Analysis 09-26-2023

ANALYSIS

US and Saudi Arabia Mending Ties

 

In 2020, Biden had campaigned against Saudi Arabia, calling them a “Pariah” state for their assassination of reporter Jamal Khashoggi.  When elected as president, Biden removed several Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia, even though the kingdom was being attacked from Yemen with missiles and drones.

Things have changed.  Biden no longer calls Saudi Arabia a pariah state.  American has about 2,700 soldiers in the kingdom and they are cooperating in counter-drone drills with the Saudi military.

The US and Saudi Arabia have deep defense ties.  The kingdom is the largest customer of American military products.

In his interview with Fox News, Prince Mohammed bin Salman was very gracious towards the US.  “The agenda between Saudi Arabia and America today is really interesting and we have a really amazing relationship with President Biden,” the prince said.

He is sharp, really focused, and well prepared,” the Crown Prince said, ignoring the well-publicized mental state of the American President.

Colonel Robert McVey told Al-Monitor this week, “Over the last 16 months, we worked very closely with our Saudi counterparts to develop their counter UAS (drone) tactics, techniques and procedures…Our objective for this exercise was to shoot down {drones} dawn to dusk.”

In an about face for the US, the US and Saudi Arabia are discussing a mutual defense treaty like those with Japan and South Korea.  This agreement is the most important aspect of talks between Saudi Arabia and the US.

“Under such an agreement, the United States and Saudi Arabia would generally pledge to provide military support if the other country is attacked, according to the New York Times.

This treaty will be a key element to Saudi recognition of Israel.  On the Israeli side, they are to recognize an independent Palestine.  However, Prince Mohammed bin Salman made it clear that Saudi Arabia is willing to work with any Israeli leadership, including Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“Every day we get closer,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on the negotiations with Israel.

It will “be the biggest historical deal since the end of the Cold War,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said.

As part of Saudi Arabia’s campaign to win support with the American people, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was interviewed by Fox News this week.

Mohammed bin Salman came off very well in the interview.  He is fluent in English and spoke without an interpreter.  He confessed that he loved to play computer games when he wanted to relax.  He spoke about the wide spectrum of natural wonders like a snow mountain – an attempt to encourage Americans to visit a modernized nation.  He mentioned that his favorite outdoor activities were hiking and scuba diving.

 

Saudi Nuclear Program

If there was one problem, it was the Iranian nuclear weapon program and Saudi Arabia’s reaction to it.  Mohammed bin Salman warned that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia will do the same.

‘We have to get one,” the prince said.  He continued, “We are concerned about any country getting a nuclear weapon: that’s a bad, that’s a bad move…they don’t need to get a nuclear weapon because you cannot use it.”

Any US support of a Saudi nuclear program will be controversial.  Ironically, in an unprecedented cooperation, Israel, along with the US and Saudi Arabia are working on a uranium enrichment program in the desert kingdom.  Such a program would also tie into the kingdom’s post-carbon Vision 2030.

As it stands now, the US will be forced to compete with China, who will offer easier terms.  However, the winning factor may be America’s more advanced nuclear technology.

The US may be able to temper the Saudi desire for nuclear weapons with a strong defense treaty and access to more sophisticated arms from American defense companies.  The continued presence of American soldiers in the kingdom will also act as a “trip wire” that would deter any neighboring nations from an aggressive act.

 

Advancing peace throughout the Middle East

It’s clear that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sees Saudi Arabia as a force for stability in the Middle East.

“To have a stable region and economic growth we don’t need to see any problems in Yemen.  We need to see Iraq going forward, we need to see Iran going forward, and Lebanon going forward and the rest of the region.” He spoke.

“When the region is disturbed, ISIS comes out, Al Qaeda comes out, and terrorist attacks happen.”

Although there is no plan to invite bin Salman to visit the white house, his interview with Fox is a dramatic step in his effort for rehabilitation and promoting a modern and visionary image to prepare the stage for such an outcome.

It seems he understands the need for Biden to improve his chances for reelection in 2024 and is willing to engage with the American president to advance such goal by achieving a breakthrough with normalization with the state of Israel.

The prince calculation seems to be based on his assumption that he will be able to extract the maximum of his demands from Biden without risking any damage to a potential Trump return to the white house if the latter was able to defeat Biden in the coming presidential election.

Analysis 09-14-2023

ANALYSIS

The Hazards of Depleted Uranium
Is there a way to clean up battlefields?

 

The US has announced that it is sending depleted uranium (DU) anti-tank rounds to the Ukrainians.  This follows Britain’s announcement that they are sending DU ammunition to Ukraine too.

The DU rounds were developed by NATO countries during the Cold War in order to neutralize the advantage of Soviet tanks in a possible tank war in Europe.

Using DU to defeat tank armor isn’t a new idea.  Interest in it began over 50 years ago as engineers tried to find a new way to tank armor.  One advantage of DU is that it is twice as heavy as lead (the heavier the metal, the higher the kinetic energy and the better it is to penetrate armor).  And, instead of the point of the anti-tank round mushrooming out as it hits a hard armor, it retains its sharp point as it burrows its way into the tank armor.  Although the data on DU munitions is classified, it appears to be 40% more powerful than tungsten penetrators.

There is also a large stockpile of DU since it is a byproduct of separating the uranium isotope U-235 from natural uranium, which is used in producing nuclear weapons and nuclear reactor rods.  In fact, in 1998, the US Department of Energy had half a million tons of DU.  Since only 10 tons of DU were used in Kosovo and 320 tons in the Gulf War, the military is hardly running out of material.

However, DU use isn’t limited to the UK and US.  Russia has DU munitions stockpiles although there is no proof that it is being used in Ukraine.  France, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Kuwait, Pakistan, Thailand, China, India, and Taiwan have DU munitions.

DU is also used as ballast in aircraft, helicopters, and ships.  And, ironically, it is used as radiation shielding.

 

Is DU Toxic?

DU is radioactive.  However, since DU has the more radioactive uranium isotope, U-235 removed, it is only 40% as radioactive as naturally occurring uranium.

The radioactivity of DU is deemed less hazardous than natural uranium.  Most of the radioactivity is alpha and beta radiation.  Alpha radiation is unable to penetrate clothing.  Beta radiation can’t penetrate human skin.  Unless the DU penetrates the bone marrow, it is relatively harmless.  A 2016 UN Scientific Committee on the effects of atomic radiation found, “limited significant poisoning was caused by exposure to depleted uranium.”

Of course, the risk depends on the state of the DU.  Unfired penetrator rods are covered with a shielding that stops alpha and beta radiation.  It is more hazardous after it has hit the target.

Uranium burns in the presence of heat and oxygen, leaving uranium oxides.  If they are inhaled, they end up in the lungs, where most of it is collected by mucus and is eventually expelled out of the body.  They can also be ingested or enter the body through a cut.  That’s why soldiers and civilians should avoid destroyed tanks until they are neutralized by decontamination.

Collecting souvenirs of destroyed tanks is dangerous as the expended munitions are unprotected and radioactive particles can remain on the skin.

Fortunately, uranium and uranium oxides are non-soluble, which means it will not contaminate the ground water.  Since the range of the radioactivity is limited, the threat to growing food at the site is also limited.

Although many analysts are concerned about DU’s threat, it is less than many of the explosives used on the battlefield.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared TNT – a frequent military explosive – a pollutant whose removal is priority. The EPA maintains that TNT levels in soil should not exceed 17.2 gram per kilogram of soil and 0.01 milligrams per liter of water.

Areas where there have been major artillery battles exceed these levels.

Most explosives are persistent and can remain for  years in soil and groundwater.  And, while TNT tends to remain in the soil at the blast site, RDX and HMX tend to migrate into the groundwater.  Another problem with TNT and RDX is that bacteria in the soil can’t easily break them down into safer byproducts.

Detonators for high explosives pose additional problems because they contain heavy metals.  A frequent detonator ingredient is lead azide.  The delay elements consist of various chemicals, mainly lead oxide, silicon, antimony, and potassium permanganate.

DU has contaminated many battlefields in Iraq and Syria, to mention two.

 

Is there any way to clean up the contaminants?

The conventional way is to dig up the contaminated dirt and isolate it.  However, there are new possibilities like phytoremediation.

Phytoremediation uses a type of plant called hyperaccumulators.  These plants naturally accumulate high levels of toxic materials found in the soil as they grow.  In nature, this process protects the plant by killing insects, fungi, and molds that threaten them.  It also discourages larger, plant eating animals by making them sick.  As a result, the animalsgive them a wide berth.

Today environmental experts use this natural mechanism to treat explosives contaminated sites.  Tobacco plants are being used to degrade organic explosives like TNT and yellow poplar saplings can collect mercury compounds at sites that used mercury for detonators.

One successful example was the use of sunflowers to remove radioactive contaminants from pond water at Chernobyl.

Other plants that can accumulate compounds used in explosives are geraniums (Benzene and other hydrocarbons), Bermuda Grass (hydrocarbons), and pine trees (organicsolvents).  White Rot Fungus, although not as attractive, is effective against compounds used in explosives like toluene and benzene.

Despite the attractiveness of phytoremediation, it does have its limitations.  It is not a fast process and takes a commitment of many seasons before contamination levels are reduced to a safe level.  The process is also limited to the ability of the roots to reach the contamination.  However, for those places where it works, it is a more attractive alternative to traditional striping and storing of contaminated soil.

The environmental threat isn’t limited to DU.  When the Ukraine War ends, cleaning up the contamination of warfare will be a must, especially in and around the farming communities.

Analysis 09-05-2023

ANALYSIS

Does Gabon Coup Indicate Unrest in Africa?

 

Sixty years ago, during the early days of post colonialism, unrest was rampant in Africa.  Names like the Congo, Katanga, Uganda, Angola, Biafra, and Rhodesia were common names in the news as armies and mercenary groups roamed the continent.

Finally, a degree of peace came about.  The biggest issue, the apartheid of South Africa was eliminated, and democratic elections were held.  Other nations also held elections that were “sort of” democratic.

Although Africa had problems, it seemed that they were heading in the right direction.  African organizations were formed that would try to solve African problems rather than relying on Western nations.

One of those “sort of” democratic nations was Gabon, an oil rich nation in Central Africa.  Elections were held, but the same family, the Bongo’s, had held power for five decades.  However, that changed last week.  Soldiers ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba in a well-executed coup and put him under house arrest.

This followed the coup a couple of weeks ago in Niger.

Suddenly, African leaders started looking towards their own security.  Hours after the Gabon coup appointed a new leader, the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, shuffled his military leadership lest they overthrow his 40-year regime.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame forced nearly 100 senior military officers out of power.

Meanwhile, America’s National Security Council refused to call events in Gabon and Niger a trend that needed to be addressed.

However, it does appear to be a trend and the US appears to be unprepared for it.  When US Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland travelled to South Africa, one of the host diplomats noted Nuland and her team were completely unprepared to deal with recent events in Africa.

“In over 20 years working with Americans, I have never seen them so desperate,” said an official at the SA meetings.

“She was “totally caught off guard by the winds of change engulfing the region.”  Nuland sought South African help, especially in Niger, which has been an American ally in the war on terror.

It appears that the winds of change are coming, and they shouldn’t have been a surprise.  In 2022, there were two coups in Burkina Faso, one in Guinea Bassau (failed), Gambia, Sao Tome, and Principe.

In 2021, there were six coup attempts in Africa, of which four were successful.  Obviously, there are a historical number of coup attempts as the average since the end of colonialism in the 1950s has only been 3 per year.

Half of them have been successful.

Since 2000, the rate of successful military coups in Africa had remained stable according to studies by Central Florida and Kentucky Universities.  The number of failed coups has dropped as African Senior military officers have attended military schools in the West, China, and Russia, and have become more professional and competent.

Although Africa is the leader in coups, it is Central Africa where most coups have been attempted.

Since the end of colonialism, Sudan has the record of coups and coup attempts at 17.  These have been driven by the tensions between north and South Sudan.  Burundi comes in second with 11, thanks to the tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi communities.

In the last five years, every coup (18) but one has been in Africa.

In 2021, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez said that “military coups are back…a sense of impunity is taking hold.”

Many of the coups have happened in former French colonies.  In fact, the coup in Gabon is the eighth in the past three years.  Since 1990, 78% of the coups in sub-Saharan Africa have taken place in nations that were once part of France’s African empire.

This is a fact that hasn’t been missed and many think French post-colonial practices are partially to blame.

The economies of former French colonies are tied to the CFA (Central African Franc), which is tied to the Euro and guaranteed by France.  This ties their economies and natural resource sales to France and its companies.  On the positive side, the CFA makes imports and export easier since it is tied to the Euro.

The negative is that the African nations can’t manage their own economy.

France has also signed multiple agreements that allow French soldiers to remain in the countries long after independence.  That encouraged national leaders to remain pro-France.  It also allowed corruption as the African leadership remained in power thanks to the threat of French military intervention.

One of the first moves by the Niger junta was to cancel five military agreements with the French.

Earlier, Burkina Faso, signed an agreement with France that calls for the removal of all French Troops.

One problem is that French troops can no longer provide stability.  Despite considerable funding and soldiers, the French have been unable to defeat Islamic rebellions in the Sahel region.

France isn’t the only problem.  Each country that had a coup had some local issue that sparked the coup.  Niger had a coup when it appeared that several senior military officers were to be removed.  Thus, it wasn’t only a coup to “empower the poor masses,” as claimed, but also an attempt to protect elite military leadership.  That isn’t unusual in Africa.

Another fact must be considered is the growing Chinese and Russian influence.

China has been building up Africa infrastructure in the past few years.  In the last two decades, China has invested $155 billion in Sub-Saharan countries.

That offers a challenge to Western nations that they were incapable of facing.

Russia is also seeking African nations that will endorse its war with Ukraine in return for military support.  Mali also has a close relationship with the Wagner Group, who has assisted the government against insurgents.

Africa remains a continent with rich, untapped natural resources.  But the major powers have yet to figure out how to create a stable region that protects its citizens, while letting them benefit from that wealth.

Clearly, the French and Americans haven’t figured it out.

Analysis 08-30-2023

ANALYSIS

Japan Releasing Radioactive Water
into Pacific Ocean

 

Despite criticism from several nations and environmental groups, Japan began releasing radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean this month.  The water is from the Fukushima nuclear reactor which was damaged by a tsunami in March 2011.

Although the International Atomic Energy Agency has okayed the release of one million tons of water used to cool the damaged reactor, China and Hong Kong have threatened to prevent the import of Japanese seafood.

Japan insists that the water has been filtered and the radioactive isotopes have been removed.  Nuclear protestors like Greenpeace insist that the remaining radioactive isotope, Tritium, can’t be easily removed.

So, who is right?  Has the water been neutralized so it will not impact nations on the Pacific Rim?  Or are we witnessing a case of radioactive pollution?

For years, nuclear reactors were scheduled for decommissioning due to their radioactive waste and the threat of major accidents.  However, the attempt to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy caused a major problem.  Electric power plants that used fossil fuels were closing due to their carbon emissions.  Meanwhile, nuclear energy was providing a smaller percentage of power.

Unfortunately, renewable energy sources were unable to take up the slack and there wasn’t enough electricity to meet demand.

Suddenly, nuclear power became attractive again.  It produced much less waste than fossil fuel plants and had a smaller footprint than the conventional electric power plant industry, which also needed large coal mines.  The anti-nuclear policy had lost its appeal and pro-nuclear policies had regained its momentum.

Anti-nuclear protestors like Greenpeace highlighted the Fukushima radioactive wastewater release in order to regain the momentum on eliminating nuclear power.

One of the arguments was that the water release of one million tons was massive.  However, proponents argue, in terms of the Pacific Ocean, it was minor.  The Society of Allied Weight Engineers estimated the weight of all the oceans was 1,450,000,000,000,000,000 tons, of which the Pacific Ocean contains over half of that amount.  The percentage of wastewater would only be a quintillionth of a percent of what is in the oceans.

Also, they stress that these one million tons of water will be released over 30 years.

The next argument was that the wastewater was a danger to people because it contained tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.  The tritium could bond with oxygen to make a water molecule.

Tritium has a half-life of 12.33 years and decays quickly.  During the 30-year release program, the radiation will only be about one fifth of what it was in 2023.

The International Atomic Energy Agency stated the “controlled, gradual discharges of the treated water to the sea,” would have a “negligible radiological impact on the people and the environment.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency will remain on site to monitor the release for the whole 30 years.  At the end of that time, the Tokyo Power Company (TEPCO) will be able to start the decommissioning.

So, how is it that the water used to cool the damaged reactor is so safe that releasing it is not a problem?  TECPCO has spent the last ten years processing radioactive water with the Advanced Liquid Processing System.

The first step was to remove radioactive cesium and strontium from the water using basic chemical separation processes.  Then, the other radioactive isotopes were removed using 16 towers to separate different isotopes.  In the end, 62 different radioactive isotopes were removed and sent to storage.

Although the process takes time, it is effective in removing small percentages of radioactive pollutants.

 

How do other nations treat radioactive waste?

The process for treating radioactive waste is common across the nations with nuclear reactors.  They employ well known chemical processes that can isolate small amounts of radioactive isotopes.  The waste treatment isn’t a scientific issue as much as it is a political one as most people do not want a radioactive waste dump nearby.  There is also the other fact that nuclear waste is also a source for nuclear fuel like Uranium and Plutonium, which is found in spent nuclear reactor rods.  This is especially true of high-level radioactive waste, which is a rich source for nuclear fuel.

This high-level nuclear waste is only 3% of the waste, but 95% of the total radioactivity.  Low level nuclear waste is usually short lived and is found in paper, rags, tools, clothing and filters.  It is 90% of the volume and only 1% of the radioactivity.  It is often compacted before disposal.

Intermediate level waste includes resins, chemical sludge, and metal fuel cladding.  They are frequently solidified in concrete.  They make up 7% of the volume and 4% of the radioactivity in radioactive waste.

Since most of the radioactive waste is low level and has a short half-life, it goes to near surface nuclear disposal facilities in many countries.

Long term storage of high-level radioactive materials that have a longer half-life hasn’t been a major problem as much of this waste has unspent nuclear fuel in it.  Current practice is to let this material stay in specially designed water pools for 40 – 50 years so heat, and radioactivity has dropped by 99%.

Highly radioactive liquids that are a byproduct of recycling the fuel rods, are solidified into Pyrex glass and stored in steel cylinders and stored deep underground in areas that aren’t subject to earthquakes.  There are many such deep storage facilities in several nations.

Proponents of nuclear energy claim that the improved handling of nuclear waste makes nuclear powered energy much safer.  Most of the problems dealing with nuclear waste come from nuclear weapons production in the early years, when highly radioactive waste was placed in drums and stored in a remote area.

They conclude, given the visibility of the Fukushima wastewater release and the national and international monitoring of the project, there isn’t the nuclear waste threat that some claim.

But experts and environmental groups have complained that there has been a consistent lack of sufficient public Input and that some viable alternatives, such a long term Storage in more robust tanks was not seriously evaluated. China. However, has redoubled its criticism, accusing Japan of treating the ocean like a “private sewer”. The Pacific Islands Forum, which represents 18 nations- some of which are acutely aware of the legacy of American nuclear testing- remain opposed.

Analysis 08-12-2023

ANALYSIS

Making Sense of the Niger Coup
Is Niger the next battlefield?

 

Is the coup in Niger a critical move in the world’s geopolitical scene?  Or is it just another African coup in a region  that has seen several coups in the last few years

On July 26th, the presidential guard launched a coup and captured Niger President Mohamed Bazoum and his family.  Senior officers of the Niger military formed a National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP).

The coup was condemned by the US, UK, France, the European Union and the UN.

While some have claimed that the coup was a reaction to French involvement in a former colony, others saw it as a move by Russia and the resurgent Wagner Group to expand Russian influence in Africa.  Some saw growing American military influence in Africa.

Or it could be palace politics

The coup leader was General Tchiani, who was the head of the Presidential Guard and was rumored to be on the outs with the president and on the verge of being fired.  General Tchiani had been the head of the Presidential Guard for President Bazoum and his predecessor Issoufou and had stopped several coup attempts.

The fact that several senior military officers quickly joined the junta indicates that there was discontent amongst many Niger military officers.  Although there are elections in Niger, the political establishment is entrenched and there has been unrest towards the former colonial power, France.  IS Sahel and Al Qaeda backed JNIM are found in Niger and neighboring countries.  There are also armed groups that are involved in smuggling and gold mining (gold is Niger’s largest export).

No wonder the junta noted the “continually deteriorating security situation,” as a reason for the coup.  However, there is a question if the Niger military junta can defeat IS Sahel and Al Qaeda backed JNIM.  In 2019 and 2020, the Niger military suffered heavy losses from IS Sahel.  Losses from IS Sahel have dropped as that group has focused its attention on Mali, as French forces have withdrawn from that nation.

As of this time, the junta hasn’t asked for the withdrawal of the 1,500 French forces or the 1,000 American forces even though the US and France have condemned the coup.  Given the unrest in the Sahel region, it’s likely that Niger will not push for a French or American withdrawal.

There are several reasons that Niger will continue to keep French and American forces in the country.  One is the close relationship between American and Niger officers.

Brigadier General Barmou is American trained and is currently the chief of Niger’s Special Operations Forces.

“We have had a very long relationship with the United States,” Barmou said in 2021.  The US has a drone operation in Niger that is considered the “linchpin” of US Army Special Operations in West Africa.

Although the US has condemned the coup, the drone operations are considered critical to monitoring groups like IS Sahel and JNIM.  America has stated that it is not contemplating a withdrawal from Niger.  Therefore, the US will be very careful to avoid upsetting the junta so much that they will lose this critical African military outpost.

If there is to be military action, it will come from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African group of nations.  On Thursday, at the end of the emergency summit on the Niger issue, ECOWAS ordered the activation of its standby military force.

ECOWAS may have ordered activation of its standby military force, and many might consider it a bluff.  However, ECOWAS has successfully carried out a military intervention in order to defend a democracy.

In January 2017, ECOWAS military forces from six nations entered Gambia in Operation Restore Democracy.  Senegal provided the most soldiers, although it has a very small military.  Nigeria provided the second largest expeditionary force, which included aircraft and a naval vessel.

If there is to be military action, it will probably rely most on the Nigerian Armed forces, which is considered the fourth most powerful military in Africa and the 35th most powerful internationally.  The Nigerian Army has shown that it can mobilize, deploy and sustain brigade sized forces in support peacekeeping operations in Liberia.  They have sent more than 20,000 troops in support of various UN missions.

However, currently, the Nigerian Senate has rejected military intervention.

Niger has an army of about 25,000 soldiers.  France has been its traditional arms supplier since it gained its independence from France.  Russia is the second largest arms provider.  The Niger military organization closely mirrors the French model.

To complicate any military planning, the junta has said they will kill the president if ECOWAS takes military action.

Meanwhile, the Wagner Group has a presence in Mali, which is a neighboring country to Niger.  But, Acting Deputy Secretary of State Nuland has warned the Niger junta from cooperating with the Wagner Group.

From a geopolitical point of view, some wins by the Wagner Group in Africa could help Putin, who is still not winning in Ukraine.  In that regard, Niger may be a critical piece on the chessboard of geopolitics.

If ECOWAS decides to take military action, it could be a close thing.  The Wagner Group has a long logistical tail and keeping it supplied will be much harder than it was in Ukraine.  ECOWAS needs a major military force to put Bazum back in power.  If Nigeria doesn’t support a military option, it may come down to the French and Americans to come to Bazum’s rescue. This option seems to be a remote possibility at this stage especially with the popular support that the Military leaders enjoyed, in addition to forming a civilian majority interim government.

Analysis 08-08-2023

ANALYSIS

Growing Tension Along
NATO’s Eastern Border

 

Tensions are growing this week as several military moves by Belarus, Russia, Poland, and NATO are demonstrating that the war in Ukraine has the potential of spilling over into neighboring countries.

This week, Poland accused Belarus of violating Polish airspace with two Belarus helicopters.  Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak noted the violation was another “element in escalating the tension at the Polish Belarusian border.

Although Belarus did warn that its air force would be holding exercises near the border, the helicopters did cross the border and were photographed by numerous people with their cell phones.

The exercises were more worrying as they were low level flights in a part of the border where Polish radar coverage was light, and the helicopters weren’t quickly detected by Polish radar.  The exercises were carried out near Bialowieza.

One result of the border violation was that Poland has moved more forces into the area.  They have also notified NATO about the incident.

This incident only added to tensions as it was reported that elements of the Wagner Group were moved closer to the Polish/Belarus border last month.  It didn’t help that Belarus President Lukashenko said Wagner group were eager to move into Poland.  “They want to go west,” the Belarussian president said; perhaps jokingly.

Poland has also warned that Wagner Group forces might try to cross the border dressed as immigrants.

It also appears that 100 soldiers of the Wagner Group are carrying out exercises in conjunction with the Belarus army according to the Polish government.  The exercises are close to the Suwalki Gap, a strategic land corridor that joins the Baltic nations to Poland and the rest of NATO.  It also isolates the Russian territory of Kaliningrad.

The Wagner Group’s soldiers are a worry as they do not fall under the control of a national military authority, as has been seen in many operations in Africa over the decades.  They could be used to carry out a military operation along the border with Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine that Russia and Belarus would deny.  Given Poland’s historic animus towards Russia, such a military operation would likely elicit a strong Polish response.  Yet, an independent Wagner group may not have received any permission to carry out such an operation.

And, if such an operation is carried out, would Poland believe Belarus?  Would they retaliate?  Would NATO nations be willing to go to war over an incursion by a private army like the Wagner Group?

Another military exercise that is worrying analysts is the Russian naval exercise called Ocean Shield 2023.  The exercise is being held in the Baltic Sea; now considered a NATO lake, with the membership of Finland and Sweden.  The exercise is employing 30 warships, 20 support vessels, and 6,000 personnel.  It is a direct challenge to NATO control of an area that secures NATO control of northern Europe.

With NATO control of the Baltic Sea, the closing of Sevastopol, the war, and the extreme cold weather of Murmansk, much of the Russian fleet in Europe and the Atlantic is bottled up.

However, Russian forces in the Baltic do have an impact on NATO.  Part of the Russian Defense Ministry press release on Ocean Shield 2023 mentioned exercises that moved troops on the Baltic.  Obviously, this implied reinforcing the enclave of Kaliningrad – especially if 20 support ships are included in the exercise.

 

The Suwalki Gap

One of the most strategic areas in Europe is the Suwalki Gap, a sparsely populated region that is the border between Poland and Lithuania, but the Russian Kaliningrad Oblast and Belarus borders are within long range artillery and missile range of the whole gap.  Consequently, Russian and Belarus forces could bombard troops, vehicles, and supplies moving from Poland to Lithuania.

During the Cold War, the area had nonmilitary value, although several battles were fought there in the past, including Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

Since the Baltic States joined NATO, it has become a strategic choke point and numerous military exercises have been held there.  Poland proposed stationing an armored division, but NATO is constrained from building a permanent base in the gap.

In the meantime, NATO has held exercises like Iron Wolf and Operation Saber Strike over the past few years.

Several NATO units are permanently stationed near the gap.  These include the Iron Wolf mechanized brigade that is part of the NATO multinational collective defense.  The American 185th Infantry Regiment is stationed there along with 400 soldiers of the British Royal Dragoons.  Up to 40,000troops within the NATO Response Force are also available along with other Polish units not under NATO command.  Other American combat units are regularly stationed in the area for periods of time.

In 2022, the NATO General Secretary General Stoltenberg announced that NATO would place a brigade in each Baltic state along with Poland.  The NATO Response Force would be increased to 300,000 troops.

Before the Ukraine War, it was thought that Russia could cut off the Baltic States in 30 to 60 hours.  However, the NATO buildup and higher alert, along with the poor Russian showing in Ukraine leads many military experts to think that NATO could hold the Russian forces, especially with the addition of Finnish and Swedish membership in NATO.  These countries make reinforcement and supply easier if Russia and Belarus cut off the Suwalki Gap.

Which brings us back to the Russian naval exercises.  Russia must at the least be ready to reinforce Kaliningrad in a period of international tension.  They do have missile units stationed in the enclave that can easily reach any part of the Suwalki Gap.  In a period of international tension, we can expect the Russians to resupply and reinforce Kaliningrad.  This will preclude the easy movement of NATO forces and supplies through the Suwalki Gap and force a shifting of NATO units along the Kaliningrad sector.

By themselves, these incidents along the Polish/Belarus border and the Russian naval maneuvers mean little.  Nor do the regular fighter interceptions by NATO and Russian aircraft.

But accidents happen.  Russian missiles have hit targets less than 2 miles from the Ukraine/Romania border.  What if a missile strays over the border and kills civilians during a time of international tension?

No doubt, the likelihood of a war that involves NATO is growing.

Analysis 08-02-2023

ANALYSIS

The Search for Munitions
Comes to the Korean Peninsula

 

In the past, NATO and Russian weapons stockpiles were vast – enough for soldiers and weapons as World War Three surged across the European continent.

Surprisingly enough those stockpiles lasted a little over a year – hardly the apocalyptic scenario the vast stockpiles were expected to supply.  Nations are now holding back as supplies dwindle and many other nations are starting to produce munitions like artillery shells, the life blood of conventional warfare.

As a result, NATO nations are scouring the world for stockpiles to continue the war.

Probably the last remaining stockpiles are found on the Korean peninsula, where North and South Korea remain ready to go to war.  South Korea is probably sitting on one of the world’s largest stockpiles of munitions in the world.

The importance of that reserve was made obvious as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol was invited to the NATO conference in Vilnius two weeks ago to learn first hand about Ukraine’s shortage of munitions.

In a war, where both sides are running out of supplies, South Korea’s munitions stockpiles could change the course of the war.  But there is the problem of South Korean policy of not arming countries that are fighting.  The South Koreans have shipped over $200 million in humanitarian relief but have refused to send munitions.

It’s not just the policy of not selling weapons to warring countries that is a hindrance.  Russian and South Korean trade was growing before the Ukraine war and Seoul hopes to keep that trade, while hoping that Russia may be able to moderate North Korea.

“The Russians made it very clear to us that weapons are their red line and that if it is crossed, they will retaliate,” according to the BBC.

Of course, Russian red lines have come and gone in the last year and a half.  Their threat to provide North Korea nuclear technology is seen as bluff just as the threat to use tactical nuclear weapons.

South Korean politicians are also aware that there are elections next year and the government wants to avoid making Ukraine arms sale an election issue.

South Korea has managed to sidestep its “no weapons” policy.  It sold hundreds of thousands of NATO standard artillery shells to the US in a private deal.  They have since been shipped to Poland for transshipment to Ukraine.

South Korea is also helping Poland modernize its military, with the replaced old Soviet equipment being shipped to Ukraine.  This includes tanks and jets, as well as 4 million rounds of ammunition.  This $13 billion arms order is also a major boost to the growing South Koreas military industry as it penetrates the lucrative Western nations arms industry.

When South Korea does finally start selling weapons directly to Ukraine, expect defensive weapons systems like anti-missile and anti-drone systems to be the first to be sold.

 

North Korea

Both Koreas are blessed with large stockpiles of weapons and Russia is in a buying mood.  This week they met in Pyongyang, North Korea in the first major meeting of the two nations since the Covid pandemic.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to discuss defense issues and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.

Although there was no talk about munitions sales to Russia, the two nations have talked about weapons sales for over a year and the Biden Administration has accused North Korea of shipping arms to Russia.

Kim took Shoigu to an arms exhibit that showed off North Korean ballistic missile capability.  Much of NK arms sales in the Middle East are ballistic missiles sent to Iran and its allies.  Many are knock offs of the legendary Russian Scud missile like the No Dong missile, the Musudan missile, and the Taepo-Dong missile.  Since these are based on Russian 1950s technology, they are of no interest to Russia.  Rather, the Russians are in the market for artillery shells, simple anti-tank weapons like the RPG-7, and small arms ammunition.

Obviously, Russian, Chinese, and North Korean have other defense interests.  As more Western nations move naval assets into the South China Sea, China needs allies that will help offset the Western naval strength.

Last week, Russia and China held joint exercises called Northern/Interaction 2023 in the Sea of Japan.  The reason was for protecting strategic maritime routes and integrating their operations.

Western analysts however are claiming, none of the ships pose a threat to the Western alliance and if China or Russia think joint operations like these will force the Western allies to divert resources from Ukraine are deluding themselves.

They stress that none of the Chinese aircraft carriers or capital ships were involved in the operations.  Some intelligence analysts say it will take the carriers a decade to use them for more than propaganda purposes since they haven’t learned how to carry out carrier operations.

The Chinese and Russian ships in the flotilla were corvettes – the smallest ship that is considered a warship.  They don’t have endurance (they can stay out at sea for a few days) and are usually used for coastal patrolling.  The US decommissioned its last corvette in 1945.

These types of ships would be of limited impact in a major war and would merely be a target in any conflict between the US, Russia, China, and the Western allies.  The artillery shells the Russians undoubtedly are seeking pose a bigger threat.

Analysis 07-26-2023

ANALYSIS

Complications for Democrats in 2024 Presidential Election
Who is there besides Biden?

 

President Biden’s trip to Europe for the NATO conference only raised more questions about Biden’s mental capacity and ability to run for reelection. Nearly every public event last week had its share of gaffes as Biden clearly acted as someone suffering from senility.  In England, King Charles had to guide the president through the welcoming events.  At the NATO meeting, he was too tired for the formal dinner.  In Finland, he was caught on camera nibbling a small child.

The world had a chance to see the Biden Americans have seen.  An NBC poll amongst voters shows the majority (68%) thinking that Biden doesn’t have the mental capacity to be president.  Yet Biden gets about 70% in the primary polls against other Democrats running for president.

Currently, Biden is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination…for the moment.  Incumbents have considerable power, and their re-nomination is usually a certainty.  The last president to decide not to run for reelection was Johnson in 1968.

What happened is something Democrats must heed.

Johnson, who didn’t campaign in New Hampshire, failed to get 50% of the vote against challenger Eugene McCarthy, an anti-Vietnam War senator.  Within a couple of weeks of the election, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection.

This announcement would electrify the campaign.  Johnson was expected to coast to the nomination.  Instead, the race was wide open.  Although Senator McCarthy was already in the race, others soon joined in.  The establishment choice was Vice President Humphrey.

Another candidate also joined the race, Robert F. Kennedy – the father of Robert Kennedy running against Biden today.  Kennedy would be assassinated a few months later right after he had won the California primary.

The fight for the Democratic nomination was literally bloody.  The establishment was supporting Humphrey and forced convention rules that helped the Vice President win the nomination.  While the supporters of Humphrey managed to control the raucous Democratic convention inside, McCarthy supporters were rioting outside.  The scenes of violence were critical in helping Republican challenger Richard Nixon to win the presidential election.

This piece of 1968 election history is setting the scene for the 2024 election.  With the help of the Democratic leadership, Biden was expected to coast to the nomination as the party leaders set the primaries up so he would win the nomination easily and wouldn’t be forced to campaign much.

The Biden strategy assumed a rematch between Biden and Trump.  Biden would keep a low profile and play the moderate, while the Department of Justice would keep up the legal pressure with investigations and indictments.  The media would publicize Trump failures.

The plan hasn’t worked.  The investigations and indictments have helped Trump as they have publicized the weaponization of the Department of Justice.  A Fox poll last month showed that 49% of voters do not have confidence in the Department of Justice.  The greater the attacks on Trump, the better his poll numbers look.

Meanwhile, Biden is showing more signs of senility.  The result is that what was once considered a “sure thing” for Biden is now a close race.  Some polls show Trump leading in key states like Pennsylvania.  The chance that Trump could beat Biden, even with indictments, is growing.  More and more Democratic leaders are looking for another candidate.

But picking a new candidate is harder than one thinks.  First, Biden and his handlers must be convinced that he needs to pull out of the race for the good of the Democratic Party.  That doesn’t appear to be happening.

The 25th Amendment of the Constitution could be employed by Vice President Harris.  That would make her acting president and probably the leading candidate for the nomination.  But she is more unpopular than Biden.  And her ascending to the presidency would have political consequences.  As Vice President, she is President of the Senate and can wield a tie breaking vote, which has happened frequently as Senate Democrats only control the chamber by one vote, while there are at least a couple of Democratic senators who occasionally vote with the Republicans.

If Harris becomes president, she loses her position as president of the Senate and it will be considerably harder for the Democrats to pass Democratic legislation or appoint progressive judges.

If Harris becomes president under the 25th Amendment (or Biden dies), the race for the Democratic nomination opens.  Currently there are two announced candidates for the Democratic nomination: Robert Kennedy and self-help author Marianne Williamson, but several politicians would “throw their hat into the ring” if Biden weren’t in the race

This is where timing is critical.  If Biden can’t be gracefully pushed out of the race before the primaries, the contest could be just as bad as the Democratic nomination in 1968.  If Biden pulled out before the primaries, several candidates, probably governors, could enter the race.

However, if Biden remains in the race after the primaries start, he is likely to lose some damaging primary contests to Robert Kennedy, who the Democratic establishment hates nearly as much as they hate Trump.  As they did in 1968, they would have to pick another candidate to back.  This would only anger Kennedy supporters (much as it angered McCarthy supporters when party heads supported Humphrey) and the split could cause the Democrats to lose the general election just as they did in 1968.

If Biden can be pushed into announcing that he isn’t running for reelection before the end of the year, several candidates amenable to the Democratic leadership could step in.  The most likely candidates are governors since they have more name recognition, and some have already been mentioned as presidential possibilities.

Obviously, VP Harris would be a possible contender.  However, she has a reputation as a poor candidate and was pulled out early in 2020.  She is unlikely to garner support from the leadership, or they would have pushed her to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare Biden senile and become president herself.

 

Potential Candidates

California Governor Gavin Newsome is probably the most likely candidate with experience running a big state.  In addition to being governor, he has been Lieutenant Governor and Mayor of San Francisco.  He is popular with the Democrats and obviously can deliver California in the election.

Newsome’s politics are progressive.  His major weakness is that California has declined during his tenure due to increased taxes and regulation.  These are policies that will hurt him in a general election.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is from Michigan, which is a critical “toss up” state that will be critical for both the Republican and Democratic nominees for president.  In addition to being governor since 2019, she had been in the state senate and house.  She has also been a country prosecutor.  Her politics are progressive, and she would be a popular choice amongst voters who want a female president.

Governor Andy Besher is from the reliably Republican state of Kentucky.  Trump won the state 62% to 36% in 2020.  Besher is more moderate than many Democratic candidates, however, he must win the general election for governor in November.  If he does, he will be a strong potential candidate as president or vice president.

Governor Roy Cooper from North Carolina is another governor from a state that usually votes Republican.  He has served in the state house and senate and was state Attorney General for 16 years.

The state legislature is strongly Republican, and he has several vetoes overridden.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Young, attractive, progressive, and vocal, she is more likely a VP choice, who would fire up young progressive Democrats in the general election – especially if the presidential nominee is less attractive – like Biden.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.  Booker announced he was running for president in 2019 but pulled out of the race in January 2020 before the primary race had begun.

The New York Times rated him the third most liberal senator.

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado has a reputation of going across the aisle to work with Republicans.  He was a member of the “Gang of Eight” that saw four Republicans and four Democratic senators try to pass bipartisan immigration legislation.

All these Democrats are potential candidates for president.  However, only Governor Newsome has the political strength to directly challenge an incumbent president like Biden.  He could be the choice of the Democratic leadership if Biden has increasing problems with senility and Robert Kennedy catches the imagination of the Democratic grassroots.

Analysis 07-19-2023

ANALYSIS

LIMITS OF NATO SUMMIT SUCCESS

 

To listen to the news reports, the NATO summit was a disaster, with fighting between NATO partners on subjects ranging from Ukraine membership to supplying more ammunition to Ukrainian forces.

Despite displayed differences, NATO is much stronger than it was four years ago.  There is no longer any serious debate on the need for NATO.  Countries that never met the goal of using 2% of GDP for defense spending are now exceeding their goals.  Even more positive, two formerly neutral nations, Finland, and Sweden, are either joining or on the cusp of joining.

Weaker NATO nations like Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, who couldn’t stop a Russian invasion of their territory on their own, now have combat ready brigades from other NATO nations “in country” and ready to fight.

On the negative side, the question is when Ukraine should join NATO and how much ammunition and weapons are being used by Ukraine.

As it stands, Ukraine is somewhat closer to joining NATO than before.  The US and Germany remain the major blocks.

As it is, Ukraine has achieved special status with NATO and now has bilateral defense agreements with each of the G-7 nations.  Ukraine President Zelensky didn’t get all the weapons he wanted but remember that this mirrors the situation in early WWII, when British Prime Minister Churchill had problems receiving desperately needed weapons from FDR and the United States.

Unlike Churchill, however, Zelensky berated the NATO nations, which hurt his cause, if anything.

The major victory for NATO was Turkey’s agreement that Sweden should be allowed in NATO after months of dithering.  In return, Turkey does want NATO nations to push for Turkish membership in the EU, a goal that was forgotten as Turkey and Erdoganstarted to cut back on human rights.

As we mentioned frequently when discussing Turkish and Russian relations, these two nations have a long history of fighting each other.  Claims about who should have the greatest political influence in regions around the two nations continue to this day in Syria and Kurdistan.  By supporting Sweden’s membership in NATO, membership in the EU, and releasing Ukraine Azov regiment commanders, Erdogan has provided Putin some political setbacks at a time when the Russian president is most vulnerable.

Turkey is also showing that it is willing to use Turkish Navy warships to escort civilian grain ships in the Black Sea – a clear challenge to Russia’s assumed control of that inland sea.

In another sign that Turkey’s foreign relations are taking a pro-Western turn, Turkey and Greece have announced that they will meet to discuss the issues that separate them.   To prove the new relationship, Erdogan and the Greek Prime minister posed for photos at the NATO summit.

Of course, Turkey will receive tangible benefits.  There is already discussion about selling modern F-16s to Turkey.  And Turkey wants to rejoin the F-35 project, which it was forced to leave after buying the Russian S-400 air defense system.

It isn’t just Sweden, Greece, and Turkey that are forgetting past offensives.  Ukraine and Poland have a long-term disagreement from WWII, over the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and its massacre of the ethnic Polish minority – an issue that Russia tries to bring up to keep tensions between Poland and Ukraine high.

This last week Polish President Duda and Ukraine President Zelensky came together to remember the innocent victims.  It’s just a start, but it shows how the Russian attack has brought European nations together.

 

Ammunition

After Biden’s gaffe of mentioning America’s shortage of artillery ammunition, several nations noted how they are helping with production of new weapons and munitions factories.

The US has recently opened a new ammunition plant – the first contractor owned ammunition plant to start operations since the end of the Korean War.

German Rheinmetall is taking ammunition plants out of mothballs to produce ammo for Ukraine.  The company is also opening a joint venture tank plant that produces Leopard 2 tanks in Ukraine.   Since they are produced in Ukraine, they will not need export licenses to use them.

Turkey is also opening a drone factory in Ukraine.  It has one of the most effective air defense systems – the factory is owned by the Son-in-Law of Turkey’s President Erdogan.  It probably will not be attacked if Putin wants to improve relations with Ankara.

Meanwhile, Britain’s largest defense contractor, BAE, is dramatically increasing artillery ammunition production.

 

Who is Winning?

Most analysts expected more dramatic movement in Ukraine’s summer offensive.  However, war isn’t as fast as movies or analysts’ predictions.  General Patton beat the Germans in two hours in the movie ‘Patton,” but it took the Americans two years to win the victory in the field.  It took the overwhelming power of the US, British, and Canadian Armies to break out of the Normandybeachhead a month after the D Day invasion.

War is slow, especially when it is a war of attrition, fought in trenches and minefields.  Air superiority, which is a key component of NATO tactical doctrine, will not be available for Ukraine until they get F-16s and the pilots who can fly them.

The Russians have effective defenses in depth and counterattack whenever it is prudent.  This is especially true in the northeastern front, where the Russians attack and gain ground, only to see the Ukrainians counterattack and regain some ground days later.

In and around Bakhmut, the Ukrainians are slowly gaining ground.

In Zaporizhzhia, the Ukrainians are slowly advancing through Russian defenses.  The serious problems the Russians are having are indicated by the fact that Putin sacked Major General Popov because he asked for time to rest and refit his units.

Ukrainian missile units are targeting Russian ammunition and fuel depots that were once out of range of Ukrainian missiles.  The British Storm Shadow missiles are hitting Russian logistic hubs.  Since the Russians rely on rail lines through Donbas to support their units, in the West, it will have a big impact on units in and around Crimea.

One way we know that Ukraine is slowly advancing is that there are satellites designed to detect forest fires.  In addition to detecting forest fires, they can detect the heat of artillery fire, which gives observers and intelligence analysts a way to track the movement of the front line.

The Ukrainians are advancing slowly – but they are on the offensive.  Ukraine still has about 9 combat battalions in reserve.  When and if the Russian defensive line breaks, these mechanized reserve units could start to move through Russian territory quickly.

The Ukrainians also have an effective guerrilla campaign in Russia.  The latest proof was the assassination of former submarine commander Stanislav Rzhitsky, who used the Russian submarine Krasnodar to fire missiles against Ukraine.

Clearly, the disagreements at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania are not impacting the Ukrainian war effort.  There remains general agreement on major goals – Ukraine membership in NATO and continuing material support for Ukraine.  With Turkey’s change of heart, it seems that Sweden will finally join NATO later this year.

It seems the internal NATO differences on Ukraine are not going to affect the continued support of the war efforts until the popular discontents in key NATO countries start to be displayed in the streets.

Analysis 07-06-2023

ANALYSIS

The Wagner Mutiny:
Questions and Answers

 

It’s been a week since the Wagner Group, led by Prighozin, mutinied against Putin and the Russian Army.  However, there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered.  We will try to look at what happened and what it means for Putin, Prighozin, Russia, and the Ukraine War.

 

What Happened?

Although there are many possible reasons, the simplest is the most likely.  Prighozin overestimated his strength within the Russian Army.  Although there was talk about 25,000 Wagner soldiers marching on Moscow, there appear to be fewer – about 8,000.  And, while Prighozin counted on Russian units joining him, they remained out of the fray, while ground attack helicopters loyal to Putin carried out attacks that seriously damaged the Wagner column.  It became obvious that Wagner couldn’t capture Moscow, so Prighozin decided to cut his losses and make a deal.

Putin was willing to make a deal because defeating the Wagner group in the suburbs of Moscow would have taken days and the Ukrainian Army would have taken advantage of the internecine war to gain ground.  In addition, Putin, who was uncertain of the loyalty of his forces, was afraid that a protracted fight might encourage his forces to defect to Wagner.

Although both got some of what they wanted, the problem has just been pushed down the road.

 

Will this be the only mutiny?

If history is our guide, no.  In WWI, a war that was much like the Ukraine War in terms of fighting in trenches and the large loss of human lives, there were many mutinies

The French were being led by General Nevelle, who thought an all-out offensive would push the Germans back.  What the French got was a bloody battle that caused many units to refuse to fight.  That led the French to replace him with Petain, who stopped the bloody attacks and improved the treatment of French soldiers.

However, the number of mutinies increased during Petain’s first few months, and he finally had to resort to stern measures against mutineers before the back of the mutinies was broken.

Putin will have the same problems.  Although he just gave the Russian Army a 10.5% raise in pay, there are still malcontents in the Russian Army.  They will only need a hint of weakness by Putin to start another mutiny – one that will not have to travel hundreds of kilometers to Moscow.

Although many think Prighozin is the sole mutineer, there are thousands who are tired of the war, who will willingly help start another mutiny.  That’s one reason Putin is purging the military now.

 

What is the Future of the Wagner Group Now?

Putin will do everything to defang the Wagner Group in Russia, Belarus, and the Third World nations it is operating in.  Expect assassinations, transfers of officers, and arrests in the coming months.

The arrests will not be limited to Wagner people.  Putin is already purging Russian generals like General Surovikin who appeared to be aware of the mutiny.  Surovikin frequently disagreed with the Russian defense ministry on tactics and strategy in Ukraine.

Oligarchs, who sat on the sidelines or who are expected to have tacitly supported the mutiny may very well be arrested or assassinated.

 

Has this Purge hurt the Russian Army?

Yes.  Stalin instituted a series of purges in the 1930s that eviscerated the Soviet Army.  25,000 Soviet officers were either executed or sent to the Soviet Gulag.  The result was that the Soviet Army was unable to defeat the Finish Army and later the German Army.  Even Soviet General Zhukov’s popularity after the war caused Stalin to strip him of his positions and relegate him to minor posts

Given the choice of a successful, popular general that can defeat the Ukrainians or a marginal general who is totally loyal to Putin, he will go for the marginal general.  This has already been seen in the last year as Putin has gone through several generals in search of a loyal, effective general.  All he has learned is that a successful general who commanded troops in Syria can’t be counted on to defeat Ukrainians.

 

Is the Wagner Group a threat in Belarus?

Satellite imagery shows the construction of barracks for 8,000 in Belarus.  Although it isn’t a threat to Russia, as it has limited arms, it can be a threat to Ukraine if it decides to invade Ukraine’s northern border.  That is unlikely as the Belarus/Ukraine border is primarily swampland and unsuitable for quick military thrusts.

Given the increasing tension between Russia and NATO, the Wagner Group could be used if there is an outbreak of hostilities in the future.  The Wagner Group, as currently constituted, could reinforce the Belarus Army in order to prevent an invasion.  It also borders Lithuania, which has no border with Russia.  It is also close to Kaliningrad, which is Russian, but an enclave surrounded by Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic.

Putin has made it clear that he would like Belarus to rejoin the Russian Federation.  The Wagner Group could be used (if necessary) in a coup against Belarus President Lukashenko – along with the Russians already inside Belarus.

 

Did Ukraine take advantage of the Mutiny?

It took time to arrange an offensive and the mutiny was less than a day long.  However, it seems that the Ukrainians are gaining some minor grounds in the last few days.  This could be due to confusion and poor morale caused by the mutiny.

It appears that Putin’s aggressive defense against the Wagner convoy caused serious casualties amongst the ground attack helicopters, which have been critical to stopping Ukrainian units trying to pierce the Russian minefields.  If the Russian helicopters took loses, were damaged, or need major maintenance before moving back to the Ukrainian front, it may take some days before they are fully operational.

Without ground attack helicopters supporting the Russian ground units, it will be easier for the Ukraine counter offensive to gain ground.

Remember, this is a slow, grinding battle that must pierce several defensive lines before the Ukrainian army can make use of its mobility.

 

Does the Wagner Group pose a long-term threat to Putin and Russia?

Yes.  Putin is weaker now than before.  However, the internal security services like the FSB, which is the successor agency of the KGB, and the Russian military, pose a larger long-term threat.

Expect Putin to rearrange the security services surrounding Moscow.  The First Guards Tank Army, which has been the primary security force around Moscow, will likely be downgraded and most of the unit will be sent to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the FSB may take advantage of the waning power of Putin to leverage a greater role in the control of Russia, while reducing the power of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Some western analysts suggest that the real future of Putin depends on his ability to balance these two groups.