Category Archives: Russia

Chair of UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Bombing Syria: Interview with Crispin Blunt

Afshin Rattansi talks to Crispin Blunt, Chairman of the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee, in his Westminster office, about the military intervention in Syria. (Going Underground)

Coalition or Cold War with Russia? Interview with Stephen Cohen

John Batchelor talks to Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and he is a contributing editor to The Nation. He is also the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. Cohen suggests that powerful forces are working against a post-Paris coalition between Russia and European nations lead by France against the Islamic State. (John Batchelor Show)

Erdogan: Russian Plane Downed Defending ‘Our Brothers in Syria’

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Turkey and Russia continue to step up the rhetoric today after Turkish warplanes destroyed a Russian bomber over northern Syria yesterday morning, with Turkish officials continuing to insist they had every right to destroy the plane.

In comments today, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted the plane was destroyed defending “the rights of our brothers in Syria,” and insisted that Turkish policy toward planes along the Syria-Turkish border would not change, despite Russian anger.

Oddly, Erdogan conceded that a “short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack,” but followed this up by reiterating that they are going to view planes in northern Syria “as a military threat and treated as a military target.”


Turkey shoots down Russian plane: NATO will be worried

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

[…] Nato countries will give some rhetorical support to Turkey as a Nato member, but many will not be dismissive in private of President Vladimir Putin’s angry accusation that Turkey is the accomplice of terrorists. Turkey’s support for the Syrian armed opposition, including extreme groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, has been notorious over the last three years. Its relations with Isis are murky, but it has been credibly accused of allowing the self-declared Islamic State to sell oil through Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in a strong domestic position because of his sweeping parliamentary election victory on 1 November. But he has seen what appeared to be a strong Turkish position in the Middle East in 2011 deteriorate year by year as leaders and movements he supported, such as President Morsi in Egypt and the opposition in Syria, suffer defeats.

At the same time, it is damaging for Turkey to have bad relations with Russia and Iran, two powerful neighbours close to its borders. Leaders of Nato countries will want to prevent further Russian-Turkish hostilities, so they can look for Russian cooperation in attacking Isis and ending the Syrian conflict.


Turkey’s Intentions Behind the Downing of a Russian Jet: Interview with Baris Karaagac

Jessica Devereux interviews Baris Karaagac, a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. (The Real News)

Turkey Shoots Down Russian Plane Over Syria, Inflaming Tensions

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

Tensions are soaring in the Black Sea tonight after Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian Su-24 over neighboring Syria. Turkey claimed the plane was in Turkish airspace when it was attacked, though US officials have said they believe the plane was inside Syria when it was attacked. Pentagon officials also say they are unsure if the Russian jet violated Turkish airspace at all.

Turkey informed the UN Security Council that it shot the plane down today, saying it had every right to do so. They also urged “consultations” with NATO, though the alliance appears to be urging Turkey to calm down and show a little restraint.

This is the first NATO downing of a Russian military plane since the 1950s, and is fueling concern of eventual retaliation by Russia after the incident, particularly with Turkey so loudly trumpeting their attack.


Obama to Hollande: Stay the course against Russia

Michael Crowley reports for Politico:

obama_francois_hollande_AP.jpgWhen President Barack Obama hosts French President François Hollande on Tuesday, he’ll have more on his agenda than demonstrating solidarity against terrorism. He’ll also be working to make sure Hollande sticks with the international effort to punish and isolate Vladimir Putin for his aggression in Ukraine.

Privately, Obama officials say they are concerned about whether key European leaders are prepared to extend sanctions on Moscow, which expire in late January. And they are wary of any effort by Putin — who will host Hollande in Moscow later this week — to link events in Syria and Ukraine. The fear is that Putin might try to trade more aggressive Russian action against the Islamic State for France’s backing in reducing or ending the sanctions.

A premature end to sanctions in Europe “is always our worry,” said Evelyn Farkas, who served until last month as the Pentagon’s top official for Russia and Ukraine. “They can’t back away from sanctions. Ukraine is a separate situation” from Syria.


No, Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane will not spark World War III

Max Fisher writes for Vox:

Only three short hours of Turkey announcing it had shot down a Russian warplane for violating its airspace, an unusual phrase appeared as a new trending topic on Twitter: “World War 3.” The conversation is both joking and not joking.

You can see why people might worry. Turkey is a NATO ally, meaning that at least in theory the other members of NATO — the United States and most of Europe — can be obliged to come to its defense against an external attack. A theoretical slide into conflict between Turkey and Russia could thus also become a conflict between Russia and NATO, dragging the world’s top four nuclear powers into war. Tensions between NATO and Russia have been rising for two years, and now both are bombing on opposite sides in Syria. With fears of some unintended escalation in Ukraine or now Syria sparking a larger conflagration, it sounded scarily possible.

But I am here to reassure you: This is not the start of World War III.


 Will Paris Melt the New US-Russian Cold War? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussion of the new East-West Cold War. Accelerating a trend already evident as a result of the Syrian crisis, according to Cohen, the savage terrorist acts on Paris almost immediately resulted in a French-Russian military alliance against the Islamic State in Syria, with French President Hollande and most of Europe dramatically breaking with the Obama Administration’s nearly two-year-old policy of “isolating Putin’s Russia” over the Ukrainian crisis. (The Nation)

Coverage of Russian Plane Bombing Shows What a Difference an Enemy Makes

Jim Naureckas writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

Vladimir Putin (photo: Alexei Nikolsky via AP/US News)FAIR (11/13/15, 11/16/15,11/17/15) has noted the contrast between US media coverage of Paris and Beirut after the militant ISIS movement claimed responsibility for terror attacks in both cities. It may be even more illuminating to look at media reactions to another ISIS-claimed disaster, the bombing of Metrojet Flight 9268, a Russian tourist plane that went down over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31, killing all 217 people on board. When the victims of terror come from an official enemy state, it’s clear that different media rules apply.

Before it was determined that a bomb caused the crash, Associated Press‘s Jim Heintz (11/7/15) wrote a speculative piece that began, “No matter what caused the fatal crash of a Russian airliner in Egypt, the answer will almost certainly hit Russia hard—but not President Vladimir Putin.” Whether it was terrorism or mechanical failure, Heintz wrote, “Either answer could challenge Russia’s new self-confidence—but could also be used by Putin to advance his aims and reinforce his power.”

Needless to say, we’re not seeing a lot of coverage of how France’s François Hollande could use the Paris attacks “to advance his aims and reinforce his power.”

While US outlets were circumspect to the point of being unintelligible in drawing a connection between France’s war against ISIS in Syria/Iraq and the Paris attacks, AP had no trouble making it clear that Russia had been targeted not because of its values or symbols but because of its military attacks against a violent adversary: “A faction of the militant Islamic State group claimed it had downed the airliner in retaliation for Russia launching airstrikes on IS positions in Syria a month earlier.”


ISIS says Russia targeted over Syria campaign, shows alleged Sinai jet ‘bomb’

RT reports:

Embedded image permalinkAn image of alleged parts of a “bomb” used to take down a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai, killing all 224 people onboard, was posted by Islamic State’s magazine.

A soft drink can and what appeared to be a detonator and switch allegedly made up the parts of an improvised homemade bomb, a photo published online on Wednesday by Dabiq magazine suggests.

Another photograph showed passports said to belong to Russian passengers killed in the bombing, with the documents allegedly obtained by Islamic fighters.

The authenticity of the images has not been verified.

On Tuesday, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that a terrorist attack caused the A321 plane en route to St. Petersburg to crash in Sinai. Traces of explosives have been found in the wreckage, which included passengers’ belongings and parts of the plane.


Strikes on Raqqa in Syria Lead to More Questions Than Results

Anne Barnard reports for The New York Times:

First France and then Russia answered Islamic State attacks on their citizens with a strategy of direct reprisal: intensified airstrike campaigns on Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital within Syria, meant to eliminate the group’s leadership and resources.

But on Tuesday in the early hours of those new campaigns, there seemed to be more questions than decisive results. Chief among them: Why, if there were confirmed Islamic State targets that could be hit without killing civilians, were they not hit more heavily long ago? And what, in fact, was being hit?

More broadly, the Raqqa airstrikes are renewing a debate about how effective such attacks can be in defeating or containing the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, without more commitment to measures like drying up its financial support, combating its ideology or — what outside forces on all sides so far appear to have ruled out — conducting a ground assault.

Several people in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey who have been able to make contact with relatives in Raqqa say the recent French airstrikes — a barrage of about 30 on Sunday night and seven more on Monday — did not kill any civilians. But neither did they inflict serious military damage, those people said, instead hitting empty areas or buildings, or parts of the territory of factory complexes or military bases used by the Islamic State.


Paris attacks change focus of meeting in Vienna on Syria

Al Jazeera America reports:

High-level talks on the future of Syria have produced an agreement to seek meetings between the opposition and the government of President Bashar al-Assad by year’s end, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added that there will be efforts to create a new constitution for the war-torn country and attempts to create a transitional government within 18 months.

Kerry and Steinmeier spoke at the end of a daylong meeting in Vienna of nearly 20 countries represented by foreign ministers and their deputies seeking to end Syria’s war.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, talk of Syria as a breeding ground for violence moved to the foreground of the meeting on the war in that country, with participants linking the devastating shooting and bombing attacks to the Middle East turmoil and the opportunities it gives for attacks.

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the attacks as they met with senior representatives from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries with strongly conflicting views on how to end the more than four-year war. Key differences include what role, if any, Assad should play in a transitional government.

Such differences appeared to be put aside at least temporarily at the meeting.


U.S. Spies Root for an ISIS-Russia War

Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef report for Daily Beast:

In the days following the crash of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268, which mounting evidence suggests was felled by an ISIS bomb, many U.S. intelligence and security officials weren’t panicking about the so-called Islamic State unleashing a new campaign of attacks on civilian airliners. Instead, they were wondering how the bombing might hurt Vladimir Putin, and potentially help the United States.

Ever since Putin started dropping bombs on militants in Syria, officials have privately been arguing that the Russian leader committed a major strategic blunder, and that his intervention in Syria would weaken both his military and his reputation and likely ignite a backlash from Islamist militants, who have attacked inside Russia in the past.

One U.S. intelligence official, speaking prior to the airliner crash, called the Russian campaign in Syria “Putin’s folly.”

Now, six U.S. intelligence and military officials told The Daily Beast that they hoped an ISIS attack on Russian civilians would force Putin to finally take the gloves off and attack the group, which the U.S. has been trying to dislodge from Iraq and Syria for more than a year, without success.


The Sham Syrian Peace Conference

Gareth Porter writes for Middle East Eye:

I have always been enthusiastic in my support for peace negotiations, which have been neglected all too often in internal and international conflicts. But it is clear that the international conference on Syria that held its first meeting in Vienna on October 30 is a sham conference that is not capable of delivering any peace negotiations, and that the Obama administration knew that perfectly well from the start.

The administration was touting the fact that Iran was invited to participate in the conference, unlike the previous United Nations-sponsored gathering on Syria in January and February 2014. That unfortunate conference had excluded Iran at the insistence of the United States and its Sunni allies, even though several states without the slightest capacity to contribute anything to a peace settlement – as well as the Vatican – were among the 40 non-Syrian invited participants.

Iran’s participation in the Vienna conference represents a positive step. Nevertheless, the conference was marked by an even more fundamental absurdity: none of the Syrian parties to the war were invited. The 2014 talks at least had representatives of the Assad regime and some of the armed opposition. The obvious implication of that decision is that the external patrons of the Syrian parties – especially Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia – are expected to move toward the outline of a settlement and then use their clout with the clients to force the acceptance of the deal.


Years Into Scheme, Pentagon Tries to Use Russia Tensions to Justify New Nukes

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Speaking over the weekend at a defense forum, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter talked up the massively expensive plan to revamp the entire US nuclear weapons arsenal, presenting it as something wholly about “Russian aggression” and the dispute over the status of Ukraine.

Far from a sudden reaction to Ukraine, however, the Obama Administration has been pushing this scheme, and its ever-growing price tag, since early 2010, several years before Ukraine, and amid some of the better US-Russia ties in a generation.


Perpetual wars taking heavy toll on once-protected hospitals

John Zarocostas reports for McClatchy:

[…] On Saturday [31 October], U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, after meeting with the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, issued a denunciation of what he called “the brazen and brutal erosion of respect for international humanitarian law.”

“These violations have become so routine there is a risk people will think that the deliberate bombing of civilians, the targeting of humanitarian and healthcare workers, and attacks on schools, hospitals and places of worship are an inevitable result of conflict,” he said.

He called for action to be taken against those responsible, and Maurer provided a laundry list of such violations had taken place – “Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.”

“International humanitarian law is being flouted on a global scale,” Ban said. “The international community is failing to hold perpetrators to account.”

Mauer, too, was grim: “Attacks on health facilities, health workers, ambulances, is now a reality that we observe on the ground not on a monthly, but on a daily or weekly scale in most of the conflicts in which we are engaged,” he said.


Bomb would derail President Sisi’s claim that he crushed terrorism in Egypt

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

[…] The loss of the plane is damaging to both Egypt and Russia. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had wanted to show the outside world that he had crushed “terrorism” in his country since he came to power in 2013. His critics say that by persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood he is providing Isis supporters with a new constituency. The worst violence has been in Sinai, where there has been a slow burning insurgency for decades, and from which journalists have been excluded in order to sustain the fiction that order has been restored.

Few of the tourists visiting Sharm el-Sheikh will have taken on board that there is a fierce guerrilla war going on in other parts of Sinai, but these cannot be kept entirely separate from the sanitised tourist resorts of the Red Sea. On 1 July this year the Isis affiliate known as “Sinai Province” sent 300 to 400 armed fighters in a well-organised attempt to take the town of Sheikh Zuwayed in North Sinai, using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The government announced that 241 jihadi fighters and 21 soldiers were killed in the clashes, but the number of civilian dead is unknown. Egyptian journalists who tried to investigate what was going on were arrested.


Black Boxes Confirm Bombing of Russian Airliner

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

The recovered black box voice recorder on the Russian Metrojet was functioning, finally affirming a week of speculation about the fate of the plane, which crashed Saturday in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. As was expected, the black boxes determined it was a bombing.

Sources say the data recorder showed the flight was traveling perfectly normal and without incident for 24 minutes, then suffered a “violent and sudden explosive decompression,” breaking apart mid-air and crashing into a mountainous part of the peninsula.

The audio recorders also picked up the sound of the explosion, apparently a bomb, as investigators say the explosion was not consistent with engine failure or any other technical problem. Russian experts have taken samples from the plane and are still looking for traces of explosives.

The ISIS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula claimed credit for downing the plane on the day of the crash, and intelligence has since suggested that an airport employee at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport planted the bomb on the plane before takeoff.


Sinai plane crash: Bomb theory prevails while probe still ongoing

Is the US Abetting World Order or Disorder? Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

From The Nation:

Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. This installment begins with reflections on a recent article by Henry Kissinger analyzing the breakdown of order in the Middle East and Russian President Putin’s rational policy in the region.

Cohen argues that we are witnessing more generally Washington’s failing but persistent effort to maintain its “only superpower” status from Asia to Europe and the Middle East, as exemplified by its refusal to join France, Germany and Russia in a peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian crisis and to join Putin’s coalition against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Cohen also argues that a multi-polar world is an emerging reality being driven by history, economics, political, national traditions, trans-national crises, and that by opposing it the US is becoming part of the problem, not the solution. In this regard, he asks, was Putin really wrong in suggesting that American policymakers have “mush for brains”? Recent developments in Ukraine and in the European Union are also discussed.


Interview with Andrew Cockburn on his 1983 book ‘The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine’

From The Scott Horton Show:

Andrew Cockburn, author of Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, discusses his classic 1980s book The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine that told the truth about poorly designed and unreliable Soviet weapons systems, while mainstream analysts hyped the Soviet menace – driving sales for US defense contractors.


Why Is The Daily Beast’s Russia Critic Silent About So Many Hideous Abuses?

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

[…] The highly selective moral outrage expressed by Sam Charles Hamad is not the point here. The point is the incredibly deceitful, miserably common, intellectually bankrupt tactic that The Daily Beast just aired: smearing people not for what they write, but for what they don’t write. It’s something I encounter literally every day, almost always as an expression of the classic “whataboutism” fallacy — ironically depicted in the West as having been pioneered by Soviet Communists — designed to distract attention from one’s own crimes (OK, fine, we just bombed a hospital in Afghanistan, are constantly droning innocent people to death, and are arming the Saudi slaughter of Yemeni citizens, but look way over there: Why don’t you talk more about Russia????).

And that’s to say nothing of the ignoble history of this tactic in the U.S. — dating back to the height of McCarthyism — of declaring people suspect or morally unhealthy due to a failure to condemn Russia with sufficient vigor and frequency. For decades in the U.S., one could be accused of being a “Kremlin sympathizer” without ever having uttered a syllable of support for Russia, and that’s still just as true today, if not more so. That’s accomplished by a constant measuring of how much one devotes oneself to the supreme loyalty test of publicly denouncing the Ruskies.

This tawdry, self-serving, self-exonerating tactic rests on multiple levels of deceit. “Hypocrisy” always meant “contradicting with words or actions one’s claimed principles and beliefs” (e.g., lecturing the world on freedom and human rights while arming and funding the world’s worst tyrannies). It is now being re-defined to mean: “one who denounces some terrible acts but not all.” If that’s the new standard, it should be applied to everyone, beginning with those who most vocally propound it. As a result, from now on, I’ll be asking the endless number of people who invoke this standard to show me their record of denunciation and activism with regard to the above list of abuses.


Too Weak, Too Strong: The State of the Syrian War

Patrick Cockburn writes for the London Review of Books:

[…] Innumerable victories and defeats on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq have been announced over the last four years, but most of them haven’t been decisive. Between 2011 and 2013 it was conventional wisdom in the West and much of the Middle East that Assad was going to be overthrown just as Gaddafi has been. In late 2013 and throughout 2014, it was clear that Assad still controlled most populated areas, but then the jihadi advances in northern and eastern Syria in May revived talk of the regime’s crumbling. In reality, neither the government nor its opponents are likely to collapse: all sides have many supporters who will fight to the death. It is a genuine civil war: a couple of years ago in Baghdad an Iraqi politician told me that ‘the problem in Iraq is that all parties are both too strong and too weak: too strong to be defeated, but too weak to win.’ The same applies today in Syria. Even if one combatant suffers a temporary defeat, its foreign supporters will prop it up: the ailing non-IS part of the Syrian opposition was rescued by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in 2014 and this year Assad is being saved by Russia, Iran and Hizbullah. All have too much to lose: Russia needs success in Syria after twenty years of retreat, while the Shia states dare not allow a Sunni triumph.

The military stalemate will be difficult to break. The battleground is vast, with front lines stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean. Will the entrance of the Russian air force result in a new balance of power in the region? Will it be more effective than the Americans and their allies? For air power to work, even when armed with precision weapons, it needs a well-organised military partner on the ground identifying targets and relaying co-ordinates to the planes overhead. This approach worked for the US when it was supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and the Iraqi peshmerga against Saddam’s army in northern Iraq in 2003. Russia will now hope to have the same success through its co-operation with the Syrian army. There are some signs that this may be happening; on 18 October what appeared to be Russian planes were reported by independent observers to have wiped out a 16-vehicle IS convoy and killed forty fighters near Raqqa, Islamic State’s Syrian capital.

But Russian air support won’t be enough to defeat IS and the other al-Qaida-type groups, because years of fighting the US, Iraqi and Syrian armies has given their fighters formidable military expertise. Tactics include multiple co-ordinated attacks by suicide bombers, sometimes driving armoured trucks that carry several tons of explosives, as well as the mass use of IEDs and booby traps. IS puts emphasis on prolonged training as well as religious teaching; its snipers are famous for remaining still for hours as they search for a target. IS acts like a guerrilla force, relying on surprise and diversionary attacks to keep its enemies guessing.


Russia and the Curse of Geography

Tim Marshall writes for The Atlantic:

Vladimir Putin says he is a religious man, a great supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church. If so, he may well go to bed each night, say his prayers, and ask God: “Why didn’t you put mountains in eastern Ukraine?”

If God had built mountains in eastern Ukraine, then the great expanse of flatland that is the European Plain would not have been such inviting territory for the invaders who have attacked Russia from there repeatedly through history. As things stand, Putin, like Russian leaders before him, likely feels he has no choice but to at least try to control the flatlands to Russia’s west. So it is with landscapes around the world—their physical features imprison political leaders, constraining their choices and room for maneuver. These rules of geography are especially clear in Russia, where power is hard to defend, and where for centuries leaders have compensated by pushing outward.

Western leaders seem to have difficulty deciphering Putin’s motives, especially when it comes to his actions in Ukraine and Syria; Russia’s current leader has been described in terms that evoke Winston Churchill’s famous 1939 observation that Russia “is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of an enigma.” But it’s helpful to look at Putin’s military interventions abroad in the context of Russian leaders’ longstanding attempts to deal with geography. What if Putin’s motives aren’t so mysterious after all? What if you can read them clearly on a map?


Syria Burning: Interview with Charles Glass on the Roots and Future of the Deadly Conflict

Amy Goodman talks to Charles Glass, former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent and the author of Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring. Glass gets into the roots of the conflict, the players involved and where it goes from here. He also discusses his recent trip to Iraq and Tony Blair’s comment regarding the rise of ISIS. Glass recently published a piece in the New York Review of Books titled: In the Syrian Deadlands(Democracy Now!)


War on Islamic State Part of a New Cold War

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

Russia is bombing “terrorists” in Syria, and the US is understandably peeved.

A day after the bombing began, Obama’s Defence Secretary Ashton Carter complained that most Russian strikes “were in areas where there were probably not ISIL (IS) forces”.

Anonymously, US officials accused Russia of deliberately targeting CIA-sponsored “moderate” rebels to shore-up the regime of Bashir al-Assad.

Only two of Russia’s 57 airstrikes have hit ISIS, opined Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in similar fashion. The rest have hit “the moderate opposition, the only forces fighting ISIS in Syria,” he said.

Such claims have been dutifully parroted across the Western press with little scrutiny, bar the odd US media watchdog.

But who are these moderate rebels, really?


Brzezinski Urges US to ‘Retaliate’ Against Russian Forces in Syria

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In a newly published op-ed for the Financial Times, former official in the Johnson and Carter Administrations Zbigniew Brzezinski urged that US to use “strategic boldness” in confronting Russia, potentially militarily, over their involvement in Syria.

Brzezinski presented Russian airstrikes against Syrian rebel factions as at best a display of “Russian military incompetence” and at worst a “dangerous desire to highlight American political impotence,” saying America’s credibility is at stake from allowing Russia to strike the rebels the US previously armed, terming them “American assets.”

He called for the US to openly demand Russia unconditionally halt all such moves, saying Russian warplanes in Syria are “vulnerable, isolated geographically from their homeland” and could be “disarmed” by force if the Russians don’t comply with US demands.


How World War Three could start tomorrow

PW Singer and August Cole write for The Telegraph:

Berlin marks 50 years since wall constructionThere is an old adage that militaries set themselves up by failure by preparing to fight the last war. When it comes to 21st Century warfare, the problem however may not be with looking back, but that we aren’t looking back far enough.

For the last two decades, leaders in London and Washington have become focused on operations in places like Sierra Leona, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria, where the worry was, and is, weak and imploding states.

But bigger trends are at play globally. We are seeing the return of great power politics – and with it, the risk of powerful states going to war. Conflict with the likes of Russia or China was something that seemed buried with the end of the Cold War. Yet today’s simmering tensions mean there is a risk of such an outcome becoming all too real.

As in the past, it is perfectly possible that a third world war could start with a small event, or even by accident. One of the many Russian bomber planes now probing NATO’s borders could collide with an RAF Typhoon, prompting an aerial skirmish the likes of which the world has not seen for decades. Indeed, the skies over Syria are starting to get dangerously crowded, with Russian jets flying near US planes on bombing runs, and sparring with NATO air defenses in neighboring Turkey. Perhaps it could happen at sea, when a Japanese or American ship scrapes paint with its Chinese Navy counterpart amid the reefs in the Pacific that are being militarized as part of Asia’s current arms race.


This is not a new cold war but something more dangerous

Historian Robert Service writes for the Financial Times:

[…] All-out struggle between Russia and America on a cold war scale is not on the cards. What we do have, however, is a situation that is bad — and could easily worsen.

It is optimistic to expect Mr Putin to change course. For now, he gains esteem at home when bullying the neighbours. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have genuine cause for concern. In the longer term, experience suggests Mr Putin will prove a poor geostrategic thinker. He has already damaged Russian economic interests, which surely lie in securing western assistance to build up the country’s ability to cope with competition from China.

Mr Putin’s frequent diplomatic overtures for a Syrian settlement deserve serious examination. But he shows no sign of disengaging from Ukraine; and, having loosed the dogs of nationalism, he would find it hard to put them back in the kennel, even if he wanted to. This makes for a less predictable global situation than the finely tuned balance of power that prevailed during the cold war.

In some ways we now live in even more dangerous times. Sparks on distant borders can have unplanned and explosive consequences.