16 March 2014

The sinking feeling over Indian navy

String of recent accidents has put a question mark over the state of health of the fleet.

06 Mar 2014

Ajai Shukla writes on strategic affairs, defence and diplomacy. He is a former army colonel, and now based in New Delhi. 

The recent spate of fatal accident have brought the effectiveness of the navy into question [File: Reuters] 

Since the turn of the century, India has invested heavily in building the navy it needs for dominating the northern Indian Ocean, a crucial maritime highway for the flow of hydrocarbons from West Asia to China, Japan and the Southeast Asian countries; and for the transportation to Europe of merchandise from those manufacturing economies.

With China's military a looming presence on its Himalayan border with Tibet, New Delhi has long derived strategic assurance from its potential stranglehold over China’s sea lines of communication, or SLOCs, as these maritime highways are termed.

Follow our special India coverage 

Over the last seven months, however, a spate of accidents involving Indian Navy warships has placed a question mark over this capability.

On February 26, the navy chief, Admiral Devendra Kumar Joshi, resigned after an accident in which two officers were killed and five sailors seriously injured while fighting a fire in INS Sindhuratna, one of the navy's nine Russian Kilo-class submarines.

This was not the first such incident. On August 14 last year, a catastrophic explosion inside INS Sindhurakshak, another Kilo-class submarine that was berthed in Mumbai, killed all 18 sailors on board and sunk the vessel. 

The surface fleet has been as accident-prone. In 2011, a frigate sank after colliding with a merchant vessel.

Indian Army: Reminiscences of a Soldier

14 Mar , 2014

No matter how hi-tech the modern battlefield gets. No matter how powerful the Drones and the Robots become. The mission of the Infantry will continue to close-in and destroy the enemy, through close quarters violent combat in any war operation. This old Infantry saying will never be outdated, “When it was victory, the Cavalier claimed it outright, the Gunner boasted of his calibre but the Infantryman stood silent with victory at his feet.”

Effective and precision firepower with integrated 24×7 all-weather surveillance holds the key to success in any challenge on the LoC.

I had an implausible career spanning of over twenty years as a hard core Infantry soldier. I commanded 9 SIKH LI, the same battalion that I was commissioned into. Like most of the Infantrymen, I hold a distinction of serving in almost all types of terrain that India has to offer. My operational career include tenures at the world’s highest battlefield, the Siachen Glacier, Eastern Ladakh opposite the Chinese on the Line of Actual control (LAC), two active Line-of-Control (LoC) tenures against the Pakistanis; one at Tangdar in Kupwara district and another at Mendhar in Poonch district. My soldiering skills were honed in the years 1998 to 2000. It was a battle of nerves playing the deadly cat and mouse game day in and day out with the Laskar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahedeen in the Kashmir valley.

During the command of my battalion, my unit pioneered the conversion of the 91 Infantry Brigade to an amphibious Brigade. We showcased India’s new offensive amphibious capabilities to the world in 2009 by successfully conducting joint services Exercise “TROPEX” off the Gujarat coast.

From mid-2009 to early 2011, I commanded a battalion in lower Assam in the North East and fought the pugnacious ULFA insurgents. As a battalion during this period, we participated in a number of exercises on the LAC in the desolate mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. I also had an exposure to the Desert Warfare during my service. In the offensive role, I have participated in desert military war games or the exercises as we call them.

As I scroll through my memory and reminisce about my military past, recollecting various roles and tasks performed in the length and breadth of India’s landmass, there was always a desire for specialised equipment and weapons. As I read about various modern military weapons and equipment available today, I wonder if I had a few of those wonder tools, my task would have been far easier.


There have been two attacks by the Communist Party of India-Maoist within a fortnight in Chhattisgarh, the worst left-wing extremism affected state in India. While five security force personnel were killed in the February 28 attack in Dantewada district, 16 people including 11 belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force, four belonging to the state police and a civilian were killed on March 11 in Sukma district.

With the Lok Sabha (lower house of Indian Parliament) elections beginning in less than a month, these attacks would be linked to extremist intent to escalate violence and demonstrate an ideological opposition to the political process in the country. The fact remains, however, that success of the extremists to carry out such attacks and failure of the state to prevent them underline a much deeper malaise.

Available reports indicate that a large number of Maoists (estimates ranging from 100 to 300) attacked the security force personnel, part of a 45-member security team deployed to provide security to the road construction work on National Highway 30 that connects the state capital Raipur to Sukma. Naxals surrounded the team from both sides and fired indiscriminately. Within 15 minutes, the team had been overpowered and the Naxals managed to carry away weapons and ammunition from the dead and the injured.

Coming 10 months after the May 2013 attack in Darbha in which 27 people including Congress party leaders and workers were killed, this constitutes a major achievement for the extremists.

Like any counter-insurgency operations, success in anti-Naxal operations need to fulfil certain policy, strategic and tactical requirements. The strategies must be formulated by the security experts and not by the political class and the detached bureaucracy. The operations must remain a small commander’s war, an effort in which the state police establishment takes the lead and the central police forces pitch in to provide necessary support.

The personnel involved in the sustained operations need to be led intelligently and must have access to ground level intelligence, quality arms and other logistics. The political class must limit itself to provide broad policy directions and demonstrate a steadfast intent to solve the problem and keep it undiluted from partisan considerations.

It would appear that in spite of a decade-long history of counter-Naxal operations in the country (taking the 2004 formation of the CPI-Maoist as a cut off year), none of these basic requirements have been fulfilled in any of the conflict theatres. Under the circumstances, while a dip in violence may be achieved as a result of a tactical favour granted by the extremists, a victory is unimaginable.

Calling the Chhattisgarh police a completely divided force may be a little too sweeping. However, the fact remains that the recent times have witnessed rivalry and unhealthy competition affecting group solidarity, a key component in counter-insurgency theatres. Senior IPS officers in the state have squabbled bitterly laying claims to the post of director general of police in the past months, after the incumbent DGP retired in January 2014.


Bhaskar Roy, C3S Paper No. 2078 dated March 10, 2014

China’s declaration (March 5) raising its military budget for 2014 by 12.2% to almost $132 billion should not be surprising. In fact, it would have been surprising if China had cut its defence budget or made a small increase. Instead, what should be catching the eye would be Premier Li Keqiang’s assertion in his report to the National People’s Congress’ (NPC) annual session on March 5 “We will safeguard the victory of Second World War and the post-war international order, and will not allow anyone to reverse the course of history”. According to some senior experts of Chinese institutions this was, perhaps the first time that such words were mentioned in the government’s work report and they were a strong warning to Japan.

Premier Li’s report went on to make the following three points (i) China will work for peace but would resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and the post war international order, (ii) The country will resolutely safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests, and fully protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens and business overseas, and (iii) China will play a constructive role in resolving global and hotspot issues and work to make the international order more just and equitable.

This is a new, assertive and daring official position taken by the People’s Republic of China, and it is obvious that this position is quite openly backed by its growing military power. Enough signals have been received from China that late senior leader Deng Xiaoping’s theory of “building strength while keeping a low profile” is no longer in vogue among China’s leadership. But it is very difficult to say with certainty whether Deng’s advice has been cast overboard or kept aside. The NPC report makes it clear that the Chinese government is no longer satisfied playing a regional role, but demands a global role commensurate with its clout as the second largest economy in the world after the United States.

Li Keqiang’s government report was accompanied by a barrage of articles from the official media, especially the Xinhua, justifying the continuous rise of defence expenditure. It was argued that every country needs a military budget that meets its defence needs; the size of the country and its roles as a key cornerstone of regional and global peace, as well as the largest contributor to UN peace keeping missions demand that its defence outlays increase relatively. In the same breath it was said that the expenditure is both in proportion to GDP and per capita terms. Worries of China’s neighbours including Japan were dismissed as “unfounded and misplaced”.

The Xinhua propaganda barrage reiterated that military power (of China) ensured peace, China faced several challenges, and the real threats to regional security were mainly the “mounting assertiveness” of some of the South China Sea claimants, the US re-balancing to the Asia Pacific region and resurgence of Japanese radical nationalism.


Col.R.Hariharan, C3S Paper No.2077 dated March 6, 2014

Indians who have been facing terrorist attacks for decades will condemn the dastardly attack at Kunming railway station in the early hours on March 2 that took 29 innocent lives. Over 100 people were reported injured in the attack. The masked terrorists wielding fruit knives struck wildly at the people crowding the station. Xinhua reported that a gang of eight “appeared to be expert at hacking people” took part in the attack.

The same agency also reported that the Kunming Public Security Bureau’s four-man SWAT team patrolling the city responding to the alert reached the station in ten minutes and in the midst of all the chaos managed to shoot and kill four of the five terrorists including a masked woman. The fifth member was wounded. It said the terrorists dressed in black when challenged stood their ground and the SWAT team leader managed to shoot a woman attacker who threw a knife at him.

China’s security forces including PLA, Special Forces, Border troops, Public Security forces, and the police have been honing their counter terrorist operational skills during the last few years. Counter terrorism has been the focus their joint training programmes with the forces of other countries including Russia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The public security forces response to Kunming attack has shown their training has paid off. Their operational readiness – to react and respond in real time – and the professional competency demonstrated in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province, far away from Xinjiang which had been the focus of militant attacks is really commendable.

The Kunming attack brings back the unpleasant memories of Mumbai police’s clumsy response and utter lack of preparedness despite prior intelligence during the 26/11 terrorist attacks carried out on 12 targets by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiyaba (LeT) terrorists who infiltrated into the city and held it to ransom for four days from November 26, 2008. They killed in all 164 people and injured 308 others. Two LeT terrorists who reached the Chhatrapati Sivaji Terminus (the Victoria Terminus) station opened AK-47 fire on passengers waiting there, killing 58 of them and wounding 104. The policemen on duty at the station opened fire with their obsolete rifles and managed to kill one terrorist. The efforts of the Union Home Ministry to streamline and coordinate the state’s readiness to respond to terrorist attacks that started immediately thereafter are yet to be completed!

The alleged mastermind behind the Kunming attack was identified as Abdurehim Kurban, which is probably a Uyghur name. Though the State media blamed Saturdaynight’s attack on “Xinjiang separatist forces” they did not mention the Uighur connection to such attacks. Evidently they were following President Xi Jinping’s call for resolute opposition against any words and actions that damage the country’s ethnic unity while referring to the attack.

India Unsettled by Proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Through Kashmir

China Brief 
March 6, 2014 

Credit: Sinoshipnews.com

On February 26, Pakistani officials announced a step forward in China’s plans to construct a transportation corridor through Kashmir to the Pakistani port of Gwadar. Gwadar Port Authority chairman Dostain Khan Jamaldini briefed the Senate’s Ports and Shipping committee after attending the second meeting of the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee in Beijing, saying that China has approved nine projects worth $1.8 billion in a bid to develop Gwadar port over the next 2–3 years (The Business Recorder, February 26).

China and Pakistan are finalizing plans to construct an $18 billion, 2,870 mile China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) linking Kashgar in Xinjiang to Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, in Balochistan province. CPEC will be a skein of highways, railways and oil and natural gas pipelines, transforming Pakistan into a giant highway conveying Chinese goods to the Arabian Sea, while Middle East and African oil is shipped eastwards.

India has expressed reservations about the project, particularly as CPEC is likely to transit Pakistan-Controlled Kashmir (PCK). Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain, currently visiting China, discussed the CPEC with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, February 20).

Seeking to allay Indian concerns, on February 20 Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told a press briefing, “With regard to whether the economic corridor passing through Kashmir, as far as I have learnt a joint committee for the construction [of CPEC] has been established and a second meeting has been held coinciding with the Pakistan President’s visit. I don’t know if they have talked about whether this corridor will pass through this region [PCK] but I can tell you that we hope the Kashmir issue can be properly resolved through consultation and negotiations between India and Pakistan” (The Hindustan Times, February 21).

Kashmir has been in dispute since India and Pakistan were created in 1947. All three nations maintain de facto administrations; India (Jammu and Kashmir), China (Aksai Chin), and Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas). India has persistently refused to acknowledge either Pakistani or Chinese sovereignty in Kashmir.

Terrorist Attack in Kunming Reveals Complex Relationship with International Jihad

China Brief 
March 6, 2014 

29 people were killed in the recent attack on Kunming's main train station.

On March 1, at least six men and two women equipped with daggers stormed a train station in Kunming, the capital of China’s southwestern Yunnan Province, and murdered 29 people. Within two days of the attack, China released the photos and names of four suspects who the police killed during the attack, and four suspects who the police arrested in the post-attack search and investigation (South China Morning Post, March 3). All of the suspects were Uighurs from China’s Xinjiang Province, which confirmed suspicions that this “premeditated and organized” attack had political motives, including a combination of jihadism, separatism and revenge (Xinhua, March 2).

Awaiting TIP commendation

Most likely, the Pakistan-based and Uighur-led Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) will issue a statement commending this attack. The TIP’s leader, Abdullah Mansour, who seeks to become the “spokesman” for Uighurs in Xinjiang, often uses online jihadist forums to commend attacks, including those that Uighur militants carry out independent of the TIP in China (see Militant Leadership Monitor, Volume 5, Issue 2). For example, Mansour commended an attack in October 2013, when a Uighur family, including a husband (the driver), wife and mother, crashed a car into the main gate of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, killing several tourists and Chinese civilians, as well as the entire family, in the post-crash explosion (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMzZA3g32oA , see also “Tiananmen Attack: Global, Local, or Both,” in China Brief, November 2, 2013).

Mansour also commended a “military operation” in Kashgar that he said “mujahidin of Turkistan” carried out against the “dogs of the Chinese government” on April 2013 (SITE Monitoring, January 15). In that attack, 21 people were killed in a fight after a government community patrol uncovered a group of Uighurs making explosives (China Daily, April 30, 2013). In both the Tiananmen Square and April 2013 Kashgar attacks, Mansour did not claim TIP participation, but in other attacks, the TIP has shown evidence of its involvement. In an attack in Kashgar in July 2011, for example, Uighur militants rammed trucks into Chinese police marching on a street and stabbed to death nearly 20 officers. Weeks later, the TIP showed videos of TIP fighters involved in the attack training in a mountainous area (presumably Pakistan) and the flyers that the Chinese police released of these TIP militants before the militants were “martyred” when the police tracked them down on the outskirts of Kashgar (Times of India, September 8, 2011).

China Wakes Up to Its Environmental Catastrophe

March 13, 2014 

At its worst, the “airpocalypse” that settled over Beijing and northern China in late February had a fine particulate matter reading 16 times the recommended upper limit, turning Beijing into a veritable smoking lounge. Satellite images, a click away on the Internet, showed a massive toxic haze. Farther south, cadmium-tainted rice has been a staple of Guangzhou’s food supply since at least 2009. The dead pigs that floated down Shanghai’s Huangpu River last year were grotesque enough to haunt citizens even in their sleep.

With such scenes as a backdrop, Premier Li Keqiang suitably declared a “war on pollution” at the National People’s Congress (NPC) in early March and outlined an array of targets, policies, and campaigns to address the environmental ills. His pronouncements are just the latest attempt to stay ahead of an issue that could be a grave threat to the leadership’s credibility.

China’s new leaders, including President Xi Jinping, haven’t embraced environmental protection by choice. They’ve been compelled by a new political reality: an informed Chinese public. Throughout 2011 and 2012, American Embassy officials in Beijing measured and tweeted the true levels of hazardous pollutants in the capital. (Twitter (TWTR) is banned in China, but information boomerangs to Sina Weibo, the country’s dominant microblogging platform, and spreads there just as fast.) Soon, the Chinese were demanding that their own government provide similar data. Beijing complied in 2012, and popular pressure to address the scourge of air pollution grew, even as Li sought to tamp down expectations of a quick solution. “There has been a long-term buildup to the problem,” he said in January 2013, “and the resolution will require a long-term process.”

Over the course of the new leadership’s first year in office, however, playing for time has become unfeasible. A July 2013 study found that air pollution in China’s north reduces life expectancy by an average of five and a half years. Water pollution has been linked to increased rates of cancer in almost 500 villages along China’s highly polluted rivers. An analysis by research firm Beijing Zhonglin Assets Appraisal estimates that Beijing’s traffic congestion costs the city about $10 billion a year in lost economic activity and $7 billion in environmental damage. The capital’s tourism industry has also been hit hard by the life-threatening smog, with the number of visitors to Beijing dropping 10 percent in 2013. Overall, environmental degradation and pollution are estimated by the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning to cost the $9.3 trillion economy the equivalent of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product annually.

Almost two-thirds of the country’s wealthy, citing China’s pollution, have left or plan to leave

Most important, the Chinese people are voting with their feet. Almost two-thirds of the country’s wealthy—those with assets of $1.6 million or more—have left or plan to leave the country, with the environment one of their most frequently cited reasons, according to the Hurun Report, a Shanghai-based wealth research firm. Those who can’t leave are taking to the streets: The environment has surpassed land expropriation as the leading inspiration for the more than 180,000 popular protests each year.

Vietnam’s Balancing Strategy

by Editor
March 11, 2014

Written by Zachary Keck.

In the face of the growing threat it faces from China, Vietnam is pursuing a shrewd diplomatic strategy that seeks to balance against Beijing while preserving as much autonomy as possible.

Traditional international relations theory suggests that states facing a security threat will balance against that threat in one of two ways. The first is internal balancing—building up one’s own military forces in order to deter or defeat a challenge from a powerful neighbor. If possible, this form of balancing is preferable because it is the most reliable and allows states to retain their autonomy.

The second form of balancing is referred to as external balancing—states pursue alliances with other states that also perceive the powerful neighbor as a threat. External balancing is less desirable to states for two reasons. First, it is less reliable as there is no mechanism to ensure that an ally will come to one’s aid.

Second, alliances force states to surrender some of their autonomy albeit just how much depends on the nature of the alliance. In the worst case scenario, a state that forms a security alliance can become entrapped by an ally in a conflict in which it has no interest in fighting. But even if it avoids entrapment, the prospect of surrendering any autonomy can be a particularly unattractive option for a country like Vietnam which has a long history of colonialism.

Not surprisingly, then, Vietnam is taking some steps to balance internally by building up its armed forces. For example, between 2003 and 2011 Vietnam increased its defense budget by 82 percent. It is also seeking to mitigate tensions with China to the degree that this is possible. Indeed, last October Vietnam hosted Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for a state visit, and the two sides agreed to set up a working group on the South China Sea issue. In December government delegations held border talks.

Then, in January of this year, three Chinese navy ships docked in Ho Chi Minh City for a five day goodwill visit. During the same month, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, vowed to deepen their bilateral comprehensive strategic cooperation. Clearly, then, Vietnam enjoys much more positive relations with China than countries like Japan and the Philippines.

Nonetheless, Hanoi recognizes that relying on Chinese goodwill alone is a losing strategy over the long run. It also understands that it cannot possibly balance against China through internal means alone. After all, China boasts a population that is over 15 times the size of Vietnam’s population; a GDP that is over 58 times larger, and, as of 2011, had a military budget that was almost 52 times the size of Vietnam’s.


The government of Thailand should ensure that a group of 220 ethnic Uighurs are not forcibly returned to China and have urgent access to refugee status determination proceedings by the United Nations refugee agency, Human Rights Watch said today. The group of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim, Turkic minority that originates from western China, was discovered on March 13, 2014, in a jungle camp in Thailand’s Songkhla province.

Uighurs forcibly returned to China face credible threats of torture. “Thai authorities should realize that Uighurs forced back to China disappear into a black hole,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “They need to allow all members of this group access to a fair process to determine their claims based on their merits, not on Beijing’s demands.”

Under customary international law and as a party to the Convention against Torture, Thailand is obliged to ensure that no one in its custody is forcibly sent to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution, torture, or other serious human rights violations.

Thai immigration officials conducted a night raid in a remote rubber plantation and detained 60 women, 78 men, and 82 children who identified themselves as Turkish. Immigration officials held the group at the Sadao Immigration Detention Center in Songkhla. The group members said they would only speak with officials from the Embassy of Turkey, who were scheduled to visit on the evening of March 14. A senior diplomat from China also flew to Songkhla to raise Beijing’s demands for access to the group and to conduct meetings with Thai officials.

In recent years there have been multiple incidents of Uighurs being forcibly returned to China in violation of international law, particularly from Southeast Asia, a common route for people fleeing China. In December 2009, Cambodia forcibly returned 20 Uighurs despite the fact that the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had already issued “persons of concern” letters to all members of the group. Subsequent media reports, which could not be independently verified, stated that some members of that group were tried and sentenced to death, while others were sentenced to prison.

On December 31, 2012, Malaysia deported six Uighur men back to China. The six had been detained earlier in 2012, allegedly for attempting to leave Malaysia on false passports. While in detention, these six men were registered by UNHCR. Although all six had asylum claims under review for first instance decisions, on December 31 Malaysian police transferred the men into the custody of Chinese authorities, who escorted them from Malaysia to China on a chartered flight. Human Rights Watch has been unable to obtain any further information from Malaysian or Chinese government sources as to the six men’s whereabouts or well-being.

Pervasive ethnic discrimination, severe religious repression, and increasing cultural suppression – justified by the Chinese government in the name of the “fight against separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism” – continue to fuel rising tensions in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

The Coming War for Ukraine

March 14, 2014

As I write, Russian forces, reportedly close to 100,000 troops, are massing on the eastern borders of Ukraine for a possible invasion. The Kremlin is either about to start a major war, or wants the world to think it is: there is no third choice now. Given the scheduled referendum in the Crimea this Sunday, smart money has it that Putin, if he really launches an all-out push for Ukraine – which, as I’ve already explained, could be a disastrous move on his part – it will come early next week. Needless to add, this scenario brings chills to me and to anyone who understands the stakes in what would immediately be the biggest European war since 1945.

Yet that invasion, with its terrible consequences, is what many in Ukraine now expect. That mood of resignation, and what a Russian invasion might look like, are elaborated well in a new piece in Novoye Vremya (The New Times), a Moscow newsmagazine that is a rare outlet for anti-Kremlin views in Russia. The article by Maksim Shveyts, titled “Kyiv: Expecting War,” follows in toto, with my analysis following.

Kyiv: Expecting War - Ukraine is forming a National Guard and preparing in earnest for the defense of the capital against the aggressor

In Kyiv, Russia’s possible plans to invade mainland Ukraine do not appear to anyone simply to be a fantasy. Many recall how during his latest “appearance to the people” in Rostov-na-Donu, ex-President Viktor Yanukovych once again said that he considers himself the legitimate head of state and also promised to return to Kyiv “soon”. The fugitive president could only do this accompanied by the Russian military, local experts are convinced. And, indeed, they do not rule out scenarios in which Russian tanks enter the city.

Vice Admiral Ihor Kabanenko, ex-deputy chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine General Staff, said that Russia is preparing an air and ground offensive frontal operation against the country. Testifying to this, Kabanenko says, will be the next steps of the Russian authorities: first, “the training of airborne forces of the Russian Federation led by General Shamanov with the involvement of strategic aviation. Second, completion of the formation of an echelon, massing of air defense, and the formation of an air defense force grouping. And, finally, continuation of a deep special operation on the territory of Ukraine and the buildup of a battle group in Crimea and the East.”

Kabanenko called on the country’s political leadership to immediately mobilize reserves and to arm the citizenry. This retired military officer is certain that it is necessary to declare a patriotic war against the occupiers, form a supreme command staff, and began armed resistance to Russia’s plans to invade mainland Ukraine.

Stanislav Shum, director of Ekonomika publishers, says, “the next city where Russian troops are to be expected is Kyiv”: “Because if the Ukrainian Army is as weak as the defense minister maintains, there’s no point from the military perspective in attacking the regions if the capital can be taken. Again, without a single shot being fired, to the cannonade of protests and profound concern of the West,” this expert believes. “Events subsequently will unfold as rapidly as in the final days of February, only in reverse order,” he explains.

Why It's So Hard for Obama to Be Tough on Russia

The president needs Putin as his ally to accomplish his most ambitious second-term goals.
MAR 13 2014

Reuters/Jason Reed

It is not uncommon for second-term presidents to turn more of their attention and focus to foreign policy. Domestic politics and policy become increasingly frustrating, as the president’s partisans in Congress hunker down in preparation for a lousy midterm election, the party’s ideological base becomes more belligerent, and the opposition party gets bolder. The president has had five years or more of engaging in foreign affairs and with foreign leaders. And the freedom to act without the constraints set by domestic politics and the powers of Congress, to move chess pieces on the international stage, is highly tempting.

Of course, what presidents want to do on the world stage is move those chess pieces and shape outcomes to make history through great accomplishments. That is what President Obama has in mind with the negotiations over Iran’s nukes, the attempt to forge an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and, to a lesser degree, the Syrian chemical-weapons agreement.

In foreign policy, the president will spend most of his time trying to avoid a catastrophe rather than working to create a triumph.But the harder reality is that most of the time the president will spend on foreign policy in coming months will focus on risk mitigation—trying to avoid a catastrophe more than working to create a triumph. That is true in Afghanistan, as Hamid Karzai continues to careen out of control; in Syria, as Bashar al-Assad vies with Kim Jong Un for status as the world’s most brutal butcher; in Venezuela, as Nicolás Maduro descends from authoritarian rule into sheer thuggery; in Turkey, as a thoroughly corrupt Recep Tayyip Erdogan strips his country of its hard-fought and hard-won democratic institutions and principles; in the potential for serious conflict between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands.

Then there is Ukraine. The challenges to the president are formidable, and they start with a larger reality: Dealing with a lion’s share of the other crises above—Syria and Iran, especially—requires trying to reach agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, either to help resolve them or at least to refrain from making them much, much worse. Putin saved the president from a huge embarrassment with the intervention to resolve Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile, just before the Senate would have voted down his request for authorization to use force to punish Assad for using the weapons repeatedly against Syrians. Russia is a key player in the delicate negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Moscow can make the U.S. transition out of Afghanistan more painful and disruptive, and can be a positive or negative player in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Let Georgia be a lesson for what will happen to Ukraine

My country's ordeal in 2008 suggests Crimea's referendum is a trick for Russia to cement its territorial and military grip 

14 March 2014 1

Russian soldiers on top of a tank drive on a road near the flashpoint city of Gori in Georgia in August 2008. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

Crimeans vote tomorrow in an illegal "referendum" which will lock them into Russia's embrace. After this vote, and the takeover by Russian troops of the southern Ukraine peninsula, Vladimir Putin will claim he has legal justification for further military build-up and direct armed attack. How do I know? Because of the many painful parallels and lessons from Georgia in 2008.

The invasions of Ukraine and Georgia bear striking similarities, not only because the pattern of the invader stays the same, but also because the two countries share deep historic parallels. Today, when Putin and his cheerleaders in the west claim Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine – as they justified Russia's aggression in Georgia on the pretext of protecting Russian citizens – they seem to ignore the facts. In eastern Ukraine, Stalin's regime killed 7 million people in an artificially created famine called Golodomor in the 1930s, to replace a restive population with a more loyal one. In Crimea, they deported the indigenous Tatars, increasing the number of Russians instead, and even though some have made it back to their ancestral lands, they haven't regained the majority they enjoyed historically.

By the same token, those who justify Russia's occupation of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia stubbornly ignore the fact that largely due to direct Russian intervention, the ethnic Georgian majorities were cleansed from their homelands.

Both Ukraine and Georgia aspired to join Nato, but the door was closed at the Bucharest summit of 2008. From Putin's point of view, this untied his hands to deal with two neighbours that had tried to free themselves from Russia's grip. Both countries have had democratic revolutions, which clearly created ideological problems for Putin, as he regards successful reforms in Georgia, and Ukraine's aspirations to achieve the same, as a direct threat to his own iron grip in Russia.

There are many parallels, too, with how the conflicts started. For months prior to August 2008, "unidentified troops" masquerading as local insurgents grabbed more and more control over Georgia's separatist regions, and were getting into a growing number of shooting matches with local law enforcement. Russian tank columns started to move into Georgia to the point when, on 7 August 2008, the armed forces were compelled to respond. It was easier to start a hot war in Georgia as there was already a history of violent Russian-supported separatism, unlike Ukraine. Thankfully, we have not yet reached that point in Crimea.

The Status of the Ukrainian Naval Force Trapped by the Russians in Donuzlav Lake

March 14, 2014

Ukraine sailors trapped in Crimean port put up brave front

Derek Stoffel
CBC News

Derek Stoffel is a Middle East correspondent for CBC News. He has covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war and covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., as well as covering Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan. Stoffel was a reporter in Toronto and Regina before his assignment to Jerusalem.

When Nicolai Komeresty joined the Ukrainian navy just five months ago, he never thought he might be facing a war.

But the 19-year-old puts on a brave face, saying he’s ready to defend his motherland against Russian aggression. 

“I am a sailor, I am not worried,” Komeresty told me from the bridge of the Konstiantyn Olshansky, the Ukrainian amphibious assault ship he serves on.

The Olshansky is one of about half a dozen Ukrainian naval vessels trapped in their Crimean port, after Russian forces sank three of their own ships at the entrance to the inlet, off the Black Sea. The Russian move, on March 5, prevented the Ukrainian ships from sailing to Odessa and joining the larger fleet.

When the microphones are turned off, the sailors at the Novoozerne naval base do not seem convinced that the political chaos here will end in war. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Ukraine’s navy is headquartered in nearby Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is also based. But the Russians have prevented Ukrainian vessels anchored in Sevastopol from leaving port as well.

*** Why (this time) Obama must lead

March 14,2014

The crisis in Ukraine was produced by two sets of blunders, neither emanating from Washington. The European Union’s vacillations and — most significantly, of course — Russia’s aggression created the problem. But it will be up to President Obama to show the strength and skill to resolve it. 

For years, the European Union has been ambivalent toward Ukraine, causing instability in that country and opposition from Russia. The union’s greatest source of power is the prospect of it offering membership. This magnet has transformed societies in southern and eastern Europe, creating stability, economic modernization and democracy. For that reason, it is a weapon that should be wielded strategically and seriously. In the case of Ukraine, it was not. 


Ukraine is the most important ­post-Soviet country that Russia seeks to dominate politically. If Europe wanted to help Ukraine move west, it should have planned a bold, generous and swift strategy of attraction. Instead, the European Union conducted lengthy, meandering negotiations with Kiev, eventually offering it an association agreement mostly filled with demands that the country make massive economic and political reforms before getting much in the way of access, trade or aid with Europe. 

But let’s not persist in believing that Moscow’s moves have been strategically brilliant. Vladimir Putin must have watched with extreme frustration in February as a pro-Russian government was toppled and Ukraine was slipping from his grasp. After the Olympics ended, he acted swiftly,sending his forces into Crimea. It was a blunder. In taking over Crimea, Putin has lost Ukraine. 

Since 1991, Russia has influenced Ukraine through pro-Russian politicians who were bribed by Moscow to listen to its diktats. That path is now blocked. Princeton professor Stephen Kotkin points out that in the last elections, in 2010, Viktor Yanu­kovych, representing to some extent the pro-Russian forces, won Crimea by nearly a million votes, which is why he won the election overall. In other words, once you take Crimea out of Ukraine — which Putin has done — it becomes virtually impossible for a pro-Russian Ukrainian ever to win the presidency. Remember, Ukraine is divided but not in half. Without Crimea, only 15 percent of the population will be ethnic Russian. 

In fact, the only hope that Russia will reverse course in Crimea comes precisely because Putin might realize that his only chance of maintaining influence in Ukraine is by having Crimea — with its large Russian majority — as part of that country. 

***** The Foreign Policy Essay: The Domestic Basis of American Power

March 9, 2014 

Editor’s Note: The United States has considerable economic resources, but it is often unable to harness the full power of these resources in its foreign policy. Any discussion of America’s decline or U.S. power in general must recognize that U.S. power is often latent, and presidents and other policymakers cannot always channel it—a gap that is true for any political entity, not just the United States. Similarly, a gap has perhaps emerged between the core U.S. policy of promoting economic liberalization around the globe and broader U.S. political and economic goals. Francis Fukuyama, a senior fellow at Stanford and author of the forthcoming Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to Global Democracy, offers his insights into these gaps and their implications, as well as his thoughts on how to re-conceptualize these issues.
I have two points to make about the relationship between economics and foreign policy. The first is to distinguish between the domestic economic and domestic political constraints on power; and the second is to argue for a new conceptual approach to the integration of politics and economics. 

Political Constraints on American Power

Let’s begin with the first issue, the distinction between domestic economic constraints and domestic political constraints. The first has to do with the economic resources available to the U.S. government relative to those of other political units, economic growth rates, and the fiscal sustainability of the underlying growth models. The second has to do with the degree to which the political system can translate those resources into effective foreign and security policies. The latter might be thought of as a kind of discount rate applied to the former, and that discount rate varies for different political entities.Many of the discussions of American “decline” (or lack thereof) have failed to distinguish between the underlying economic base and the political discount rate. I believe that American society is not in decline because the overall situation of the economy is relatively strong, but that the political system has been subject to considerable decay. 

Of the major political actors in the world today, the political discount rate is probably highest for the European Union (EU). The EU as a whole is somewhat larger in population and total gross domestic product (GDP) than the United States (though not in per capita terms), and it has had some success in turning that economic power into political outcomes (for example, in exporting its policies on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, to Africa). But overall (and by design), it lacks a sufficiently hierarchical decision-making structure that can delegate power and resources to an executive. It is hard for the EU to be a strong unitary actor. This is the most true in foreign and defense policy, where its inability to stabilize the Balkans in the 1990s or prevent the United States from invading Iraq in 2003 were widely recognized. But this lack of political decisiveness also extends to economic policy, where the European Central Bank (ECB) has significantly weakerpowers and autonomy than the United States Federal Reserve.


March 13, 2014

A Digital Wilderness Of Mirrors; Stand Alone Cyber Weapons That Interact And “Talk” To Each Other

John Dunn has an online article in this afternoon’s TechWorld.com, “Turla, Red October, And Flame Cyber Weapons Preyed On Earlier Agent.btz Worm.” He notes that the “Agent.btz worm that hit the U.S. military and others in 2008 was probably the inspiration for a new generation of cyber-espionage weapons — including the recently documented Turla (aka ‘Snake’ or ‘Uroburos’), the cyber security firm Kapersky Lab speculates.

Mr. Dunn notes that the German cyber security firm G Data and Britain’s BAE System’s have come up with the theory that the Turla cyber weapon is most likely a Russian development connected to the earlier Agent.btz (aka ‘Orbina’), but Kapersky’s analysis is less certain about that connection.

Mr. Dunn adds that what Kapersky Lab suggests “is that a number of other mysterious cyber weapons, including Red October from 2013 and Flame/Gauss from 2012 (both publicized by Kapersky Labs), seemed to be aware of Agent.btz in some way.

Mr. Dunn asks, “does this mean they came from the same developer or, was it more a case of emulating its techniques because they had been shown to work? More extraordinarily, might they even have been opportunistically attempting to steal files? First, the enigmatic Red October, which Kapersky Lab does not believe is directly connected to Agent.btz — but did include a module that looked for any files it had already stolen and hidden on UBS sticks.

“It is not impossible that the developers of Red October, who must have been aware of the large numbers of infections caused by Agent.btz, and of the fact that the worm had infected U.S. military networks, simply tried to take advantage of other people’s work to collect additional data,” said Kapersky Lab Chief Security expert, Aleks Gostev.

“A similar picture emerges,” says Mr. Dunn, “when plotting connections between Agent.btz and a complex cyber weapon called Flame, and its close relations to Gauss and MiniFlame, all three of which were brought to light by Kapersky Lab between 2011 and 2012. Again, these seemed to have been created with an awareness of what Agent.btz had been up to; MiniFlame also searched for data files written by it.”


March 13, 2014 ·

Secretive Pentagon Think Tank Knows No Bounds

By: Philip Ewing
http://dyn.politico.com/ printstory.cfm?uuid=0FB3FCC4- 6A44-449C-8207-7DA641F23D9C

From Vladimir Putin’s body language to the histories of religious warfare, from the development of new technologies to accounts of ancient empires, there isn’t much the Pentagon’s internal think tank won’t pursue.

The Office of Net Assessment, which is headed by a seldom-seen, 92-year-old Nixon-era defense analyst named Andrew Marshall, is just a tiny compartment in the labyrinthine Defense Department, but its interests are vast. In a recent solicitation, the ONA said it’s seeking research about nuclear proliferation, future naval warfare and the use of space, among other topics.

Usually this kind of work, which costs around $10 million per year, flies well under the radar in a defense budget of roughly half a trillion dollars. Every once in a while, however, the public catches a glimpse of something Marshall and his office are pursuing – most recently, when the Pentagon confirmed it has been spending $300,000 per year to study the body language of Putin and other world leaders.

The ONA’s wide reach makes the office an asset for DOD leaders, advocates say, despite the Pentagon’s acknowledgement that body language analysis of Putin and others hasn’t helped with decision making during the international standoff with Russia over Ukraine.

Indeed, a lot of the ONA’s work never makes it outside the office, said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. Supporters argue that it’s still worth doing.

“One of the things that has made ONA so valuable to DOD senior leadership in the past is that it is the one place where ‘orthogonal’ issues – issues that may not obviously appear to affect the department, but that may indeed turn out to have important implications for the future security environment and future warfare that DOD will need to take into account – may be examined,” said Jan van Tol, a retired Navy captain and former military assistant to the ONA.

In a capital that can be preoccupied with winning the day or kicking the can, the Pentagon needs an office pursuing many areas of interest with a long-range view, said van Tol, now a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“Some of these may turn out to be ‘dry holes,’ but others may alert senior leadership to some kinds of future concerns that they might never have learned about otherwise via normal organizational and bureaucratic processes,” he said.

Kremlin and Russian Central Bank Websites Knocked Down by Cyber Attacks

Russian Government Websites Shut Down by Cyber Attacks

RIA Novosti
March 14, 2014

MOSCOW, March 14 (RIA Novosti) – A series of coordinated cyber attacks by hackers interrupted services on the websites of the Russian presidential administration and the central bank, officials said Friday.

“A powerful attack on the site is ongoing,” a spokesperson for the Kremlin said Friday. “Measures are being taken to restore the normal functioning of the site.”

Bank of Russia said in a statement that its website had been offline for about an hour Friday morning following a denial of service attack. A source at the central bank told Prime business news agency that the origin of the attack remained unknown.

By early Friday afternoon the two websites appeared to be functioning normally.

The attacks could represent a new phase in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine’s Crimea, where masked troops widely believed to be under Russian command have seized military bases in recent weeks and a referendum is being held Sunday on secession and possible annexation by Russia.

Hacker attacks have been at the center of previous disputes between former Soviet republics and Russia. Government and private websites in Estonia were brought down by hackers during a 2007 dispute over the relocation of a Soviet war memorial in the Baltic country’s capital, Tallinn.

The attack on Russia’s central bank was not the first such incident. Hackers brought down the bank’s site for seven minutes in October during another coordinated strike.

An official at the central bank later said that attack was believed to be linked to the Islamic anti-Russian group Anonymous Caucasus.

The Digit.ru technology news agency reported the October attack came from a so-called botnet, a network of compromised computers, often owned by unsuspecting users, and controlled remotely by hackers that can swamp a web server with rapid fire requests of its web pages, known as a distributed denial of service attack.

U.S. Intelligence Community Trying to Rebrand Itself

March 14, 2014
How the US intelligence community attempts to rebrand itself – on Tumblr

Spencer Ackerman

Critics have argued the documents on the site are most often presented without critical disclosures. Photograph: IC On The Record

Amie Stepanovich was doubly rewarded when she won her transparency lawsuit against the US government. Not only did Stepanovich, formerly a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, receive some of the surveillance documents she sued to obtain, but the office of the director of national intelligence credited her effort on its Tumblr.

That Tumblr is one of the centerpieces of the intelligence community’s attempts at rebranding in the wake of what it considers a crisis wrought by Edward Snowden: a web clearinghouse of formerly classified documents related to the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance authorities, an exercise in transparency.

But the documents on the site are most often presented without a critical disclosure. While statements accompanying them refer to decisions by director James Clapper and other administration officials to release the surveillance-related information, nearly all the instances of such declassification – eight out of 12 – came to be published only after the government lost transparency cases, a fact that the Tumblr, known as IC On The Record, most often omits or obscures.

“All along, in reaction to the disclosures made by Snowden, the administration and corresponding agencies have acted like they’ve wanted to engage on conversations related to these topics for a long time, and these were coming and they were preparing to reveal information to the public, but there’s no evidence that would’ve happened without the stimulus provided by Edward Snowden releasing a lot of documents about government surveillance,” said Stepanovich.

Stepanovich’s case is the exception – and, perhaps, the new rule.

On March 4, IC On The Record released information detailing how many times the government requested and received authorization to use devices that secretly log incoming and outgoing telephone calls. It prominently credited the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) lawsuit.