From Ukraine to Venezuela to Syria to Afghanistan and beyond, Russia seeks to wield and enhance its influence abroad.

 "In the Demise of the Taliban Peace Talks, Russia Is the Winner" - Foreign Policy


In the Demise of the Taliban Peace Talks, Russia Is the Winner

Even as it paints itself as an ally in Afghanistan, the Kremlin is busy undercutting Washington.

Representatives of the Taliban attend international talks on Afghanistan in Moscow on Nov. 9, 2018.

Representatives of the Taliban attend international talks on Afghanistan in Moscow on Nov. 9, 2018. YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Over the weekend, the prospects of a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban seemed to fall apart. That is a major setback, since it will likely delay a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and could lead to an escalated Taliban offensive on Afghan government-held territories. But one player—Russia—might benefit.

In an otherwise dark period for U.S.-Russian relations, Afghanistan seemed to have recently emerged as a rare bright spot for bilateral cooperation. After a visit to Moscow in May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described achieving a “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan as a shared interest of the United States and Russia. Dialogue between U.S. and Russian officials on Afghanistan, which was largely frozen after the collapse of the Northern Distribution Network—a rail network passing through Russia that supplied U.S. forces—in 2015 is now commonplace. Russia had even offered to act as a guarantor for any future U.S.-Taliban peace agreement. Although such a deal now seems to be off the table, Russia’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, stated that he believes U.S.-Taliban peace talks are “suspended” but not “dead,” and he announced Moscow’s plans to consult with the United States on the future of the negotiations.

Although the de-escalation of tensions between the United States and Russia, which had risen last year due to Moscow’s alleged arms transfers to the Taliban, is a positive development, Russia should not be trusted as a partner in Afghanistan. The collapse of the U.S.-Taliban peace talks provides an opening for Russia to reassert its diplomatic presence in the country, and this prospect should concern U.S. policymakers. Russia’s subversion of the authority of Afghanistan’s internationally recognized government and propagation of disinformation about U.S. intentions in Afghanistan reveal that Moscow remains a dangerous adversary in the region.

Ever since Russia overruled strenuous objections from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and invited a Taliban delegation to Moscow in November 2018, Russia’s relationship with the Afghan government has deteriorated. Kabul’s frustrations with Moscow have boiled over into public statements. For example, in February, Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sebghat Ahmadi openly described Kremlin-backed negotiations as unhelpful to the peace process. As Russia fears that its poor relationship with the Afghan government could lead to its diplomatic isolation, Moscow has subverted Ghani’s authority by throwing its weight behind opposition figures and strengthening its relationship with the Taliban.

As long as the United States still wants some kind of settlement between Kabul and the Taliban, Russia’s overt support for opposition figures is counterproductive, because it risks undermining Afghan public trust in an eventual peace agreement.

Russia’s efforts to bolster the influence of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai should be viewed with particular concern. Through his participation in Kremlin-hosted peace negotiations and regular interviews with Russian state media outlets, Karzai has repeatedly raised doubts about Washington’s ability to constructively contribute to Afghan security. As Karzai retains popular support among Afghanistan’s Pashtun community, his anti-American rhetoric could turn this group against any residual presence of U.S. intelligence personnel after the United States leaves the conflict.

Meanwhile, the Moscow-based Council of Afghan Society’s efforts to facilitate dialogue between Afghan opposition figures and the Taliban also undercut the peace process, as they sowed discord among supporters of Afghanistan’s U.N.-recognized government. In February, Ghani accused Afghan opposition figures who participated in these Moscow-hosted talks of placing their political ambitions ahead of peace, and in May, Amrullah Saleh, who is campaigning to be Ghani’s vice president in upcoming presidential elections, accused opposition participants of betraying the Afghan public. By polarizing representatives of the Afghan government along pro- and anti-Ghani lines, Russia has inadvertently facilitated the Taliban’s efforts to frame the Afghan government as a divided, illegitimate authority that does not represent the Afghan people.

Russia’s efforts to strengthen its diplomatic partnership with the Taliban might also have fueled the militant group’s expansionist ambitions, at a time when the United States had urged the Taliban to abandon its goal of recreating an Islamic emirate in exchange for a U.S. withdrawal. Although Russia officially labels the Taliban as a terrorist organization, influential Russian experts, such Oleg Barabanov from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, are increasingly inclined to view “moderate” Taliban members as trustworthy partners. This perception could cause Russia to lobby for expanded Taliban influence over Afghanistan’s future and indirectly reward the Taliban’s expansionist activities, as Moscow routinely invokes the Taliban’s territorial reach as a justification for deepening the group’s diplomatic representation.

In addition to complicating the path to a lasting peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Russia continues to spread disinformation about U.S. objectives in Afghanistan that is aimed at eroding Afghan public trust in U.S. security guarantees. Russia’s state media outlet Sputnik is a leading agent of such disinformation, as it operates a Dari-language website, but Sputnik’s efforts are frequently complemented by statements from the Russian foreign ministry.

Russian state media outlets and officials have frequently floated the conspiracy theory that the United States is covertly supporting the Islamic State of Khorasan Province in Afghanistan. The Russian foreign ministry has alleged that unidentified helicopters use Afghanistan’s NATO-controlled airspace to supply weapons to the Islamic State branch and that U.S. special forces seized prison documents to obfuscate Washington’s covert alignment with the group. Russia has cast similar negative aspersions about the U.S. government’s support for the postponement of Afghanistan’s elections. In an official statement in January, the Russian foreign ministry accused the United States of trying to assume control over Afghanistan’s electoral process and said that Ghani’s government was placing U.S. interests ahead of the demands of Afghan society.

Even as the United States and the Taliban seemed close to a deal. Russia’s disinformation machinery continued operating in full gear. Sputnik framed U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed retention of intelligence personnel in Afghanistan as a facade for the preservation of an eternal U.S. presence in the country. Russian state media outlets also circulated the narrative that the United States was deceiving the Taliban with false promises of a military withdrawal. These messages aligned closely with long-standing Russian fears of a U.S. desire to maintain a permanent base in Afghanistan from which to plunder Central Asia’s mineral resources and encircle Iran. Since the U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations broke down, pro-Kremlin news organizations have accused Trump of using the death of a U.S. soldier at the hands of the Taliban as an excuse to abandon the peace talks and argued that the United States backed out of the negotiations so it could blame the Afghan government if the Taliban recaptured Kabul.

As U.S. policymakers figure out how to reboot or replace the recently collapsed peace process, Washington should view Moscow as a potential spoiler of, rather than a partner for, its plans in Afghanistan. Russia’s willingness to engage with the United States in the country is principally aimed at highlighting its great power status and should not be viewed as real support. Although Russia is genuinely concerned about the spillover of terrorism from an unstable Afghanistan to Central Asia, it principally seeks to counter that threat by consolidating its hegemony over Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and strengthening its influence in Afghanistan by backing pro-Kremlin political figures.

The collapse of the U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations is likely to lead to a revival of alternative diplomatic processes on Afghanistan, and Russia’s Moscow-format talks will undoubtedly benefit from this trend. As Russia’s diplomatic clout grows, the United States should formulate a strategy to combat its subversion of Ghani’s government, counter Kremlin disinformation tactics, and restrict Moscow’s ability to undermine Washington’s interests in Afghanistan.

Samuel Ramani is a doctoral researcher at the Department of Politics and International Relations at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford.  Twitter: @samramani2

Fascinating article, have to read it slowly to understand the complex internal dynamics in Syria. It lends credence to Trump’s desire to distance us from these events.  BUT … how can plans for eventual (often obligatory) U.S. engagement be made?

"After Five Bloody Years in Syria, Russia is Turning Against Iran - and Assad" - The Daily Beast

Globe, World, Europe, Turkey, Black Sea

As Russian troops build up menacingly along Russia's border with Ukraine, this article from the Carnegie Endowment Moscow Center suggests that Russia is trying to force the West to make certain security assurances. In the meantime the situation continues to be quite volatile.

"Are Russia and Ukraine Once Again on the Brink of War?" - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Moscow Center

"The West finds itself, therefore, facing the uncomfortable dilemma of whether to boost Russia’s status, thereby rewarding the dangerous exploitation of a simmering conflict, or to refuse to give Moscow the promises it desires, thus conserving the conflict in its heated state."

The Rand Corporation has published a study analyzing Moscow's activities in and strategy regarding the Black Sea region. The countries considered by the report include three NATO allies (Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey) as well as five NATO partners (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine). The report includes recommendations for the West as it considers ways to counter Russian aggression, foster regional stability, and protect mutual interests.

"The Black Sea region is a central locus of the competition between Russia and the West for the future of Europe. The Kremlin is seeking to establish a sphere of privileged influence over neighboring countries in the region and limit their integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), while enhancing Russia's regime stability and improving military capabilities for home-land defense and power projection."

"Russia, NATO, and Black Sea Security" - Rand Corporation

Globe, World, Europe, Turkey, Black Sea, Russia, Syria

As indiscriminate, senseless war rages on in Ukraine with no end in sight, many are wondering whether a coup is in order in Russia. Despite widespread repression and tight state control over the media, at some point will Russians learn the truth, and will the military and/or the oligarchs will say enough is enough? Of course no one knows, and as the article below points out, plenty of dictators have held on to power for much longer than analysts have predicted.

"The prevailing wisdom holds that Putin will be able to survive any domestic backlash. That is most likely true...But the thing about repressive regimes like Putin’s Russia is that they often look stable right up to the point that they are not. Putin has taken a major risk in attacking Ukraine, and there is a chance—one that seems to be growing—that it could mark the beginning of his end."

"The Beginning of the End for Putin?" - Foreign Affairs

The mysterious attacks on U.S. government officials are more widespread and more serious than many people realize. Most attacks have occurred overseas, but one was carried out near the White House. The New York Times reports that more than 130 people have been affected, and the U.S. intelligence community believes that Russia is responsible.

"The Mystery Attacks on Americans Must Be Solved" - Opinion in The Washington Post

Who or what can stop Putin, and how will this end? Eliot Cohen wrestles with the question of what the West can do in the face of Russia's escalating attack on Ukraine in this article in The Atlantic. He acknowledges the tremendous challenges the world faces with regard to Putin's aggression, but celebrates the "remarkable solidarity and decisiveness of the liberal democracies, in Europe and outside it." He argues that "Western strategy should rest on three pillars: vigorous and imaginative military support to Ukrainian regular and irregular forces; sanctions that will hobble the Russian economy; and construction of a militarily powerful European alliance that can secure the border with Russia as long as that country remains a menace." To the question of how this might end, Cohen posits that "The road that the West should seek will lead either to the collapse of Putin’s regime or to a long-term weakening of the Russian state’s capability and appetite for aggressive war." He goes on to note that Americans will have to again accept that national security must be a priority.

"The Strategy that Can Defeat Putin" - The Atlantic

The U.S. Air Force chief of staff and U.S. Marine Corps commandant recommend how the U.S. military can improve its readiness to fight -- not only tonight, but in the future as well.

"To compete with the People’s Republic of China and Russia, and successfully address other emergent challenges, the U.S. military requires a new framework for assessing readiness. It should focus less on near-term availability and more on future capability and warfighting advantage over peer adversaries."

"Opinion: To Compete with China and Russia, the U.S. Military Must Redefine 'Readiness'" - The Washington Post

Human miscalculation is an inherent risk in foreign policy, with possibly deadly results. Inferences, misunderstandings, and missed cues can lead to the gravest of consequences when armed adversaries seek opposing outcomes. The current international tensions regarding Russia's troop buildup on its borders with Ukraine present a troubling example.

The authors also raise an excellent question regarding what could happen after an invasion. Would U.S. sanctions following a Russian invasion of Ukraine give Russia the excuse it has been waiting for to launch debilitating cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure in retaliation?

"Ukraine and the Danger of Human Miscalculation" - The National Interest

"Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to invade Ukraine and President Joe Biden’s threat to sanction Russia in response cast into high relief the danger of human miscalculation in causing a war neither side wants. Each side may miscalculate what the other may do, and each other’s options are asymmetrical to the other’s. That Putin has leaned so far forward makes it hard for him to back down without anything to show for his saber-rattling."

NATO member states Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, which share borders with Russia, have a great deal of experience dealing with Russia. Their leaders have been outspoken since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the presidents of all three Baltic states recently visited Kyiv. This opinion piece argues that the West should be heeding the Baltic states' advice to not be deterred by Putin's rhetoric. "Baltic nations also insist that NATO must grow a backbone."

"Want to Know How to Stop Putin? Listen to Leaders of the Baltic States" - Philadelphia Inquirer

"Having lived under Soviet rule, the Balts have no illusions about the need to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from scoring a brutal 'victory' over Ukraine, something which could still happen if NATO members don’t send heavy weapons quickly. Their leaders are blunt about the long-term threat to Western nations if they fail Ukraine."

Vector Background Clipart A Stock Treasure Illustrations Free

The Black Sea is of tremendous strategic importance. Bordered by Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, and Romania, the Black Sea is connected to the Mediterranean Sea (via the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea) through the Bosporus straight. Russia's unfettered access to the Black Sea, as well as its occupation since 2014 of the Crimean Peninsula, facilitate its continued attacks on southeastern Ukraine. Ukraine's ability to defend itself is hampered because Russia destroyed and/or took control of most of Ukraine's naval forces when it annexed Crimea.

The international community is unable to curtail Russian warships' access to the Black Sea because, as noted in the article linked below, "Due to Montreux Convention rules regarding the Bosporus and Dardanelles that connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, countries that sit on the Black Sea have unlimited access. Nonresident countries may only send ships in for short stints and are limited by ship size. So although NATO is not intervening militarily on Ukraine’s behalf, the Black Sea was always going to be a vulnerable spot for Ukraine."

For more information on the Montreaux convention and the importance of the Black Sea, check out this article:

"What Makes the Black Sea So Strategically Important?" - Defense News

Crimea, Bird Home, Sea, Black Sea

This article discusses why Russia appears to have fewer cases of coronavirus than other countries. Is this due to cultural factors, excellent planning along with a dose of authoritarianism, or manipulation of the data?

Whatever the case in Russia, understanding the extent of this virus is difficult given the lack of testing in many areas, including in the United States. Official numbers don't reflect the true extent of the problem if testing is not widespread.

"Why is Russia's Coronavirus Case Count So Low" - The New Yorker

Check out our prior post on the state of affairs in Russia as well:

Quarantine, Corona, Covid, Sars, Pandemic, Protection

Nuclear disarmament has not been top of mind for many people in recent years and months, given the global pandemic and political upheaval in the U.S. and elsewhere. But one of President Biden's first actions in office was to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia for another five years to 2026.

As Loren Thompson describes in the article below, the agreement "limits Russia and America to 1,550 nuclear warheads carried on no more than 700 long-range delivery systems—land-based ballistic missiles, sea-based ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. The main goal of the treaty is to foster a stable and verifiable nuclear balance in which there is minimal likelihood of misunderstandings between Washington and Moscow." The treaty works when both sides know "that any act of nuclear aggression would provoke overwhelming retaliation." The problem with the current situation, Thompson argues, is that the U.S. nuclear arsenal has aged to a degree that it will soon be unreliable. Therefore the ability of the U.S to deter nuclear aggression against it will be degraded unless the U.S. pursues significant modernization of its nuclear capabilities.

"Why Nuclear Arms Control Won't Work Without New Weapons" - Forbes

Arm Wrestling, Competition, Strength

Commentators are increasingly seeing Russian aggression against Ukraine as symbolic of a greater struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. This New York Times piece argues that this conflict is fundamentally different from wars in recent decades because it represents an invasion of a country's neighbor for the purpose of territorial expansion and "expansion of regional dominance." The piece posits that "A Russian invasion of Ukraine would look like the kind of war that has been largely absent in the past 80 years and that was once common. It would involve a powerful nation setting out to expand its regional dominance by taking over a neighbor. A war like this — a voluntary war of aggression — would be a sign that Putin believed that Pax Americana was over and that the U.S., the European Union and their allies had become too weak to exact painful consequences."

"Why Ukraine Is Different" - The New York Times

Russia has made an agreement with the government in Khartoum to establish a Russian naval base in Sudan. Under the agreement, Russia will be authorized to base four ships and 300 personnel at Port Sudan on the Red Sea. In addition, Russia will have access to Sudanese airports to support the base. This will be Russia's first naval base in Africa.

"With Base in Sudan, Russia Expands Its Military Reach in Africa" - Foreign Policy

Russia's invasion of Ukraine purportedly arose out of Putin's concern for Russia's security and is intended to discourage NATO expansion and undermine cohesion among NATO countries and the West. The invasion in fact seems to be having the opposite effect, with the West unifying in its opposition to the war, NATO readying defensive forces, and accelerated talk of NATO membership for countries such as Sweden and Finland, as well as increased talk of admitting Ukraine into the EU. For an excellent read about the strategic implications of this conflict, check out this Q&A with Atlantic Council experts.

"Twenty Questions (and Expert Answers) about What's Happening with Ukraine and Russia" - Atlantic Council

U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker discusses the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and efforts that are underway to pursue a peaceful conclusion to the conflict.

"After 5 Years of Conflict, Ukraine's Barrier to Peace is Still 'Russia's Political Will'" - PRI's The World

As Russia has turned to Iranian-made kamikaze drones in addition to its own missiles to attack targets across Ukraine, calls for the international community to provide Ukraine with air defense systems have intensified. The U.S. and European countries have provided air defense systems and more are on the way, but stocks are low and new systems take time to be manufactured. Air defense systems are quite complex, as they seek to identify and destroy a wide variety of aerial threats traveling at differing speeds over varied terrain, from helicopters to ballistic missiles to cruise missiles. Ukraine has its own systems, but many have been destroyed. Allies continues to unite in support of Ukraine as individual countries provide air defense support and NATO countries work to build an interoperable air defense system for NATO member countries and allies.

"Can the U.S. Do More for Ukrainian Air Defense?" - Center for Strategic and International Studies

This article presents an excellent explanation of how air defense works:

"Ukraine Wants More Air Defense. Here's How It Works" - Washington Post

"NATO Rushing to Build Up Air Defenses for Ukraine - and Itself" - Politico

Here is some excellent analysis of the Russian military buildup on its border with Ukraine.

"Russia May 'Break a Tooth' if They 'Take a Bite' Out of Ukraine, Analyst Warns" - The World

If Russia were to invade, Ukraine "...could deliver a certain sort of pain to the Russians. But when it comes down to it, the Russians, they have air power. They have long-range firepower, massive advantages on the battlefield. The Russians would win in the initial engagement. The thing is, if the Russians end up trying to occupy territory, they're going to find themselves in a guerrilla war against the people who absolutely regard them as a hostile alien invader."

Belarus continues to throw its lot in with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on whose support Belarus's authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko relies. Russia staged troops in Belarus for its initial attack on Ukraine in February, and now Lukashenko has announced that he is preparing to deploy a joint military task force with Russia, though he did not specify to where it would be sent. He has also said that large numbers of Russian troops will soon return to Belarus. Without evidence, Lukashenko claims that Ukraine is planning strikes on Belarusian territory. Belarus's defense minister has said that Belarusian participation in the task force is purely defensive in nature, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has expressed concern regarding Belarus's continued support of Russia's attacks on Ukraine.

"Russian Troops Will Return to Belarus in Large Numbers, Lukashenko Says" - New York Times

"Heavily dependent on Moscow for money, fuel and security assistance, all vital to his own survival after 28 years in power, Mr. Lukashenko is widely believed to be under growing Russian pressure to get more involved in the Ukraine war."

"Lukashenko Says Belarus and Russia to Deploy Joint Military Group" - AlJazeera

"Would Lukashenko Really Throw Belarus into a War Russia Is Losing?" - The Guardian

Here is our post from last February with more background on Belarusian support for Putin's war in Ukraine:

Belarus, the former Soviet state that shares borders with Ukraine and Russia, is in the headlines. Belarus's authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and has thrown his lot in with Putin. He has facilitated Russia's invasion of Ukraine by allowing Russian forces to stage in Belarus, and as a result Belarus is subject to new sanctions by the West. As the war in Ukraine intensifies, Lukashenko has tightened his grip on power through a referendum that grants him lifetime immunity from prosecution and allows Russia to stage nuclear weapons on Belarusian terrain.

"Why Russia's Invasion of Ukraine Led to Sanctions on Belarus" - Time

"Belarus' Lukashenko Tightens Grip in Referendum" - Deutsche Welle

"OSCE Report: Belarus Vote Was 'Not Transparent, Free, or Fair'" - Al Jazeera (re: 2020 election of Lukashenko)

Here's another excellent interview from the Aspen Security Forum. CIA Director William Burns gave fascinating insights on the conflict in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin's evolving character and decision-making process, Americans detained overseas, relations with China, Taiwan, Iran's nuclear program, and other national and international security issues. During the interview he provided the first public U.S. estimate of Russian casualties during the war in Ukraine: 15,000 killed and 45,000 wounded. Regarding President Putin's health, Burns said, "As far as we can tell, he's entirely too healthy."

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Widespread recent cyber intrusions into U.S. federal agencies including the Commerce Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the U.S. Postal Service and the National Institutes of Health also appear to have affected the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration as well. These attacks are believed to have been carried out by Russia's foreign intelligence service. Malware from the attacks has also likely infected thousands of private companies.

"U.S. Cyber Agency: Computer Hack Poses 'Grave Risk'" - NPR

"Nuclear Weapons Agency Breached Amid Massive Cyber Onslaught" - Politico

Hacker, Hacking, Cyber Security, Hack

Heavy losses of Russian tanks during Russia's war in Ukraine have led some analysts to conclude that the era of tanks might be over. Are tanks obsolete in modern warfare? Or does the loss of so many Russian tanks reflect other issues that do not represent the relevance of tanks in warfare overall? Here are some articles that dig deep into the issue.

This is a very interesting discussion of the historical use of tanks:

"The Tank Is Dead: Long Live the Javelin, the Switchblade, the...?" War on the Rocks

"We should all recall the words of Australian Maj. Gen. Kathryn Toohey in 2019: 'Tanks are like dinner jackets. You don’t need them very often, but when you do, nothing else will do.' The general’s caution explains why the tank has endured and why it is perhaps not time for its funeral, unless she can be proven wrong."

"The Tank Is Not Obsolete, and Other Observations about the Future of Combat - War on the Rocks

"The available data from Ukraine, as well as the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh, indicate that tanks are still critical in modern warfare and their vulnerabilities have been exaggerated. Russia’s heavy tank losses can be explained by employment mistakes, poor planning and preparation, insufficient infantry support, and Ukrainian artillery.",critical%20role%20during%20offensive%20operations.

"The Tank's Death Has Been Exaggerated" - Center for European Policy Analysis

"Tanks a Lot (Well, Not Actually That Many for Ukraine)" - Foreign Policy Research Institute

Free Tank Army photo and picture

Russia's war in Ukraine is undoubtedly being studied very closely, and will be analyzed for years to come. This essay, and the longer chapter linked within, make up part of the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Strategic Survey 2022, an excellent survey of recent world events relevant to security studies. No one knows the eventual outcome of this war, but the human and economic effects are clearly devastating. This has grown to be the largest war in Europe since 1945, involving not only two large states but many other nations providing support. Although Ukraine's allies are taking pains to deter Russia from escalating the conflict with the use of nuclear weapons, the implicit threat remains. This article, and the longer chapter, provide excellent insight into the emerging military lessons from Russia's war in Ukraine.

"Russia's War in Ukraine: What Are the Emerging Military Lessons?" - International Institute for Strategic Studies

"Perhaps the most important facet of the war is that what was planned as a short 'special military operation' against an inferior enemy has turned into a large-scale conflict between states, in which prolonged fighting has been at a high intensity and over a wide geographical area."

It is rare to see details on the effectiveness of sanctions. David Ignatius’s article below provides several. Interesting read. 

If the war in Ukraine is indeed prolonged, the effect of sanctions becomes more important in strategic planning. The role of the Europeans becomes more crucial. Can experimentation WITH the Europeans be done on this?

"Opinion: Putin's Long Game in Ukraine May Not Play Out as He Predicts" - Washington Post

"Opinion: Putin's 'March of Folly' in Ukraine" - Opinion in The Washington Post

David Ignatius of The Washington Post has written some very insightful pieces of late regarding the situation in Ukraine. In this recent piece he imagines what would happen after a Russian invasion of Ukraine. "Ukraine might seem a triumphal victory for Putin at first, but it’s unlikely to have a happy ending. When leaders fight unnecessary “wars of choice” without a clear endgame, they often confront catastrophic unintended consequences."

Robert Kagan discusses American involvement in Russia's war in Ukraine in relation to U.S. interventions in past conflicts in this article in Foreign Affairs. He argues that although American territorial security and sovereignty may not be at risk, the U.S. is acting in its national interest when it acts in defense of its beliefs and ideologies. It is sometimes in the interest of the United States to defend the liberal world, even beyond its borders. "When Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and others say that the United States has a vital interest in Ukraine, they do not mean that the United States will be directly threatened if Ukraine falls. They mean that the liberal world order will be threatened if Ukraine falls."

"A Free World, If You Can Keep It: Ukraine and American Interests" - Foreign Affairs

"Russia’s invasion has changed Americans’ views not only of Ukraine but also of the world in general and the United States’ role in it...The war in Ukraine has exposed the gap between the way Americans think and talk about their national interests and the way they actually behave in times of perceived crisis."

Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine is not only reshaping the entire security environment in Europe, but is also revealing a great deal about Russia's military capabilities and weaknesses. CSIS has published a comprehensive report on lessons learned. "This analysis examines lessons from Russian air, ground, cyber, and other domains following Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. It asks: What are some of the most important military lessons from the first three months of the war? What do these lessons suggest about the future of the war?" The report lays out Russia's weaknesses in training and planning, which led to numerous logistics failures. It also discusses how Russia's incorrect assumptions about the Ukrainian military, the Ukrainian public, and the West have affected the offensive. Third, the report analyzes the challenges Russia faces in domains such as cyber operations, electronic warfare, air operations, and maritime.

"Russia's Ill-Fated Invasion of Ukraine:Lessons in Modern Warfare" - Center for Strategic and International Studies

In July NATO will hold a summit in Lithuania. Heads of state and government will convene in Vilnius to discuss continued strengthening of deterrence and defense, increasing defense budgets, and ongoing support for Ukraine. The Atlantic Council just published an issue brief with recommendations for actions NATO should take, particularly in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine and anti-NATO rhetoric.

"NATO Deterrence and Defense: Military Priorities for the Vilnius Summit" - Atlantic Council

"To sum up, Russia is a near-, medium-, and longer-term threat. Its willingness to go to war against Ukraine underscores that it might act on its stated concerns regarding NATO. Accordingly, the recommendations below are intended to enhance NATO’s deterrent and defense posture, both to reduce the probability of a conflict with Russia and to ensure a successful outcome if such a conflict occurs."

On May 5 from 9:00 to 12:00 ET, the Atlantic Council will hold a live and virtual roundtable to discuss priorities for the upcoming Vilnius summit.

"Ideas to Implementation: Priorities for NATO's Vilnius Summit" - Atlantic Council Event

Nato, Ukraine, Flag, Solidarity, Banner

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has sharpened NATO's focus and is accelerating difficult and timely discussions regarding NATO unity and NATO members' defense spending. Far from creating fissures within NATO or weakening the alliance as Putin might have hoped, Russia's unprovoked aggression has unified the West and provided the necessary impetus to spur additional military spending within NATO countries. Most striking has been Germany's recent announcement that it would increase defense spending to over 2% of GDP a year. This is a welcome change within NATO and one for which the U.S. has long advocated.

"The War in Ukraine: Meeting the Russian Challenge to NATO" - CSIS

"Germany to Increase Spending in Response to 'Putin's War' - Scholz" - Reuters

nato flag - Clip Art Library

The Atlantic Council has published three articles debating the issues related to a potential no-fly zone over Ukraine. The West has thus far refused to establish an NFZ in Ukraine as doing so would amount to a NATO declaration of war against Russia. In addition to escalating the conflict, many argue that an NFZ would not be effective.

The case for a no-fly zone:

Russia's aims are likely broader than just Ukraine. "The choice is simple: We can confront Putin either now or later."

The case against a no-fly zone:

"Implementing an NFZ over even just the western part of Ukraine or for the protection of humanitarian corridors would deliver the ultimate trifecta of bad outcomes: It would be a costly and difficult mission; it would lead to direct military confrontation with Russia; and it would all be for naught. Indeed, it would only prolong the loss of life and human suffering without changing the ultimate outcome of the war."

The case for NATO helping in other ways:

"But there’s plenty NATO member states can still do to protect civilians on the ground short of shooting down Russian aircraft over the country (which would also prevent Ukrainian air assets and humanitarian flights from doing their jobs)."

Us Air Force, Military, F-22 Raptor

Nord Stream 2 is a more than 1000-kilometer new natural gas pipeline that runs from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany. The project has been highly controversial. Nord Stream 2 will allow Russian gas to bypass prior routes through Poland, Ukraine, and Slovakia, which currently collect transit fees. Opponents, including the U.S., argue that the project facilitates and worsens Western Europe's dependence on Russia for natural gas. As many experts have noted in recent discussions regarding Russian behavior toward Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 is a Russian geopolitical tool, not merely an economic project. Many analysts blame Germany's reticence to take a stronger stance regarding Russia's troop buildup on its borders with Ukraine on Germany's dependence on cheap natural gas from Russia.

"The Pipeline at the Center of Geopolitical Drama" - Vox

"Why the World Worries about Russia's Nord Stream 2 Pipeline" - The Washington Post

"Ukraine Crisis: Why is Germany Out of Step with the U.S., Europe?" - Aljazeera

"The Nord Stream 2 Dispute and the Transatlantic Alliance" - European Council on Foreign Relations

Almost a year into Russia's war in Ukraine, the U.S. has decided to give Ukraine the Patriot missile defense system. Ukraine will receive one battery of the system, enough to protect a very limited geographic area. The transfer is highly symbolic, as the system is sophisticated and its presence is considered by Russia to be a provocation and escalation in the conflict. Ukrainian soldiers will begin several months of training this month at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on how to use the system. Generally around 90 highly trained soldiers are required for command and control of the system. Germany has indicated that it, too, will send a Patriot system to Ukraine. As Russia repeatedly targets Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian buildings, Ukrainian officials continue to seek additional military aid and materiel from the U.S. and other allies.

"U.S. Involvement in Ukraine War Deepens, with Troops to Train in Oklahoma" - Washington Post

"The Patriot system, first used in combat during the Gulf War to take out Iraqi Scud missiles, relies on sophisticated radar to track incoming threats, including cruise and ballistic missiles, and launches long-range missiles to intercept them. Typically deployed on the back of a truck, it requires a crew of at least three soldiers to operate, with extensive backup needed to keep it functional."

"Patriot to Ukraine: What Does It Mean?" - CSIS

"The United States is sending Patriot to Ukraine for three reasons: to help defend against Russian missile attacks, which are pounding Ukrainian cities and disrupting utilities; to strongly convey political support; and because the United States has few other air defenses to send."

"What the Patriot Missile System Can Do for Ukraine" - CBS News

"Each Patriot battery consists of a truck-mounted launching system with eight launchers that can hold up to four missile interceptors each, a ground radar, a control station and a generator. The Army said it currently has 16 Patriot battalions. A 2018 International Institute for Strategic Studies report found those battalions operate 50 batteries, which have more than 1,200 missile interceptors."

"Ukrainian Troops Will Start Patriot Missile Training Later this Month" - Newsweek

"The Patriot system is a ground-based, mobile missile defense interceptor, which can detect, track and engage drones as well as cruise missiles, and short-range or tactical ballistic missiles."

"Why the U.S. Is Giving Ukraine a Patriot Air-Defense System - Washington Post

Patriot, Missile, Usa, Military, Defense

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is facing significant challenges amidst Russia's ongoing attacks on Ukraine. In anticipation of the upcoming NATO Summit to be held in Madrid at the end of June, the Atlantic Council held a conference on Monday, "Priorities for the NATO Summit and Security in Europe," and has made a recording of this conference available online. Speakers included Lithuania's minister of defense, senior U.S.military and civilian officials, and two U.S. senators. This is an excellent opportunity to hear from leading experts and policymakers regarding the future of NATO.

Logo, Nato, Blue, Metal, Star, Nato

Last week Uzbekistan hosted a meeting of the multilateral security-focused Shanghai Cooperation Organization.Thirteen heads of state from Central Asia and the surrounding region attended, including leaders from India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled internationally for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to attend the summit and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the event.

Given Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine, numerous security, economic and diplomatic issues were undercurrents at the meeting, including: the extent to which China will continue to show support for Russia, the demand for Central Asian oil and gas given sanctions on Russia, Turkey's role as a mediator between East and West, and more. Here are some of the best sources to learn more:

What is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an intergovernmental organization of Central Asian nations (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), observer states (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia), and partner states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey). The SCO focuses on regional security issues and regional development.

"Chinese Support for Putin's War Looks More Shaky After Summit" - New York Times

Remarks Putin and Xi made following their meeting "were a stark sign that Russia lacks the full backing of its most powerful international partner as it tries to recover from a humiliating rout in northeastern Ukraine last week....The two authoritarian leaders met during a summit in Uzbekistan that was meant to signal the strength of the relationship between the countries at a time of increasing animosity with the West and challenges to their agendas. The meeting was particularly important to Mr. Putin, who has become more isolated by the United States and its allies over his invasion of Ukraine."

"Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping: An Increasingly Unequal Relationship" - BBC

"Uzbekistan, Central Asia Try to Redefine Shanghai Cooperation Organization" -

"Turkey's Erdogan Targets Joining Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Media Reports Say" - Reuters

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan attended the SCO summit and seeks membership for Turkey in the organization.

"Why the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Uzbekistan This Week Should Matter for the West" - Forbes

Pyramid Clip Art

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled their country over the last two weeks to avoid getting called up to fight in Ukraine. This is a sobering commentary by a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general with decades of experience training soldiers who predicts these Russian "reservists" will be woefully unprepared.

"Putin's Recruits Are Heading for Slaughter" - Opinion in the Washington Post

boot camp military clip art - Clip Art Library

Yesterday the Atlantic Council hosted an excellent panel discussion on the current buildup of Russian troops on its border with Ukraine. A recording of the one-hour roundtable can be found here.

"Russia's Six Scenarios for a New Ukraine Invasion" - Atlantic Council

Panelists recommended several recent articles on the current situation:

"Russia's Possible Invasion of Ukraine" - Center for Strategic and International Studies

"How Likely is Large-Scale War in Ukraine?" - Center for Defense Strategies


"Putin's Wager in Russia's Standoff with the West" - War on the Rocks

"Springtime for Liberal Interventionists" - The Spectator World

"Guerrilla Tactics Offer Ukraine's Best Deterrent Against Putin's Invasion Force" - The Atlantic Council

"Will Russia Make a Military Move Against Ukraine? Follow These Clues." - The Atlantic Council

Vladimir Putin has decreed that on April 22 Russia will hold a vote on a constitutional amendment that would help keep him in power indefinitely. Russian legal experts and commentators have decried the process as flawed and the results as preordained. This process is well underway even as Russia's official numbers of covid-19 infections are suspiciously low, though medical professionals report a surge in cases of influenza and pneumonia.

"Another President for Life" - The Economist

"Putin Asks Court if He Can Amend Constitution to Run Again for President" - Reuters

In a country with a long history of hiding bad news from its people, what's the story behind Russia's low covid-19 infection numbers?

"Why is Russia Reporting So Few Covid-19 Cases?" - ABC News

Russia, Moscow, Red Square, Church, St Basile

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is an intergovernmental organization with 57 member states from Europe and North America. It is the world's largest regional security forum. Member states work together through the OSCE on conflict prevention, arms control, economic development, and human rights through a comprehensive approach to security. The organization focuses on cooperation and peaceful resolution of disputes. The OSCE Partliamentary Assembly met this week in Vienna, and the Austrian government granted visas to Russian representatives. This has sparked a great deal of controversy and protest, as Ukraine and Lithuania boycotted the meetings as a result of Russia's presence. The U.S. is urging the OSCE to host meetings only in states that will not grant Russians visas to attend. Russia has blocked the adoption of a budget for the OSCE, severely limiting the organization's ability to carry out its mission.

Some OSCE members argue that since Russia's invasion of Ukraine blatantly violates OSCE principles, the country should be excluded from OSCE proceedings. Russia argues that as a founding member of the OSCE and the largest country in Europe, it has a right to a seat at the table. Some argue that Russia must continue to be included, and that the OSCE is a valuable mechanism for continued dialogue and possible eventual cooperation.

"What Is the OSCE?" - OSCE

"All 57 participating States enjoy equal status, and decisions are taken by consensus on a politically, but not legally binding basis."

"U.S. Delegation to OSCE Meeting Urges Step Toward Boycott of Russian Participation" - Radio Free Europe

"Russian Delegates Defiant at Hostile OSCE Assembly Meeting" - Associated Press

"The OSCE’s work has ground to a halt in the past year, with Russia blocking all major decisions, including the adoption of the budget and refusing to agree to Lithuania assuming the group’s rotating chairmanship in 2024. Russia has also used its veto to block the extension of the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, the OSCE’s flagship operation in Ukraine which had been engaged in monitoring the fragile ceasefire in the east of the country before the full-scale invasion last year."

"OSCE in Crisis over Russian War in Ukraine" - Arms Control Today

"Suspend Russia from the OSCE? Think Twice" - Opinion, Security and Human Rights Monitor

"Watching the horrible developments unfolding in Ukraine triggers a sense that Russia should be suspended from the OSCE. But this is procedurally unlikely, and it would kill the OSCE as an inclusive pan-European security organization."

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE...

Surely one of the unintended consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is that the mistakes, weaknesses, and depravity of Russia's military are on full display for all the world to see. By now we all know about the stalled convoy and maintenance failures as well as the fact that Russia is running out of missiles. In addition, this article in the Atlantic argues that "The Russian air force’s failure is perhaps the most important, but least discussed, story of the military conflict so far...the Russian air force continues to suffer from flawed logistics operations and the lack of regular, realistic training. Above all, the autocratic Russian kleptocracy does not trust low-ranking and middle-ranking officers, and so cannot allow the imaginative, flexible decision making that NATO air forces rely upon. All this meant that when the invasion started, the Russian air force was incapable of running a well-thought-out, complex campaign." The authors go on to describe how the Ukrainians have creatively leveraged their more limited airpower resources to significantly hamper Russia's efforts to control the skies.

"The Overlooked Reason Russia's Invasion Is Floundering" - The Atlantic

Russia is building up troops and artillery in several locations along its border with Ukraine and has also reportedly called up tens of thousands of reservists. Senior U.S. and European officials have warned President Putin to pull back his forces, but the buildup continues. The U.S. has expressed its support for Ukraine but has not indicated how it would respond if Russia invaded. Russian foreign policy has become increasingly assertive in recent years, and the West seems unable to interpret Putin's intentions or predict Russia's next move. A large-scale invasion of Ukraine would be certain to evoke a response from the West, but what type of response?

"U.S. Intel Shows Russia Plans for Potential Ukraine Invasion" - Bloomberg

"Opinion: The U.S. Is Warning Russia on Ukraine. So far, the Message Isn't Getting Through" - Washington Post

The following is an excellent in-depth analysis written in June.

"Grand Illusions: The Impact of Misperceptions about Russia on U.S. Policy" - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

"Russia will also remain a serious national security concern for the United States because of its nuclear arsenal and conventional and cyber capabilities—and because of the U.S. commitment to NATO, which is locked in a tense standoff with Russia, in close proximity to its heartland, for the foreseeable future."

"Getting Russia right—assessing its capabilities and intentions, the long-term drivers of its policy and threat perceptions, as well as its accomplishments—is essential because the alternative of misreading them is a recipe for wasted resources, distorted national priorities, and increased risk of confrontation."

The situation regarding Russia's troop buildup on its border with Ukraine is evolving fast. Russian troops are now also arriving in Belarus, ostensibly to hold joint military exercises. Troop presence in Belarus would give Russia access to Ukraine from the north and closer access to Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. For detailed updates, check out the Atlantic Council link below.

Russia has used millions of dollars worth of missiles to destroy powerful Ukrainian HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems) donated by the U.S. Oh but wait, those HIMARS the Russians destroyed with their costly cruise missiles were wooden fakes. In fact, Russia claims to have destroyed more HIMARS than Ukraine ever received. 

"Ukraine is Building Wooden HIMARS Decoys to Fool Russia - and It's Working" - Popular Mechanics

As the West has been exerting increasing pressure on Russia through economic sanctions, the world is focusing on Russia's economy. This article lays out interesting facts about Russia's exports. Russia's largest trading partner is China, and its top exports include fertilizers, petroleum, gold, and wood.

"Gold, Oil, Diamonds and Fertiilzers: 10 Things You Need to Know about Russian Exports" - Trade Data Monitor

Sanctions are beginning to significantly affect the Russian economy. The ruble has crashed, inflation is rapidly increasing, and recession is on the horizon.

"Four Weeks of War Scar Russia's Economy" - Reuters

"Russia's Been Hit by a Financial Cold War" - The Washington Post

check out

All over the world, the U.S. State Department hires local people to work in U.S. embassies and consulates. These employees hold a wide variety of positions and provide crucial cultural, linguistic, security, and logistical support. Russia has recently prohibited the U.S. embassy in Moscow from employing Russians. This ban is being applied to other "unfriendly countries" as well, such as the United Kingdom and several other European countries. As a consequence, the U.S. embassy has cut its consular staff by 75% and is limiting consular services.

According to the State Department's careers webpage, "Locally Employed Staff (LE Staff) provide unique services in support of foreign policy at more than 270 embassies and consulates worldwide. They are an integral part of the team dedicated to representing America’s interests to other countries...LE Staff are foreign nationals and other locally resident citizens (including US Citizens) who are legally eligible to work in that country. LE Staff and locally resident US Citizens are the continuity staff of our Missions abroad. They provide the institutional knowledge and professional contacts that are so important to the embassy. LE Staff personnel perform vital mission program and support functions. All USG agencies under Chief of Mission authority depend heavily on their continuity staff, frequently delegating to them significant management roles and program functions."

"Putin's Local Worker Ban Leaves U.S. Embassy in Russia Shorthanded" - Christian Science Monitor

Russian mercenary organization the Wagner Group is suspected of being involved in Burkina Faso's most recent coup and operates in Ukraine, Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali, and elsewhere on behalf of the Kremlin. Just what is the Wagner Group?

"What is the Wagner Group, Russia's Mercenary Entity in Ukraine?" - Washington Post

"Examining Russia's Influence on the Most Recent Coup in Burkina Faso" - NPR

The Russian military's weaknesses are being laid bare on the battlefield as its war in Ukraine enters its ninth month. As it continues to show disregard not only for international law but also for civilian lives, Russia is revealing its military limitations for all the world to see.

"Ukraine War Proves Western Technology Is Superior, German General Says" - C4ISRNet

As a result of a recent election in Russia, constitutional reforms will reset term limits and allow President Vladimir Putin to run for election for two additional 6-year terms after his current term ends. Dozens of other changes were made to the constitution, including the addition of what is effectively a ban on same-sex marriage. Critics and opposition figures criticized the campaign and voting processes.

"Russians Grant Putin Right to Extend His Rule Until 2036 in Landslide Vote" - Reuters

"Putin Strongly Backed in Controversial Russian Reform Vote" -

"Russia Referendum: All You Need to Know on the Vote that Could See Putin Stay in Power until 2036" -

Map, Russia, Flag, Borders, Country

Russian diplomats around the world are toeing the line, propagating false pro-Russian propaganda about the war in Ukraine. As this AP article points out, "Russian embassies and consulates around the world are prolifically using Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to deflect blame for atrocities while seeking to undermine the international coalition supporting Ukraine."

"For Russian Diplomats, Disinformation Is Part of the Job" - Associated Press

Phone, Display, Apps, Applications

Burkina Faso's leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who came to power in a coup in January of this year, has been overthrown via another coup by Capt. Ibrahim Traore. The volatile political situation in this small West African country is one of several significant challenges Burkina Faso is facing that have far-reaching effects on international security. Burkina Faso is a landlocked former French colony that in recent years has suffered from a deteriorating security environment due to the increasing presence of jihadist militants. Terrorist attacks have become common throughout the Sahel, raising concerns internationally about the region as a haven for international terrorist organizations. In addition, Russian mercenaries have a significant presence in West Africa, where Russia is seen as competing for influence with former regional colonial power, France. The Sahel has also experienced significant changes in climate that are causing water shortages and low agricultural yields, which in turn contribute to food insecurity and migration.

"The Old Junta Leader Makes Way for the New in Burkina Faso's Second Coup of the Year" - NPR

"Their power grab marked Burkina Faso's second military coup this year, deepening fears that the political chaos could divert attention from an Islamic insurgency whose violence has killed thousands and forced 2 million to flee their homes. It followed unrest in Ouagadougou, the capital, in which mobs on Saturday attacked the French embassy and other French-related sites, wrongly believing that they were sheltering Damiba."

"U.S. Warns Burkina Faso Coup Leaders on Russia" - Barrons

"Burkina Faso Coup: Ousted Military Ruler Damiba in Togo" - BBC

Good information on terrorism in the Sahel region from the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT).

It's a great time to learn more about Burkina Faso!

burkina faso map - Clip Art Library

South Africa's foreign minister is acting baffled as to why her country would be criticized for planning a joint military exercise with Russia and China next month. South Africa has refused to condemn Russia's aggression in Ukraine, choosing instead to portray itself as neutral. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor in Pretoria, and Lavrov and Pandor described each other as "a friend." The joint exercises will be held over the one-year anniversary of the launch of Russia's ongoing attack on Ukraine. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited South Africa the day after Lavrov's visit.

"Lavrov Visit to South Africa: Pandor Defends Joint Russia-China Military Exercise" - BBC

"South Africa's leaders have a connection to Russian dating back to the fight against white-minority rule, or apartheid, when some members of the country's liberation movement received military training in Russia. In recent years that relationship has grown into business ties through the Brics bloc of emerging economies - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa."

"U.S. 'Concerned' as South Africa to Hold War Games with Russia, China on Ukraine Invasion Anniversary" - CBS

"'We are concerned about South Africa's plan to hold joint naval exercises with Russia and the PRC in February, even as Moscow continues its brutal and unlawful war of aggression against Ukraine,' David Feldmann, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, told CBS News in response to the remarks by the senior South African and Russian diplomats."

"Why South Africa Continues to Be Neutral in Ukraine-Russia War" - Al Jazeera

"Pretoria and Moscow have long historical ties dating back to the times of white minority rule in South Africa. South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) has longstanding relations with Moscow forged during the liberation struggle against apartheid. Many of the ANC leaders were educated or received military training in the Soviet Union. Some, like the late Eric “Stalin” Mtshali, have Russian nicknames thanks to their connections to Moscow. The Soviet Union backed the liberation movement with arms and money."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are meeting today in Iceland. This meeting is significant given rising tensions between Russia and the United States. Issues of contention include Russia's annexation of Crimea and recent military activity there, military activity in the Arctic, the status of diplomats in each country, attacks by Russia-based hackers, and Russia's detention and treatment of opposition figure Alexey Navalny.

"U.S. - Russia Showdown Looms as Top Diplomats Meet in Iceland" - Military Times

Yesterday U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield gave a wide-ranging video interview to The Washington Post'sJonathan Capehart. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield gave frank and incisive insight into the Biden Administration's positions on the buildup of Russian troops on its border with Ukraine as well as other current foreign affairs issues. The 30-minute video is well worth a watch. Find also the transcript linked below.

Video of "Capehart with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield"


"U.S. cyber force credited with helping stop Russia from undermining midterms" - from The Washington Post

U.S Cyber Command is conducting offensive, proactive operations in support of U.S. national security.

Two Middle East experts argue in Politico that Russia is systematically using its influence in the United Nations to cut off international humanitarian aid to the areas of Syria hardest hit during the country's long civil war. The authors argue that the Biden administration should "lead a resolute effort" in the coming months to avert Russia's attempts to close the one remaining humanitarian corridor into Syria.

"The aid flows to regions held by Syrian opposition forces, which are being systematically starved out by dictatorial president Bashar al-Assad. Russia considers Assad an ally, and so any aid—even for humanitarian reasons—is an affront to his rule. Accordingly, last January, during negotiations scheduled to determine the extension of aid access, Russia forced the closure of a crossing from northern Iraq and another from Jordan. Both had been providing a lifeline to northeastern and eastern Syria. Then last July, Russia used the same tactic to shut down the Bab al-Salam crossing from Turkey into northern Aleppo."

"How Putin Is Starving Syria - and What Biden Can Do" - Politico

Political, Map, Syria, Geography, Country, Maps

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III recently visited Ukraine, affirming U.S. support for Ukraine in the face of continued Russian aggression.

According to a U.S. Defense Department press release, "Secretary Austin reiterated the U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine’s forces through security assistance, including efforts to enhance Ukraine’s maritime capacity, and encouraged deeper regional cooperation among our Black Sea allies and partners."

On August 31, 2021, the U.S. and Ukraine signed the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework to lay out the objectives of the bilateral defense relationship.

Russia attempted to discredit the strengthening relationship by suggesting that the U.S. will abandon Ukraine just as it left Afghanistan.

Here is an excellent summary of the background of the conflict in Ukraine from the Council on Foreign Relations.

The buildup of Russian materiel and troops continues around the borders of Ukraine, causing increasing alarm in military and policy circles. U.S. intelligence estimates indicate that an invasion could quickly reach Kyiv and could result in the deaths or injuries of up to 50,000 civilians, as well as the displacement of up to 5 million. As this Washington Post article reports, due to increases in Russian troop numbers and capabilities on Russia's border with Ukraine as well as in Belarus (which has a border with Ukraine, including close to Kyiv), "U.S. officials initially skeptical last fall that a large-scale invasion would be launched appear now to have shifted their thinking as the buildup continues, a congressional aide said." Russia has recently deployed jets designed to attack ground targets to Belarus, ostensibly for bilateral exercises, and it has 20 to 30 combat ships currently in the Black Sea. Many observers suggest that the optimal time for an invasion would be in a couple of weeks when the ground will be most frozen and therefore most conducive to moving heavy armored vehicles overland.

"Russia Could Seize Kyiv in Days and Cause 50,000 Civilian Casualties in Ukraine, U.S. Assessments Find" - The Washington Post

The Washington Post published two interesting articles on Russian generals this past week.

Ukrainian forces have killed several Russian generals and other senior commanders on the battlefield, providing a boost to Ukrainian morale.

"Russian Generals Getting Killed at an Extraordinary Rate" - Washington Post

Channels of communication between senior U.S. and Russian military personnel have gone quiet, as top Russian military leaders decline to take calls from U.S. leaders. This dearth of communication increases the risk of miscalculation and accidents that could cause dangerous spillover from Russia's war in Ukraine.

"Top Russian Military Leaders Repeatedly Decline Calls from U.S., Prompting Fears of 'Sleepwalking into War'"

As Ukraine's allies send weapons and ammunition to help the country defend itself against Russia, donor countries are depleting their own stockpiles at a rapid rate. Some are increasingly concerned that they will not have enough left for their own defense should the need arise. Stockpiles in some countries had already been low due to budget constraints and the perception that the threat level was low. Production capacity is in many cases limited, as only a few companies produce these weapons, lead times are long, supply chains are complex, demand is high,, and skilled labor is in short supply. The defense industry wants firm commitments, and contracts, before investing in additional production capacity.

"Weapons Shortages Spark Tough Choices for Ukraine's Allies" - DefenseNews

"Ukraine's Appetite for Weapons Is Straining Western Stockpiles" - Foreign Policy

This and other topics were discussed recently at the Halifax International Security Forum. Find information and links to session recordings here:

Halifax International Security Forum (including links to Youtube recordings of the event)

Marines, M777 Howitzer, Artillery, 155Mm

It's interesting to consider the complexity involved in providing materiel to Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia. Not only are there significant security and logistics obstacles, but in some cases Ukrainian troops need training to use the equipment. This need for training has to be balanced with the fact that Ukrainian military personnel are needed on the battlefield. As this article points out, the supply of international weaponry needs to not outstrip the Ukrainian military's capacity to receive it and learn to use it most effectively.

"From Howitzers to Suicide Drones: Pentagon Seeks Right 'Balance' on Training Ukrainians on New Arms" - Defense News

Parade, Military, Soldiers, Camouflage

Ukraine is successfully using uncrewed surface vessels, or unmanned ships, against Russian vessels. These unmanned ships can be relatively inexpensive, are able to carry more explosives than aerial delivery systems such as drones, and can inflict more damage than drones or planes because they can strike enemy ships at water level. This RAND report describes these surface vessels and posits that they "could become a centerpiece of naval warfare in the coming decades, one that navies may ignore at their peril."

"The Age of Uncrewed Surface Vessels" - RAND

"A new age of naval warfare has been inaugurated in the Black Sea, defined by an emerging weapon. Ukraine has employed explosive uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) as formidable weapons against Russian fleets and even infrastructure. Like prior transformative weapons such as torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, USVs could have a large impact on future naval tactics, equipment, and even the design of fleets."

The Wall Street Journal recently published a video showcasing U.S. unmanned surface vessels.

"Drone Boats: Inside the U.S. Navy's Latest Unmanned AI Tech" - Wall Street Journal

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since Russia began its offensive on February 24, more than 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country and become refugees. Just under two million additional people have been displaced from their homes but remain in Ukraine.

For frequently updated information on the refugee situation, consult UNHCR's Operational Data Portal on Ukraine, linked here. Within are links to flash updates with more information on assistance UNHCR and others are providing to refugees.

UNHCR Operational Data Portal on Ukraine

Recently the European Council acted to enact the EU's first-ever Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) for Ukrainian refugees. This historic decision grants refugees from Ukraine who are anywhere in the EU the right to housing and health care and access to the labor market and to education for children. Refugees from Ukraine who left the country on or after February 24 do not have to go through a lengthy process to request protection and assistance in EU countries. Instead, they automatically receive access to these benefits upon asking for a residence permit in any country in the EU, and the benefits are standardized. The TPD is in place for at least one year and will likely prevent EU countries' asylum systems from being overwhelmed by applications.

"Ukraine: Council Unanimously Introduces Temporary Protection for Persons Fleeing the War" - European Council

For more detailed analysis, watch this hour-long webcast from the Migration Policy Institute, "Briefing on Ukraine: Avenues to Safety and Meeting Immediate Needs."

refugee clipart - Clip Art Library

A State Department official says U.S. forces can learn a lot from Ukraine's fight with Russia and the separatists it backs, who have been accused of shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014. (Dmitry Lovetsky/AP)

"Five years after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky, killing all 298 aboard, a State Department official tells Military Times that the ongoing battle between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists serves as a potential harbinger for the U.S. military in any conflict with Moscow."

Even amidst the devastation in Ukraine, we can be inspired and encouraged.

Steel-toed boots, saline bags, tourniquets, SUVs: Ukrainian soldiers need everything and anything, and resolute donors in Europe and elsewhere are getting needed items in.

"Inside the Transfer of Foreign Military Equipment to Ukrainian Soldiers" - Washington Post

History abounds with stories of military occupation, defined by Merriam Webster as "control and possession of hostile territory that enables an invading nation to establish military government against an enemy or martial law against rebels or insurrectionists in its own territory." Successful occupations count on support from the occupied population, which Russia certainly would not have in Ukraine. If it were to prevail, Russia would be very unlikely to be successful in occupying Ukraine.

"Unfortunately for the Russians, they face the worst of circumstances for an occupying power. Historical cases of occupation and counterinsurgency suggest an impending disaster. There is almost no chance that Russia will successfully occupy Ukraine."

"Vladimir Putin Has Almost No Chance of Successfully Occupying Ukraine" - Atlantic Council

As we watch catastrophe unfold in Ukraine, observers are grasping for possible ways to reduce harm to Ukraine and avert a broader war in Europe. One proposal being made is to deny Russia the ability to attack Ukraine from the air by imposing a no-fly zone (NFZ). It sounds simple enough; if Russian planes aren't allowed to fly over Ukraine, Russia's attack will be more limited in scope and therefore inflict less damage. But here is the problem with NFZs that proponents are not addressing: NFZs require enforcement. That is, if an NFZ is in place, some country or countries need to patrol the airspace. If Russian aircraft violate the NFZ, someone needs to shoot those Russian planes down, essentially initiating an all-out war with Russia. What western government is willing to do that now? If Russia attacks NATO and NATO invokes Article 5 (the principle of collective defense), war of western powers against Russia will be inevitable. But unless and until that happens, imposition of an NFZ over Ukraine is highly unlikely.

Learn more about No-Fly Zones from this interesting Rand Corporation paper.

"Denying Flight: Strategic Options for Employing No-Fly Zones" - Rand Corporation

Mig 21, Plane, Military Jet, Air Force

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin for war crimes related to the abduction of thousands of children from Ukraine and their removal to Russia. The most immediate implication is that Putin will be unable to travel to ICC member states without risk of being arrested. Russia does not recognize the ICC, so Putin would not face arrest there. The ICC also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, for her involvement in the abductions.

Some excellent analysis of the implications of this indictment has come out since the arrest warrants were issued. Take a look:

"How the ICC's Warrant for Putin Could Impact the Ukraine War" - United States Institute for Peace

"How Will the ICC's Arrest Warrant for Putin Play Out in Practice?" - Just Security

"The ICC Goes Straight to the Top: Arrest Warrant Issued for Putin" - Just Security

Official ICC Statement on the Arrest Warrants:

Handcuffs, Shackles, Guilty, Sentence

What is genocide? In recent days Ukrainian President Zelensky, U.S. President Biden, and others have characterized Russia's actions in Ukraine as genocide, while others including French President Macron have taken care not to use the loaded term.

The term "genocide" was first used during the Second World War, and in 1946 genocide was codified as a crime under international law by the UN General Assembly. It has a very specific definition.

This website provides a superb, concise discussion of the history and meaning of the word genocide.

The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide:

"Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

A very interesting point is that the definition of genocide includes intent. As the UN Office on Genocide Prevention discusses, "The intent is the most difficult element to determine. To constitute genocide, there must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Cultural destruction does not suffice, nor does an intention to simply disperse a group. It is this special intent, or dolus specialis, that makes the crime of genocide so unique. In addition, case law has associated intent with the existence of a State or organizational plan or policy, even if the definition of genocide in international law does not include that element."

Russia has declared martial law in the four territories of Ukraine that Russia recently annexed. What is martial law, and what is the significance of Russia's action? A declaration of martial law gives the military legal authority over what are usually civilian jurisdictions. Putin has given Russian military leaders broad powers over the occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine. Just what is martial law? Here are some excellent resources to learn more.

"Martial Law Explained" - Brennan Center for Justice

"In the United States, martial law usually refers to a power that, in an emergency, allows the military to take the place of the civilian government and exercise jurisdiction over civilians in a particular area. But 'martial law' has no established definition, because across history, different people have used the term to describe a wide variety of actions, practices, or roles for the military. The law governing it is complicated and unsettled — and, as a result, the concept has never been well understood."

"What Is Martial Law?" - Juris Magazine

"Martial law is the substitution and suspension of civilian law for military rule. During periods of martial law, the military becomes the lawmaking and enforcing governing body, replacing civilian leaders and the police with military personnel. If civilians violate the law, military personnel could try civilians in military tribunals instead of traditional civilian courts. Martial law is discernible from military law because military rule applies exclusively to individuals in military service. Thus, only martial law governs civilians."

"What Is Martial Law, and Why Did Putin Impose It In Ukrainian Areas?" - Washington Post

"In practice, what will change on the ground in highly militarized regions already under military occupation, or under contest in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, remains unclear. The main change could be a new degree of cover for military actions under Russia’s legal system."

Justice, Statue, Lady Justice

Here is a brief update from Foreign Policy on the latest from Belarus. Protests are ongoing following the August 9 presidential election, which the international community generally agrees was neither free nor fair. Authorities have arrested thousands of protesters, but unprecedented numbers of Belarusian citizens continue to risk their own security to take to the streets. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has appealed to Russian President Vladimir for support, and the two met in person last week.

"Lukashenko Puts Troops on High Alert" - Foreign Policy

Max Bergmann, Director of the Europe Program at CSIS, recently gave an excellent 4-minute video update on the state of play as Sweden and Finland prepare to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"What's Happening with NATO Expansion" - Center for Strategic and International Studies

"I think both Sweden and Finland joining NATO demonstrates the total folly of Russia invading Ukraine, and that it's had the exact opposite effect that Vladimir Putin intended."

The big news this week has been Sweden and Finland's announcements of their intentions to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Although Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to deter NATO expansion through his attack on Ukraine, he seems to have accomplished the inverse. So just how do countries join NATO?

"What Does It Take to Join NATO?" - The Economist

Regarding Finland and Sweden, "Given that they are mature democracies, and highly interoperable with NATO, accession is expected to be quick. Prospective members have to send a letter of intent to NATO and, assuming it approves, hold talks on a range of political, defence, legal and technical issues. NATO would then draw up accession protocols which can be signed by ministers, or ambassadors to NATO."

"Enlargement and Article 10" - NATO

"NATO’s door remains open to any European country in a position to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership, and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area." The requirements to join NATO are not terribly clear, though this article gives the steps in the "Accession Process" section.

"NATO Enlargement & Open Door" - NATO

"European countries that wish to join NATO are initially invited to begin an Intensified Dialogue with the Alliance about their aspirations and related reforms. Aspirants may then be invited to join the Membership Action Plan, a programme which helps nations prepare for possible future membership. Participation does not guarantee membership, but is a key preparation mechanism. To join the Alliance, nations are expected to respect the values of the North Atlantic Treaty, and to meet certain political, economic and military criteria, set out in the Alliance's 1995 Study on Enlargement. These criteria include a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of minority contribution to NATO operations; and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions."

NATO members must agree to the accession of new members. Currently Turkey is opposing the accession of Finland and Sweden.

"Turkey Blocks Start of NATO Talks on Finland's and Sweden's Applications" - Washington Post

Ukraine's allies have been significantly ramping up weapons deliveries to Ukraine in recent months. The U.S. has sent a wide array of materiel, and deliveries of tanks and heavy vehicles from Germany and other western allies are underway. But Ukraine's ability to expel Russia from Ukraine, especially including Crimea, is far from certain.

Defense News queried a number of experts for their opinions on how this war will end. "Their answers are glum: The war will be expensive, cost lives and likely last at least a few years — or even become interminable. It will tax the American and European defense industries, especially when it comes to munitions, and could cause economic ruin in Russia. All this while the possibility ofnuclear escalation remains."

"When Will the War in Ukraine End? Experts Offer Their Predictions" - Defense News

Some very interesting analyses have been published regarding the recent summit between President Biden and Russian President Putin.

Brookings has released a podcast with a comprehensive analysis of the implications of the summit.

"What Did the Biden-Putin Summit Do for U.S.-Russian Relations?" - Brookings

"The White House’s goal for the Geneva meeting of Presidents Biden and Putin was not a reset, but to set guardrails for a more stable and predictable relationship. Angela Stent assesses the basic agreements that came out of Wednesday’s summit, potential areas for future cooperation, and where U.S. and Russian priorities will continue to challenge the relationship."

Here is another good analysis of the meeting.

"The Biden-Putin Summit Was a Master Class in Diplomacy" - Opinion in The Hill

Russia has invaded Ukraine, initiating a series of events that will have widespread consequences for Ukrainians, eastern Europe, and the broader security architecture in Europe. Why are Russian elites going along with Putin? In an excellent article in The Economist, Alexander Gabuev writes that, "What actually drives the Kremlin are the tough ideas and interests of a small group of longtime lieutenants to President Vladimir Putin, as well as those of the Russian leader himself. Emboldened by perceptions of the West’s terminal decline, no one in this group loses much sleep about the prospect of an open-ended confrontation with America and Europe. In fact, the core members of this group would all be among the main beneficiaries of a deeper schism."

Those close to Putin believe that "the American-led order is in deep crisis thanks to the failure of Western democracy and internal conflicts spurred by the promotion of tolerance, multiculturalism and respect for the rights of minorities. A new multipolar order is taking shape that reflects an unstoppable shift in power to authoritarian regimes that support traditional values. A feisty, resurgent Russia is a pioneering force behind the arrival of this new order, along with a rising China." Putin's inner circle believes that America's weakness is causing it to behave increasingly aggressively, and therefore Russia must act decisively to thwart U.S. influence in eastern Europe.

"Alexander Gabuev Writes from Moscow on Why Vladimir Putin and His Entourage Want War" - The Economist

Protests, violence, Russian intervention, and a heavy-handed government response have focused international attention on Kazakhstan this week. Here is why all this matters:

- Kazakhstan is huge. It is the 9th largest country in the world in terms of land mass and the largest country in Central Asia.

- It is strategically located, sharing long borders with both China and Russia. As a former constituent republic of the Soviet Union, it shares significant historical ties with Russia.

- Kazakhstan has a wealth of natural resources that make it of strategic interest, including oil, natural gas, coal, precious metals, and 40% of the world's uranium.

-  Instability in Kazakhstan has the potential to upend the geopolitical balance in the region. Russia has already sent in troops to help quell the violence; will Russian troops ever leave, or will Russia see this as an opportunity to gain an even stronger foothold in the country? As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said, "Once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave."

Here is a good overview of the situation from the BBC:

"Kazakhstan: Why Are There Riots and Why Are Russian Troops There?"

This analysis from the Foreign Policy Research Institute goes deeper:

"Kazakhstan's System Malfunctions"

asia map clip art - Clip Art Library

As unprecedented, widespread protests continue in Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin has set up a special police force that he says he could send to Belarus if necessary. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has solicited Russian support.

"Putin Says He Could Send Police to Belarus if Necessary" - BBC

Russian influence is pervasive in Belarus; For example, Russian journalists are sitting in for striking Belarusian journalists on state-run television.

"Russia May Not Need to Invade Belarus. It Is Already There" - Washington Post