifth term as president. His supporters argue that only Bouteflika has the credibility to lead the country. Opposition figures charge that he is too sick to continue performing his presidential duties and that he is being manipulated by people in his inner circle to further their own agendas. The focus on one candidate, however, is a distraction from Algeria’s bigger challenges. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who wins Algeria’s next presidential election. What matters for Algerians and the country’s partners is whether Algeria’s powerbrokers—the military, presidency, and influential business clans—can build a consensus on how to address widespread socioeconomic grievances while maintaining public security and stability.

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Welcome to the Hypersonic Arms Race

By Richard M. Harrison

American Foreign Policy Council

January 19, 2019

These days, with Capitol Hill divided and at odds with the White House, the opportunities for political compromise seem dimmer than ever. However, all concerned can still agree that an emboldened Russia and increasingly aggressive China represent a threat to the national security of the United States, and to the safety of our allies. So it should be troubling to both sides of the aisle that these two nations are rapidly developing weapons against which the United States currently has no defense. According to a recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude, and maneuverability may defeat most missile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities. There are no existing countermeasures.” Indeed, hypersonics represent a very real and rapidly maturing threat.

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Planning for Failure: The US Withdrawal from Syria

By Aaron Stein

Foreign Policy Research Institute

February 14, 2019

Last week, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters reported that the United States military will begin to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria with the end of April as a “soft date” to finish the removal of most (if not all) of the 2,000 troops stationed there. In parallel, Ambassador James Jeffrey, the Special Representative for Syria, is engaged in negotiations with Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Kurdish-led partner force that has borne the brunt of the U.S.-led ground war against the Islamic State, to try to manage the U.S withdrawal. After President Donald Trump announced in mid-December that the Islamic State had been defeated, the United States military has sought to catch-up with the president’s rhetoric and finish the fight against the small and sparsely populated Islamic State territory in a small sliver of eastern Syria. The challenge is that the United States military may begin its withdrawal from Syria before it reaches agreement with Turkey and the SDF for a self-described safe zone. The start of the U.S. withdrawal is likely to hasten non-American diplomatic efforts to fill the void the coalition leaves behind. However, it does not appear that American diplomatic goals are being narrowed to secure minimum U.S. interests, risking a messy withdrawal without agreement on key issues with the various stakeholders in Syria’s northeast.

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Seeing Red: Trade and Threats Shaping Gulf-Horn Relations

By Elana DeLozier

Washington Institute

February 15, 2019


Alongside the perceived U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East, the emergence of new economic opportunities and security threats in the Red Sea has apparently spurred Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to draw closer to their neighbors in the Horn of Africa. This underdeveloped, populous area represents a clear economic opportunity for the Gulf, while the African states welcome the financial and infrastructure investment. Ideally, all nine states along the Red Sea—Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—would benefit from cooperation and coordination, but conflicts between regional players risk further destabilizing some of the more fragile states that flank the waterway. The United States should increase its diplomatic efforts to facilitate cooperation, stave off conflict, and support its allies in the area.

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Iran’s Shift to a More Offensive Posture Could Be a Sign of Weakness

By Farzin Nadimi

Washington Institute

February 7, 2019


In the post-9/11 era of regional military interventions, Iran sought to deter invasion by adopting a defensive strategy with a “threat-centric” asymmetric approach. This strategy entailed focusing on its own vulnerabilities and how enemies might exploit them, developing suitable means to detect and respond to imminent threats. Over time, however, the regime appeared to question the efficacy of this approach, especially after President Trump assumed office and pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal. Last year’s deadly Islamic State terrorist attack in Ahvaz—for which Tehran blamed the United States and its regional allies—added to the air of uncertainty, as did Israel’s numerous military strikes against Iranian activities in Syria. Today, Tehran’s rhetoric and actions indicate that its defensive threat-centric posture may be giving way to an offensive “target-centric” paradigm.

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