22 October 2014


 How did Modi manage to do so much in the US on a fast?


Three weeks after Narendra Modi left stateside, an enduring puzzle for the Americans continues to be his Navratri fast. It is now known in very limited, but privileged, circles that agencies of the government of the United States of America went to extraordinary lengths to ascertain if the prime minister, in the privacy of his hotel suite, was consuming anything other than warm water during his stay in Manhattan.

In Washington, it was easier for these agencies to go through this exercise than in New York. In the national capital, the prime minister was a guest of their president and he stayed in the premises controlled by them: Blair House, where the American president’s very special guests are put up, is an extension of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, on the opposite side of the main presidential mansion, and literally in the shadow of the executive offices of the United States of America’s head of state.

US government agencies have considerable experience in this kind of investigative work, and they have done it as often as needed for several decades, sparing only leaders whom they consider to be of little consequence. Ten years ago, I was alerted to an advertisement in the Journal of the American Medical Association while idly watching a programme on NBC News at my home in Washington. The advertisement was overtly put in by the US Central Intelligence Agency, which has been otherwise periodically advertising in publications as prestigious as The Economist, seeking analysts with proficiency in Arabic, and separately, candidates familiar with South Asia — to be read in the current geostrategic context primarily as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The JAMA advertisement, however, was curiously different. It sought “medical analysts (who will) assess the physical health of foreign leaders”. When Manmohan Singh went to Washington only a few months after the CIA accelerated its process of recruiting medical analysts, he stayed at Blair House on White House property.

Three conclusions, two of them overlapping, are plausible on why Singh’s stay in Blair House was agreed to. One is that India’s external spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, was unaware then that the CIA was stepping up its efforts to assess the physical health of foreign leaders. The second conclusion is that RAW knew that the CIA was woefully short of medical analysts at that time and took the view that there was no national security risk in Singh’s occupancy of Blair House. A third opinion is that Singh’s health was good enough then to withstand scrutiny by anyone and the country had little to lose by exposure, covert or otherwise.

Since I had a fair opinion of RAW then, before it was dented by turmoil, favouritism and a culture of godfathers and patronage in subsequent years, the second conclusion seemed plausible. I could reasonably append the third opinion to that if only because it is public knowledge that the United Progressive Alliance prime minister’s health deteriorated in subsequent years in a way that he could not be exposed to covert scrutiny of his condition by foreign agencies. Whatever may be the basis of this conundrum, the indisputable fact is that on subsequent visits — and there were some after July 2005 — the prime minister declined successive White House entreaties to stay in Blair House. Singh always chose a suite in the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, which was not far from Blair House, but on a floor that was regularly being used by the Indian embassy for visiting ministers, where it had greater control over its management, structure and operations.


22 October 2014 

Henry Kissinger was not only the world’s most famous diplomat-politician in the 1970s but also the most strident voice against India, its leaders and its people. But his new book shows he has mellowed greatly

Few people could match Henry Kissinger in his visceral dislike, even hatred, for India, in the seventies. Fewer still would be less deserving of the Nobel Peace prize which he got in 1973, barely two years after he, along with then US President Richard Nixon, backed Pakistan to the hilt as it went about massacring several thousand citizens in East Pakistan in the course of the 1971 India-Pakistan war. Yet, for many, all that is in the distant past. On his part, the former US National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State to two Presidents, appears to have undergone a massive change of heart. He has begun to speak more kindly of India and to even acknowledge its importance in the global forum. The amusing twist has partly to do with the changed international political-economic-strategic environment. While Mr Kissinger is a much chastened man, India cannot easily forget the shabby and insulting treatment it received from him.

But, if moving forward is the mantra that drives international relations, we might as well keep aside for the moment his 1970s’ disgraceful conduct — so tellingly and completely exposed in Gary J Bass’s The Blood Telegram, in which the author calls the massacre by Pakistani troops “genocide” — and focus on Mr Kissinger’s new trajectory laid down in detail in his latest book, World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History. From the Indian perspective, his chapter titled, ‘The Multiplicity of Asia’, is especially interesting, because, inter alia, it deals with the emergence of India. He admits, “India will be a fulcrum of twenty-first century order: an indispensable element, based on its geography, resources, and tradition of sophisticated leadership, in the strategic and ideological evolution of the regions and the concepts of order at whose intersection it stands.” This is indeed a mouthful of praise, and Mr Kissinger must have gone through turbulent moments to acknowledge a country whose people and leadership he had scoffed and scorned at.

There is more of the about-turn. He is all praise for India’s management of multi-culturalism. He notes with approval, “India has thus far been able to wall itself off from the harshest currents of political turmoil and sectarian violence, partly through enlightened treatment of its minorities and a fostering of common Indian principles — including democracy and nationalism — transcending communal differences.” One wonders if this is the same man and the same mind which existed in the 1970s.

The hatchet-man of the discredited Nixon goes even further. In a reference to the change in Government in New Delhi, he almost grovels, “With a firm mandate and charismatic leadership, the administration of Narendra Modi may consider itself in a position to chart new directions on historic issues like the conflict with Pakistan or the relationship with China.” This is an interesting observation for the reason that the United States had during the Nixon-Kissinger era cultivated both China and Pakistan as anti-India platforms. While the latter played a more than willing role to realise the US’s nefarious motives, China had, it must be said, restrained itself from directly getting involved in the 1971 conflict — though it had made it clear its sympathies lay with Pakistan.

That Mr Kissinger had done his best to provoke China in the early seventies to make things difficult for India during the latter’s military conflict with Pakistan is only too well known. But the Nixon acolyte has never admitted as much. One of the reasons why Nixon had made his famous secret trip to China — plotted and backed by Mr Kissinger — in 1972 was to win over the Asian power to the US’s side, and pit it against India. Even during the 1971 war, both Nixon and Mr Kissinger expressed hope in private that China would do “something” along the Indian border which would rattle New Delhi and contain its belligerence towards Pakistan as the crisis began to snowball out of hand.

Incidentally, both Nixon and Mr Kissinger crowed for years over the ‘path-breaking’ China trip and the US President’s meeting with senior Chinese leader Zhou Enlai. Mr Kissinger has yet to come out of that reverie (he has devoted a lot to that in his earlier book, On China). But the fact is that despite that ‘bold’ visit, China and the US are rivals today, and on most issues, at loggerheads. They are neither friends nor allies. In other words, the Nixon visit turned out to be hardly a milestone. And, by a twist of fate which Mr Kissinger is witness to, India and the US have become friends; while China, whom he has been promoting across the world, and Pakistan, for whom he has had such affection, share an uneasy and distrustful relationship with Washington, DC.

Developing Heavy Breakthrough Capability for the Indian Army

20 Oct , 2014

A ‘heavy breakthrough capability’ in India’s context relates to having the capability to reach objectives up to 600km in depth, should the political circumstances impose war on our nation. Our democratic set up will never allow India to become the aggressor, as the people’s support will never be available for even thinking of such dangerous and unproductive ventures. India does not believe in either territorial conquest or forcible amalgamation of unwilling or a different type of population. Such actions can only be carried out by totalitarian regimes which can easily misrepresent facts to their countrymen and live a lie while festering rebellions gather smoke waiting for the central authority’s power to wane. It was exactly such a situation that arose in the erstwhile Soviet Union leading to its break up.

The Indian government spends huge sums of money every year for the modernisation of the Armed Forces. An approximate sum of Rs 79,600 crore1 was spent under the Major Budget Head 4076 during the Financial Year 2013-2014. The rough breakdown is as given in the table:

The figures clearly show that the government is prepared to provide funds to those who take the initiative and bid for resources, ensure projects are tightly controlled and expenditure monitored and have high levels of managerial and coordination efficiency in a structured mechanism in order to implement 100 per cent funds utilisation over a ten-month period during the financial year. It has been observed over the last five years that Army HQ has remained highly cautious, not exerting itself to carry out the required modernisation of the Army on the scale that is required to meet the security challenges of the future. There is no valid reason other than this to presume as to why the average value of the annual budget for the modernisation of the Army could not have exceeded Rs 25,000 crore.

A nation is feared and taken seriously for its conventional arms capability, if it is already a nuclear weapons state…

In such important matters, the results of the good work put in today become effective only six to seven years later. Foresight and drive are paramount to achieve long-term force strengthening objectives. It is pertinent to note as a comparative figure of efficiency, that in the private sector, an MNC like Hindustan Uni Lever2 repatriates more than Rs 16,000 crore of profits annually out of India merely by selling products such as soaps, toothpaste and shampoo! This is more than the Indian Army’s modernisation budget.

It is important to understand that the Army’s modernisation push should not in any way be at the expense of the other two services by getting funds transferred to the Army’s Head. Such an ‘easy’ solution would be foolhardy and will immeasurably hurt the country’s long term capability development efforts. The Army needs to do much more than the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy as far as modernisation of warlike stores and building up deterrent capabilities are concerned. It is not only superior planning that is required to ensure this but also ‘enlightened’ lobbying in the quarters concerned as well as building public opinion and Parliamentary consensus to get the proposals through. This is eminently achievable under Indian conditions and circumstances. This will also make the Indian Army a formidable instrument that will support the country’s foreign policy and achieve sustained peace and tranquility in the Asian neighbourhood. We must, on a war footing, target to achieve an average expenditure of Rs 35,000 crore annually over the next five years for modernisation of the Army in order for it to become a superior force.

Not unrelated to the ‘paradox’ of the largest component of the Armed Forces getting the least amount of funds for its modernisation effort, is the little known fact that of the sidelining of Staff Duties (SD) Branch and the Weapons & Equipment (WE) Branch in Army HQs. Often these Branches are ‘headless’ or are treated as temporary parking slots for birds of passage. Almost all the senior officers posted here are in their ‘last rank’ posting and are therefore not inclined to exert themselves or increase their workload. Most of them are contented by burying themselves in the details and remain oblivious of the larger picture. The hard fact remains that these branches are the most important Line Directorates of the Army during long spells of peace. Yet they have remained neglected for a very long time not receiving the attention they deserve. The results achieved speak for themselves. If the importance and levels of functional efficiency of these branches are improved on a war footing, the Army can achieve higher levels of punch in future conflicts including decisive offensive capabilities at short notice, unlike the embarrassing situation that had emerged during OP PARAKRAM.

The 1962 lessons

20 Oct , 2014

China invaded India in 1962. Though there is a view that the exact date of invasion was October 10, the most acceptable one is October 20, 1962. The war ended on November 19, 1962, following the unilateral Chinese withdrawal. The one-month long war saw India’s humiliation and territorial gains by China. Over the last 50 years, the Chinese have consolidated these gains. In this week’s cover story we have highlighted how a Lt. Colonel in the Indian Army, who later rose to become a Major General, fought the war and was captured by the Chinese as a prisoner of war (POW). I think it is always important to remember past wars if a nation wants to avoid wars in future.

Nehru was supremely confident that his policy of nonalignment would prove very effective in getting support from both the United States and the then Soviet Union, thus deterring China from planning any major attack on India.

In 1962, China was not a great military power as it is today. But it still went for a war against India because of three principal reasons. First, there was that tremendous sense of Chinese insecurity in Tibet, particularly after the Dalai Lama crossed over to India and established the government-in-exile to internationalise the issue of China’s illegal occupation of his land and be a rallying force for Tibetans’ resistance against Beijing’s rule inside Tibet. Obviously, China saw (and it continues to see) India as a troublesome factor behind the Tibetan unrest.

Secondly, the war against India was a diversionary strategy on the part of the then Chinese supremo Mao Zedong, whose politico-economic policy of “The Great Leap Forward” was proving to be a disaster for the Chinese people, thus strengthening his opponents in the Chinese Communists Party such as Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. Wars, after all, unite the countrymen like nothing else and if the country comes out victorious, then it strengthens the position of the leader like never before.

Thirdly, despite China being a communist country, Mao ( and all his successors so far) never gave up the country’s past culture in which the concept of “Middle Kingdom” ( that China is the centre of global civilisation and all the nations must acknowledge its political and cultural supremacy by paying tributes) is deeply ingrained. That means China will not allow any other nation, at least in Asia, to be as important as it is. Obviously, Mao did not like the global attention and importance that India’s then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was drawing those days. In fact, in a recent Global Times (the publication of the Chinese Communist party) article, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has written, “Mao wanted to wake him (Nehru) up from the superpowers’ influence by giving him a heavy punch, so that he would come to his senses and end the war. War is an extreme means of communication between civilizations” and that “Liu Shaoqi is reported to have told Colombo conference representatives in January 1963 that the Chinese had to show the Indians that China was a great power and, for this reason, had to ‘punish’ India once”.

Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Implications of Pakistan's Nuclear Developments

Prof PR Chari
Visiting Professor, IPCS
16 October 2014 


On 4 September, 2014, the Instutute of Peace and Conflict Studies organised a panel discussion on Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs). Below is the seminar report of the event, rapporteured by Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy, Research Officer (IReS), IPCS.

Pakistan’s nuclear capability is low and is dependent on Chinese technology Miniaturisation of warheads is difficult and it is not clear whether Pakistan has succeeded in achieving this goal;. Is Islamabad’s Hatf IX (Nasr) missile ready for deployment? Nasr’s 60 km range radius of action brings it within range of India’s long-range artillery, and is also vulnerable to ground and air attacks. What was considered tactical, however, in the US-former USSR context during the Cold War becomes strategic in the India-Pakistan case.

Countries wishing to deploy SSBNS should ideally possess at least three; but they are very expensive. There is no country in the world that thinks nuclear weapons are sacred. Only Pakistan believes in their omniscience and displays missiles as national symbols in its public art. Pakistan believes that nuclear weapons are the solution to all its problems.

What could India’s options be in case Pakistan does indeed deploy TNWs? India must pay more heed to deterring Pakistan from taking any such action.

Neil Joeck 

Visiting Scholar, Institute for International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley

TNWs fundamentally change the construct of conflict in South Asia. Pakistan is prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend against an Indian offensive than just using it as deterrence. This is important because it is a low probability event but of high consequences. Furthermore, the presumption of limits is mistaken. The cold war model of nuclear war may not apply in the India-Pakistan context. Regardless of where Pakistan is placed on the Nasr, the capability exists and it will use it. 

In the case of India and Pakistan, multiple differences remain over Kashmir, terrorism, militancy, Afghanistan etc. The 1999 Kargil conflict experience proves that nuclear weapons do not necessarily deter conflict. The overkill/overhang may not be present. It is difficult to avoid the battlefield initiative. In 1999, the world witnessed some nuclear readiness. In 2001-02, it may have been seen as some opportunities missed by India. 

However, it is important to remember that there is no territorial buffer zone in South Asia. On the technical front, Pakistan has made progress with Plutonium. Metaphorically speaking, there’s no reverse/neutral gear in Pakistan’s engine. Although the Nasr may not be ready now, it will be in due course. It brings us to the question: What is Pakistan’s red line? 

In a crisis, it may be more difficult to authorise the second strike than a first strike. The No First Use (NFU) is not the problem; the retaliatory strike is. Will there be proportional response? Will it be useful in terms of Indian public opinion? What if Pakistan uses nuclear weapons and India chooses not to respond? Essentially, a conspicuous stopping place has been removed. For example, once you cross the Line of Control (LoC), where is the next border? In that context, in a nuclear attack scenario, what is the second border?

Can India somehow enhance the nuclear taboo? Pakistan views an attack across the international LoC into Pakistan as a threat to the viability of the State. Is use of nuclear weapons useful for India? Also, doesn’t Pakistan’s use of nuclear weapons, while damaging for India, threaten to bring worse consequences to Pakistan itself?

COMMENT : Democracy and Indian Muslims — Tufail Ahmad

March 16, 2013 

The organising principles of Indian polity and society are the same that define a western country: a multi-party system, individualism, liberty, a free press and rule of law

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the

self-confessed leader of the banned outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, may think that Pakistan is the best Islamic nation for the Bollywood star, Shahrukh Khan to move to, but it is India that is arguably the best Muslim country today. Muslims in India enjoy complete political and religious liberty, a free legislative environment to undertake economic and educational initiatives, a vibrant television media and cinema that teach liberal coexistence, and access to a vast number of universities and institutes of modern education. There is absolutely no Muslim country that offers such a vast array of freedoms to its people.

India is able to offer these freedoms to its citizens because it is a successful democracy. It was good for India to lose the 1857 war; if the British had lost, Indians would have continued to be governed by kings and nawabs, and under shari'a courts that existed during the Mughal era. At the time of independence, the British left behind a justice system that was blind to religious and caste inequities in Indian society, an inclusive democracy that guaranteed equal rights and religious and political freedoms for all; English language that opened doorway to enlightenment and scientific education; and a civil service that treated everyone as Indians rather than Muslims, Hindus or Christians. Muslims in India enjoy these freedoms because India is a thriving democracy, unlike Pakistan that chose a discriminatory constitution, barring its own citizens from holding top positions such as the president of Pakistan because they are Hindus or Christians. Over the past half century, hundreds of millions of Dalits and women have found political empowerment and social freedoms in Indian democracy.

Religion cannot be a good model of governance for modern times because it fails to imagine situations in which non-Muslim citizens could be trusted to govern a Muslim country. Conversely, democracies trust their citizens irrespective of their faith. In a democracy like India, any citizen could compete to be the elected ruler. As democracy matures, India has appointed its Muslim citizens to top positions, currently Hamid Ansari as vice president, Salman Khurshid as foreign minister, Justice Altamas Kabir as Chief Justice, and Syed Asif Ibrahim as the chief of the Intelligence Bureau. It is also true that Muslims lag behind in India's collective life, but this is because they are under the influence of orthodox ulema or because Muslim politicians fail to imagine themselves as leaders of all Indians. A Muslim politician will be the country's prime minister the day Indian Muslims begin to view themselves as leaders of all Indians and not only of Muslims, much like Barack Obama who imagined himself as a leader not only of blacks, but of all Americans.

Effectively, India is a 'western' country. In the popular imagination, the west is viewed as a geographic concept, covering mainly the United States, Britain and parts of Europe. However, the ground realities are otherwise. Several countries, notably Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, are situated in the east, but in terms of their values and politics are firmly part of the west. Conversely, countries such as Russia and some in Latin America are geographically in the west but cannot be called a western country as their citizens do not enjoy the social and political freedoms available to free people in the west. The organising principles of Indian polity and society are the same that define a western country: a multi-party system, individualism, liberty, a free press and rule of law. As in a western country, consensus about governance, politics and society is moderated by media and political parties and is derived from differences rather than similarities of religion and ideology as in Saudi Arabia or North Korea.

The Similarities Between Germany and China

Geopolitical Weekly

By George Friedman

I returned last weekend from a monthlong trip to both East Asia and Europe. I discovered three things: First, the Europeans were obsessed with Germany and concerned about Russia. Second, the Asians were obsessed with China and concerned about Japan. Third, visiting seven countries from the Pacific to the Atlantic in 29 days brings you to a unique state of consciousness, in which the only color is gray and knowing the number of your hotel room in your current city, as opposed to the one two cities ago, is an achievement.

The world is not getting smaller. There is no direct flight from the United States to Singapore, and it took me 27 hours of elapsed travel to get there. There is a direct flight from Munich to Seoul, but since I started in Paris, that trip also took about 17 hours. Given how long Magellan took to circumnavigate the world, and the fact that he was killed in the Philippines, I have no basis for complaint. But the fact is that the speed of global travel has plateaued, as has the global economic system. There is a general sense of danger in Europe and Asia. There is no common understanding on what that danger is.

I was in Seoul last week when the news of a possible wave of European crises began to spread, and indications emerged that Germany might be shifting its view on austerity. It was striking how little this seemed to concern senior officials and business leaders. I was in the Czech Republic when the demonstrations broke out in Hong Kong. The Czechs saw this as a distant event on which they had opinions but which was unlikely to affect them regardless of the outcome.

There has been much talk of globalization and the interdependence that has flowed from it. There is clearly much truth in arguing that what happens in one part of the world affects the rest. But that simply was not evident. The eastern and western ends of the Eurasian landmass seem to view each other as if through the wrong side of a telescope. What is near is important. What is distant is someone else's problem far away. 

Germany and China as Economic Centers

There is symmetry in this view. Europe cares about Germany and Asia about China. In some fundamental ways these countries have a substantial amount in common. China is the world's second-largest economy. Germany is the world's fourth-largest exporter. Both countries are at the center of regional trade blocs -- Germany's formal, China's informal. Both trade on a global basis, but both also have a special and mutual dependency on their regions. China and Germany both depend on their exports. Germany's exports were equivalent to 51 percent of its gross domestic product, or about $1.7 trillion, in 2013, according to the World Bank. China's exports equaled 23.8 percent of a larger GDP, or about $9.4 trillion.

Sri Lanka’s Northern Reboot

By Mohamed Zeeshan
October 20, 2014

To fully integrate into the nation, the Tamil-majority Northern Province will need some political good faith. 

A significant event took place earlier this week in Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka: President Mahinda Rajapaksa flagged off the first train in that region in 25 years, the Yal Devi Express. A new train service wouldn’t ordinarily be a big deal, but this was a landmark feat. It required millions of dollars in credit from India, a whole team of Indian engineers, imported coaches from China, and even a political controversy between the president and the Chief Minister of the Tamil-dominated Northern Province, to get the railway rolling.

For all this, the Yal Devi isn’t even a new train; in fact, it first started running in the mid 1950s. The Yal Devi was simply one casualty in the long list of services in the north that were disrupted during Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war. Significantly, Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran boycotted the event, saying he will “[keep] away from all functions [the President] is staging in the Northern Province” until his concerns were addressed. But that didn’t stop a robust local crowd from turning up at the station to witness the historic moment.

It is hardly surprising that a bitter ethnic civil war spanning many years would leave distrust and tension in its wake. But Wigneswaran’s cold shoulder was in stark contrast to the public’s enthusiasm. Last year, when Sri Lanka held its first provincial elections in the Northern Province since the end of the civil war, turnout was almost 70 percent, the highest of any Sri Lankan province. Clearly, Tamils in Sri Lanka recognize the benefits of putting the past behind them and moving forward. The best way to reintegrate them with the Sri Lankan mainstream is to work for shared economic growth, and this week’s railway relaunch was part of that effort.

For Sri Lanka, the North and its people are important. The region is rich in minerals such as limestone and copper. The Tamils also provide the economy with labor – more so in areas that were badly affected by the civil war – that is central to the infrastructure and industrialization push that Rajapaksa is trying to undertake. For the Tamils, joining the country’s majority Sinhalese in rebooting the economy would be the best way to rebuild and reconstruct their own society and future.

All of this would seem quite straightforward. But there are serious political challenges in making it happen.

Take this latest falling out between the president and his chief minister. After Rajapaksa rolled out a system to allot land permits to 20,000 people in the Northern Province, Wigneswaran accused him of trying to create political capital. “The NPC (Northern Provincial Council) is not viewed as a partner in addressing the concerns of the war-ravaged north,” he said, calling Colombo’s government an “authoritarian regime.”

Presence of ISIS in Lebanon Growing Because of Anger of Country’s Sunnis

Islamic State’s Sway Spreads to Lebanon

Yaroslav Trofimov

Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2014
Lebanese Sunni Islamists stage a protest in Tripoli, Lebanon, in August, against the Lebanese army, which many of them view as allied with Hezbollah. Reuters

TRIPOLI, Lebanon— Sheik Nabil Rahim is jolted by what he hears nowadays from angry teenagers in the poor neighborhoods of this city, the country’s second-largest and the hub of its Sunni Muslim community.

“They say we want Islamic State, the Islamic State is coming—but they have never actually spoken with someone from Islamic State,” said Mr. Rahim, an influential Salafi preacher who himself was imprisoned for years on terrorism charges.

Support for other, less radical, Islamist movements has withered, he added, “because they don’t have all those great victories.”

In Tripoli’s Bab-el-Tabbaneh neighborhood, where an Islamist militia already holds sway and where Lebanese army checkpoints come under gunfire or grenade attack almost nightly, support for the Sunni radicals of Islamic State is clear. Giant murals of the militant group’s black-and-white flags are painted on the sides of buildings off the main thoroughfare.

“Something scary has happened in Syria and Iraq, and now something strange has come to Tripoli,” said shopkeeper Sam Omar, whose wife’s cousin—a soldier—was killed in one of the recent Tripoli attacks.

Separated from Lebanon by strongholds of the Syrian regime, Islamic State is not about to take over Tripoli anytime soon.

But it is posing an insidious threat from within. Among Lebanon’s Sunni community—27% of the population, according to the Central Intelligence Agency—the violent movement is finding fertile ground in the same kind of resentment and alienation that propelled its meteoric rise in Syria and Iraq.

“There is injustice here. There is marginalization,” said Mouin Merheby, a Lebanese parliament member and a vocal defender of the Sunni community in Tripoli and the country’s north.

Lebanon’s devastating 15-year civil war ended in 1990 with a deal that was supposed to empower the Sunnis, by strengthening the prime minister, who is by arrangement a Sunni, at the expense of a president, a Christian.

But the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, blamed by many of his supporters on Syria’s regime and its Shiite ally Hezbollah, has deprived Lebanon’s Sunnis of a moderate, charismatic leader—pushing many toward the Islamist alternative.
Destroyed vehicles litter the site of a massive bomb attack that tore through the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, on Feb. 14, 2005. Associated Press

Since then, Lebanon’s Sunnis have watched with dismay as Hezbollah, which maintains a potent armed wing, has come to dominate the Lebanese state, especially after showing its muscle to briefly take over a key Sunni neighborhood in Beirut in 2008.

U.S. Will Have Trouble Recruiting Allies Inside of Syria Because of History of ISIS Bloody Reprisals

Syria tribal revolt against Islamic State ignored, fueling resentment

Liz Sly

Washington Post, October 21, 2014

Suspected massacres by the Islamic State. (The Washington Post/The Institute for the Study of War, the Long War Journal, news reports)

REYHANLI, Turkey — The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists.

By the time the killing stopped, 700 people were dead, activists and survivors say, making this the bloodiest single atrocity committed by the Islamic State in Syria since it declared its existence 18 months ago.

The little-publicized story of this failed tribal revolt in Abu Hamam, in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province, illuminates the challenges that will confront efforts to persuade those living under Islamic State rule — in Iraq as well as Syria — to join the fight against the jihadist group, something U.S. officials say is essential if the campaign against the militants is to succeed.

The Abu Hamam area has now been abandoned, and many of the bodies remain uncollected, offering a chilling reminder to residents elsewhere of the fate that awaits those who dare rebel.
Just as powerful a message for those living under the militants’ iron fist was the almost complete international silence on the bloodbath.

The fiercest fighting in days shook the Syrian border town of Kobane, forcing more refugees to pour into Turkey for shelter from the violence. (Reuters)

News of the massacre coincided with President Obama’s decision to order airstrikes to turn back an Islamic State advance unfolding farther east in Iraq, toward the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil, as well as humanitarian airdrops to help desperate Iraqi Yazidis trapped on a mountain by the onslaught.

Many Syrians in the opposition are starting to complain about unequal treatment.
U.S. warplanes have carried out more airstrikes on Islamic State forces besieging the Kurdish town of Kobane on Syria’s border with Turkey than on any other single location in Iraq or Syria. And Washington announced Sunday that U.S. planes had airdropped weapons and medical supplies to the beleaguered Kurdish fighters there.

How to Win a War with China

October 16, 2014 

A blockade can work, if backed by the right diplomacy under the right circumstances.

The mounting challenge presented by China’s military modernization has led the United States to review existing military strategies and to conceptualize new ones, as illustrated by the ongoing debate over AirSea Battle (ASB), a new concept of operations put forward by the Department of Defense. But in the universe of possible strategies, the idea of a naval blockade deserves greater scrutiny. By prosecuting a naval blockade, the United States would leverage China’s intense dependence on foreign trade—particularly oil—to debilitate the Chinese state. A carefully organized blockade could thus serve as a powerful instrument of American military power that contributes to overcoming the pressing challenge of China’s formidable anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) system. A blockade could also be easily paired with alternate military strategies, including those based on ASB.

In the context of a Sino-American war, the United States could try to take China’s greatest national strength—its export-oriented, booming economic-growth model—and transform it into a major military weakness. To do so, the United States would implement a naval blockade of China that attempted to choke off most of China’s maritime trade. Under the right conditions, the United States might be able to secure victory by debilitating China’s economy severely enough to bring it to the negotiating table.

Yet until recently, a blockade strategy was largely overlooked, perhaps because economic warfare strategies seem inherently misguided given the close commercial ties between China and the United States. But if a serious conflict between the two nations erupted, then their immediate security interests would quickly override their trade interdependence and wreak enormous economic damage on both sides, regardless of whether a blockade were employed.

Even if a blockade is never executed, its viability would still impact American and Chinese policies for deterrence reasons. The United States’ regional strategy is predicated on the belief that a favorable military balance deters attempts to change the status quo by force, thus reassuring allies and upholding strategic stability. The viability of a blockade influences this calculus, and can accordingly affect American and Chinese actions—both military and nonmilitary—that are based on perceptions of it. If a naval blockade is a feasible strategy, it strengthens the American system of deterrence and dilutes any potential attempts by China to coerce the United States or its allies. Moreover, if a blockade’s viability can be clearly enunciated, it would also enhance crisis stability and dampen the prospects of escalation due to misunderstandings—on either side—about the regional balance of power. In short, as Elbridge Colby put it: “the old saw remains true, that the best way to avoid war is to prepare for it.”

While a blockade is not a priori impossible or irrelevant in any situation, it is also not a ready tool in the American arsenal and would be feasible mainly within certain boundaries. Most importantly, many commentators miss the fact that a blockade is a context-dependent strategy, one that crucially depends on the regional environment.

The Strategic Context

A blockade would not be employed lightly by the United States, given its significant potential costs. Accordingly, Washington would likely only consider employing a blockade in a protracted conflict over vital interests; anything less would simply fail a basic cost-benefit analysis.

More importantly, though, a blockade strategy would depend on the cooperation of several third parties in the region. After all, China’s trade is borne on the seas largely as a result of economic considerations rather than physical limitations; if China were blockaded, it would turn to the countries on its borders for help.

China Versus America

OCT. 20, 2014

SINGAPORE — Let us take it as a given that the post-1945 world order with the United States as dominant nation has begun to unravel, that China is rising to inherit the earth, that the unease of our times has much to do with that difficult transition, and that violent conflict is a normal accompaniment to the passing of the baton from one great power to the next. America stood tall at the end of World War II. It also stood on a vast field of corpses.

Let us further posit the far-fetched hypothesis that humankind has learned from history. It must then be determined to avoid another conflagration. Happy talk of hyper-connectivity is not enough. The dream of the victory of enlightened self-interest in the name of the collective good on a shrinking planet was an ephemeral late 20th-century illusion. What will matter above all is the capacity of the United States and China to avoid fatal misunderstanding. In a state of mutual incomprehension, clashing interests will escalate.

How far China and America are from understanding each other became clear to me the other day as I listened to George Yeo, the former Singaporean foreign minister. He set out his view of the United States as a “missionary” power filled with the righteous conviction that it must usher the earth to liberty and democracy, and of China as an anti-missionary power convinced by its own bitter experience of foreign domination that nonintervention in the affairs of other states is a necessary form of respect. Far from cynical exploitation, Yeo argued, China’s non-judgmental approach to other powers was above all a reflection of its own history, a form of moral rectitude. The West’s perception of Chinese bullying and ruthless mercantilism was just plain wrong.

Yeo is a highly intelligent and thoughtful man with a deep knowledge of China and considerable experience of life in America. I can’t help seeing cynicism in China’s readiness to extract resources from the realms of dictators or democrats and its unreadiness to do as much as America in stopping Ebola or the killers who call themselves Islamic State. I am sure that, for President Xi Jinping of China, the sight of America getting enmeshed in another Middle Eastern skirmish has its satisfactions. But Yeo made me wonder. Can the missionary mindset begin to comprehend the non-missionary worldview, or even accept such categorization?

The core problem is two forms of exceptionalism, the American and the Chinese. The United States is an idea as well as a nation. Americans, even in a battle-scarred inward-looking moment such as the present, are hard-wired to the notion of their country as a beacon to humanity. President Obama’s foreign policy is unpopular in part because he has interpreted a popular desire to regroup as license to be satisfied with hitting singles and avoiding strike-outs. That is the attitude of an unexceptional nation, which can never be America’s self-image.

China’s Aircraft Carrier Trouble—Spewing Steam and Losing Power


‘Liaoning’ shut down during recent sea trials

There’s no more of a conspicuous and potent symbol of China’s growing naval power than the aircraft carrier Liaoning.

But the 53,000-ton, 999-foot-long carrier could be dangerous to her crew and prone to engine failures. If so, that makes the vessel as much of a liability as an asset to Beijing.

The ex-Soviet carrier once went by the name Varyag until a cash-strapped Ukraine sold the ship to Beijing in 1998. The Chinese navy has since invested considerable resources into modernizing the warship and testing her at sea.

But on at least one occasion during recent sea trials, Liaoning appeared to suffer a steam explosion which temporarily knocked out the carrier’s electrical power system. The failure, reported by Chinese media site Sina.com, resulting from a leak in “the machine oven compartment to the water pipes.”

We’re only able to glimpse at the carrier’s engine problems, as we know very little about what’s inside the ship. This includes even what kind of enginesLiaoning has.

The Chinese government also doesn’t like to admit to problems with its military hardware. When it does—and that’s never guaranteed—the admissions often come months or years after problems come up.

The Liaoning battle group during sea trials. Photo via China Defense Blog. At top—Varyag under tow. Photo via Naval War College/Wikimedia

During the accident, hot water and steam began “spewing” out of the engine’s oven compartment, Sina.com reported. One cabin became “instantly submerged in water vapor,” the report added.

The crew immediately evacuated the cabin, with one officer apparently pulling a sailor out by his collar to save him from the extremely hot steam. The carrier then lost power, but the crew “eventually restored power to ensure the smooth operation of the ship.”

Fortunately, this doesn’t appear to have been a catastrophic boiler failure of the kind that would unleash almost instantaneously lethal, high-pressure steam. It’s possible Liaoning instead suffered a low-pressure steam release involving a faulty heat exchanger. Vessels commonly use heat exchangers to control water temperature necessary for regulating internal power and heating.

The Chinese navy began modernizing the ex-Varyag in 2005—essentially rebuilding the carrier from the inside. New electronics, self-defense anti-aircraft guns and new engines were just some of the upgrades. The warship in her unimproved condition was a “basket case,” an unnamed officer told the Website.

Engine failures are not an unknown phenomenon aboard ex-Soviet carriers. The 40,000-ton displacement Indian carrier Vikramaditya—first a SovietKiev-class carrier commissioned in 1987 and sold in 2004—temporarily shut down at sea after a boiler overheated two years ago.

Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand

Life can be very hard for the Burmese who come to Thailand in search of work.

By Rohan Radheya
October 20, 2014

Burmese migrant workers in Thailand have entered the international spotlight, following the trial of labor rights activist Andy Hall and the widely questioned arrest of two Burmese laborers on charges of murdering two British tourists on the holiday island of Koh Tao.

An estimated two million Burmese are working inside Thailand, some documented and others there illegally, escaping decades of war back home. Apart from the lack of job opportunities in their own country, many are escaping extreme poverty. Most are in construction, working up to ten hours a day, seven days a week.

Labor rights groups have noted that the majority or Burmese migrants are working for half the allowed minimum wage of 300 baht ($9.25) a day. Given the hard nature of their work, many are exposed to a constant risk of injury or worse. Medical insurance is close to non-existent

Migrant workers are often subjected to bonded labor, in which the migrant is forced to work to repay some form of debt. The system is often abused, and the workers are easy prey for corrupt officials and human traffickers.

Yet despite the hardships, Burmese continue to take their chance in Thailand, seeking a better life for their loved ones.

Photojournalist Rohan Radheya spend three weeks living among migrant workers in several parts of Thailand. He reports from that experience in the following photo essay, which has been submitted to the World Press-sponsored Tim Hetherington Grant 2014.

Burmese migrant workers at the infamous garbage dump in Mae Sot on the Thai-Myanmar border. The dump attracts hundreds of undocumented workers, who survive by collecting recyclable material such as wire, plastic and glass. Some of the workers even live at the dump, where they are at risk of contracting disease or being bitten by wild dogs. They also face potential arrest and deportation.

Ukrainian Military Used Banned Cluster Bomb Weapons Against Rebels, Report

Ukraine Used Cluster Bombs, Evidence Indicates

Andrew Roth

New York Times, October 21, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — The Ukrainian Army appears to have fired cluster munitions on several occasions into the heart of Donetsk, unleashing a weapon banned in much of the world into a rebel-held city with a peacetime population of more than one million, according to physical evidence and interviews with witnesses and victims.

Sites where rockets fell in the city on Oct. 2 and Oct. 5 showed clear signs thatcluster munitions had been fired from the direction of army-held territory, where misfired artillery rockets still containing cluster bomblets were found by villagers in farm fields.

The two attacks wounded at least six people and killed a Swiss employee of the International Red Cross based in Donetsk.

If confirmed, the use of cluster bombs by the pro-Western government could complicate efforts to reunite the country, as residents of the east have grown increasingly bitter over the Ukrainian Army’s tactics to oust pro-Russian rebels.
Further, in a report released late Monday, Human Rights Watch says the rebels have most likely used cluster weapons in the conflict as well, a detail that The New York Times could not independently verify.


Rebels extracting a casing that was carrying cluster munitions in Ilovaysk, Ukraine, on Monday. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The army’s use of cluster munitions, which shower small bomblets around a large area, could also add credibility to Moscow’s version of the conflict, which is that the Ukrainian national government is engaged in a punitive war against its own citizens. The two October strikes occurred nearly a month after President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine signed a cease-fire agreement with rebel representatives.

“It’s pretty clear that cluster munitions are being used indiscriminately in populated areas, particularly in attacks in early October in Donetsk city,” said Mark Hiznay, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, in emailed comments after the report was completed. “The military logic behind these attacks is not apparent, and these attacks should stop, because they put too many civilians at risk.”

Press officers for the Ukrainian military denied that their troops had used cluster weapons during the conflict and said that the rocket strikes against Donetsk in early October should be investigated once it was safe to do so. They also said that rebels in the area had access to powerful rocket systems from Russia that could fire cluster munitions.

Putin's Power Play: Why Russia Holds Most of the Cards in the Ukraine Crisis


And why the situation might go from bad to worse. 

October 21, 2014
Reports out of Milan regarding last Friday’s much anticipated meetingbetween Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko indicate that little progress has been made toward resolving the nearly yearlong Ukraine crisis. This, given the broader political currents at play in Europe, is unsurprising.

To begin with, Mr. Poroshenko has, for all intents and purposes, lost the military battle over the Donbas in resounding fashion. While his bloc leads in the polls ahead of next Sunday’s parliamentary election, Poroshenko faces a number of other challenges, not least of which is a collapsing economy (some estimates have the Ukrainian economy shrinking by 10 percent this year) and a burgeoning populist backlash over the government’s handling of the crisis.

So what we saw play out in Milan is more or less a repeat of the last Putin/Poroshenko meeting that took place in Minsk on August 26, because the same logic applies. Mr. Putin, as I wrote then, is always going to be the party—regardless of whether he is facing sanctions or a chorus of international condemnation—who will be playing the stronger hand in negotiations with Ukraine. Yet as we approach November, his hand is even stronger, as the crisis begins to transform from a military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine into a confrontation between Ukraine and Europe over the supply of Russian natural gas. Ukraine serves as the transit point for 50 percent of EU-bound Russian LNG, and Ukraine’s siphoning off of LNG bound for southeastern Europe, which led to Russia cutting off the supply in January 2006 and January 2009, is still fresh in the minds of European leaders.

The Rada’s recent passage of a lustration bill, widely publicized acts of violence against sitting MPs through “trash bucket challenges,” a popular revival of Nazi-era symbols and the incorporation of far-right elements into Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s “People’s Front” do not exactly augur well for the chances for a tranquil political environment in either Ukraine or in Eastern Europe, where the memory of Ukrainian collaboration against the Poles and the region’s Jews is fresher there than it is here in the United States.

Kazakh Found Among Ukraine Separatists

The presence of an ethnic Kazakh among separatists in Eastern Ukraine is another reason for Astana to worry.
October 21, 2014 

Much of the recent attention of foreign fighters originating in Central Asia has focused, understandably, on those currently in Syria and Iraq. Although Moscow has largely over-hyped the breadth and impact of those who have linked up with Islamic State, hundreds from Central Asia have still made their way to and through the areas currently under IS control.

However, while there has been considerable hand-wringing about the potential ramifications of these fighters’ looming return, authorities and analysts have largely overlooked another conflict continuing to attract Central Asian nationals. As the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine falters, it appears that separatists’ abilities to attract non-Ukrainian citizens has not simply continued – Russian nationals remain among the leadership structures, and Chechens, Ossetians, and Americans, among others, redound among the fighters – but it seems their ranks have finally, and officially, extended to Kazakhs.

Rumors of Kazakh supporters among the separatists had floated for months, but a video emerged last week that seemed to confirm their presence among the forces in eastern Ukraine. In the clip, a 26-year-old ethnic Kazakh named Nurlan Igenov, nicknamed “Nyman,” discusses his motivations for joining the separatist forces, as well as his views on the geopolitical forces crafting the frozen conflict in the Donbas. He also cites the linkage between his decision and those who have lent their support to IS. “It is quite obvious that the people of Kazakhstan are going to fight in other states not for money, but for the idea,” he says. “So it was with those who went to war in Syria, and with those who are traveling in southeastern Ukraine.”

Published by NovorossiyaTV, the testimony of Igenov, who says he most recently lived in the city of Ekibastuz in northeastern Kazakhstan, comes spliced with propagandistic clips of bloodied bodies and the separatists’ hard power. In discussing his contributions, though, Igenov said his talents lay behind a video-camera. “I’m a war correspondent,” he notes. “I leave when there is shelling.”

The new clip appears to stand as the first confirmation of the presence of Kazakhstan nationals among the separatists. Central Asian nationals – Uzbeks and Turkmen, namely – had already announced their presence among the Ukrainian fighters, but Igenov stands as the first reported confirmation of a Kazakhstani citizen who has uprooted for the Donbas.

Lebanon Slowly Being Dragged Into Syrian Civil War

Associated Press
October 18, 2014

Lebanon Pulled Into War With Islamic State Group

BEIRUT — With all eyes on the Islamic State group’s onslaught in Iraq and Syria, a less conspicuous but potentially just as explosive front line with the extremists is emerging in Lebanon, where Lebanese soldiers and Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas are increasingly pulled into deadly fighting with the Sunni militants along the country’s border with Syria.

The U.S. has been speeding up delivery of small ammunition to shore up Lebanon’s army, but recent cross-border attacks and beheading of Lebanese soldiers by Islamic State fighters — and the defection of four others to the extremists — has sent shockwaves across this Mediterranean country, eliciting fear of a potential slide into the kind of militant, sectarian violence afflicting both Syria and Iraq, and increasingly prompting minorities to take up arms.

The crisis was slow in coming.

For long, Lebanon managed to miraculously avoid the all-out chaos gripping neighboring countries — despite sporadic street clashes and car bombings, and despite being awash with weapons and taking in an endless stream of refugees from Syria who now constitute a staggering one third of its population of 4.5 million people.

Unlike in Syria or Iraq, the al-Qaida-breakaway Islamic State group does not hold territory in Lebanon. But along with Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, the Nusra Front, it has established footholds in remote mountains along Lebanon’s remote eastern border, from where it launches almost daily incursions further afield.

Jihadi recruitment in impoverished Sunni areas of northern Lebanon is on the rise, and black Islamic State group flags fly freely in some areas, reflecting pockets of growing support for the radical group.

"Lebanon is in the eye of the storm," said Fadia Kiwan, a political science professor at Beirut’s St. Joseph University.

The Lebanese are bitterly divided over Syria’s civil war. Hezbollah fighters have gone to join Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in their battle against Sunni rebels, drawing anger at home from Lebanon’s Sunnis and stoking Sunni-Shiite tensions. This in turn led to tit-for-tat suicide bombings and several rounds of street clashes in Lebanon in the past year.

The Islamic State group threat first came to Lebanon in August, two months after the group’s summer blitz in which it seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. In a surprise attack, Islamic State group and Nusra Front militants crossed over from Syria and overran the predominantly Sunni Lebanese border town of Arsal, hitting Lebanese army positions and killing nearly 20 soldiers.

After weeklong clashes, the militants pulled back to mountain caves near Syria’s border, taking more than 20 Lebanese soldiers and policemen with them.

Islamic State fighters have since beheaded two Lebanese soldiers. Nusra Front militants have shot dead a third. In return for remaining hostages, they have issued various demands, including the withdrawal of Hezbollah troops from Syria, and the release of Islamists from Lebanese prisons.

Lebanese army commander Jean Kahwaji said in comments published this week that the militants from Syria want to ignite civil war and create a passage to Lebanon’s coastline by linking the Syrian Qalamoun mountains with Arsal on the border and the northern Lebanese town of Akkar, an impoverished Sunni area.

Analysts agree that in Lebanon, the Islamic State group fighters also see an opportunity to strike at Hezbollah’s patron, the Shiite powerhouse Iran but that they are not too eager to immediately embark on yet another war.

"The territory of Lebanon is a longer-term goal," said David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Ukraine parliament says hundreds died in battle

The Associated Press
Published: October 20, 2014

Ukrainian soldiers get their winter uniform prior to being sent to the country's east in a military base in the village of Novi Petrivtsi near Kiev Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014.

A standing army of 1 million inherited by Ukraine after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union has dwindled to barely 100,000. Analysts say even that figure is inflated. At the time the Russia-backed separatists began grabbing territory in March, then-Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh told the parliament that Ukraine had no more than 6,000 combat-ready troops to repel the aggression.

KIEV, Ukraine — A report by Ukraine's parliament revealed Monday that more than 300 soldiers were killed during a weeks-long battle that marked a crushing setback in the military campaign to root out pro-Russian separatist forces in the east.

The report is the first official confirmation of the scale of a defeat in the city of Ilovaisk that critics of the country's military command have described as the result of disastrous leadership.
It is believed the ultimate number of servicemen lost may be even greater, and the parliamentary inquiry into the Ilovaisk battle complained that military authorities have failed to cooperate.

"Neither the Defense Ministry nor the General Staff has responded to queries from the investigating committee about losses in the armed forces," the committee said in a statement.
Ukrainian forces mounted an assault on Ilovaisk in early August only to eventually find themselves besieged by heavily armed separatist fighters.

The city and surrounding villages still bears signs of heavy shelling.
A cease-fire deal struck a month ago by Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the rebel leadership is often violated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday "there's a long way to a cease-fire, unfortunately," given the number of people who have been killed since the deal was struck. Europe is seeking full compliance with the cease-fire, clear border controls and local elections in eastern Ukraine in compliance with Ukrainian law, and not under auspices of the rebels.

Speaking in Slovakia, where she met with its prime minister, Robert Fico, Merkel said Ukraine's territorial integrity must be ensured "not just on paper" and that the cease-fire plan has to become effective in all its details.
The U.N. estimates more than 300 people have been killed since the cease-fire was announced, and at least 3,660 people have been killed over six months of fighting.

In Ilovaisk city in August, government troops sustained heavy losses of life attempting to flee the area and were easily picked off by rocket and artillery fire as they fled in columns. AP reporters counted more than 30 charred Ukrainian military vehicles on the route out of the city in early September, when the battle had come to a close.
The defense minister in command at the time resigned last week.

Ukraine maintains that rebel forces have been amply supplied with weaponry by Russia and that their military setbacks would not have occurred without Moscow's interference. Russia denies such claims.

The intensity of fighting in the east has abated since late September, when the warring sides agreed on the nominal cease-fire, but shelling continues daily.
On Monday, a powerful explosion shook the largest rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, causing shockwaves that were felt over a radius of several kilometers. Numerous buildings, including the Shakhtar Donetsk football club, were damaged as a result.

The explosion, which occurred at a rubber processing factory used to create components for ammunition, was succeeded by multiple barrages of outgoing rockets fire from the city.
Mstyslav Chernov contributed to this report from Donetsk, Ukraine, and Karel Janicek from Slovakia.