Tag Archives: Russia

How Putin is priming Russia for nuclear stand-off with the West

Disturbing article from the National Post

Earlier this month, as fighting raged in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and forces loyal to the Western-backed government in Kyiv, Dmitry Kiselyov, the pugnacious, middle-aged journalist who heads Russia’s main state news agency, gazed defiantly into a TV studio camera. “What is Russia preparing for?” he asked. As if in reply, the director cut to an ominous backdrop image of an intercontinental ballistic missile emerging from an underground launch silo.

“During the era of political romanticism, the Soviet Union pledged never to use nuclear weapons first,” Kiselyov told the audience of Vesti Nedeli, his current affairs show, one of the country’s most widely watched programs. “But Russia’s current military doctrine does not.” He paused briefly for effect. “No more illusions.”

There was nothing out of the ordinary about this reminder that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a “threat” to its statehood. Since the start of the crisis in Ukraine, which has massive geostrategic importance for Russia, state-controlled TV has engineered an upsurge in aggressive anti-Western sentiment, with Kiselyov as the Kremlin’s top attack dog.

Last spring, as Washington warned of sanctions over Russia’s seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, Kiselyov boasted about his country’s fearsome nuclear arsenal. “Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the U.S. into radioactive ash,” he declared.

Why is this happening?

“I wouldn’t take these statements about nuclear war literally,” said Pomerantsev, whose book, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, dissects the Kremlin’s media manipulation tactics. Talk of impending nuclear conflict is “one of Putin’s mind-benders,” part of what he called an attempt to convince the West that the former KGB officer is this “crazy, unpredictable” leader whom it would be advisable not to push too far.

But the lines between fantasy and reality can all too often get blurred.

“There is always the danger that games somehow slip into reality – you start off playing with these narratives, and you end up stumbling into a real conflict,” said Pomerantsev.

The Kremlin’s masters of reality have uncorked the atomic genie. It is to be hoped they show the same aptitude when it comes to putting it back in the bottle.

So when does cyber warfare cross the line?

The NSA thinks Russian hackers have infiltrated vast swaths of our vital infrastructure 

A destructive “Trojan Horse” malware program has penetrated the software that runs much of the nation’s critical infrastructure and is poised to cause an economic catastrophe, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

National Security sources told ABC News there is evidence that the malware was inserted by hackers believed to be sponsored by the Russian government, and is a very serious threat.

The hacked software is used to control complex industrial operations like oil and gas pipelines, power transmission grids, water distribution and filtration systems, wind turbines and even some nuclear plants. Shutting down or damaging any of these vital public utilities could severely impact hundreds of thousands of Americans.

It gets crazier

DHS sources told ABC News they think this is no random attack and they fear that the Russians have torn a page from the old, Cold War playbook, and have placed the malware in key U.S. systems as a threat, and/or as a deterrent to a U.S. cyber-attack on Russian systems – mutually assured destruction.

The hack became known to insiders last week when a DHS alert bulletin was issued by the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team to its industry members. The bulletin said the “BlackEnergy” penetration recently had been detected by several companies.

DHS said “BlackEnergy” is the same malware that was used by a Russian cyber-espionage group dubbed “Sandworm” to target NATO and some energy and telecommunications companies in Europe earlier this year. “Analysis of the technical findings in the two reports shows linkages in the shared command and control infrastructure between the campaigns, suggesting both are part of a broader campaign by the same threat actor,” the DHS bulletin said.

NATO not coming to Kiev’s rescue, regardless of Putin’s actions

This is exactly the news that Putin wants to hear

n an agenda-setting speech ahead of the crucial summit that begins Thursday in Wales, NATO deputy secretary general Alexander Vershbow said Russia’s military moves in Ukraine had created a new solidarity and resolve to defend the alliance’s borders. That new sense of purpose, he said, was reflected in a “Readiness Action Plan” that NATO leaders would announce this week, including the creation of a small “spearhead” force of several thousand troops that will be stationed in Eastern Europe and able to deploy to a crisis within 48 hours.

But, he made clear, that solidarity didn’t extend to non-member Ukraine, where NATO says Russian troops and tanks are now directly aiding rebels in the east of the country. Asked if there was any “red line” Mr. Putin could cross that would prompt NATO involvement in the country, Mr. Vershbow left no doubt that Ukraine would have to fight alone.

“I don’t see any red line that, if crossed, would lead to military engagement” in Ukraine, he told a “NATO after the Wales Summit” seminar hosted by Cardiff University. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will attend this week’s NATO meeting as a non-member observer.

“Ukraine understands that they’re not a beneficiary of an Article 5 [NATO collective defence] guarantee,” Mr. Vershbow told The Globe and Mail afterwards. “But I think we will show solidarity with Ukraine, meeting with Poroshenko. We’ll roll out some of the assistance that we’ve been working on for Ukraine… it may not be everything that everybody wants, but again NATO is not the only responder. The broad international message from NATO, from the EU, from other actors, hopefully will make a difference.”

Mr. Poroshenko asked last week that Ukraine be considered for full membership in NATO, but the request has been met with stony silence from the alliance, which is still seeking to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia.

The EU, Canada and the United States have collectively imposed escalating sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine. But while those measures are taking an economic toll – the Russian economy contracted in both June and July – they have not demonstrably affected the Kremlin’s behaviour.

So what is NATO to do?

Stephen Krasner, a former top U.S. State Department official, said the alliance should focus on providing the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, tiny former republics of the Soviet Union that joined NATO in 2004, with credible deterrent against any aggression. Mr. Putin has claimed the right to “defend” Russian-speakers abroad, and Estonia and Latvia have significant Russian-speaking populations.

“We can’t pretend we’re going to defend Ukraine, when we can’t do that,” said Prof. Krasner, who now teaches at Stanford University. But, he said, “there are real reasons for us to fight in the Baltic States.”

This is why Alberta never invaded Saskatchewan when it had the chance

The costs of taking over Crimea are more than Russia can afford

Rising prices and stagnating wages may make hundreds more Russians think twice about the government’s price tag of between 800 billion and 1 trillion rubles ($23-30 billion) for Crimea, and may come to pose the first real threat to Putin.

The Russian leader for now looks unassailable, with popularity ratings running at over 80 percent and his critics reluctant to speak out against him for fear of being labelled a traitor against the popular cause of building a Greater Russia.

Russian markets have bounced back, recovering all their losses since the start of the year to trade slightly higher, and some bankers are encouraging their clients to dive back into a market they say is undervalued.

But Russia’s economy, riddled with corruption and nepotism, is still weak and, increasingly isolated by Western sanctions, is for now teetering on the edge of recession.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine, an influx of Ukrainian refugees and the threat of further sanctions all hang over an economy, which the International Monetary Fund sees growing by just 0.2 percent this year. Russia’s central bank hopes for 0.4 percent and the Economy Ministry 0.5 percent growth.

After weeks of saying visa bans and asset freezes imposed by the European Union and United States against a number of firms and officials close to Putin could not harm the economy, Russian leaders are increasingly testy over the damage wrought if not by the current sanctions, then by the threat of more.

“In fact, we are dealing with a new offensive type of weapon,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said of the U.S. sanctions in an interview with the Kommersant daily.
Investment has all but dried up, forcing the government to dip into reserves meant for pensions to finance projects, and the government says it will sell a stake in Russia’s state-controlled oil company, Rosneft, to cover some of the costs of developing Crimea.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov had to backtrack after coming under fire for saying that all the funds accumulated in Russia’s personal pension plans in 2014 had been spent on “anti-crisis measures” and on Crimea.

The next day, he said Russians “would lose nothing”, but stopped short of saying whether the sum of $8 billion would be returned to the personal pension plans.
While such measures may take a while to hurt the population, Karen Vartapetov, an analyst at Standard & Poor’s rating agency, said a more immediate danger was the stagnation of real disposable incomes, which show only 0.2 percent real growth (adjusted for inflation) this year.

“Zero growth of real disposable incomes against continuing growth of public sector pay indicates that salaries in the private sector and non-salary incomes are shrinking,” he said.
“The economy outside the public sector has been stagnating.”

On top of this, the Finance Ministry’s efforts to try to meet Putin’s demands to increase public sector pay, including proposing a new regional sales tax, mean that prices could rise further, putting pressure on stretched salaries.

In the major cities such as the capital Moscow and Russia’s second city of St Petersburg – where Putin faced street protests in the winter of 2011-12 that at times drew tens of thousands – core inflation running at an annual rate of more than seven percent has had little impact on a population largely wealthy enough to cover higher prices.

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Canadian rhetoric makes no difference

The tough talk that has been coming out of Ottawa towards Moscow; it makes no difference at all.

The Conservative government’s tough rhetoric over Russia’s actions in Ukraine may play well to some voters domestically, but analysts doubt it will have any impact on curtailing Moscow’s policies in the region.

“I think the only people Putin’s going to pay any attention to, if he pays any attention at all, are going to be the United States and the European Union, above all Germany,” said Randall Hansen, director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies.

“The United States, because it’s the global super power, and Germany because it’s a major importer of Russian gas, which on the one hand gives Putin leverage, and on the other hand, he’s also dependent on Germany.

“Canada doesn’t matter in this in the slightest. We can rant and yell and threaten. It will make no difference.”

He’s not alone

Piotr Dutkiewicz, a political science professor at Carleton and the former director of the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, said it’s relatively easy for the government to criticize because Canada doesn’t have extensive economic relations with Russia and there are no large Russian investments in Canada.

However, he notes that Canadian companies do have $3-billion worth of investment in Russia and the government should take that into consideration when speaking out.

“I think we should take a more balanced, I’m not saying uncritical, I’m saying more balanced position, taking into the equation Canadian interests in Russia,” Dutkiewicz said.

“If the Canadian government decides to be critical it should be critical, but at the same time we should watch what others are doing and how, by our criticisms, we’re really helping Ukraine.”

Dutkiewicz said that Canada is losing its reputation as a negotiator and instead is engaging in rhetoric stronger than that of the U.S., Germany or France.

“With their very heated rhetoric and no action we’re becoming a paper tiger in this process,” he said. “I really don’t like Canada to be seen as a paper tiger who is roaring without having any tools to implement its outrage.”

But the experts agreed that the government’s words have little to do with foreign policy.

“Harper and Baird, I think, are both principled democrats and have a principled commitment to liberal democracies such as Israel and a principled opposition to autocratic governments,” Hansen said. “But this is really about domestic politics. So they’re making a play to the Ukrainian community in Canada.

Was Putin right?

Has the west accepted both the fall of Crimea and also the loss of Ukraine?

Although we have recently heard many fearsome statements from President Obama and the E.U. leaders, the actual sanctions (issued two and half weeks after the beginning of Crimea adventure) leave much to be desired. The “unprecedented measures” against Russia turned out to be relatively feeble prohibitions against several random and not very influential Russian officials—definitely not the primary decision-makers in the Crimea’s story. The real heroes of the occasion stayed (even symbolically) unpunished. Moreover, not only has Russia’s maintained its G8 membership, but, recently, G8 representatives have been distancing themselves from earlier statements regarding suspension of Russia’s membership. Loud talk and a small stick, indeed.

Moreover, the “acceptance” of Putin’s actions among the Western community appears to be on the rise. A Bloomberg View editorial, for example, announced that “the U.S. and EU aren’t going to fight to defend what remains of Ukraine. They aren’t bound by treaty to do so, and their interests (not to mention their electorates) argue against it.” (In fact, the U.S. has at least moral obligations to defend Ukraine under 1994 Budapest Memorandum.) Analyst John Walcott went as far as to suggest that “there is no question anymore, Ukraine (not Crimea, but Ukraine overall) is gone” on Bloomberg News this past weekend. Even the Baltics states that are often viewed as the fiercest opponents of Russia’s policies in Ukraine have shown some restraint. Yesterday, the Latvian minister of finance asked the E.U. to provide compensation to the European Union countries that will suffer economically from sanctioning Russia.

Altogether, this means that Putin is reading the situation correctly: The monopoly on violence rules the international order. There is simply no one to stop Putin from taking what he wants.

Is Losing Crimea a Loss?

Could losing Crimea be a win for the Ukraine?

Ukraine’s initial losses are obvious: defeat in a land war, surrender of territories and populations, and the sacrifice to violence of thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — of Ukrainians. Once the war is over, however, Ukraine would emerge more compact, more homogeneous, and more unified in purpose: Along with its eastern territories would go much of the electorate that routinely votes for the Communist Party and for former President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. As a result, anti­-Ukrainian and anti-Western sentiments would decline. The new Ukraine’s government could confidently proceed with a radical political and economic reform program (a more solidary population would be more likely to accept the belt-tightening that reform entails) and pursue rapid integration into European and international structures. Unburdened of some of its most unprofitable rust-belt industrial sectors, Ukraine’s economy would be more open to foreign direct investment and could be poised for takeoff. Without Crimea and its southeastern provinces, Ukraine would be smaller, but it would survive and, in all likelihood, be much stronger.

 

The struggle of people in Russia’s ‘Rust Belt’

Tension rises as the Kremlin tries to force thousands to leave their homes

A tide of discontent is sweeping across Russia’s “rust belt” as the Kremlin tries to convince tens of thousands to relocate from their homes.

Authorities are offering up to $25,000 in state support for people willing to leave 142 struggling so-called “monotowns,” communities depending on a single industry.

Many Russians are unhappy about being asked to leave places that several generations of their families have called home. Critics also allege the level of compensation isn’t enough and say it will create dozens of “ghost towns.”

“I honestly earned pennies, but still income,” he said. “I am struggling to sell my house for $2,000 — nobody wants it. If I move to a big town, I will have to spend at least $60,000 to buy myself a place.”

By Dec. 28, the final 800 mill workers will lose their jobs — another significant blow to the Siberian town of 14,000 people.

The fate of 700 other people still employed at a different part of the mill which provides heat to all of Baikalsk will be decided by the spring.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last year pledged $1 billion to transform the town on the edge of Lake Baikal into a tourist hotspot. Lake Baikal is a natural treasure that contains more water than all of the Great Lakes combined.

But there has been little sign of investment in the wake of Medvedev’s visit. The town’s central square remains unpaved, hotels and cafes struggle and local newspapers publish pages of advertisements placed by residents looking to sell their apartments in Baikalsk and move closer to Moscow or St. Petersburg.

The lack of action has resulted in angry protests by fired workers in the regional center of Irkutsk.

“The Kremlin simply lied to us; they promised to first create jobs and then close the mill in 2015,” said Yuri Nabokov, the leader of the mill’s professional union. “The mill is closed and hundreds of workers have no chance to live their normal lives in their hometown with their families; authorities tell us to go to far north and work on shifts at oil fields – that makes us even angrier.”

The article also points out the Sochi are costing $50 billion.  How messed up is that?  Vancouver by comparison cost around $1.84 billion and generated about $2.5 billion in GDP.  What is Russia doing?

The Inside Story of Russia’s Fight to Keep the U.N. Corrupt

How Russia consistently undermines the U.N. in order to keep a multi-billion dollar monopoly on the sales of helicopters and airplanes.

Russia’s zeal for turning back reform has been felt most powerfully in the U.N.’s leasing of aircraft — a $1 billion a year market — that provide transport for the world’s second-largest expeditionary force. An examination of U.N. procurement practices in the air-transport sector — drawing on dozens of interviews with U.N.-based officials and diplomats, as well as a review of internal U.N. communications and audits — suggests that Russia has enjoyed unfair advantages, including contracts that all but demand that the United Nations lease Russia’s Soviet-era aircraft.

The dispute provides a textbook example of the difficulties of implementing basic financial reforms at the United Nations when major powers have conflicting commercial interests in the outcome. As such, the secretary general and key countries have been unwilling to openly confront Russia because its cooperation is required on a wide range of critical issues at the United Nations.

1943 Battle of Kursk video footage

The Battle of Kursk was a World War II engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near the city of Kursk, (450 kilometers or 280 miles southwest of Moscow) in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. The German offensive was code named Operation Citadel (German: Unternehmen Zitadelle) and would lead to both one of the largest armored clashes, which is the battle of Prokhorovka, and the costliest single day of aerial warfare in history. The German offensive eventually provoked two soviet counteroffensives code named Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev (Russian: Полководец Румянцев) and Operation Kutuzov (Russian: Куту́зов). The battle saw the final strategic offensive the Germans were able to mount in the east, and the decisive Soviet victory gave the Red Army the strategic initiative for the rest of the war.

Urban skiing adventure to the Murmansk Oblast in Russia.

The ski shots are amazing but the scenery of a post industrial and decaying Russia is why you want to watch this film.  The decay, pollution, and failure of the Murmansk Oblast region of Russia on that kind of scale is just staggering.  That despite it’s natural resource wealth. 

Flatlight Films also put together another fantastic video of skiing Sarajevo.

How great is the idea of an urban ski lift in the middle of the city?  Of course even if we had that kind of snow in Saskatoon, we would find a way to make sure that no one had that kind of fun here. 

I also loved the end of the video where the police officer was questioning them and then just kind of said, “forget it” and walked away.

72 cyber attacks, none against Chinese institutions

I wonder who is behind them.

Alperovitch said that McAfee had notified all 72 victims of the attacks, which are under investigation by law enforcement agencies around the world. He declined to give more details.

Jim Lewis, a cyber expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it was very likely China was behind the campaign because some of the targets had information that would be of particular interest to Beijing.

The systems of the IOC and several national Olympic Committees were breached before the 2008 Beijing Games. And China views Taiwan as a renegade province, and political issues between them remain contentious even as economic ties have strengthened in recent years.

"Everything points to China. It could be the Russians, but there is more that points to China than Russia," Lewis said.

McAfee, acquired by Intel Corp this year, would not comment on whether China was responsible.

Defense Spending by GDP

The Economist has an interesting article on defense spending by GDP.

Biggest military spenders by GDP ON JUNE 8th China’s top military brass confirmed that the country’s first aircraft carrier, a refurbishment of an old Russian carrier, will be ready shortly. Only a handful of nations operate carriers, which are costly to build and maintain. Indeed, Britain has recently decommissioned its sole carrier because of budget pressures. China’s defence spending has risen by nearly 200% since 2001 to reach an estimated $119 billion in 2010—though it has remained fairly constant in terms of its share of GDP. America’s own budget crisis is prompting tough discussions about its defence spending, which, at nearly $700 billion, is bigger than that of the next 17 countries combined.

It’s not totally accurate as the Illustrious is being converted to a helicopter carrier and England is building the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers and the reality is that the Invincible class of aircraft carriers was at the end of it’s life expectancy. 

It is interesting that despite the outrage of how much Canada has been spending on defense lately, we still spend less than Australia, Brazil, and Italy among the largest military spenders.  I was also surprised to see Turkey so high on the list and not not see Pakistan considering how much India spends.