Pubblicato in: Cina, Geopolitica Militare, Geopolitica Mondiale, Stati Uniti

Cina – Sri Lanka. Belt and Road e basi navali. – NYT e China Org.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2018-07-15.

2018-07-06__Cina_Porti__001

Il The New York Times dedica un mastodontico articolo ai rapporti tra Cina a Sri Lanka: la sua lettura è parte integrante di questo articolo.

Questo articolo è stato espressamente citato da un editoriale di China Org, organo di stampa del Governo cinese.

«China will continue to work with Sri Lanka to actively implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries and continuously promote the pragmatic cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiatives»

*

«A spokesperson in the Embassy said that China has always been pursuing a friendly policy toward Sri Lanka, firmly supporting the latter’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposing any country’s interference in the internal affairs of the island country»

*

«continuously promote the pragmatic cooperations under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiatives following the “golden rule” of “extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits,”to better benefit the two countries and the two peoples,”»

*

«The spokesperson further said that the Embassy had noticed the recent New York Times’ article as well as the clarifications and responses by various parties from Sri Lanka, saying the article is full of political prejudice and completely inconsistent with the fact»

*

«The New York Times article published on June 25, accused China of acquiring a port in southern Sri Lanka to be used for military purposes. It however has drawn flak from Sri Lankan leaders, who have stated that the article fell under the “fake news” category»

* * * * * * *

La presa di posizione del Governo cinese riassume in poche righe i concetti base che ispirano la sua politica estera.

– “pragmatic cooperation“: nei rapporti internazionali bilaterali la Cina promuove una cooperazione sociale ed economica al di fuori di ogni possibile schema mentale ideologico o preconcetto. I partner si accettano senza tentativo alcuno di modificarne tradizioni e comportamenti. Cooperazione implica un reciproco guadagno da questo rapporto: “to better benefit the two countries and the two peoples …. shared benefits“.

– “firmly supporting the latter’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposing any country’s interference in the internal affairs of the island country“. Per meglio chiarire il concetto, Cina Org ricorda il rispetto della indipendenza, della sovranità, della integrità territoriale, ed infine la assoluta non interferenza degli affari interni dei paesi. In altri termini, l’esatto opposto del modo di pensare e comportarsi degli occidentali ed in particolar modo degli europei.

– “accused China of acquiring a port in southern Sri Lanka to be used for military purposes“. China Org riporta in modo molto diplomatico come questa notizia sia stata smentita dallo Sri Lankan. Non avendo detto nulla la China, si potrebbe dedurre che se le cose evolvessero, la essa non si opporrebbe.

* * * * * * *

Larga quota delle merci cinesi attraversano lo Stretto di Malacca  e si dirigono in gran parte sulla rotta per Suez. È semplicemente evidente come il controllo dello spazio marittimo del nord Oceano Indiano sia essenziale per i cinesi.

Una ultima precisazione a nostro parere importante.

L’articolo edito dal The New York Times è mastodontico, inusitatamente lungo e dettagliato: da al problema del dominio dell’Oceano Indiano la corretta importanza strategica. Dopo il Mare Cinese Meridionale gli Stati Uniti corrono il serio rischio di perdere anche il controlla navale dell’Oceano Indiano.

Tuttavia, a nostro sommesso parere, l’articolo del NYT non riporta quella che è l’attuale posizione politica e militare degli Stati Uniti, bensì cosa e come ne pensano i liberal democratici. Opinione che deve essere valutata con cura, ma che non è al momento al governo dell’America.


China Org. 2018-07-01. China to continue promoting pragmatic cooperation with Sri Lanka under Belt and Road: Chinese embassy

China will continue to work with Sri Lanka to actively implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries and continuously promote the pragmatic cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiatives, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka said in a statement Saturday.

A spokesperson in the Embassy said that China has always been pursuing a friendly policy toward Sri Lanka, firmly supporting the latter’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposing any country’s interference in the internal affairs of the island country.

“Despite any interference from a third party, China would like to work together with Sri Lanka to actively implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, and concentrate unwaveringly on our fixed goals, continuously promote the pragmatic cooperations under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiatives following the “golden rule” of “extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits,” to better benefit the two countries and the two peoples,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson further said that the Embassy had noticed the recent New York Times’ article as well as the clarifications and responses by various parties from Sri Lanka, saying the article is full of political prejudice and completely inconsistent with the fact.

The New York Times article published on June 25, accused China of acquiring a port in southern Sri Lanka to be used for military purposes. It however has drawn flak from Sri Lankan leaders, who have stated that the article fell under the “fake news” category.


The New York Times. 2018-07-01. How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port

HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka — Every time Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, turned to his Chinese allies for loans and assistance with an ambitious port project, the answer was yes.

Yes, though feasibility studies said the port wouldn’t work. Yes, though other frequent lenders like India had refused. Yes, though Sri Lanka’s debt was ballooning rapidly under Mr. Rajapaksa.

Over years of construction and renegotiation with China Harbor Engineering Company, one of Beijing’s largest state-owned enterprises, the Hambantota Port Development Project distinguished itself mostly by failing, as predicted. With tens of thousands of ships passing by along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the port drew only 34 ships in 2012.

And then the port became China’s.

Mr. Rajapaksa was voted out of office in 2015, but Sri Lanka’s new government struggled to make payments on the debt he had taken on. Under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese, the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December.

The transfer gave China control of territory just a few hundred miles off the shores of a rival, India, and a strategic foothold along a critical commercial and military waterway.

The case is one of the most vivid examples of China’s ambitious use of loans and aid to gain influence around the world — and of its willingness to play hardball to collect.

The debt deal also intensified some of the harshest accusations about President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative: that the global investment and lending program amounts to a debt trap for vulnerable countries around the world, fueling corruption and autocratic behavior in struggling democracies.

Months of interviews with Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese and Western officials and analysis of documents and agreements stemming from the port project present a stark illustration of how China and the companies under its control ensured their interests in a small country hungry for financing.

  • During the 2015 Sri Lankan elections, large payments from the Chinese port construction fund flowed directly to campaign aides and activities for Mr. Rajapaksa, who had agreed to Chinese terms at every turn and was seen as an important ally in China’s efforts to tilt influence away from India in South Asia. The payments were confirmed by documents and cash checks detailed in a government investigation seen by The New York Times.

  • Though Chinese officials and analysts have insisted that China’s interest in the Hambantota port is purely commercial, Sri Lankan officials said that from the start, the intelligence and strategic possibilities of the port’s location were part of the negotiations.

  • Initially moderate terms for lending on the port project became more onerous as Sri Lankan officials asked to renegotiate the timeline and add more financing. And as Sri Lankan officials became desperate to get the debt off their books in recent years, the Chinese demands centered on handing over equity in the port rather than allowing any easing of terms.

  • Though the deal erased roughly $1 billion in debt for the port project, Sri Lanka is now in more debt to China than ever, as other loans have continued and rates remain much higher than from other international lenders.

Mr. Rajapaksa and his aides did not respond to multiple requests for comment, made over several months, for this article. Officials for China Harbor also would not comment.

Estimates by the Sri Lankan Finance Ministry paint a bleak picture: This year, the government is expected to generate $14.8 billion in revenue, but its scheduled debt repayments, to an array of lenders around the world, come to $12.3 billion.

“John Adams said infamously that a way to subjugate a country is through either the sword or debt. China has chosen the latter,” said Brahma Chellaney, an analyst who often advises the Indian government and is affiliated with the Center for Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi.

Indian officials, in particular, fear that Sri Lanka is struggling so much that the Chinese government may be able to dangle debt relief in exchange for its military’s use of assets like the Hambantota port — though the final lease agreement forbids military activity there without Sri Lanka’s invitation.

“The only way to justify the investment in Hambantota is from a national security standpoint — that they will bring the People’s Liberation Army in,” said Shivshankar Menon, who served as India’s foreign secretary and then its national security adviser as the Hambantota port was being built.

An Engaged Ally

The relationship between China and Sri Lanka had long been amicable, with Sri Lanka an early recognizer of Mao’s Communist government after the Chinese Revolution. But it was during a more recent conflict — Sri Lanka’s brutal 26-year civil war with ethnic Tamil separatists — that China became indispensable.

Mr. Rajapaksa, who was elected in 2005, presided over the last years of the war, when Sri Lanka became increasingly isolated by accusations of human rights abuses. Under him, Sri Lanka relied heavily on China for economic support, military equipment and political cover at the United Nations to block potential sanctions.

The war ended in 2009, and as the country emerged from the chaos, Mr. Rajapaksa and his family consolidated their hold. At the height of Mr. Rajapaksa’s tenure, the president and his three brothers controlled many government ministries and around 80 percent of total government spending. Governments like China negotiated directly with them.

So when the president began calling for a vast new port development project at Hambantota, his sleepy home district, the few roadblocks in its way proved ineffective.

From the start, officials questioned the wisdom of a second major port, in a country a quarter the size of Britain and with a population of 22 million, when the main port in the capital was thriving and had room to expand. Feasibility studies commissioned by the government had starkly concluded that a port at Hambantota was not economically viable.

“They approached us for the port at the beginning, and Indian companies said no,” said Mr. Menon, the former Indian foreign secretary. “It was an economic dud then, and it’s an economic dud now.”

But Mr. Rajapaksa greenlighted the project, then boasted in a news release that he had defied all caution — and that China was on board.

The Sri Lanka Ports Authority began devising what officials believed was a careful, economically sound plan in 2007, according to an official involved in the project. It called for a limited opening for business in 2010, and for revenue to be coming in before any major expansion.

The first major loan it took on the project came from the Chinese government’s Export-Import Bank, or Exim, for $307 million. But to obtain the loan, Sri Lanka was required to accept Beijing’s preferred company, China Harbor, as the port’s builder, according to a United States Embassy cable from the time, leaked to WikiLeaks.

That is a typical demand of China for its projects around the world, rather than allowing an open bidding process. Across the region, Beijing’s government is lending out billions of dollars, being repaid at a premium to hire Chinese companies and thousands of Chinese workers, according to officials across the region.

There were other strings attached to the loan, as well, in a sign that China saw strategic value in the Hambantota port from the beginning.

Nihal Rodrigo, a former Sri Lankan foreign secretary and ambassador to China, said that discussions with Chinese officials at the time made it clear that intelligence sharing was an integral, if not public, part of the deal. In an interview with The Times, Mr. Rodrigo characterized the Chinese line as, “We expect you to let us know who is coming and stopping here.”

In later years, Chinese officials and the China Harbor company went to great lengths to keep relations strong with Mr. Rajapaksa, who for years had faithfully acquiesced to such terms.

In the final months of Sri Lanka’s 2015 election, China’s ambassador broke with diplomatic norms and lobbied voters, even caddies at Colombo’s premier golf course, to support Mr. Rajapaksa over the opposition, which was threatening to tear up economic agreements with the Chinese government.

As the January election inched closer, large payments started to flow toward the president’s circle.

At least $7.6 million was dispensed from China Harbor’s account at Standard Chartered Bank to affiliates of Mr. Rajapaksa’s campaign, according to a document, seen by The Times, from an active internal government investigation. The document details China Harbor’s bank account number — ownership of which was verified — and intelligence gleaned from questioning of the people to whom the checks were made out.

With 10 days to go before polls opened, around $3.7 million was distributed in checks: $678,000 to print campaign T-shirts and other promotional material and $297,000 to buy supporters gifts, including women’s saris. Another $38,000 was paid to a popular Buddhist monk who was supporting Mr. Rajapaksa’s electoral bid, while two checks totaling $1.7 million were delivered by volunteers to Temple Trees, his official residence.

Most of the payments were from a subaccount controlled by China Harbor, named “HPDP Phase 2,” shorthand for Hambantota Port Development Project.

China’s Network

After nearly five years of helter-skelter expansion for China’s Belt and Road Initiative across the globe, Chinese officials are quietly trying to take stock of how many deals have been done and what the country’s financial exposure might be. There is no comprehensive picture of that yet, said one Chinese economic policymaker, who like many other officials would speak about Chinese policy only on the condition of anonymity.

Some Chinese officials have become concerned that the nearly institutional graft surrounding such projects represents a liability for China, and raises the bar needed for profitability. President Xi acknowledged the worry in a speech last year, saying, “We will also strengthen international cooperation on anticorruption in order to build the Belt and Road Initiative with integrity.”

In Bangladesh, for example, officials said in January that China Harbor would be banned from future contracts over accusations that the company attempted to bribe an official at the ministry of roads, stuffing $100,000 into a box of tea, government officials said in interviews. And China Harbor’s parent company, China Communications Construction Company, was banned for eight years in 2009 from bidding on World Bank projects because of corrupt practices in the Philippines.

Since the port seizure in Sri Lanka, Chinese officials have started suggesting that Belt and Road is not an open-ended government commitment to finance development across three continents.

“If we cannot manage the risk well, the Belt and Road projects cannot go far or well,” said Jin Qi, the chairwoman of the Silk Road Fund, a large state-owned investment fund, during the China Development Forum in late March.

In Sri Lanka’s case, port officials and Chinese analysts have also not given up the view that the Hambantota port could become profitable, or at least strengthen China’s trade capacity in the region.

Ray Ren, China Merchant Port’s representative in Sri Lanka and the head of the Hambantota port’s operations, insisted that “the location of Sri Lanka is ideal for international trade.” And he dismissed the negative feasibility studies, saying they were done many years ago when Hambantota was “a small fishing hamlet.”

Hu Shisheng, the director of South Asia studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that China clearly recognized the strategic value of the Hambantota port. But he added: “Once China wants to exert its geostrategic value, the strategic value of the port will be gone. Big countries cannot fight in Sri Lanka — it would be wiped out.”

Although the Hambantota port first opened in a limited way in 2010, before the Belt and Road Initiative was announced, the Chinese government quickly folded the project into the global program.

Shortly after the handover ceremony in Hambantota, China’s state news agency released a boastful video on Twitter, proclaiming the deal “another milestone along the path of #BeltandRoad.”

A Port to Nowhere

The seaport is not the only grand project built with Chinese loans in Hambantota, a sparsely populated area on Sri Lanka’s southeastern coast that is still largely overrun by jungle.

A cricket stadium with more seats than the population of Hambantota’s district capital marks the skyline, as does a large international airport — which in June lost the only daily commercial flight it had left when FlyDubai airline ended the route. A highway that cuts through the district is traversed by elephants and used by farmers to rake out and dry the rice plucked fresh from their paddies.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s advisers had laid out a methodical approach to how the port might expand after opening, ensuring that some revenue would be coming in before taking on much more debt.

But in 2009, the president had grown impatient. His 65th birthday was approaching the following year, and to mark the occasion he wanted a grand opening at the Hambantota port — including the beginning of an ambitious expansion 10 years ahead of the Port Authority’s original timeline.

Chinese laborers began working day and night to get the port ready, officials said. But when workers dredged the land and then flooded it to create the basin of the port, they had not taken into account a large boulder that partly blocked the entrance, preventing the entry of large ships, like oil tankers, that the port’s business model relied on.

Ports Authority officials, unwilling to cross the president, quickly moved ahead anyway. The Hambantota port opened in an elaborate celebration on Nov. 18, 2010, Mr. Rajapaksa’s birthday. Then it sat waiting for business while the rock blocked it.

China Harbor blasted the boulder a year later, at a cost of $40 million, an exorbitant price that raised concerns among diplomats and government officials. Some openly speculated about whether the company was simply overcharging or the price tag included kickbacks to Mr. Rajapaksa.

By 2012, the port was struggling to attract ships — which preferred to berth nearby at the Colombo port — and construction costs were rising as the port began expanding ahead of schedule. The government decreed later that year that ships carrying car imports bound for Colombo port would instead offload their cargo at Hambantota to kick-start business there. Still, only 34 ships berthed at Hambantota in 2012, compared with 3,667 ships at the Colombo port, according to a Finance Ministry annual report.

“When I came to the government, I called the minister of national planning and asked for the justification of Hambantota Port,” Harsha de Silva, the state minister for national policies and economic affairs, said in an interview. “She said, ‘We were asked to do it, so we did it.’ ”

Determined to keep expanding the port, Mr. Rajapaksa went back to the Chinese government in 2012, asking for $757 million.

The Chinese agreed again. But this time, the terms were much steeper.

The first loan, at $307 million, had originally come at a variable rate that usually settled above 1 or 2 percent after the global financial crash in 2008. (For comparison, rates on similar Japanese loans for infrastructure projects run below half a percent.)

But to secure fresh funding, that initial loan was renegotiated to a much higher 6.3 percent fixed rate. Mr. Rajapaksa acquiesced.

The rising debt and project costs, even as the port was struggling, handed Sri Lanka’s political opposition a powerful issue, and it campaigned heavily on suspicions about China. Mr. Rajapaksa lost the election.

The incoming government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, came to office with a mandate to scrutinize Sri Lanka’s financial deals. It also faced a daunting amount of debt: Under Mr. Rajapaksa, the country’s debt had increased threefold, to $44.8 billion when he left office. And for 2015 alone, a $4.68 billion payment was due at year’s end.

Signing It Away

The new government was eager to reorient Sri Lanka toward India, Japan and the West. But officials soon realized that no other country could fill the financial or economic space that China held in Sri Lanka.

“We inherited a purposefully run-down economy — the revenues were insufficient to pay the interest charges, let alone capital repayment,” said Ravi Karunanayake, who was finance minister during the new government’s first year in office.

“We did keep taking loans,” he added. “A new government can’t just stop loans. It’s a relay; you need to take them until economic discipline is introduced.”

The Central Bank estimated that Sri Lanka owed China about $3 billion last year. But Nishan de Mel, an economist at Verité Research, said some of the debts were off government books and instead registered as part of individual projects. He estimated that debt owed to China could be as much as $5 billion and was growing every year. In May, Sri Lanka took a new $1 billion loan from China Development Bank to help make its coming debt payment.

Government officials began meeting in 2016 with their Chinese counterparts to strike a deal, hoping to get the port off Sri Lanka’s balance sheet and avoid outright default. But the Chinese demanded that a Chinese company take a dominant equity share in the port in return, Sri Lankan officials say — writing down the debt was not an option China would accept.

When Sri Lanka was given a choice, it was over which state-owned company would take control: either China Harbor or China Merchants Port, according to the final agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, although it was never released publicly in full.

China Merchants got the contract, and it immediately pressed for more: Company officials demanded 15,000 acres of land around the port to build an industrial zone, according to two officials with knowledge of the negotiations. The Chinese company argued that the port itself was not worth the $1.1 billion it would pay for its equity — money that would close out Sri Lanka’s debt on the port.

Some government officials bitterly opposed the terms, but there was no leeway, according to officials involved in the negotiations. The new agreement was signed in July 2017, and took effect in December.

The deal left some appearance of Sri Lankan ownership: Among other things, it created a joint company to manage the port’s operations and collect revenue, with 85 percent owned by China Merchants Port and the remaining 15 percent controlled by Sri Lanka’s government.

But lawyers specializing in port acquisitions said Sri Lanka’s small stake meant little, given the leverage that China Merchants Port retained over board personnel and operating decisions.

When the agreement was initially negotiated, it left open whether the port and surrounding land could be used by the Chinese military, which Indian officials asked the Sri Lankan government to explicitly forbid. The final agreement bars foreign countries from using the port for military purposes unless granted permission by the government in Colombo.

That clause is there because Chinese Navy submarines had already come calling to Sri Lanka.

Strategic Concerns

China had a stake in Sri Lanka’s main port as well: China Harbor was building a new terminal there, known at the time as Colombo Port City. Along with that deal came roughly 50 acres of land, solely held by the Chinese company, that Sri Lanka had no sovereignty on.

That was dramatically demonstrated toward the end of Mr. Rajapaksa’s term, in 2014. Chinese submarines docked at the harbor the same day that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan was visiting Colombo, in what was seen across the region as a menacing signal from Beijing.

When the new Sri Lankan government came to office, it sought assurances that the port would never again welcome Chinese submarines — of particular concern because they are difficult to detect and often used for intelligence gathering. But Sri Lankan officials had little real control.

Now, the handover of Hambantota to the Chinese has kept alive concerns about possible military use — particularly as China has continued to militarize island holdings around the South China Sea despite earlier pledges not to.

Sri Lankan officials are quick to point out that the agreement explicitly rules out China’s military use of the site. But others also note that Sri Lanka’s government, still heavily indebted to China, could be pressured to allow it.

And, as Mr. de Silva, the state minister for national policies and economic affairs, put it, “Governments can change.”

Now, he and others are watching carefully as Mr. Rajapaksa, China’s preferred partner in Sri Lanka, has been trying to stage a political comeback. The former president’s new opposition party swept municipal elections in February. Presidential elections are coming up next year, and general elections in 2020.

Although Mr. Rajapaksa is barred from running again because of term limits, his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former defense secretary, appears to be readying to take the mantle.

“It will be Mahinda Rajapaksa’s call. If he says it’s one of the brothers, that person will have a very strong claim,” said Ajith Nivard Cabraal, the central bank governor under Mr. Rajapaksa’s government, who still advises the family. “Even if he’s no longer the president, as the Constitution is structured, Mahinda will be the main power base.”

Annunci
Pubblicato in: Armamenti, Geopolitica Europea, Geopolitica Militare, Russia, Unione Europea

Russia. Kulikovo, Kaliningrad, ospiterebbe un arsenale atomico russo.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2018-06-25.

2018-06-21__Kalinigrad__001

Kulikovo è un nome sacro per la Russia.

L’8 settembre 1380 i russi guidati dal Granduca di Vladimir, Dmitrij Ivanovič di Mosca, sconfissero l’armata dell’Orda d’Oro con gli alleati lituani. Fu l’inizio di una lunga guerra di liberazione che terminò con la battaglia sull’Ugra, un secolo dopo.

Nessuna sorpresa quindi che quando la Prussia Orientale passò nel 1945 da tedesca a russa con il nome di Circondariato Federale Nordoccidentale, Oblast di Kaliningrad, nella ridenominazione dei paesi e delle cittadine una avesse assunto il glorioso nome di Kulikovo.

L’Oblast di Kaliningrad è altamente strategico. È l’estrema punta occidentale della Russia ed i suoi porti non ghiacciano durante l’inverno: sono infatti sede della Flotta del Baltico. Con l’acuirsi dei dissensi tra occidentali e russi, quell’area strategica è stata riarmata.

Una cosa è certa. Se in passato gli occidentali trovarono una buona ragione per andare a morire per Danzica, oggi i russi ne hanno altrettanta per andare a morire per Kaliningrad.

* * * * * * *

Mar Baltico. Ancora tensioni tra Russia, Nato ed Unione Europea.

Russia. Schierati gli Iskander a Kaliningrad. Hanno svegliato l’orso che dormiva.

La Russia vuole essere rispettata. Un articolo della Bbc che fa pensare

Russia Aims Missiles At Europe? Moscow Bolsters Air Defense System In Baltic Region Near Poland

Kaliningrad. Zeppo di missili atomici adesso anche black hole.

Kaliningrad. Adesso il buco nero inizia a preoccupare la Nato.

*

«The anti-aircraft systems, which have a range of 400 km, will then be deployed to secure the air space along Russia’s north-western border»

*

«Lanciabile da una piattaforma mobile, l’Iskander viaggia a mach 6.2 – è ipersonico -: in tre o quattro minuti primi arriva da Kaliningrad a Berlino. Quasi nemmeno il tempo di poter dare l’allarme. …. Può portare testate convenzionali ma anche una bomba termonucleare da 50 kTon»

*

«During flight it can maneuver at different altitudes and trajectories and can turn at up to 20 to 30 G to evade anti-ballistic missiles»

* * * * * * *

2018-06-21__Kalinigrad__002

Chiariti questi elementi di base, entriamo nel merito.

La Federation of American Scientists (FAS) ha rilasciato un documento che suggerirebbe quanto segue.

«Russia may have significantly upgraded its nuclear bunker in Kaliningrad»

*

«The photos reportedly showed that Russia may have modernized the nuclear weapons storage bunker which is located in a sensitive enclave of Russian territory which is between Poland and the Baltics.»

*

«one of three underground bunkers at the location was excavated and deepened before it appeared to have been covered over in recent months, “presumably to return (to) operational status soon.”»

* * * * * * * *

Il problema è drammaticamente semplice.

Usualmente le superpotenze atomiche schierano i loro arsenali nucleari molto addentro i loro territori: chiaro indizio di quanto essi costituiscano elemento deterrente, di difesa.

Ma i missili balistici intercontinentali sono abbastanza facilmente rilevabili dai radar avversi e, soprattutto, con un margine di tempo sufficiente per mettere in atto tutte le opportune contromisure. I sistemi anti – missile da ambo le parti sono riferiti in grado di abbattere un buon numero di testate in arrivo.

L’introduzione di missili a corto raggio ma ipersonici ha cambiato le esigenze dello scacchiere.

Lanciabili da mezzi mobili, i missili ipersonici arriverebbero sul bersaglio in tempi così ristretti da rendere impossibile l’attivazione dei sistemi anti – missile. Non solo. Ma gli attuali sistemi radar e missili – antimissile non sarebbero in grado di intercettarli.

*

Sapere che l’Oblast di Kaliningrad rigurgita di questi missili e che a Kulikovo sono stati costruiti grandiosi depositi per armamenti nucleari non concorrerebbe a lasciar fare soni tranquilli.


Fas. 2018-06-19. Russia Upgrades Nuclear Weapons Storage Site In Kaliningrad

During the past two years, the Russian military has carried out a major renovation of what appears to be an active nuclear weapons storage site in the Kaliningrad region, about 50 kilometers from the Polish border.

A Digital Globe satellite image purchased via Getty Images, and several other satellite images viewable on TerraServer, show one of three underground bunkers near Kulikovo being excavated in 2016, apparently renovated, and getting covered up again in 2018 presumably to return operational status soon.

The site was previously upgraded between 2002 and 2010 when the outer security perimeter was cleared. I described this development in my report on U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons from 2012.

The latest upgrade obviously raises questions about what the operational status of the site is. Does it now, has it in the past, or will it in the future store nuclear warheads for Russian dual-capable non-strategic weapon systems deployed in the region? If so, does this signal a new development in Russian nuclear weapons strategy in Kaliningrad, or is it a routine upgrade of an aging facility for an existing capability? The satellite images do not provide conclusive answers to these questions. The Russian government has on numerous occasions stated that all its non-strategic nuclear warheads are kept in “central” storage, a formulation normally thought to imply larger storage sites further inside Russia. So the Kulikovo site could potentially function as a forward storage site that would be supplied with warheads from central storage sites in a crisis.

The features of the site suggest it could potentially serve Russian Air Force or Navy dual-capable forces. But it could also be a joint site, potentially servicing nuclear warheads for both Air Force, Navy, Army, air-defense, and costal defense forces in the region. It is to my knowledge the only nuclear weapons storage site in the Kaliningrad region. Despite media headlines, the presence of nuclear-capable forces in that area is not new; Russia deployed dual-capable forces in Kaliningrad during the Cold War and has continued to do so after. But nearly all of those weapon systems have recently been, or are in the process of being modernized. The Kulikovo site site is located:

– About 8 kilometers (5 miles) miles from the Chkalovsk air base (54.7661°, 20.3985°), which has been undergoing major renovation since 2012 and hosts potentially dual-capable strike aircraft.

– About 27 kilometers (16 miles) from the coastal-defense site near Donskoye (54.9423°, 19.9722°), which recently switched from the SSC-1B Sepal to the P-800 Bastion coastal-defense system. The Bastion system uses the SS-N-26 (3M-55, Yakhont) missile, that U.S. Intelligence estimates is “nuclear possible.”

– About 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the Baltic Sea Fleet base at Baltiysk (54.6400°, 19.9175°), which includes nuclear-capable submarines, destroyers, frigates, and corvettes.

– About 96 kilometers (60 miles) from the 152nd Detachment Missile Brigade at Chernyakovsk (54.6380°, 21.8266°), which has recently been upgraded from the SS-21 SRBM to the SS-26 (Islander) SRBM. Unlike other SS-26 bases, however, Chernyakovsk has not (yet) been added a new missile storage facility.

– Near half a dozen S-300 and S-400 air-defense units deployed in the region. The 2018 NPR states that Russian’s air-defense forces are dual-capable. These sites are located 20 kilometers (13 miles) to 98 kilometers (60 miles) from the storage site.

So there are many potential clients for the Kulikovo nuclear weapons storage site. Similar upgrades have been made to other Russian nuclear weapons storage sites over the base decade, including for the Navy’s nuclear submarine base on the Kamchatka peninsula. There are also ongoing upgrades to other weapons storage sites in the Kaliningrad region, but they do not appear to be nuclear.

The issue of Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons has recently achieved new attention because of the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which accused Russia of increasing the number and types of its non-strategic nuclear weapons. The Review stated Russia has “up to 2,000” non-strategic nuclear weapons, indirectly confirming FAS’ estimate.

NATO has for several years urged Russia to move its nuclear weapons further back from NATO borders. With Russia’s modernization of its conventional forces, there should be even less, not more, justification for upgrading nuclear facilities in Kaliningrad.

Pubblicato in: Armamenti, Cina, Geopolitica Militare, Russia, Stati Uniti

Russia. Chiaroscuri di una potenza militare.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2018-04-11.

Machete 001

Parlare di problemi militari può essere estremamente semplice oppure assurdamente complesso, a seconda che l’interlocutore sia uno del mestiere (ossia un venditore oppure un acquirente di armi), ovvero una persona semplicemente interessata al problema.

Questa ultima categoria, dignitosissima si intende, fatica non poco a vedere le cose nel loro insieme e quasi di norma si perde nei dettagli tecnici: solitamente sono incantati dal grado di sofisticazione di un particolare sistema di arma.

L’arma che ha fatto più morti nelle guerre combattute negli ultimi trenta anni è stata la baionetta ed il machete. Questo dato di fatto è tenuto sempre presente da quanti siano deputati all’addestramento di una forza combattente: l’addestramento al corpo a corpo è più rilevante che il maneggio di armi altamente sofisticate. Esso implica anche un lavorio continuo e profondo sulla volontà combattiva, senza la quale non esiste armamento che tenga.

*

Un secondo aspetto che stranamente pochi sembrerebbero aver compreso a fondo, è la differenza degli obbiettivi stratetici delle grandi superpotenze, America, Cina e Russia.

Mentre l’America ha interessi a livello mondiale e deve quindi disporre di forze armate a tale livello, Cina e Russia hanno una visione strategica locoregionale. Sicuramente si sono dotate di sistemi di arma atomici strategici, intercontinentali, sottomarini atomici e via quant’altro, ma la loro preoccupazione maggiore è quella della sicurezza nazionale. In questa ottica, in una eventuale guerra tra Stati Uniti e Russia la marina militare americana svolgerebbe un ruolo secondario, eccetto i sommergibili atomici.

Un altro aspetto che resta inspiegabilmente incomprensibile a molti è il rapporto beneficio / costo. Ogni sistema di arma richiede investimenti dalla fase di progettazione, costruzione, messa a punto e testaggio. Quindi si apre il capitolo delle spese di manutenzione. Una guerra non è la fiera delle novità, bensì quella della efficienza. Cercheremo di spiegarci con un esempio: costa meno disporre di un missile antiaereo preciso al 100% ma molto costoso, oppure disporre di molti missili antiaerei relativamente poco precisi ma producibili a costi bassi?

*

Russia e Cina non hanno per esempio delle flotte strategiche per il semplice motivo che loro non servono. E le flotte americane avrebbero ben poca utilità in una guerra contro queste nazioni: di fatto non possono entrare nei Mar della Cina, né quello Nord né quello Sud. E le distanze di sicurezza sono talmente ampie da lasciare i territori continentali fuori dal raggio di azione delle armi caricate sulle navi.

«However, the military expert warns that ranking countries by military power is “more or less useless” as armed forces’ effectiveness depends on the goals set by the nation’s leaders.»

*

«This point of view is echoed by Russian journalist and military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, who warns that real-life conflicts depend on many different variables, including the geography and the people involved.»

*

«These problems were exacerbated by the 2014 Crimean crisis, according to the analyst. In the years leading up to the showdown with the West, Moscow was spending at least $500 million in the US shopping for the so-called double-use merchandize, which can be used for both military and civilian purposes.»

*

«It was electronic components for Russian weapons and satellites, different kinds of special glass and steel»

*

«In addition to the nuclear arsenal, there is one area in which Russia is clearly number one. Recently, the Kremlin announced that Russia had more tanks than any other nation in the world …. 20,000 tanks»

* * * * * * * *

Una ultima considerazione.

Le guerre si svolgono tra almeno due belligeranti. La risultante finale è determinata dal comportamento di ambedue.

È davvero caso raro di una guerra combattuta esclusivamente con i criteri di uno dei contendenti. Di conseguenza, sistemi d’arma studiati per un ben determinato impiego potrebbero risultare essere ininfluenti. Un caso da manuale è stata la guerra in Vietnam: la superiorità tecnologica americana fu sconfitta dalla tecnica di guerriglia.

Ci si pensi bene:

«20,000 tanks»


Deutsche Welle. 2018-04-08. The strengths and weaknesses of Russia’s military

Russian armed forces provide Moscow with clear military superiority in the post-Soviet region, despite Russia’s troops not being able to match the whole of NATO. The Kremlin is busy modernizing its army, experts told DW.

*

The US, Russia, and China are considered the world’s strongest nations when it comes to military power, with the US the undisputed number one. Even so, Russia’s still has plenty of arrows in its quiver, most notably the massive nuclear arsenal of some 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads.

Leaving the nuclear weapons aside, however, the US has an overwhelming advantage in conventional forces, including a much stronger navy and air force, Russian military analyst Aleksandr Golts told DW.

China, according to Golts, would also have the advantage of numbers in any conventional showdown with Russia. In other areas, however, things are not as clear-cut.

“Russia’s air force is much stronger than the Chinese for now,” he told DW. “It questionable about the navy, as the Chinese are now undertaking a very ambitious program of ship building and they are much more successful in building a [global] blue Navy fleet than Russia.”

Still, while Russia’s battleships are old, they are often equipped with very modern cruise missiles, according to Golts.

However, the military expert warns that ranking countries by military power is “more or less useless” as armed forces’ effectiveness depends on the goals set by the nation’s leaders.

‘We don’t always know where the target is’

This point of view is echoed by Russian journalist and military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, who warns that real-life conflicts depend on many different variables, including the geography and the people involved.

“It’s like predicting a result of a soccer match: Yes, basically, Brazil should beat America in soccer, but I have seen Americans beat Brazil in South Africa, at the Confederations Cup,” he told DW. “You never know the result until the game is played.”

Felgenhauer notes that Russia is lacking in many areas of modern military technology, including drone design and production, electronic components, as well as radar and satellite reconnaissance. For example, Russia is currently producing surveillance drones under an Israeli license, and it is completely lacking in assault drone capability.

Russia is also working on modernizing its command and control centers, which serve to process information from the battlefield and feed it to the troops.

“That’s what the Russian military is talking about: Yes, we have weapons, including long-range weapons, but our reconaissance capabilities are weaker than our attack capabilities,” Felgenhauer said. “So we have-long range, sometimes precision guided weapons, but we don’t always know where the target is.”

No more German and French satellites

These problems were exacerbated by the 2014 Crimean crisis, according to the analyst. In the years leading up to the showdown with the West, Moscow was spending at least $500 million in the US shopping for the so-called double-use merchandize, which can be used for both military and civilian purposes.

“It was electronic components for Russian weapons and satellites, different kinds of special glass and steel,” Felgenhauer says.

Similarly, “France and Germany were making double-use satellites, which were basically military satellites, recon satellites, for Russia. And all that kind of stopped.”

Good old Soviet weapons

Faced with the West’s embargo, Russia is also working to develop its own drones and close the technological gap in other areas. However, the breakdown of the Soviet Union left Moscow not only weaker in terms of territory and the number of troops, but also when it comes to military suppliers, according to the experts.

“The Soviet Union had an idiotic, but at least very logical economy,” Aleksandr Golts says. “It had nothing to do with market economy, but the main goal for any enterprise on Soviet territory, whether it was designated as military or civilian, was to be ready to produce military goods and equipment in case of war. After the fall of the Soviet Union, these systems disappeared.”

On the other hand, the legacy of the Soviet Union is still very much present in the modern Russian army, as many of its cutting edge systems “are the development of good, old Soviet systems and the modernization of that type of technology,” says Golts.

One such weapon is the decades-old Su-25 attack plane, designed to support ground troops. Russia recently announced that the latest version of the aircraft has entered production.

“It is very well known to all the people who participated in the (1980’s) Afghan war, such as myself,” he told DW. “But, its designers insist it only looks like the old Su-25, that all the avionics are absolutely modern […] and it has shown how good it was during the Syrian war.”

20,000 tanks

In addition to the nuclear arsenal, there is one area in which Russia is clearly number one. Recently, the Kremlin announced that Russia had more tanks than any other nation in the world, notes Felgenhauer.

“Unofficially, I have seen figures of up to 20,000, which would mean that Russia has more tanks than all the NATO countries put together.”

Most of the European powers reduced their tank capabilities after the end of the Cold War, focusing instead on conflicts with terrorist and guerilla groups. This, according to Felgenhauer, puts them at a massive disadvantage in the event of a ground war in Europe.

“Germany has only 300 tanks left right now,” he says. “Britain has, I think, 250, and France also something close to that.”

In the event of all-European war, Russia also holds a logistical advantage over the West, according to Felgenhauer. Where NATO would need months to mobilize it full strength, Russia would be able to bring in reinforcements on a much tighter schedule.

Pubblicato in: Armamenti, Geopolitica Militare, Russia, Stati Uniti

Russia. Nuovo arsenale atomico. – The Diplomat.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2018-03-30.

2018-03-28__Russia_Armamenti atomici 001

«Con l’espressione “Stati con armi nucleari” si indicano quelle nazioni che hanno costruito, hanno testato e sono attualmente in possesso di armi nucleari di qualunque tipo; in termini colloquiali, spesso ci si riferisce a questi Stati con l’espressione “club nucleare”. In base ai termini del Trattato di non proliferazione nucleare (TNP), entrato in vigore il 5 marzo 1970, sono considerate ufficialmente “Stati con armi nucleari” (nuclear weapons states o NWS) quelle nazioni che hanno assemblato e testato ordigni nucleari prima del 1º gennaio 1967: Stati Uniti d’America, Russia (succeduta all’Unione Sovietica), Regno Unito, Francia e Cina, ovvero i cinque membri permanenti del Consiglio di sicurezza delle Nazioni Unite.

Oltre a queste, altre quattro nazioni, non aderenti al TNP, hanno sviluppato e sono in possesso di armamenti nucleari: India, Pakistan, Corea del Nord (aderente al TNP nel 1985 ma ritiratasi da esso nel 2001) ed Israele (sebbene il governo israeliano non abbia mai confermato ufficialmente di possedere un arsenale nucleare); lo status di queste nazioni circa gli armamenti nucleari non è formalmente riconosciuto dagli organismi internazionali, ma è contemplato nelle pianificazioni strategiche dei principali Stati nucleari. Il Sudafrica allestì un arsenale nucleare tra la metà degli anni settanta e la fine degli anni ottanta ma scelse spontaneamente di smantellarlo nel 1991; i neo indipendenti Stati di Bielorussia, Kazakistan ed Ucraina si ritrovarono a gestire armi nucleari ex sovietiche dopo la dissoluzione dell’URSS, smantellandole o restituendole alla Russia entro il 1997.» [Fonte]

*

Le armi atomiche sono un deterrente tale da mantenere le forze in equilibrio, anche se labile. Diciamo che da un punto di vista di Realpolitik interessano sicuramente il numero delle testate, ma soprattutto che le possibili potenze concorrenti abbiano potenzialità ragionevolmente eguali.

Sicuramente negli ultimi lustri sono stati progettati e costruiti sistemi di arma in grado di neutralizzare i missili di potenziali assalitori, ma quanto poi essi siano funzionali sul campo di battaglia è tutto da vedere, anche se si spera che mai lo si debba constatare.

Parlando a spanne, la quantità di armamenti attualmente in linea è tale da poter distruggere completamente il mondo e la vita su di esso.

Negli ultimi tempi la dottrina atomica ha virato dalle bombe di elevata potenza a quelle di potenza molto più limitata, si direbbero quasi di uso tattico, anche se il termine è improprio, pur rendendo l’idea.

A quanto sembrerebbe di capire, ma il condizionale è d’obbligo, Stati Uniti e Russia hanno sviluppato missili vettori ipersonici. Questi vettori sarebbero molto più difficilmente intercettabili.


The Diplomat. 2018-03-22. Russian Nukes: Facts vs. Fiction

2018 has already became a huge year for nuclear weapons-related developments all over the world, with a new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review published, the Russian and U.S. achievement of New START Central Limits, and the Doomsday Clock moved 30 seconds closer to midnight. Last but not least, Russian President Vladimir Putin rather unexpectedly showcased a number of new nuclear delivery vehicles during his annual (although postponed) Address to the Federal Assembly.

Russia remains a key figure for both worldwide nuclear arsenals as well as strategic stability, so it is important to understand the existing and future capabilities of Strategic Rocket Forces and their sea- and air-based companions.

Land

Regarding the land-based leg of Russian nuclear triad, the important part is rather evolutionary: deliveries of new Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) intercontinental-range ballistic missiles or ICBMs (as well as yet to be specified Yars-S) in road-mobile and silo-based variants have led to the complete rearmament of up to three missile divisions, with rearmament ongoing for three. The development of the Barguzin rail-mobile ICBM project has been finished, but deployment was canceled, which back in the day seemed a good sign, as this system was obviously excessive.

Another future system, the Sarmat (SS-X-29) heavy liquid-fuel ICBM faced a number of problems, but eventually reached the ejection test stage, which was deemed successful. This missile is said to be more powerful than the renowned Satan (SS-18). However, using it as delivery vehicle for multiple (10+) warheads looks like an unnecessary capability given the existing New START limits (700 deployed launchers and 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads).

Now we come to the “gliding cruise bloc” Avangard, a hypersonic glider previously known as “Project 4202” or “Yu-71.” This type of payload, said to enter serial production, is capable of precise hits on any target, avoiding any existing or future missile defenses. The mating of Avangard and Sarmat (probably up to five gliders per missile, but likely less) seems the most appropriate way to use those new toys.

There were six ICBM test launches over 2017, related both to life extension and new payload types. As usual, the number was lower than previously announced; the same dynamics will probably remain in 2018.

Overall, Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) commander Sergei Karakayev remains committed to the 400 ICBMs at his disposal, but this number obviously includes nondeployed missiles, as otherwise there’s no chance for Russia to get under New START limits. It’s important to note that, given the rapid decline of the provisional “warheads-per-vehicle” coefficient over the last year, there’s a chance that “un-deployment” for existing heavy ICBMs (the SS-18 and SS-19) had already taken place.

Coming back to Putin’s nuclear weapons extravaganza, there’s one more system possibly related to the ground leg, the nuclear-powered cruise missile (possibly 9M730, but no one knows for sure) with unlimited range. Its current status, research, and deployment schedules are yet to be disclosed (or not), but it is worth noting, that “examples” given during the address were the sea-launched Tomahawk and air-launched Kh-101. However, the launcher used during the test shown in the relevant video resembles several types of self-propelled launchers for tactical surface-to-surface and anti-ship missiles combined.

Sea

The sea leg of the nuclear triad launched several SS-N-23A Sinevas and a single SS-N-32 Bulava in 2017. The latter fact raises some concern, as we are yet to witness the possibility of salvo fires with this missile system. The Tula (Delta-IV class) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) returned from repairs to the Northern Fleet, while Bryansk of the same type (praised for a successful submarine-launched ballistic missile launch during strategic exercises by the fleet commander), left in turn for Zvezdochka to undergo work to repair, modernize, and restore its combat readiness.

Judging from the official photos, two Borei and 3 Delta-III SSBNs are ready for combat duty in the Pacific Ocean. The first 955A (Borei-A), Prince Vladimir, took to the water in 2017 as well. The original Borei class used the hulls from the Soviet reserve, so this ship is the first of entirely new construction. It’s worth noting that over the past year there were a number of confirmations regarding plans to develop an even more advanced underwater cruiser, Borei-B, within the framework of the State Armaments Program-2027 (GPV-2027).

There were a number of disclosures and an eventual statement by Putin on new unmanned underwater “drones,” namely Status-6 (or Kanyon) and Klavesin-2P (Harpsichord). It is rather strange that those two systems appeared in the same video and now are waiting for “public” designations together as well, because they obviously have different purposes. The main task of Klavesin-2P is believed to be expanding situational awareness for submarines, while Status-6 is an “intercontinental nuclear-tipped torpedo,” capable of destroying coastal infrastructure and (at least as shown in the video rendering) surface ship strike groups. It is yet to be understood how such a system, supposedly carrying a multimegaton nuclear warhead, should be factored into existing and future arms control agreements. Status-6 is a strategic system, so it seems appropriate to include this beast into some future START-type treaty, but one must keep in mind that long-range nuclear-tipped submarine-launched cruise missiles, which are still in service in the Russian Navy (and possibly will see a return for the U.S. Navy as well), are not covered by existing treaties, while having strategic implications.

Air

The most important “material” event for the Russia Air Force’s Strategic Aviation over the last year happened in 2018: first “new” Tu-160 (“Blackjack”) Heavy Bomber took its maiden flight. Of course one must remember that it was built using anunfinished body and it is yet to be understood which types (Tu-160M/160M1/160M2) will be produced and when, but this is an important milestone nevertheless. A contract for 10 planes was signed. A proper “future bomber,” PAK DA is yet to be disclosed; the only specification we may be sure about is that it will be based on a “flying wing” scheme. There’s word that some level of unification regarding avionics and weapons will be achieved for new Blackjacks and the PAK DA.

As for today, the main capability increase for the air leg of Russia’s nuclear triad is being achieved by the modernization of existing Tu-160 and Tu-95MS (Bear-H) aircraft, so they can use Kh-101 cruise missiles. This long-range stealthy cruise missile (Kh-102 for nuclear-tipped variant) will remain the main armament for new heavy bombers as well.

Heavy bombers remain an important signalling tool. Blackjacks and Bears routinely visit faraway airspace and airdromes, serving as a reminder of Russian strategic capabilities. Also, they are the only part of the triad (Luckily) that has seen real action: there were at least 66 air-launched cruise missiles launched at Islamic State terrorists in Syria.

During Vladimir Putin’s address, the air-based hypersonic weapons system “Kinzhal” (“Dagger”) was demonstrated, and even said to have entered test service in the Southern Federal (sic) District of Russia. The easiest way to describe this system is an Iskander-M (SS-26 Stone) solid-fuel aeroballistic missile (probably a 9M723 derivative) mated to MiG-31 (Foxhound) interceptor. The system is capable of hitting ground and sea-surface targets, avoiding missile defenses, and serves as a good example how existing technological marvels may produce synergy. It is yet to be determined if the stated 2,000 kilometer range means the missile only or the system as a whole. Kinzhal does not fall under New START definitions for strategic air leg, as Foxhound is hardly a heavy bomber, and the missile is obviously not cruise-type, but this is an important topic for discussion among experts and policymakers.

Stability or Escalation?

Russia remains fully capable of destroying the United States, and, most importantly, U.S. Strategic Command capabilities are roughly the same. This balance remains a pillar of global peace, even under the currently strained relations between the great powers. Discussions on limited nuclear use will likely remain unrelated to reality; any nuclear use will lead to full-scale retaliation.

What is important is how other nuclear-weapons states may be factored into the equation. Russia has until recently insisted that any further reductions can’t be achieved on a bilateral basis, while “third parties” have speculated that they can’t “join the game” while Russian and U.S. arsenals are bigger by such a great margin. Another issue in the strategic arms debate is U.S. Missile Defense, an overhyped problem for both the domestic audience and some military experts in Russia. Showing a great number of new “penetrating” nuclear delivery vehicles must be seen not as “saber-rattling” but as a therapy for the audience both within Russia and abroad.

However, an unusual statement was made by Vladimir Putin during his interview for NBC, which may show a way to overcome both problems. He said that Russia is ready to continue the dialogue on existing and new strategic arms control treaties, and added that, given new weapons’ missile defense penetration capabilities, “We no longer consider the reduction of ballistic missiles and warheads to be highly critical.” He indicated that new strategic weapons also will be included in the grand total.

Such an attitude is yet to see implementation in detailed strategic stability talks (it’s possible that this may have been a subject of the recently postponed meeting), but the parties seem ready for discussion. Future reductions may open the way for third parties to join the process – initially by agreeing to some level of transparency and confidence-building measures.

Military planners in every country think about waging and winning nuclear war, but testing their calculations remains superfluous.

Pubblicato in: Armamenti, Geopolitica Militare, India

India. Operativo il missile anti – carro Atgm Nag.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2018-03-13.

2018-03-05__Nag__001

I Nāga (नाग “serpente”, femminile “nagini”) sono un’antica razza di uomini-serpente presente nella religiosità e nella mitologia vedica e induista; storie di Naga fanno ancora parte della tradizione popolare di molte regioni a predominanza indù (India, Nepal, Bali) e buddhista (Sri Lanka, Sud-Est asiatico).

I Nāga sono particolarmente popolari nel Sud dell’India, dove si crede che donino fertilità ai loro fedeli. Secondo leggende indù, sono servi di Varuna, dio vedico delle tempeste.

Il nome dato a quel missile è tutto un programma.

* * * * * * *


Nag Anti-Tank Guided Missile [Army Technology]

Nag is a third-generation, fire-and-forget, anti-tank guided missile developed by India’s state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to support both mechanised infantry and airborne forces of the Indian Army.

The missile incorporates an advanced passive homing guidance system and possesses high single-shot kill probability. It is designed to destroy modern main battle tanks and other heavily armoured targets.

Nag can be launched from land and air-based platforms. The land version is currently available for integration on the Nag missile carrier (NAMICA), which is derived from a BMP-2 tracked infantry combat vehicle.

The helicopter-launched configuration, designated as helicopter-launched NAG (HELINA), can be fired from Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH) and HAL Rudra (ALH WSI) attack helicopter.

Development

The Nag missile was indigenously developed under the Indian Ministry of Defence’s integrated guided missile development programme (IGMDP), which also involved the development of four other missiles that are Agni, Akash, Trishul and Prithvi.

Bharat Dynamics (BDL) produced imaging infrared seekers for the weapon.

The first test of Nag was conducted in November 1990. A test launch of the missile from a tube in programmed control mode was performed at the Interim Test Range, Balasore, Odisha in September 2001.

Two Nag missiles were successfully test fired in June 2002.

User trials of the Nag anti-tank missile against static and moving targets were conducted in 2007 and 2008 respectively, while the development tests were concluded in August 2008.

Seeker evaluation tests for the missile were conducted at the Pokhran Test Range in Rajasthan in July 2013. Tests on the HELINA were carried out at the Chandan Firing Range in Rajasthan in July 2015.

A Nag weapon with a modified seeker successfully destroyed a thermal target system (TTS) at a range of 4km during test firing conducted in the Mahajan Field Firing Range, Rajasthan, in January 2016.

The anti-tank missile took part in the Bahrain International Airshow in Bahrain in January 2016. It will undergo final user trials under different weather conditions in 2016.

Nag anti-tank guided missile design and features

The Nag anti-armour guided weapon’s airframe is built with lightweight and high-strength composite materials. The missile features top-attack capability and has high immunity to countermeasures.

The missile is equipped with four foldable wings and has a length of 1.85m, diameter of 0.20m, wing span of 0.4m and weight of 43kg.

A blunt nose cone houses the guidance system, while the middle portion accommodates a compact sensor package and the main charge of the warhead. A booster rocket motor is located towards the rear. Four tail fins are fitted at the rear to stabilise the missile while in flight.

A real-time image processor with fast and efficient algorithms is installed next to the guidance section to provide automatic target detection and tracking capabilities. The digital autopilot offers guidance, stability and control for the missile during the flight.

Nag is also outfitted with an electric actuation system for flight control.

Guidance and warhead

A passive imaging infrared (IIR) homing seeker guides the missile to the target after its launch in all lighting conditions. The missile can be optionally offered with a millimetre wave active radar seeker.

The Namica variant has lock-on-before launch capability, while the air-launched configuration uses lock-on after launch technology.

An 8kg tandem-shaped charge high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead, with a precursor and a main charge, provides the weapon with a high kill probability.

The precursor charge penetrates the explosive reactive armour (ERA) of the tanks and the main charge is intended to destroy the main armour.

Propulsion and performance of Nag guided weapon

The Nag anti-armour guided missile is fitted a with high-energy propulsion system consisting of booster and sustainer propellants. The sustainer propellant burns a nitramine smokeless extruded double base (EDB).

The weapon can fly at a speed of 230m/s and has the capability to engage both static and moving targets under all weather conditions during the day and at night. The range of the land version is 4km, while HELINA can reach up to 7km.

NAMICA launcher

Up to eight ready-to-fire missiles can be carried in two quadruple armoured box launchers mounted on the NAMICA anti-tank guided missile.

Each launcher can fire four missiles in one minute. The NAMICA vehicle can be optionally equipped with an additional four missiles.

* * * * * * *

«The Indian Army intends to procure up to 8,000 Nags, although it most likely will place an initial order for only 500 ATGM systems»

*

«the Indian Army has a requirement for around 68,000 anti-ATGMs of various types and over 850 launchers»

*

«Nag has been developed at a cost of ₹3 billion (US$45.9 million)»

*

«The cost of third-generation ATGWs runs to thousands of dollars, so ATGWs are generally bolstered by cheaper anti-armour rocket launchers such as the RPG-7»

* * * * * * *

Gli indiani hanno dimostrato negli ultimi anni una spiccata attitudine a riuscire a progettare e costruire armi efficienti a costi davvero bassi.

Questo è un aspetto spesso poco valutato nei commenti e nei report.

Se è vero che un carro armato ha un grande volume di fuoco e contro la fanteria sembrerebbe essere quasi invulnerabile, se è altrettanto vero che tutti i moderni carri armati sono dotati di efficienti sistemi di difesa, è altrettanto vero che il costo di un missile tipo Javelin è molto elevato. A questo ultimo si richiede quindi una ben maggiore capacità distruttiva, ma anche esso non è infallibile.

Un altro aspetto da valutarsi è che al momento, per nostra grande fortuna, questi sistemi di arma sono stati testati contro eserciti fatiscenti, dotati di carri armati obsoleti.

Ma una cosa è entrare in azione contro l’esercito di Saddam Hussein, ed una totalmente differente è confrontarsi con un esercito equipollente per armamento ed addestramento.


Asia Defence. 2018-03-03. India’s New Anti-Tank Guided Missile Destroys 2 Tanks in Test

An indigenously designed and developed anti-tank guided missile was successfully tested on February 28.

*

India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) successfully tested its indigenously designed and developed third-generation anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) Nag in desert conditions against two tank targets on February 28, according to an Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) press release.

The tests “have once again proved its capability,” the statement reads. “With this, the developmental trials of the missile have been completed and it is now ready for induction.” The Indian Army has so far not publicly commented on the successful Nag ATGM test. Notably, DRDO had announced the completion of development trials already in September 2017.

Indian Army officials have repeatedly stated that they expect development trials to be concluded by the end of 2018.  The Army has delayed the induction of the Nag, a fire-and-forget ATGM with an estimated range of 4 kilometers, due to numerous technical shortcomings including inadequate thermal sensors. The missile’s high price tag has also been a point of controversy.

The Nag ATGM, manufactured by India’s sole missile producer, state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited, until the recent test had only been fired from an armored combat vehicle specifically designed for that purpose. As I reported in 2017:

—–

The Nag Missile Carrier (NAMICA) is an Indian license-produced variant of the Soviet-era BMP-II armored infantry fighting vehicle. NAMICA can launch Nag missiles from a retractable armored launcher that contains four launch tubes (the armored vehicle can carry up to 12 missiles in total) and the guidance package including a thermal imager for target acquisition. The missile’s targeting system is based on visual identification prior to its launch (‘lock-on-before-launch system’).

—–

DRDO has been working on the Nag ATGM for over a decade. The Indian Army intends to procure up to 8,000 Nags, although it most likely will place an initial order for only 500 ATGM systems. As I reported in January, the Indian Army has a requirement for around 68,000 anti-ATGMs of various types and over 850 launchers.

“The service is reportedly pushing for a fast-track procurement of 2,500 third-generation shoulder-fired ATGMs and 96 launchers through a government-to-government contract,” I noted. “Weapon systems under consideration include the Israeli Spike ATGM and the FGM-148 Javelin ATGM.”

In December 2017, the Indian government scrapped a $500 million deal with Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. for 321 Spike ATGM systems and 8,356 missiles in favor of an indigenous ATGM system currently under development by DRDO.

The cancellation of the deal was allegedly the result of intense lobbying by DRDO, which has vowed to expedite delivery of the Nag ATGM system. The Indian Army originally selected the Spike ATGM over the U.S.-made FGM-148 Javelin ATGM system in October 2014, expecting the Nag ATGM not to be ready for operational deployment for some time.

Pubblicato in: Economia e Produzione Industriale, Geopolitica Militare, Unione Europea

Germania. Gigante dai piedi di argilla. – Handelsblatt

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2018-03-12.

Gigante dai Piedi di Argilla

Handelsblatt è il giornale della confindustria tedesca. Formalmente filogovernativo, qualsiasi sia il governo in carica, è sostanzialmente scettico sulla attuale situazione: il paziente era vivo un secondo prima di morire. Il fatto dunque che la Germania stia in piedi non è certo garanzia che prosegua a starci.

I dati sono molto semplici da leggersi, ma difficili da essere interiorizzati.

Secondo l’International Monetary Fund nel 2017 il pil ppa della Germania arriva a 4,149.573 miliardi Usd, contro un pil ppa mondiale di 126,687.917 miliardi Usd: la Germania conta quindi il 3.27% dell’economia mondiale. Per paragone, l’India con un pil ppa di 9,446.789 miliardi Usd vale il 7.46% del pil ppa mondiale: oltre il doppio della Germania.

In parole estremamente povere, la Germania è obbligata dalla realtà a dover ritornare nei ranghi: non si può essere supponenti quando si vale solo il 3.27%, e, per di più, si è in declino.

Piaccia o non piaccia, al mondo esistono anche gli altri.

Per esempio, la detassazione in atto negli Stati Uniti, unitamente al ritorno dei dazi, nonché la svalutazione politica del dollaro sono elementi dei quali la Germania dovrebbe tenere in un’accurata attenzione. Ripetiamo: tutti i pugili stavano in piedi prima di finire ko.

Tutti si sciacquano la bocca con le future nuove tecnologie: future, non attuali. Ma oggi, adesso, in questo momento, si devono comprare all’estero le materie prime delle quali la Germania non dispone. Fuori i soldi, quindi, ed accettare prezzi anche triplicati.

*

«Growing global demand for everything from aluminum to zinc is squeezing Germany’s muscular export economy»

*

«A global rebound in raw-materials prices has boosted the profits of mining companies»

*

«But it also threatens to pinch German manufacturers …. Many depend on imports like iron ore, copper, and coal, as well as lithium, graphite, and cobalt for electric autos, batteries, wind turbines and other new technologies»

*

«Germany spends more than $100 billion a year on imported oil, gas, coal, ore, metals and other basic commodities»

*

«The bad news for German industry is that prices for iron ore, coal, nickel and copper have risen more than 75 percent on average from their lows two years go. The big global mining companies – Glencore, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American – reaped combined profits of $23.6 billion in 2017, almost 20 times more than in the previous year»

*

«Demand for lithium, a vital component for the batteries in electric autos, is expected to quadruple by 2035»

*

«China, in particular, explains the demand increases. It accounts for 40 to 60 percent of demand for industrial metals by itself»

*

«This boom in input prices “increases the costs for the manufacturing industry in Germany»

*

«It is estimated to cost more than $100 billion.»

*

A conti fatti – già, quei numeri orrore dei politici – in breve la Germania si troverà una spesa extra di circa 100 miliardi per approvvigionarsi di materie prime. E questa che le vada bene: queste sono stime minimali. E per di più saranno sempre in continuo aumento.

In parole povere, l’export tedesco si illanguidirà nel tempo.

*

Uno dei drammi dei paesi occidentali è che i politici ed i governi sono eletti per lassi di tempo brevi: dai quattro ai cinque anni. I governanti hanno quindi un orizzonte temporale che va dalla fatica per vincere la competizione elettorale alla prossima susseguente tornata. Ma il problema delle materie prime non può essere affrontato con piani economici e finanziari articolati su durate temporali così brevi.

Ce lo si ricordi bene: il gigante dai piedi di argilla stava in piedi fino a tanto che un sassolino non lo urtò.


Handelsblatt. 2018-03-06. Rising prices of raw materials pose risk to German industry

Growing global demand for everything from aluminum to zinc is squeezing Germany’s muscular export economy.

*

A global rebound in raw-materials prices has boosted the profits of mining companies. But it also threatens to pinch German manufacturers. Many depend on imports like iron ore, copper, and coal, as well as lithium, graphite, and cobalt for electric autos, batteries, wind turbines and other new technologies.

Germany’s seemingly invincible export economy has thus discovered its Achilles heel. Europe’s industrial powerhouse relies on imports for most of its raw materials. Germany spends more than $100 billion a year on imported oil, gas, coal, ore, metals and other basic commodities. Virtually all metals come from outside the country, often in the form of semi-finished goods like pipes, sheets, wire or castings. In all, Germany gets four-fifths of the periodic table of elements from abroad – twice the share it imported a century ago.

The bad news for German industry is that prices for iron ore, coal, nickel and copper have risen more than 75 percent on average from their lows two years go. The big global mining companies – Glencore, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American – reaped combined profits of $23.6 billion in 2017, almost 20 times more than in the previous year.

—–

Germany gets 80% of the periodic table of elements from abroad.

—–

And there is no end in sight. Demand for lithium, a vital component for the batteries in electric autos, is expected to quadruple by 2035, according to the German Mineral Resources Agency. Demand for more basic metals and energy sources is being driven by ambitious infrastructure plans in the world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China.

China, in particular, explains the demand increases. It accounts for 40 to 60 percent of demand for industrial metals by itself, according to Julian Kettle at Wood Mackenzie. China is now building out its so-called “Silk Road Economic Belt”, a gigantic rail-to-ports project linking China to markets in Europe, Asia and Africa. It is estimated to cost more than $100 billion.

This boom in input prices “increases the costs for the manufacturing industry in Germany,” Henry von Klencke, a raw materials analyst at the BDI German Industry Federation, told Handelsblatt. And no increase in supply is likely in the foreseeable future. It can take five to seven years for a new mine to become operational, so those investments should already be under way. They are not. There will be a shortage of copper within two years, analysts at Australia’s Bank Macquarie reckon.

“The times when one mine after the other was opened up are past,” said Ernst Frankl at Oliver Wyman consultants. The companies will hold back until they are sure the new mines will produce commensurate earnings in the very long run.

Investors, too, have been hesitant bid up mining stocks, despite the record profits. “It surprises me a lot that the market is so guarded toward raw materials producers,” said Evy Hambro, who heads up the sector for giant money manager BlackRock. “The companies are once again producing free cash flow; they are paying high dividends, and there’s a whole array of raw materials experiencing supply shortages while the global economy is growing and demand is increasing,” Mr. Hambro said. And yet, investors are not clamoring for these stocks.

Pubblicato in: Geopolitica Militare, Geopolitica Mondiale, Putin, Russia

Kremlin. Putin. Direttive strategiche russe.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2018-01-31.

 Putin 1000

La strategia del Presidente Putin è stata delineata con puntigliosa cura nel Valdai Discussion Club Report.

Global revolt and global order. The revolutionary situation in condition of the world and what to do about it.

Valdai. Mr Putin delinea la futura politica estera russa.

La lettura di questi documenti è prolegomeno e parte integrante dell’articolo.

Dopo un’intervista rilasciata dal Presidente Putin alla Cnn un anno fa (Interview to NBC), riportiamo in extenso

Russia’s Changing Relations with the West: Prospects for a New Hybrid System.

reso pubblico il 19 di gennaio dal Russian International Affairs Council.

* * * * * * *

«And I will never forget that, just like I will never forget the state in which this country was in the early 1990s.»

*

«The Constitution of the United States and the electoral legislation are structured in such a way that more electors can vote for a candidate who is backed by fewer voters. And such situations do occur in the history of the United States. …. The other thing is that I am deeply convinced that no interference from the outside, in any country, even a small one, let alone in such a vast and great power as the United States, can influence the final outcome of the elections. It is not possible. Ever.»

*

«It does not sound like justification. It sounds like a statement of fact»

*

«Listen, his boss is the foreign minister. Do you think I have the time to talk to our ambassadors all over the world every day? This is nonsense»

*

«And virtually every person we have met on the street says what they respect about you is they feel that you have returned dignity to Russia, that you’ve returned Russia to a place of respect.»

* * * * * * *

«The common view in Moscow is that Trump had been overrated, that U.S.-Russian relations did not have a chance, that the Deep State is simply too powerful for any President to turn around, and that the U.S. establishment is genetically Russo-phobic»

*

Tutto il resto discende di logica conseguenza.


Kremlin. President of Russia. 2017-01-05. Interview to NBC

On the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, Vladimir Putin answered questions from NBC anchor Megyn Kelly.

*

Megyn Kelly: President Putin, you have repeatedly and passionately denied that Russia was behind the interference with our American presidential election, including on stage at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

But as you know, the consensus view in the United States is that you did. That’s what the 17 intelligence agencies concluded and that’s what the Republicans and the Democrats on the Congressional oversight committees who have seen the classified report have said. Are they all lying?

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: They have been misled and they are not analysing the information in its entirety. I have not once seen any direct proof of Russia’s interference in the presidential election in the USA.

We have talked about it with former president Obama and with several other officials. No one ever showed me any direct evidence.

When we spoke with President Obama about that, you know, you should probably better ask him about it – I think he will tell you that he, too, is confident of it. But when he and I talked I saw that he, too, started having doubts. At any rate, that’s how I saw it.

I have already told you, and I can say it again, that today’s technology is such that the final address can be masked and camouflaged to an extent that no one will be able to understand the origin of that address. And, vice versa, it is possible to set up any entity or any individual that everyone will think that they are the exact source of that attack.

Modern technology is very sophisticated and subtle and allows this to be done. And when we realize that we will get rid of all the illusions. That’s one thing. The other thing is that I am deeply convinced that no interference from the outside, in any country, even a small one, let alone in such a vast and great power as the United States, can influence the final outcome of the elections. It is not possible. Ever.

Megyn Kelly: But the other side says is it was only 70,000 votes that won Trump the election, and therefore influencing 70,000 people might not have been that hard.

Vladimir Putin: The Constitution of the United States and the electoral legislation are structured in such a way that more electors can vote for a candidate who is backed by fewer voters. And such situations do occur in the history of the United States. True, isn’t it?

Therefore, if we were to discuss some kind of political and social justice, then probably that electoral legislation needs to be changed and bring a situation where the head of state would be elected by direct secret ballot and so there will be direct tabulation of votes that can be easily monitored. That’s all there is to it. And there will be no need for those who have lost the elections to point fingers and blame their troubles on anybody.

Now, if we turn this page over, I will tell you something that you most likely know about. I don’t want to offend anyone, but the United States, everywhere, all over the world, is actively interfering in electoral campaigns in other countries. Is this really news to you?

Just talk to people but in such a way (to the extent it is possible for you) so as to convince them that you’re not going to make it public. Point your finger to any spot on the world’s map, everywhere you’ll hear complaints that American officials interfere in their political domestic processes.

Therefore, if someone, and I am not saying that it’s us (we did not interfere), if anybody does influence in some way or attempts to influence or somehow participates in these processes, then the United States has nothing to be offended by. Who is talking? Who is taking offense that we are interfering? You yourselves interfere all the time.

Megyn Kelly: That sounds like a justification.

Vladimir Putin: It does not sound like justification. It sounds like a statement of fact. Each action invites appropriate counteraction, but, again, we don’t need to do that because I did not tell you this without a reason, both you personally and other members of the media, recently I was in France and I said the same things.

Presidents come and go, and even parties come to and away from power. But the main policy tack does not change. So by and large we don’t care who will be at the helm in the United States. We have a rough idea of what is going to happen. And in this regard, even if we wanted to it wouldn’t make any sense for us to interfere.

Megyn Kelly: You had said for months that Russia had nothing to do with the interference of the American election, and then this week you floated the idea of patriotic hackers doing it. Why the change and why now?

Vladimir Putin: It’s just that the French journalists asked me about those hackers, and just like I told them, I can tell you, that hackers may be anywhere. They may be in Russia, in Asia, in America, in Latin America. There may be hackers, by the way, in the United States who very craftily and professionally passed the buck to Russia. Can’t you imagine such a scenario? In the middle of an internal political fight, it was convenient for them, whatever the reason, to put out that information. And put it out they did. And, doing it, they made a reference to Russia. Can’t you imagine it happening? I can. Let us recall the assassination of President Kennedy.

There is a theory that Kennedy’s assassination was arranged by the United States special services. If this theory is correct, and one cannot rule it out, so what can be easier in today’s context, being able to rely on the entire technical capabilities available to special services than to organise some kind of attacks in the appropriate manner while making a reference to Russia in the process. Now, the candidate for the Democratic Party, is this candidate universally beloved in the United States? Was it such a popular person? That candidate, too, had political opponents and rivals.

Megyn Kelly: Let’s move on. A special counsel has been appointed to investigate contacts between your government and the Trump campaign. You have said that your ambassador Kislyak was just doing his job. Right? So, what exactly was discussed in those meetings?

Vladimir Putin: There were no sessions. You see, there were no sessions. When I saw that my jaw dropped.

Megyn Kelly: No meetings between Ambassador Kislyak and anybody from the Trump campaign?

Vladimir Putin: No clue. I am telling you honestly. I don’t know. That’s an ambassador’s every day, routine work. Do you think, an ambassador from any place in the world or from the US reports to me daily as to whom he meets with and what they discuss? It’s just absurd. Do you even understand what you are asking me?

Megyn Kelly: Well, you’re his boss.

Vladimir Putin: Listen, his boss is the foreign minister. Do you think I have the time to talk to our ambassadors all over the world every day? This is nonsense. Don’t you understand that this is just some kind of nonsense. I don’t even know with whom he met there. Had there been something out of the ordinary, something remarkable he of course would have advised the minister and the minister would have informed me. Nothing of that happened.

Megyn Kelly: Since it happened have you gone back to speak with the ambassador about what was in those discussions he had with Jared Kushner, with General Michael Flynn, with anybody else from the Trump campaign?

Vladimir Putin: No, I haven’t.

Megyn Kelly: Aren’t you interested?

Vladimir Putin: No. Because if there had been something meaningful he would have made a report to the minister, and the minister would have made a report to me. There weren’t even any reports. Just every day, routine work that doesn’t mean anything that may not even have any prospects.

It’s just that someone decided to find fault with it and, you know, select it as a line of attack against the current President. This isn’t for us to get into, these are your domestic political squabbles. So you deal with them. Nothing to talk about.

There was not even a specific discussion of sanctions or something else. I just find it amazing how you created a sensation where there wasn’t anything at all. And proceeded to turn that sensation into a tool for fighting the sitting president. You know, you’re just very resourceful people there, well done, probably your lives there are boring.

Megyn Kelly: I am sure you have heard by now that one of the things they are looking into is the fact that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, reportedly discussed with Ambassador Kislyak in December establishing a back channel for communications between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And the suggestion was, by Mr Kushner, that they could do this at a Russian embassy or a Russian consulate. That they could use Russia’s communications gear to make those communications happen so that the United States intelligence service could not hear. Does that strike you as a good idea?

Vladimir Putin: Russia had no channels of communication with neither campaign, the campaigns of the US Presidential candidates. None whatsoever. Russia did not set up and did not have any channels with anyone. There may have been official contacts with the campaigns of all the candidates, which is a standard diplomatic practice.

Megyn Kelly: This is a proposal, a proposal by Mr Kushner.

Vladimir Putin: I am not aware of such a proposal. No such proposal ever reached me.

Megyn Kelly: Did you know General Michael Flynn? He came over here for a dinner a photo of which has been widely circulated in the American media. What was the nature of your relationship with him?

Vladimir Putin: You and I, we have a much closer relationship than with Mr Flynn. You and I met up yesterday evening. You and I have worked all day together. We are meeting yet again at this moment. When I came to the event at our company, Russia Today, and sat down at the table, next to me there was a gentleman, and someone else was sitting down on my other side.

I made a speech, then we talked about something else, then I got up and left. Afterwards, I was told, ”You know, that American gentleman, he used to do this before, used to work in the special services. And now he does this.“ ”Great,“ I said, ”Are you working with him somehow?“ “No, we just invited him as a guest, one of the guests.” And I replied: “Well, good for you!” And that’s it.

I almost did not talk to him. I said hello, we sat next to each other, then I said goodbye and left. This sums up my entire acquaintanceship with Mr Flynn. If Mr Flynn and I had this kind of interaction, while you and I, we have spent an entire day together, and Mr Flynn was fired from his job, you then should be arrested and put in jail.

Megyn Kelly: Many Americans hear the name, Vladimir Putin. And they think, ”He runs a country full of corruption, a country in which journalists, who are too critical, could wind up murdered, a country in which dissidents could wind up in jail or worse.“ To people who believe that, what is your message?

Vladimir Putin: I want to say that Russia is developing along a democratic path, this is without question so. No one should have any doubts about that. The fact that, amidst political rivalry and some other domestic developments, we see things happen here that are typical of other countries, I do not see anything unusual in it.

We have rallies, opposition rallies. And people here have the right to express their point of view. However, if people, while expressing their views, break the current legislation, the effective law in place, then of course, the law enforcement agencies try to restore order.

I am calling your attention to something that I discussed recently when on a trip to France and in my discussions with other European colleagues. Our police force, fortunately, so far, do not use batons, tear gas or any other extreme measures of instilling order, something that we often see in other countries, including in the United States.

Speaking of opposition, let us recall the movement Occupy Wall Street. Where is it now? The law enforcement agencies and special services in the US have taken it apart, into little pieces, and have dissolved it. I’m not asking you about how things stand in terms of democracy in the United States. Especially so that the electoral legislation is far from being perfect in the US. Why do you believe you are entitled to put such questions to us and, mind you, do it all the time, to moralize and to teach us how we should live?

We are ready to listen to our partners, ready to listen to appraisals and assessments when it is done in a friendly manner, in order to establish contacts and create a common atmosphere and dedicate ourselves to shared values. But we absolutely will not accept when such things are used as a tool of political struggle. I want everybody to know that. This is our message.

Megyn Kelly: There have been questions in America about Donald Trump’s finances. He hasn’t released his tax returns. There have been questions about this secret Russian dossier, which he says is fake, but which purports to have blackmail information in it generated by the Russians. There have been questions about the communications between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, all of which has Americans asking, ”Do you have something damage on our president?“

Vladimir Putin: Well, this is just another piece of nonsense. Where would we get any information about him? Did we have some kind of special relationship with him. There was no relationship whatsoever. Yes, he visited Moscow in his day. But, you know, I never met him.

Many Americans come here. There are representatives of 100 companies from the US, who have come to Russia. Do you think I have met each and every representative of those American companies? You probably saw me walk into the conference hall, where our colleagues were sitting. I consider them all to be our friends. They are all working in Russia and many of them have been doing it for many years. They are investors. They are the CEOs of major US companies. They are interested in joint work. And that’s great! And we will welcome each and every one of them. And we will consider each of them our friend.

And we will help them implement their plans in Russia and will try to steer things in a direction so that they can work here successfully and make a profit.

And should they all be arrested for it afterwards? Have you lost your minds there or something? What about the freedom of economy? What about human rights? Do you think we are gathering dirt on all of them now? Are you all right in the head, all of you there?

Megyn Kelly: Last question. We have been here in St Petersburg for about a week now. And virtually every person we have met on the street says what they respect about you is they feel that you have returned dignity to Russia, that you’ve returned Russia to a place of respect. You’ve been in the leadership of this country for 17 years now. Has it taken any sort of personal toll on you?

Vladimir Putin: I hope not. Do you know what I feel? I feel this live, direct connection to this land, to its history, to this country. You have said that you have been in St Petersburg for several days. Yesterday, I had a conversation with Indian Prime Minister. He had visited the Piskarevskoye Memorial Cemetery, where almost 400,000 residents of Leningrad were buried, most of them civilians. They died during the siege of Leningrad. They starved to death. And buried in one of those graves is my older brother whom I have never seen. And I will never forget that, just like I will never forget the state in which this country was in the early 1990s.

You and I have had a debate today in the course of our conversation. However, in this country, since 2000 – and we have many problems, and recently even the poverty threshold has become a little worse than we planned – the situation will recover, I am confident of that, and yet our population’s real wages have grown manifold. And so have pensions.

Our economy has become completely different, on the whole. The size has changed. The economy has almost doubled in size. And the quality is changing, not as fast as we would like it to, but the structure is changing.

Our Armed Forces are completely different today from what they were, say 15 years ago or so.

All of this, including our great history, great culture, all of this, not just what we see today, is what makes the vast majority of Russia’s citizens feel proud for their country.

Megyn Kelly: Mr President, thank you very much. 


Russian International Affairs Council. 2018-01-19. Russia’s Changing Relations with the West: Prospects for a New Hybrid System.

At the end of 2016, both the political and expert communities in Russia appeared to be very pessimistic about the future of the world order in general, and the about the future of the West in particular. Indeed, the year had turned out to be an annus horribilis in many ways; numerous doomsday prophets referred to various harbingers of the looming cataclysms. They mentioned the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union and the victory of a non-system candidate in the U.S. presidential election. They highlighted the nearly global rise of right-wing populism and antiglobalism to a level that was unprecedented in recent decades. They talked about the wave of migration that was threatening to consume Europe. They pointed to the impotence of international organizations in the face of multiplying regional conflicts, and they noted a widespread decline in public confidence in practically all institutions of power [1].

These apocalyptic visions were, of course, somewhat self-serving. Notwithstanding all its problems, in 2016 Moscow demonstrated a lot of political, economic and social stability amidst this global turmoil. Inflation was put under control, devaluation of the national currency was stopped and even reversed, Western economic sanctions failed to bring Russia to its knees, and the parliamentary elections in September resulted in a predictable triumphant victory for the Kremlin’s United Russia Party. Political and economic risks in the coming year 2017 appeared to be relatively low and manageable. Technocrats in the government and in the presidential administration had reasons to be proud of their performance: the Russian system turned out to be more adaptive and flexible than its in-house and foreign critics had maintained.

The notion of stability as the supreme value was back in circulation and used widely in both domestic and international propaganda. Even if Russia’s stability looked more and more like the stagnation of the late Soviet period, stagnation still appeared to be a preferable alternative to the West’s disorder and commotion. Not surprisingly, the greatest portion of gloomy and even apocalyptic prophesies of Russian pundits had to do with the fate of the European Union. In 2014-2016, the EU found itself in a perfect storm that revealed the frightening fragility and obvious obsolescence of many of its fundamental political, financial, economic, institutional and even spiritual foundations. Russia’s problems appeared much less dramatic against the background of the EU seemingly sinking into chaos, and the apparent hopelessness of the “European project.” [2]

Subsequent developments in Europe, however, demonstrated that the European Union had not lost its resilience and its cohesion. In this chapter, I argue that in 2017 Russian foreign policy started a painful process of reassessing its previous assumptions about the EU and its midterm prospects. This reassessment ran parallel to a growing disappointment in the ability of the Trump Administration in the United States to change the negative momentum in the U.S.-Russian relationship or to pursue a consistent foreign policy in general. One can foresee these changes in the Russian approach to the West continuing in 2018 and beyond.

Engagement Can Wait

The expectation (and, for some, the eager anticipation) of the inevitable collapse of the current world order influenced Russia’s foreign policy and relevant discussions, particularly in late 2016 and early 2017. Indeed, what sense did it make to invest effort, energy and political capital in difficult negotiations with leaders whose days were numbered anyway? Would it be reasonable to keep following rules of the game that had been accepted way back when if these same rules would be rewritten very soon? Was it worth agreeing to concessions and uncomfortable compromises if a new post-Western world was about to arrive? Would it not be wiser to wait it out and observe from a safe distance the epic demise of the old era, which had formed at the turn of the century?

Russian foreign policy at that juncture seemed to follow a wait-and-see approach, abstaining from any far-reaching proposals, not to mention potential concessions to Western partners or recondition of Russia’s past mistakes. The last visible attempt to set Russia-EU relations into motion was the occasion of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s visit to Russia for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 16, 2016. President Vladimir Putin handed to his guest a list of specific proposals on restoring Moscow’s relations with Brussels. The EU, however, never reacted to the Russian list. Instead, the Kremlin had to live with the five principles of Federica Mogherini, only one of which (selective engagement with Russia on foreign policy issues vital to the EU) could be interpreted as a promise of limited cooperation in the future, but even this principle was deliberately vague and ambiguous.

A similar last-minute pitch failed in relations with the Obama Administration. On September 10th, 2016 in Geneva, after long and exhausting talks, John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov announced a tentative ceasefire deal for Syria. They also stated that this deal was to lead the way to a joint U.S.-Russian air campaign against ISIS and other extremist groups and new negotiations on the country’s political future.

This hope —to use Syria as an opportunity to limit the damage in Russian-American relations caused by the Ukrainian crisis—did not last very long. The painfully negotiated Kerry-Lavrov peace plan collapsed just a few weeks after signing. The Russian side accused the United States of failing to exercise the needed pressure on the select groups of the anti-Assad opposition to make them abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement—a task that was arguably too big for Washington to handle successfully. Russians also complained that the United States had not been able to separate the moderate Syrian opposition from more radical factions gravitating to ISIS and al-Qaeda. Again, it remains unclear whether the United States was in a position to arrange such a separation. However, the main source of the Kremlin’s frustrations was the perceived unwill-ingness of the U.S. military to work in any substantive way with its Russian counterparts. In the fall of 2016 in Moscow, it became popular to argue that the Pentagon had managed to overrule the State Department, and that the hawkish views or Ash Carter had prevailed over the more moderate positions of John Kerry.

It seems that these failures to engage Europe and the United States, as well as the perception that the West was entering a long-term period of disarray and decline, led to a serious reassessment of Russian foreign policy priorities. Syria serves as an example of this reassessment. After the unsuccessful attempt to create a Russian-U.S. alliance, the Kremlin focused its energy and diplomatic skills on building a coalition of regional players through the Astana de-escalation process. Bringing Turkey and Iran to the negotiating table was an unquestionable diplomatic victory for Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin worked hard to get major Arab countries interested in this new arrangement. The invitation was also extended to the United States, but U.S. participation was no longer considered critical for the success of Russia’s Syrian strategy.

Taking all of Russia’s internal problems and restraints into account, in 2016 Moscow appeared to have one undeniable advantage over the West: a more considerable reserve of time. Russia’s ailments, extremely serious as they are, are chronic and sometimes even dormant in nature: they have matured over years if not decades. The problems of the West, meanwhile, went from dormant to acute within a single year in 2016, and international experts started talking about the possibility of a fatal outcome. At any rate, the Kremlin had reasons to believe that in any possible confrontation scenario, Moscow would be able to outperform Western capitals, precisely because it had more time on its hands. The nature of the Russian political system, the high level of political mobilization and social consensus reached after the crisis of 2014, the marginalization of the domestic opposition and the relatively stable performance of the Russian economy—all these factors made the Russian leadership confident that it would not encounter major problems during, or following, the presidential elections of 2018.

Finally, the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States raised hopes in Moscow that Russia would be in a position to cut a deal with Washington above the heads of European capitals. Some of the election campaign statements by the new President sounded very encouraging; they apparently reflected a worldview and a set of foreign policy principles not very different from these of President Vladimir Putin. Though some Russian experts on the United States cautioned against too high expectations about possible change in U.S. foreign policy, the mood in Moscow on the eve of 2017 was largely optimistic. Only the pro-Western liberal minority was looking to the future with concerns and fear. This cohort of Russian intellectuals suspected that any further deepening of the crisis in the West would become a significant boost to authoritarian political trends inside Russia; the crisis and the growing impotence of the West could also create temptations for a more adventurist and risk-taking Kremlin foreign policy.

No Revolution This Week

Looking back to the “Trumpomania” of late 2016—early 2017, today many in Russia have turned from enthusiasm to fatalism. The common view in Moscow is that Trump had been overrated, that U.S.-Russian relations did not have a chance, that the Deep State is simply too powerful for any President to turn around, and that the U.S. establishment is genetically Russo-phobic. The logical conclusion is that in 2017, Russia could have done nothing and can do nothing today to change the momentum of the relationship. We now have to sit on our hands waiting for some shifts in U.S. politics. This is not a very optimistic view. However, was it really the case? Could we speculate about an alternative track of the relationship if Moscow had taken a different, more proactive approach, beginning in January 2017?

The inertia of negative trends in Russian-U.S. relations in early 2017 was very powerful and hard to stop. Policies toward Moscow became an important component of U.S. domestic politics and President Trump was significantly constrained in what he could offer his counterpart in the Kremlin. However, in my view, Russian policy made a few tactical mistakes that closed the door to even limited progress in the bilateral relationship during the first few months of the new Administration.

First, the political fallout of the alleged Russia’s interference into the U.S. presidential election of 2016 was grossly underestimated in Moscow. Instead of demonstrating its understanding of American concerns—no matter how grounded and justified these concerns looked from the Russian side—and offering full cooperation in investigating the hackers’ case, the Russian leadership took a very condescending and dismissive position in this matter. “This isn’t for us to get into; these are your domestic political squabbles. Therefore, you deal with them. Nothing to talk about,” [3] was how President Putin responded to Megyn Kelly’s question about hackers at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in early June. This dismissive attitude played a significant role in consolidating the anti-Russian consensus in America. Two month later the U.S. Congress almost unanimously approved a new far-reaching sanctions package against Russia.

Second, it its attempts to reach out to the United States, the Russian leadership targeted exclusively the new Administration, instead of sending meaningful signals to the U.S. public at large, including its representatives in the U.S. Congress. For instance, Moscow could have announced the abolition of the notorious Dima Yakovlev Law that banned adoption of Russian orphans by U.S. citizens. It could have demonstrated its good will by reconsidering the list of U.S. undesirable organizations that had been kicked out of Russia during the last years of the Obama Administration. It could have restarted a number of frozen U.S.-Russian exchange pro-grams in education and civil society (the FLEX program being one of the most evident options). Unfortunately, none of these evident steps was made—probably because the Kremlin did not consider U.S. public opinion to be an important factor in shaping the Trump Administration’s foreign policy.

Finally, to the extent we can judge the initial Russian proposals to the new U.S. Administration, which allegedly were submitted to the White house in late March-early April 2017, they were limited primarily to restoring communications in three areas. Moscow offered to resume political dialogue, contacts between top U.S. and Russian military officials and information exchange between intelligence agencies of the two countries. Nothing suggests that these proposals contained any substantive ideas or demonstrated any new flexibility in Kremlin positions on matters like Syria or Ukraine. There was nothing in the proposals that would give the Trump Administration the prospect of an early and spectacular foreign policy success.

In 2017 it became evident that not only had the Trump Administration inherited the U.S.-Russian crisis from its predecessors, this coincided with what was arguably the most profound political crisis in the United States since Watergate. What was more, America had also entered a social crisis that went way beyond the Washington, DC Beltway and had the potential to affect the whole of American society. The hope that Donald Trump could be a strong president capable of restoring the shaken unity of the American people did not pan out, while the polarization of different political and social groups increased throughout most of 2017. The White house became significantly restricted in its ability to conduct a consistent foreign policy, not to mention implement any long-term strategy.

At the same time, the developments of 2017 suggest that the decline of the old era in Europe has been postponed, if not cancelled outright. The populist Eurosceptics failed in the Dutch and French elections, and the German election reaffirmed the continuity of Berlin’s European strategy. Notwithstanding all of Brexit’s negative implications, it actually resulted in the European idea gaining more popular support within the EU’s 27 remaining member states, and it became unlikely that any would follow suit any time soon. The migration crisis was not completely resolved, but in 2017 it no longer appeared as dramatic as it did in 2016 and especially in 2015. The euro did not crash, and no eurozone nations were thrown out.

It seems that Moscow was late to accept the important change of the curve in European developments and to change its tactics, if not strategy, towards Europe. Otherwise, it is hard to understand, for example, why Vladimir Putin chose to greet personally French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin in March and why the Russian mainstream media were so critical, if not hostile, to Emmanuel Macron literally until the day of the second round of the French presidential elections. To be fair to the Kremlin, it demonstrated a much more prudent approach to the parliamentary elections in Germany in September. On the other hand, one can argue that there was a fundamental difference between the French and German election cycles of 2017: in France, three of four presidential candidate argued for a more accommodative EU policy toward Russia, including possible change to the regime of sanctions; in Germany no mainstream political party contemplated such a change.

The Resilience of the West

It would appear that the United States and Europe followed opposite courses in 2017: while Brussels was beginning to react to its systemic problems, albeit slowly and falteringly, Washington only watched its problems grow. On the other hand, these processes in Europe and North America, which might seem incompatible through the prism of global politics, essentially reflected in different ways the same fundamental meaning of 2017. The Western world as a whole demonstrated more ability to adjust, more resistance to destabilizing factors, and more resilience than anyone could have credited it with in late 2016. It would probably be an overstatement to label 2017 as annus mirabilis, but it was definitely not as bad as 2016, and it countered some of the most pessimistic views on the inevitability of Western decline.

It is true that after Trump became president, disputes intensified within NATO as to how the burden of defense expenses should be distributed within the Alliance. However, the May 2017 NATO summit in Brussels did not prove catastrophic, and any attempts to write NATO off appear to be very much premature. It is also true that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership project is no more, but this has not resulted in heated trade wars between Europe and North America, nor will such conflicts break out in the future. Washington has left the Paris climate accord, but the major part of American business and society continue to observe the letter and spirit of that agreement.

This does not mean that 2017 resolved the postmodernist crisis in international relations: the fundamental problems of the modern global political system did not disappear in 2017, and the system will still have to change one way or another. however, we can now see that postmodernism is characterized by a good share of momentum and will continue to fight against advancing traditionalist forces for years to come. Therefore, current changes will most likely be characterized by a protracted evolution rather than a swift revolution; they will take years and even decades to complete. This process will have its ups and downs, speedups and slowdowns. however, it is unlikely that historians of the future, let alone contemporaries, will be able to pinpoint the moment when global politics transitioned from one qualitative state to the next. Speaking specifically of 2017, one can conclude that this period was dominated by restorative trends rather than by revolutionary ones.

What does this all mean for Russia? First and foremost, in 2017 decision-makers in the Kremlin should have cast away all illusions that Russia’s problems with the West would disappear on the back of the radical changes taking place within the West itself. The assumption that Moscow’s main task was to wait out this period in global politics, which, although extremely unpleasant for Russia, might appear to be short-lived, turned out to be highly questionable. In 2017, it became apparent that the Kremlin had no guaranteed advantage in short- and mid-term planning over the West. The Russian leadership had to plan for a marathon, not a sprint, and it was by no means a given that Moscow was better equipped to last out this contest than its Western opponents.

The upheavals of the past few years might not have completely cut down the snobbish, overconfident and not entirely perspicacious European bureaucrats and strategists, but they may at least have forced them to come down to earth. For the sake of the future of the European project, Brussels and other European capital cities were actively looking for new EU development paths, discussing possible solutions to key issues of political and economic reforms and plans to reform the key European institutions. Can we say in earnest that in 2017 Russia was discussing the future of the Russian project with the same zealousness, breadth and intensity?

It is of course possible that skeptics will soon mount another attack on the European Union, and that pro-Russian leaders will come to power in one or two European countries. It is also possible that Trump will manage to win a tactical victory over the Deep State, minimizing the practical implementation of new anti-Russian sanctions. A new major armed conflict in the Middle East could distract the West from its confrontation with Russia, or global political instability could lead to a steep oil price hike. However, building a strategy on such premises is akin to planning a family budget in hope of a hefty lottery win. The unpredictability of international developments should not justify the absence of a cohesive strategy, especially when one has to deal with an opponent who is far superior in terms of overall economic, social and military attributes of power.

In addition, it is now becoming clear that Russia will not be able to engage in strategic interaction with the Trump administration while leaving the disintegrating EU by the wayside. So far, the opposite has been true.

It appears that in the foreseeable future, Russia cannot hope for much more than tactical interaction with the United States on a limited set of issues, such as Syria, North Korea, the Arctic and nuclear non-proliferation. If Moscow is particularly lucky, it might expand this list to add strategic stability, the fight against global terrorism and certain other problems. However, cooperation with the Americans on the creation of a new world order is no longer possible. The firmness of the anti-Russian consensus in Washington is indisputable; splitting this consensus will take a very long time, if it happens at all. Very few people in Moscow today believe that the decisions on anti-Russian sanctions made in Washington in 2017 are likely to be reconsidered anytime soon. What is currently happening in U.S.-Russia relations is more than a worsening of the weather; it is a fundamental climatic shift, the coming of a new Ice Age.

The EU, on the other hand, appears to be more promising for Russia. In order to overcome its numerous problems and ailments, the European Union will inevitably have to revise many of its existing mechanisms, procedures and priorities, and even, to an extent, its rules and principles. Russia could assist with the European Union’s transformation for its own benefit by supporting a stronger Europe and abstaining from patronizing anti-European parties and movements across the continent. In this case, it could hope to gradually expand cooperation with Europe, on the con-dition that at least some minimal progress is achieved on Ukraine, which is central to Russia-EU relations.

This does not imply that fundamental disagreements between Moscow and Brussels will cease to exist. The worldview of the current political leadership in the Kremlin is not going to change; an ideological revolution in the European Union is no more likely. In the observable future Russia will not become a part of the European project. Nevertheless, this division does not preclude various forms of cooperation similar to these during the 1970s or 1980s.

Back to the Cold War

Since no revolution took place in global politics in 2017, practical solutions need to be sought in the framework of the existing system of political coordinates; more grandiose plans have to wait. The old model of geopolitical confrontation between East and West, i.e., the Cold War model, should be revisited as an interim solution for the Russia-West adversarial relationship. This model is certainly far from ideal, it is expensive and to a great extent outdated. Nevertheless, notwithstanding all its shortcomings, the Cold War model used to ensure a satisfactory level of stability and predictability, both in Europe and in the world as a whole.

This model included numerous channels of political interaction, contacts among militaries, risk mitigation measures and arms control treaties. Furthermore, the Cold War model was based on mutual respect and even a degree of mutual trust. So why not fall back on this time-tested con-frontation management practice, using such mechanisms as the NATO–Russia Council, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, or new ad-hoc formats like the Russia-NATO Crisis Management Group, which has been repeatedly proposed?

At this stage the name of the game in Russia’s relations with the West is not mutual trust, but rather mutual predictability. Since it is very difficult to make predictions about the Trump Administration, major European counties and the European Union at large become more important for Russia than was the case earlier. For example, both Russia and the EU have strategic interests to secure the multilateral agreement of the Iranian nuclear dossier. Likewise, the Russian and the EU positions are close on the North Korean problem.

In some areas, there is actually no need to return to the old model because it is still in place. This goes for Russia’s nuclear interaction with the United States, for example. The two remaining pillars of this interaction, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and New START Treaty, while certainly offering some positive aspects, are nevertheless fully compliant with the logic of controlled confrontation and are fully within the Cold War paradigm. Retaining and reinforcing these accords would not require any historic political breakthrough, unilateral concessions, or switching to a fundamentally new format of Moscow’s relations with Washington.

The goal to preserve INF and New START is definitely worth fighting for. Nevertheless, even if this hard battle is won, this will not signal the end of the fight to secure and to strengthen strategic arms control in the 21st century. Neither INF nor New START prevents the United States from spending $1 trillion in the next 30 years on modernizing its nuclear bombs, bombers, missiles and submarines. Russia will also continue its large-scale strategic modernization program, even if the two agreements remain in place.

The crisis of strategic arms control is more complex and fundamental than the uncertain future of the two agreements, as important as they are. In the 21st century, strategic arms control is no longer about arithmetic; it requires applications of higher mathematics. These days, mobility dom-inates location, precision beats throw-weight; and the line between nuclear and conventional weapons has become almost invisible. The old arms control paradigm has entered into its own perfect storm. While preservation of its Cold War heritage is indispensable, preservation in itself is clearly not sufficient to provide for strategic stability in a completely new global environment.

One can argue that traditional distinctions between strategic, intermediate-range and tactical systems are becoming antiquated. The reality is that the United States and Russia have and will continue to have strikingly different geopolitical and geostrategic positions in the world; their threat perceptions and their respective strategic doctrines will never be identical to each other. If so, the United States and Russia could merge New START and INF into one umbrella agreement that would set overall ceilings for nuclear warheads and launchers on both sides. Within these overall ceilings both Washington and Moscow would be in a position to blend individual cocktails of strategic, intermediate range and tactical systems to their liking. For a better taste, they could even add the missile defense component to the mix. The only sub-ceiling that they might need to preserve is the sub-ceiling for deployed warheads, which are of particular concern to the other side. This sub-ceiling can amount to a half or one third of the total number.

This approach will not address all the contemporary challenges to strategic arms control. For example, the time has come move away from a bilateral U.S.-Russian format to a multilateral one, but this approach will not do that. Still, an innovative approach would be a loud and clear signal to third nuclear powers that there is political will in both the White House and in the Kremlin not only to preserve, but also to enhance and to modernize global strategic security.

Skeptics can argue that today is not the best time to experiment with new approaches to strategic arms control. U.S.-Russian relations have hit historical lows, trust between the two countries is non-existent, political opposition to any new deals will be too strong to generate domestic support for any new agreements. These are exactly the arguments used back in the 1950s against a possible U.S.—Soviet collaboration to write a set of rules for the new nuclear world. It took the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 to start moving away from this perception, and another ten years to sign the first U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Agreement (SALT 1). Are we ready to wait for another missile crisis—in North Korea or elsewhere? Can we afford another ten years for a new detente between Washington and Moscow?

The Second Layer of the Pie

Overhauling and restarting the old Cold War model is a necessary but insufficient factor for the future stabilization of Russia’s relations with the West. With all its comparative advantages, this model has at least four key structural limitations. First, the Cold War model is inherently static. It is aimed at preserving the status quo and precludes any evolution. Such a model is extremely difficult to reform; it was no accident that the Cold War ended not in an orderly transformation of the controlled confrontation model, but in a dramatic and chaotic collapse in the late 1980s. Given the dynamics of the international system today, any attempt to codify Rus-sia-West relations for an extended period of time is unlikely to be successful. There are simple too many independent variables that might affect these relations, from rising China to the fourth industrial revolution to global climate change.

Second, the Cold War was primarily fought by two vertically structured politico-military blocs, which split Europe into the Soviet and U.S. spheres of influence. It would be absolutely impossible to divide today’s Europe into distinct spheres of influence; the very idea of spheres of influence is considered to be hopelessly antiquated and unacceptable, at least in the Western world. Besides, contemporary Russia is not comparable to the former USSR at the peak of its might; a geopolitical parity between Moscow and the combined West is only possible if Russia creates a political and military alliance with China, but it is highly unlikely that Russia would be the leading partner in such an alliance.

Third, Soviet and U.S. leaders built the Cold War model in order to counter the most dangerous threats of the 20th century. Even though many of these threats still exist, the 21st century has brought up new challenges, including those posed by non-governmental actors. The Cold War model cannot offer much in terms of counteracting the new generation of threats to international security. In many ways, the Cold War model was the last incarnation of the traditional Westphalian world, which is no longer the world in which we live.

Fourth, the Cold War model was relatively effective in a situation when the two confronting systems remained virtually isolated from one another and separated by incompatible ideologies. No such economic, political or humanitarian confrontation between Russia and the West exists anymore, nor could it be reinstated, despite certain attempts being made on both sides. The current media war between Russia and the West looks like a caricature of the ideological struggle between communism and liberal democracy in the middle of the 20th century. Nor can Russia be isolated from the West in an age of unprecedented human mobility, porous borders, global information and communications technologies. Despite all of Russia’s efforts aimed at self-reliance, import substitution and higher protectionism, the country’s dependence on the outside word is likely to increase, not decrease.

The old model’s considerable limitations necessitate the introduction of a new complementary dimension to Russia-West relations. The role of such a dimension could be played out through a system of global, regional and sub-regional regimes that would preserve and expand the common space between Russia and Europe, between Eurasia and the Euro-Atlantic area.

In the initial phase, such regimes would be easier to preserve and develop in less politically sensitive fields, such as education, science and culture. However, it may be possible to apply the regimes model to nontraditional security challenges, including international terrorism, drug trafficking, cross-border crime, energy security and even cyber security. The regimes model can also work on the sub-regional level: for example, it has long been applied effectively in the Arctic.

In the current situation, the regimes model could efficiently complement the old Cold War model in Russia’s relations with the West. As distinct from the inherently rigid Cold War model, which requires strict codification of agreements reached, the regimes model is flexible, often making it possible to do without burdensome negotiations over technicalities and avoid complex and protracted ratification procedures.

While the Cold War model requires a universally recognized hierarchy of parties in international relations, the regimes model is based on horizontal interactions between the parties involved, which may include not only large and small states, but also non-governmental actors such as regions and municipalities, private companies and civil institutions, international organizations and cross-border movements. This significantly expands the range of potential stakeholders interested in the development of cooperation, creating a critical mass for subsequent breakthroughs.

Skeptics would argue that this approach has already been tried in the relations between Russia and the West, but failed to prevent the current crisis and therefore should be rejected as inefficient. I would make a counterargument: the current crisis would be much deeper and more difficult to manage if the two sides did not have a thick network of social, humanitarian, cultural, educational and other contacts. Despite an ongoing and intense information war, the West still remains a point of orientation to millions and millions of Russians. It is true that Russians have not become completely immune to anti-Western propaganda, but the depth and the sustainability of anti-Western moods in the Russian society can be questioned.

Whereas the Cold War model proceeds from the premise that the parties are prepared for major deals such as the 1975 Helsinki Accords, and is mainly based on a top-down approach, the regimes model works in situations of strategic uncertainty, in the absence of major deals, and is mostly based on a bottom-up approach. Shoots of cooperation sprout up wherever there are even the most minuscule cracks in the asphalt of confrontation.

The question is whether such different models of Russia’s relations with the West can possibly be combined within a single hybrid format. That this is possible in principle follows from the peculiarities of contemporary social organization in Russia and the West, which differs radically from how things were organized in the middle of the 20th century. Thanks to the high level of social, professional and cultural fragmentation in contemporary societies, the existence of multiple group and individual identities, and the extremely intricate mechanisms of interaction within vertical, horizontal, formal, informal, basic and situational ties, both models will have their target audiences, proponents, operators and ideologists in Russia and the West.

It is easy to predict that the logic of confrontation will inevitably restrict and distort the logic of cooperation. One way or another, the two mutually complementary models affect each other, because they simply cannot be isolated. However, the art of foreign policy presupposes, among other things, the ability to play chess on several boards simultaneously, or to be more precise, to play chess, poker and even the exotic Asian game Go at the same time, not just the traditional Russian game of gorodki. The most important thing is to delimit the spheres of application of the two models and gradually shift the balance between them from the former to the latter.

Looking Beyond the Horizon

Any significant changes in the current pattern of relations between Russia and the West is likely to be a slow, gradual and long process. At this stage, there are not many compelling reasons for the Kremlin to reconsider its fundamental approaches to the West. On the one hand, the current status quo is perceived as not perfect, but generally acceptable. Potential risks associated with maintaining the status quo are regarded as relatively low compared to risks that might emerge from attempts at changing the status quo. The margin of safety of both the Russian political system and its economy is still quite significant. On the other hand, the trend towards a new consolidation of the West is still very fragile and arguably reversible. There are many political, social and economic problems, to which neither the United States, not the European Union, have found credible solutions.

The status quo-focused foreign policy does not exclude trial balloons, tactical adjustments, incremental concessions, and situational collaboration. All these are important in 2018 and in years to come. However, a more fundamental change in Russian foreign policy is not likely to come as a cumulative effect of incremental adjustments or situational collaboration. Neither will it result from a revelation of a Russian leader, no matter who this leader is likely to be a few years from now. At the end of the day, Russia’s foreign policy priorities will be defined by the economic and social development trajectory upon which the nation will embark once it has depleted the potential of the current development model.

Russia can definitely survive without the West generally, and without Europe in particular. It might even prosper without the West if global prices on oil and other commodities go up again and a new golden rain waters the national economy. It does not matter much to whom you sell your commodities—clients in the West or clients in the East, developed or developing nations, mature democracies or authoritarian regimes. With Russia’s rent-seeking economy in place, the West is not likely to reemerge as an indispensable partner for Moscow. Moreover, Russia can even stick to a neo-isolationist foreign policy, consistently trying to protect its citizens from the dangers and challenges of the globalizing world.

This foreign policy option will be even more probable if the overall international system evolves in the direction of more nationalism, protectionism, rigid balance of powers, continuous decay of international institutions and international law. If the name of game is survival rather than development, if the top national priority everywhere is security rather than development, then incentives to change anything will remain low.

However, let us suppose that the name of the game is not to maintain the rent-seeking economic model, but to pursue a strategy of encouraging deep structural economic reforms, promoting innovation and entrepreneurship, and unleashing the creative potential of the Russian people. Let us suppose that the modern liberal world order successfully overcomes the ongoing crisis and the international system move away from hard to soft power, from unilateralism to multilateralism, from closeness to openness. In this case connecting to the West, borrowing best Western practices, learning from Western mistakes is going to be a critical precondition for any successful Russian modernization. This has always been the case, ever since Italian architects supervised the erection of the red brick Kremlin walls in Moscow back in 1485.

Given all the uncertainties of future developments in Russia and in the West, it might make sense to define three time horizons for this very complex and uneasy relationship. Each of these has its own logic, priorities, goals, opportunities, and limitations. The first is about de-escalation, which involves a stable cease-fire in Donbass, moderation of inflammatory rhetoric on both sides, a truce in the information war, and resumption of political and military contacts and various levels. The second is about stabilization, including a more general political settlement in Ukraine along the lines of the Minsk Agreements, gradual removal of sanctions and countersanctions, a set of confidence-building measures in Europe, promotion of cooperation in areas of mutual concern (e.g. soft security), unilateral limitations on military deployments, and strengthening European regimes in humanitarian fields. Moving on to the third, long-term horizon, we should review and revise the idea of a Greater Europe that was unsuccessfully tried after the end of the Cold War; our second attempt should be based on lessons learned from the failure of the first attempt.

Pubblicato in: Armamenti, Geopolitica Militare, Russia, Stati Uniti

Putin il satanico. Potrebbe far precipitare Occidente nel chaos con poca fatica.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2017-12-25.

2017-12-16__Putin il satanico. __001

Una canzone alpina, scritta durante la prima campagna di Albania, recitava in un ritornello:

«Starò piuttosto senza mangiare,

ma l’amore lo voglio far.»

*

«According to a recent report for the Policy Exchange think tank, the world’s submarine network comprises an estimated 213 independent cable systems and 545,018 miles (877,121 km) of fibre.»

*

«an estimated 97% of global communications and $10 trillion in daily financial transactions are transmitted by cables under the ocean»

*

«Because Russia in addition to new ships and submarines continues to perfect both unconventional capabilities and information warfare»

*

«Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living»

*

«Undersea cables are the indispensable infrastructure of our time, essential to our modern life and digital economy, yet they are inadequately protected and highly vulnerable to attack at sea and on land, from both hostile states and terrorists»

* * * * * * * *

È con la Guerra di Secessione che i militari razionalizzarono l’importanza di fare incursioni nelle retrovie avversarie al fine di tagliare i fili telegrafici. Le telecomunicazioni avevano assunto un ruolo strategico, così come le strade ferrate.

Per le centrali telefoniche terrestri sono disponibili armi molto sofisticate, che tolgono anche l’incomodo di tagliare fisicamente i fili:

Trump. Contro la Korea del Nord potrebbe usare le bombe Champs.

*

Se si guarda la mappetta diventa evidente che se lo stato maggiore russo non avesse pensato a tagliare le comunicazioni transcontinentali occidentali lo si sarebbe dovuto mandare in Siberia per palese incompetenza.

Il vero problema consiste nel fatto che è semplicemente impossibile impedire un attacco organizzato contro il quasi milione di kilometri di cavi sottomarini.

Tuttavia, ci si dovrebbe domandare se un’operazione del genere possa o meno risultare di reale beneficio all’attaccante, ossia, se la posta valga la candela.

Ben difficilmente un conflitto est – ovest potrebbe svolgersi senza l’impiego di armi termonucleari.

Ma in caso di conflitto reale, le comunicazioni militare dovrebbero passare tutte per via satellitare, sempre che le superpotenze non si fossero dotate di armi in grado di neutralizzare anche i satelliti delle telecomunicazioni.

In caso però di conflitto a livello inferiore, il blocco delle telecomunicazioni transcontinentali concorrerebbe significativamente a generare chaos in campo occidentale. Il blocco orientale, infatti, non utilizza più di tanto questo tipo di rete e potrebbe sopravvivere abbastanza bene anche se questa rete fosse stata messa fuori uso.

Una cosa sembrerebbe essere evidente:

«Russia …. continues to perfect both unconventional capabilities and information warfare».

*

«Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living»

Sì: ce lo si potrebbe immaginare facilmente.


Bbc. 2017-12-15. Russia a ‘risk’ to undersea cables, defence chief warns

The UK’s most senior military officer has warned of a new threat posed by Russia to communications and internet cables that run under the sea.

*

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the chief of the defence staff, said Britain and Nato needed to prioritise protecting the lines of communication.

He said it would “immediately and potentially catastrophically” hit the economy if they were cut or disrupted.

The cables criss-cross the seabed, connecting up countries and continents.

Could Russian submarines cut off the internet?

How much of a threat does Russia pose?

Four facts about undersea cables

According to a recent report for the Policy Exchange think tank, the world’s submarine network comprises an estimated 213 independent cable systems and 545,018 miles (877,121 km) of fibre.

But it said a lack of formal state ownership meant cables do not have strong protection in international law.

Despite that, an estimated 97% of global communications and $10 trillion in daily financial transactions are transmitted by cables under the ocean.

Speaking to the Royal United Services Institute defence think tank, Sir Stuart said the vulnerability of undersea lines posed a “new risk to our way of life”.

“In response to the threat posed by the modernisation of the Russian navy, both nuclear and conventional submarines and ships, we along with our Atlantic allies have prioritised missions and tasks to protect the sea lines of communication,” he said.

He said it was “very, very important” to understand how important that mission was for Nato.

“Because Russia in addition to new ships and submarines continues to perfect both unconventional capabilities and information warfare.”

The UK and its allies needed to “match and understand Russian fleet modernisation”, he added.

“There is a new risk to our way of life, which is the vulnerability of the cables that criss-cross the seabeds,” he said.

“Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living.”

According to the Policy Exchange report – published earlier this month – many cable systems are potentially at risk.

“Undersea cables are the indispensable infrastructure of our time, essential to our modern life and digital economy, yet they are inadequately protected and highly vulnerable to attack at sea and on land, from both hostile states and terrorists,” the report concluded.

Conservative MP Rishi Sunak, author of the report, warned a successful attack on the UK’s network of undersea communications cables could deal a “crippling blow” to the country’s security and economy.

He said the locations of the cables were “both isolated and publicly available” and a successful attack would be an “existential threat to our security”.

Writing a foreword to the document, Admiral James Stavridis, a former US Navy officer and ex-Nato supreme allied commander, said: “It is not satellites in the sky, but pipes on the ocean floor that form the backbone of the world’s economy.”

He also warned of a potential threat from China and Iran, as well as Russia.

He called for the creation of more “dark cables”, to be kept in reserve, and said Nato must be prepared to defend global submarine cables, if necessary.

It comes after a ship dragging its anchor cut three undersea internet cables connecting the Channel Islands to the UK last year.

It resulted in slower internet connections and phone problems across the islands.

Analysis.

Fears of Russia cutting, disrupting or “wire tapping” undersea communication lines are growing.

Defence and intelligence chiefs see not just increased Russian submarine activity, but its willingness to use unconventional asymmetric warfare.

In highlighting this threat, Air Chief Marshall Peach was admitting Britain and its Nato allies were ill-prepared to deal with the prospect of such an attack.

There’s been a significant increase in Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic, particularly the GIUK (Greenland, Iceland and the UK) gap.

Britain certainly doesn’t have enough ships, submarines and aircraft to mount a constant watch.

The UK will be getting new maritime patrol aircraft in the next decade, but for now has had to rely on the help of other Nato aircraft to hunt down submarines.

Nato’s former top military Chief Admiral Stavridis recently said: “We’ve allowed this vital infrastructure to grow increasingly vulnerable and this should worry us all.”

Pubblicato in: Geopolitica Militare, Problemi militari, Senza categoria

Russia. Vozrozhdeniya. Isola desertificata della morte.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2017-12-07.

Vozrozhdeniya 001

«Translated into English, Vozrozhdeniya means “rebirth”.»

«L’isola di Vozroždenie, altresì conosciuta come isola della Rinascita (in uzbeco Tiklanish orollari; in russo Остров Возрождения; in inglese Vozrozhdeniya Island), era un’isola del lago d’Aral che, a causa del progressivo ritiro delle acque, è divenuta una penisola nel 2002 e, successivamente, un istmo. Attualmente è divisa tra il Kazakistan e l’Uzbekistan.

Fino alla Rivoluzione di ottobre portava il nome datole dal suo primo esploratore Butakov Alexei ovvero ‘Isola di Nicola I’. Data l’inaccessibilità del luogo, l’isola di Vozroždenie venne trasformata in uno dei principali laboratori sovietici per effettuare test di guerra batteriologica. Nel 1948, un ulteriore laboratorio top-secret per la produzione di armi biologiche venne stabilito qui. Dichiarazioni sulla pericolosità dell’isola vennero fatte da disertori sovietici, incluso Ken Alibek, l’ex capo del programma sulle armi biologiche dell’Unione Sovietica. Fu qui, come si riscontra in documenti successivamente desecretati, che le spore di antrace e i bacilli di peste bubbonica furono trasformati in armi e le stesse immagazzinate. Il principale insediamento nell’isola era Kantubek, oggi abbandonato, che una volta aveva una popolazione di circa 1.500 abitanti.

I membri dello staff del laboratorio abbandonarono l’isola nel tardo 1991. Molti dei contenitori che conservavano le spore ed i bacilli non furono immagazzinati o distrutti correttamente. Nel corso dei dieci anni successivi, molti degli involucri si erano deteriorati al punto da non contenere il pericolosissimo materiale in essi conservato. Dato l’incessante recedere del lago e l’inevitabile ricongiungimento dell’isola con la terraferma, c’era il timore che gli animali presenti nei dintorni potessero addentrarsi nell’impianto ed entrare in contatto con gli agenti contaminanti e disperderli nell’ambiente con gravissimo rischio di epidemie mortali.» [Fonte]

*

Tutti gli stati hanno una loro Vozrozhdeniya, di cui non amano certo parlarne.

«Chillingly, there is a similar site much closer for comfort than the steppes of Central Asia: Gruinard, a small island just off the coast of the Scottish Highlands. From 1942 to 1943, just one year, it was the epicentre of the UK’s bioweapons programme. The tests involved tethering sheep in an open field or securing them in wooden frames, then exposing them to large doses of anthrax. Once it was exploded over the island, another time it was dropped from a plane.

The sheep would start dying three days later – “you can tell when an animal has died of anthrax. Just look for a bloated carcass with haemorrhaging,” says Baillie – after which their carcasses were carefully disposed of. The scientists burned the bodies and even dynamited a cliff over some to contain the contamination»

* * * * * * *

Ufficialmente le armi biologiche sarebbero bandite, le ricerche interrotte ed i depositi avrebbero dovuto essere distrutti, a mente la Biological Weapons Convenction.

L’Unoda, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, riporta in dettaglio tutti gli aspetti relativi alla:

Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction.

*

Al momento attuale sembrerebbe che gli stati classificabili come superpotenze abbiano distrutto i propri arsenali biologici, ma non esistono certezze assolute.

Il grande problema invece consiste nel fatto che con i progressi della genetica qualsiasi laboratorio, anche supportato da personale non altamente qualificato, sarebbe in grado di produrre armi biologiche efficienti per costi infimi.

Una simile concreta possibilità potrebbe rivelarsi in drammatiche conseguenze se fosse sfruttata da gruppi terroristici.

Nessuno intende fare allarmismo, ma questa ipotesi sembrerebbe di tale portata da indurre la messa in essere di adeguate contromisure.


Bbc. 2017-09-27. The deadly germ warfare island abandoned by the Soviets.

On the Kazakh-Uzbek border, surrounded by miles of toxic desert, lies an island. Or at least, something that used to be an island.

Vozrozhdeniya was once home to a vibrant fishing village fringed by turquoise lagoons, back when the Aral Sea was the fourth-largest in the world and abundant with fish.

But after years of abuse by the Soviets, the waters have receded and the sea has turned to dust; the rivers that fed it were diverted to irrigate cotton fields. Today, a layer of salty sand, riddled with carcinogenic pesticides, is all that remains of the ancient oasis.

This is a place where the mercury regularly hits 60C (140F), where the only signs of life are the skeletons of desiccated trees and camels shading under giant, stranded boats.

Now Vozrozhdeniya has swallowed up so much of the sea that it’s swelled to 10 times its original size, and is connected to the mainland by a peninsula. But it is thanks to another Soviet project that it is one of the deadliest places on the planet.

From the 1970s, the island has been implicated in a number of sinister incidents. In 1971, a young scientist fell ill after a research vessel, the Lev Berg, strayed into a brownish haze. Days later, she was diagnosed with smallpox. Mysteriously, she had already been vaccinated against the disease. Though she recovered, the outbreak went on to infect a further nine people back in her hometown, three of whom died. One of these was her younger brother.

A year later, the corpses of two missing fishermen were found nearby, drifting in their boat. It’s thought that they had caught the plague. Not long afterwards, locals started landing whole nets of dead fish. No one knows why. Then in May 1988, 50,000 saiga antelope which had been grazing on a nearby steppe dropped dead – in the space of an hour.

The island’s secrets have endured, partly because it isn’t the kind of place where you can just turn up. Since Vozrozhdeniya was abandoned in the 1990s, there have only been a handful of expeditions. Nick Middleton, a journalist and geographer from Oxford University, filmed a documentary there back in 2005. “I was aware of what went on, so we got hold of a guy who used to work for the British military and he came to give the crew a briefing about the sorts of things we might find,” he says.

“He scared the pants off me, to be honest.”

That expert was Dave Butler, who ended up going with them. “There was a lot that could have gone wrong,” he says. As a precaution, Butler put the entire team on antibiotics, starting the week before. As a matter of necessity, they wore gas masks with hi-tech air filters, thick rubber boots and full white forensic-style suits, from the moment they arrived.

They weren’t being paranoid. Aerial photographs taken by the CIA in 1962 revealed that while other islands had piers and fish-packing huts, this one had a rifle range, barracks and parade ground. But that wasn’t even the half of it. There were also research buildings, animal pens and an open-air testing site. The island had been turned into a military base of the most dangerous kind: it was a bioweapons testing facility.

The project was a total secret, not even marked on Soviet maps, but those in the know called it Aralsk-7. Over the years the site flourished into a living nightmare, where anthrax, smallpox and the plague hung in great clouds over the land, and exotic diseases such as tularemia, brucellosis, and typhus rained down and seeped into the sandy soil. 

The island was isolated enough that it wasn’t discovered until the 19th Century, making it the perfect place to hide from the prying eyes of Western intelligence. Failing that, the surrounding sea made a convenient natural moat.

These are the factors that led to it being chosen as the final resting place for the largest anthrax stockpile in human history. Its origins remain obscure, but it’s possible that the deadly cache was manufactured at Compound 19, a facility near the Russian city of Sverdlovsk, now Yekatarinburg.

Aralsk-7 was part of a bioweapons program on an industrial scale, one that employed over 50,000 people at 52 production facilities across the Soviet empire. Anthrax was produced in huge fermenting vats, tenderly nurtured as though they were growing beer.

In 1988, nine years after an anthrax leak at Compound 19 led to the deaths of at least 105 people, the Soviets finally decided to get rid of their cache. Huge vats of anthrax spores were mixed with bleach and transported the port town of Aralsk, on the shores of the Aral Sea (now 16 miles (25km) inland), where they were loaded onto barges and transported to Vozrozhdeniya. Some 100 to 200 tonnes of anthrax slurry was hastily dumped in pits and forgotten.

Most of the time, anthrax bacteria live as spores, an inactive form with extreme survival skills. They’ll shrug off pretty much anything you care to throw at them – from baths of noxious disinfectants to being roasted for up to two minutes at 180C (356F).

When they’re buried in the ground, the spores can survive for hundreds of years. In one case, they were recovered from an archaeological dig at the ruins of a medieval hospital in Scotland – along with the several-hundred-years-old remains of the lime they tried to kill them with. 

More recently, a 12-year-old-boy died after being overcome by anthrax that had been lurking in the far north of Russia. The outbreak hospitalised 72 people from the nomadic Nenets tribe, including 41 children, and thousands of reindeer perished. It’s thought to have started when a heatwave thawed the carcass of a reindeer that was at least 75 years old.

As you might expect, the Soviets’ efforts at Vozrozhdeniya weren’t nearly enough. Years after the USSR’s collapse, in the wake of attacks in Tokyo and revelations about an extensive bioweapons programme in Iraq, fears were mounting about the prospect of terrorists or rogue governments getting their hands on any weaponised pathogens. So the US government sent teams of specialists to do some tests.

The precise location of the anthrax cache was never disclosed, but as it turns out this wasn’t a problem. The pits were so enormous, they were clearly visible in photos taken from space. Viable spores were found in several soil samples, and the US pledged $6m (£4.6m) for a project to clean the place up.

This involved a deep trench, dug next to the pits, some plastic lining and thousands of kilograms of powerful powdered bleach. All the team had to do was move several tonnes of contaminated soil into the trench – in 50C (122F) heat, while wearing full protective suits. In all, 100 local workers were hired and the project took four months to complete.

It worked. After stewing for six days with the powdered bleach, the spores were gone.

But that’s not quite the end of the story. Half a century of open-air testing has left the entire island contaminated – not just at the test site, but all over. “Oh, there will still be anthrax there, no problem,” says Les Baillie, an international expert on anthrax from Cardiff University. He spent a decade working at the UK’s former bioweapons research facility, Porton Down.

That’s not to mention the burial pits of infected animals, with up to a hundred corpses in each, or the unmarked grave of a woman who died while handling an infectious agent some decades ago. “Even when you bury an animal, you have to bury it a good couple of metres down. If the area floods the spores can float back up and earthworms in the soil can move it around,” he says.

Chillingly, there is a similar site much closer for comfort than the steppes of Central Asia: Gruinard, a small island just off the coast of the Scottish Highlands. From 1942 to 1943, just one year, it was the epicentre of the UK’s bioweapons programme. The tests involved tethering sheep in an open field or securing them in wooden frames, then exposing them to large doses of anthrax. Once it was exploded over the island, another time it was dropped from a plane.

The sheep would start dying three days later – “you can tell when an animal has died of anthrax. Just look for a bloated carcass with haemorrhaging,” says Baillie – after which their carcasses were carefully disposed of. The scientists burned the bodies and even dynamited a cliff over some to contain the contamination.

Just this single set of experiments rendered the island so contaminated, initial efforts to clean it up failed and the site was abandoned.

The only people to set foot there in half a century were scientists from Porton Down and two brothers, the Fletts, from the mainland. They rowed the 10-minute trip across the sea once a year to repaint the warning signs – and wore protective suits while doing so.

Soil samples taken in 1979 revealed that, nearly four decades later, there were still between 3,000 and 45,000 spores per gram of soil. Proposals for dealing with the “contaminated monster”, as it became known, ranged from concreting it all over, to removing the top layer of soil and dumping it in the North Atlantic.

In the end, every inch of the 1.96 sq km island was sprayed with 280 metric tonnes of formaldehyde solution mixed with seawater. It was finally declared safe in 1990. Today the island can be accessed easily by boat – though you’ll have to convince someone to take you first.

Thankfully, Vozrozhdeniya is not quite so accessible. To get there, Middleton, Butler and their team travelled across Kazakhstan to Quilandy, a nearby village on the mainland. The plan was to hire a boat to take them across the Aral Sea, and some guides. Naturally, the locals weren’t exactly falling over themselves to visit the notorious island – “They knew to stay away,” says Middleton – and in the end, they made an unlikely alliance with a gang of salvage-seekers.

The trip was delayed, as crew members were struck down by food poisoning. Hours after they were set to leave, a massive dust storm broke out, engulfing the village and the Aral Sea. “It was like the end of the world. We would have been in the middle of the storm in these rickety boats,” says Butler. “I don’t think we would have survived.”

The next day, they finally made it. The base is divided into two parts: the town of Kantubek, which was built to house scientists and their families, and the lab complex, which lies about two miles (3.2km) further south.

“Even once we got there, there was quite a way to go,” says Butler. The team had arrived from Kazakhstan, due to the difficulty of getting a visa from Uzbekistan – though this is where the base is actually located.

They traversed the island’s desert interior by moped, navigating without maps – “I think they used the Sun,” says Butler – while dressed in full biocontainment suits.

Though they knew it was dangerous, the gang had made several visits to the town before, ripping out copper pipes, removing light fixtures, gradually dismantling the town and scavenging what they could sell. “When you first see it, it looks like they’re still building it,” says Middleton.

Today Kantubek is a dilapidated ghost town, in which the signs of a once-comfortable life contrast with hints of something altogether more menacing. On the one hand, there are houses, a canteen and a couple of schools; on the other, the cracked portraits of military personnel, books by Marx and Lenin, and rusting tanks. “It’s weird because there’s this eerie sense of decay, but then there are incongruous elements, like a big war mural of a cartoon duck by a child’s playground,” he says. “There isn’t a single bird or insect – it’s totally quiet.”

The local gang was keen to get off the island as quickly as possible, so the crew didn’t have long. Soon they set off again, this time in search of the lab complex. “They took us to the front door of the place and said ‘we’ll wait outside’. They didn’t want to go in,” says Butler.

What they found at the site – officially called the Field Scientific Research Laboratory, or PNIL in Russian – was extremely disturbing. “The research buildings aren’t cleaned up at all,” says Middleton. “It just looks like they trashed the place and left.”

Vast glass tanks of hazardous substances line the walls, while the floor is covered in hundreds of thousands of smashed glass vials, pipettes and petri dishes. Discarded full-body suits, complete with alien-like masks and air hoses, are everywhere.  The whole place has the feel of a dystopian video game – partly because it is (it’s featured in a version of the first-person shooter Call of Duty). 

Here Butler stepped the safety up a notch and the team donned more complete breathing apparatus that filters the air. “Buildings tend to concentrate whatever’s there,” says Butler. In addition to stray anthrax, the team ran the gauntlet of formaldehyde, which is carcinogenic if you breathe it in.

But the sense of control didn’t last long. “We’d been in there for about 15 minutes and the canisters started to become defeated,” says Butler. When an air filter is overloaded, the first sign is usually a whiff of some noxious aroma which has snuck through. “It can happen if you get a real corrosive, industrial chemical in concentrated quantities.” 

Whatever it was, they decided to get out, fast. Butler was happy to camp overnight and visit the testing range the following day, but the others had seen enough. “For me it was quite exciting – a chance to put all the knowledge I have into practice,” says Butler. “But I suppose I’m weird like that.”

As an extra precaution, Butler took nasal swabs from every member of the team and checked them for anthrax spores. 

He had good reason to be worried. There are several ways to die from anthrax, and the gruesome details of each depend on how you were infected. There’s the gastrointestinal route, which is common in grass-eating animals such as cattle, horses, sheep and goats and still leads to human deaths in developing countries to this day. The symptoms vary, but tend to include vomiting, diarrhoea, and lesions all the way from the mouth to the intestines.

Failing that, skin contact alone is often enough; back in 19th Century Yorkshire, so-called “woolsorters disease” was an occupational hazard for people who worked in the textile industry.

But by far the most unpleasant fate is to inhale some. Once a spore makes its way into the body, first it hitches a lift to the lymph nodes. There the spores begin to hatch and multiply – eventually spilling out into the bloodstream and leading to widespread tissue damage and internal bleeding. It’s thought that the whole process can take months to complete, but in the end, at least eight out of 10 people die in the process.

“It’s probably an ideal biological weapon as is,” says Talima Pearson, a biologist from Northern Arizona University who helped to sequence the strain that caused the outbreak at Sverdlovsk. “They were probably getting it from out in the wild.”

And not all of it was ordinary anthrax. Aralsk-7 was built amidst a bioweapons arms race with the US and the UK – a perilous mission to take already-lethal pathogens and make them even more hardy, infectious and deadly. Pains were taken to ensure bacteria were resistant to antibiotics and viruses could infect even those who had been vaccinated.

To achieve this, the scientists grew up industrial quantities of pathogens collected from the wild and honed in on those with the right characteristics. “The more material, the more chances there are to find what you’re looking for,” says Baillie.

But on 10 April, 1972, the three signed a treaty agreeing to give it up. This is precisely the moment that the Soviets launched the most terrifying programme yet. This time, they would use the emerging science of molecular genetics. These bioweapons would be designed, not just cultivated.

This included a particularly nasty strain of anthrax, known to researchers as STI. For starters, it was resistant to an impressive array of antibiotics, including penicillin, rifampin, tetracycline, chloramphenicol, macrolides and lincomycin. But that’s not the only reason you really, really don’t want to be infected by STI.

As if regular anthrax wasn’t bad enough, the scientists decided this natural killer needed a final flourish: toxins which can rupture red blood cells and rot human tissue. Scientists took the genes from a close relative, Bacillus cereus, and added them using the latest scientific techniques.

Anthrax naturally grows in clumps, but these can get caught up in the nostrils and don’t always lead to an infection. So the Soviets liked to grind them down using industrial machinery.  The final result is just five micrometres long – at least 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. “That’s the perfect size to be inhaled,” says Butler.

Before the team left for the island, Butler constructed a decontamination zone on the beach – basically just an outdoor tap – and stockpiled antibacterial soap. When they returned, every member stripped down naked and scrubbed themselves clean. “We had to make sure we didn’t have any spores in the, erm, hairy parts of our bodies,” he says.

Thankfully the team’s swabs came back negative and even the salvage-seekers, who refused their offer of protective gear, escaped unscathed. For the moment, the anthrax at Vozrozhdeniya remains in the ground.

But what of the mysterious outbreaks in the 1970s and 80s? It’s now known that the Lev Berg strayed into an aerosol cloud of weaponised smallpox that had recently been exploded on the island. The incident was suppressed by the Soviet powers of the time, including KGB boss Yuri Andropov who later became Soviet premier. It’s not known exactly which strain they were infected with, but according to David Evans, a virologist at the University of Alberta, Canada, it’s likely to have been India-1967.

“We know this because this is the strain the Soviets sequenced,” says Evans. “They used a very old fashioned method which required astonishing quantities of DNA to do it, so it makes sense that they’d sequence the same one that they were weaponising.”

This was a highly virulent strain, first isolated from an Indian man who brought it to Moscow in 1967. There are two possible reasons it was able to infect those who had already been vaccinated: the vaccination didn’t work, or they were exposed to a particularly high dose.

“The Soviet vaccine was criticised, so it’s possible it just wasn’t working very well,” says Evans. “And a very high dose of anything can overcome an immunisation.” If the vaccine wasn’t working, India-1967 would have been a particularly dangerous virus to be exposed to.

So could the island still be infectious today? “Oh it would be long gone,” says Evans. The Russians recently rediscovered the victims of a smallpox epidemic in Siberia, after melting permafrost exposed their graves. Though their corpses had been frozen solid for 120 years, the scientists didn’t find any virus – just its DNA.

Evans works on the vaccine strain of the virus, which is related but only causes a localised skin infection. “Even in my lab where we store it in a -80C (-112F) freezer under ideal conditions, the virus slowly loses infectivity over time,” he says.

As for the plague, though the Soviets were working on weaponising it, the bacteria remains widespread in Central Asia to this day – in fact, the number of cases increased sharply after the USSR collapsed.  Which just leaves us with the fish and the antelope. Both remain a mystery, but the widespread pollution in the Aral Sea at the time and more recent mass antelope die-offs suggest that both had alternative causes.

Translated into English, Vozrozhdeniya means “rebirth”. Let’s hope the island’s pathogens don’t experience one any time soon.

Pubblicato in: Cina, Economia e Produzione Industriale, Geopolitica Militare, Geopolitica Mondiale

Cina. BeiDou. La via digitale della seta. Il dominio del mondo.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2017-11-26.

Pechino-Cina

«If you want to get rich, first build a road»

*

«In 2013 President Xi Jinping revived this ancient endeavour, with the aim of linking China with Asia, Africa, eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East»

*

«In 2018 the new Silk Road will get a digital dimension. China will extend coverage of its home-grown satellite-navigation system to the 60-plus countries along the belt and road»

*

«By 2020 China aims to compete directly with America’s Global Positioning System (GPS), and expand its services globally with a network of 35 satellites»

*

«BeiDou connects the unconnected»

*

«The UN says that 62% of people in the Asia-Pacific region are not currently online»

*

«In addition to over $1trn in planned belt and road investments, China is spending an estimated $25bn on BeiDou.»

*

«More than 30 countries have signed agreements to embed BeiDou domestically»

* * * * * * *

«BeiDou, which is under military control, enables China to end its dependence on America’s GPS.»

*

«Now China can deploy BeiDou-guided conventional strike weapons »

* * * * * * *

Mentre l’Occidente investe gran parte dei bilanci statali in welfare e benefit, stipendi e vitalizi, la Cina investe cifre colossali in infrastrutture, dalle quali si attende anche un congruo ritorno economico, duraturo nel tempo.

È semplicemente evidente che alla fine il modello cinese è quello destinato a vincere. Con tutte quelle che saranno le ovvie conseguenze. Infatti sta semplicemente accerchiando l’Occidente.

Due elementi da mettere in evidenza.

«BeiDou connects the unconnected»

Già: ed i paesi che l’Occidente aveva snobbato saranno forse ingrati verso i cinesi?

«BeiDou, which is under military control»

Si è avvisati.

Tra tre anni la Cina disporrà di un sistema sia civile sia militare di geolocalizzazione: questo era l’elemento cardine per permettere il passaggio da potenza locoregionale a mondiale.

Poi non ci si stupisca più di tanto se alla fine la Cina esercitasse il potere che sta pazientemente costruendo.


The Economist. 2017-11-22. A digital Silk Road. BeiDou, China’s rival to GPS, goes global

Over 2,000 years ago the Silk Road carried goods, services and ideas across the Eurasian continent. In 2013 President Xi Jinping revived this ancient endeavour, with the aim of linking China with Asia, Africa, eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East. His “belt-and-road” initiative (overland and maritime respectively) involves ambitious plans for ­infrastructure.


In 2018 the new Silk Road will get a digital dimension. China will extend coverage of its home-grown satellite-navigation system to the 60-plus countries along the belt and road. By 2020 China aims to compete directly with America’s Global Positioning System (GPS), and expand its services globally with a network of 35 satellites. 


By the start of 2018 what China is calling BeiDou (its term for the Big Dipper) will have nearly 30 satellites, narrowing its accuracy to well below ten metres. That still leaves it behind GPS, which can pinpoint positions to a metre or less. But it is catching up and aims eventually to surge ahead.


Improvements mean faster, more efficient broadcasting. Navigation services will also get a boost. And BeiDou connects the unconnected. The UN says that 62% of people in the Asia-Pacific region are not currently online. Expanding coverage will be costly. In addition to over $1trn in planned belt and road investments, China is spending an estimated $25bn on BeiDou. 


More than 30 countries have signed agreements to embed BeiDou domestically. Many authorise China to build ground stations, which improve BeiDou’s accuracy and reliability. On top of this, China has a three-year plan to invest in information infrastructure projects worth a combined $174bn, including the development of fibre-optic cables for high-speed internet.


Already, more than 150m Chinese smartphones, or 20% of the market, are equipped with BeiDou, and over 40,000 fishing vessels use it to communicate. Some 20m bicycles and motorcycles employ its positioning services. BeiDou-enabled services were worth more than $25bn in 2015; this is expected to double by 2020. A sub-industry of BeiDou-compatible chips, antennas and products aimed at the mass market has also formed. 


Economic development is only part of the point. BeiDou, which is under military control, enables China to end its dependence on America’s GPS. Now China can deploy BeiDou-guided conventional strike weapons. As well as autonomy, the system brings the prestige of fielding one of the world’s four global navigation satellite systems (Europe, America and Russia manage the other three). 


Critics worry about two things. China’s secrecy is a concern, especially when something goes wrong with the satellites. And, as with the rest of the belt-and-road initiative, China’s lopsided assumption of financial risk could cause problems if the returns are lacklustre. 


Still, the government is committed to the plan. As the Chinese proverb goes, “If you want to get rich, first build a road.” In 2018, that means a digital highway, too.