Russian army put on war footing

European media and politics are very busy this summer: Brexit, terror attacks in France and Germany, the Turkish president purging secular forces…

In the meantime the most threatening development is not on the top agenda: Russia has used public concentration on the above mentioned events to gradually put the majority of its troops on alert, such as troops in the southern military district, the central military district, the western military district with command-staff exercises earlier this month – including signal units, which also are alerted in other Russian regions. Also alerted is the Russian Navy, the official reason being the Russian Navy Day on 31 July (with significant activities of the Northern Fleet, Pacific Fleet, Baltic Fleet (with its airbase), the Russian defense minister checking the Black Sea Fleet during his visit on Crimea, and increased submarine activity in general). Additionally, troops have been put on alert in the occupied Ukrainian Donbas and Russia issued more threats in regard to Ukraine on 23 July via its ambassador to the UN.

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The non-existent Russian threat then and now

(source)

Some realize the narrative of “Russia is not a threat” – repeated mantra-like since February/March 2014 by the overwhelming majority of western elites – possibly cannot be longer upheld. One narrative ready to be pushed in future is “the Baltics are not defendable” (already here).

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Security analyst from Belarus describes Russian threats

Juri Tsarik told Krym.Realii that he had received information from Russian troops living in “field conditions” in Klintsi going hand-in-hand with speeding up the creation of four new Russian divisions in the western direction and military-political pressure on Belarus. According to him, specialists consented that the forces were enough to stage a proxy-war scenario in the country – with six tactical battalion groups already in place (with the potential for 18-20 groups until the end of the year).

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Belarus under increasing pressure from Russia

While NATO is staging the “Anaconda-16” exercises in Poland, Russian airforce conducts reconaissance flights over the territory of Belarus and has been redeploying the 28th separate motorized rifle brigade of the Russian armed forces in May 2016  from their base in Yekaterinburg to Klintsy near the border with Belarus. Some of the members of the brigade already have combat experience from Ukraine (2014-campaign). A Russian major and member of the brigade was quoted in media reports as being convinced they were there to prevent a further westward-leaning of the country, if necessary using military force.

Dictator Lukashenka also felt obliged to state this week: “I see that today the Russian government is taking whatever action is appropriate in a westerly direction, I mean that we have a joint group of forces in the west, which ensures the safety of our motherland – Belarus and Russia. This group is based on the Belarusian army units. In case of a conflict, they are the first to come into battle, bringing an opportunity for the troops concentrated in the west of the Russian Federation to catch up shortly.”

We also have to keep in mind that Russia has been speeding up the issue of an airbase in eastern Belarus, at Babruysk. “InformNapalm” wrote in December 2015: […] the Russian military leadership develops a plan to create a group of land forces, located in Belarus ca. 500 km westwards from the RF border. This will provide a strategic advantage for building up the defensive line on Belarusian lodgment and give an opportunity to control the land corridor to Kaliningrad. Then the realization of the Crimean scenario in Belarus will enter its final stage.” (this leaves the issue of the “Suwalki Gap” still open – however in order to become active on the issue, full control of Belarus would be recommendable).

In November 2015, some observers had warned Russia’s next adventure might be to return Belarus “home” to Russia.

As we know Russia has focused action on weak neighbors – in terms of military strength and international support. Western support for Belarus is practically nonexistent, due to the cultural-economic-political orientation of President Lukashenka and his entourage towards Russia, and the lack of energy resources interesting to the west. In regard to militiary strength, the situation is also alarming:

High-ranking members of the Belarussian army have been born and/or educated in Russia – according to the data “InformNapalm” presented, all persons belonging to the higher command of the army had a “Russian background”. Additionally persons who support Russia have a far better military training than their “Belarussian” counterparts: They have been organized, trained and/or participated in active combat. Reports of “InformNapalm” indicate members of the Belarussian army have been part of illegal armed groups on the territory of Ukraine in 2014. Also members of the border guards of Belarus apparently have been recruited in order to work for Russia (i.e. in the case of an “emergency” their loyalties would be with Russia).

In November 2015, it again had been underlined young people in Belarus have been trained in special “military-patriotic” clubs to be fighters for Russia and the Russian world – the issue had been also in the media around October 2014 in order to point to the problem of Russia preparing and training diversionist groups in all countries of the former Soviet Union. At the end of 2015, “InformNapalm” had pointed to the existence of some 20 groups in Belarus, operating with the consent of local authorities; some military summer camps had been backed by authorities from the interior and defense ministry, and the Russian Orthodox Church had been providing ideological support in order to train young people for war.

All this information prompted “InformNapalm” to underline in later 2015 that a great part of the military-political government of Belarus were “agents” of Russian influence. The last news on the issue were noting a significant presence of Russian Cossack groups and military training camps around the city of Grodno in western Belarus in February 2016. Additionally, there have been multiple reports of concerned citizens in Belarus on persons with Russian military uniforms and/or “green men” with Russian flags staging provocative events in Belarus in May 2016. Apparently, the authorities did nothing to prevent the actions of the supporters of the “Russian world”.

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Russia stages another provocation against NATO in the Black Sea

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As Ukrainian military intelligence reports , the Russian airforce “exercised” the destruction of a group of NATO-ships in the Romanian port of Constanța, including USS Porter on 8 June 2016.

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Decadence of western elites threatening world peace

Russia is increasingly pushing its narrative of being forced to prepare for war against NATO and the US. Unfortunately, the narrative is well received in western liberal and anti-American circles, and used to “prove” NATO’s and American “aggressive” moves. Additionally, NATO has been struggling to counter the claims of eastern Europeans of being too reluctant to openly state the Russians have torn up the post-Cold War world order and questioned the old agreements made, notably the Budapest Memorandum 1994 ensuring the territorial unity of Ukraine or the NATO Russian Founding Act of 1997 concerning military bases on the territory of eastern European member states.

Recently, NATO’s Stoltenberg could not answer the question of a BBC journalist asking why NATO was not more explicit in regard to Russia questioning old agreements. We can also observe a similar situation of  ignoring facts or even whitewashing when it comes to Russia’s military occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria, and general preparations for active warfare – be it large-scale military exercises in Russia, drone surveillance in Poland and the Baltic states, the possible presence of Russian special forces in those countries (see the example of Estonia) or cyber warfare against western energy, telecommunication or transport facilites (just recently Sweden, and also Finland).

The usual strategy of western elites has been ignoring or downplaying crucial problems. But it is not only Russia, and “happy-talking” is connected to more topics, such as the failure of the Schengen treaty in connection with mass migration to western EU contries, the failure of the Euro in Greece and the future of the EU in general.

There are roughly two categories: In regard to internal EU problems such as the energy market, mass migration and political Islam the strategy has been to suppress inconvenient facts if they run counter to what has been established as a „correct“ view of the issue, focusing on the positive sides which however do not turn out too positive if analyzed thoroughly and lead to many questions instead, few of them are discussed seriously.

On the international stage „diplomacy“ has been given supremacy, underlined regularly by western political leaders with the “there is no military solution”-statement. However diplomacy so far has not solved a single of the big geopolitical problems. Instead, it developed to a tool in order to mask the lack of transparency and opennesss, and to sell political solutions the majority of citizens might not consent with (see for example the Iran-deal in the US). One effect of “diplomacy” is surely the strange „objectivity“-paradigm establishing as essential all sides can voice their opinions as long as there is no “evidence”, and media or political representatives have no moral conerns to give military aggressors (especially Russia) sufficient space for their truth.

Such behavior has serious consequences as it means to give up own values and arguments – and therefore can also be temed a decadence of western elites.

The most important is surely that the west has given up on the idea and its philosophical tradition that there can be only one truth which can be established by simple reasoning. This breaks down further in giving up on other rules that have been proved crucial for European welfare and security such as being convinced borders and national identities do no longer matter.

Russia is a master when it comes to detect western weaknesses, which can be observed on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis in regard to the border-issue for example, staging provocations in regard to the state sovereignty of European countries (see for example in regard to Norway or air provocations in the Baltic Sea). This results in the strange situation that on the one hand, NATO is forced to ensure the integrity of the borders of their eastern member states – mostly verbally, but also increasingly with deeds – and on the other hand, the EU has given up on securing its external borders which prompted single member states to take action in order to ensure the security of their citizens.

How has such a situation threatening welfare and peace in Europe become possible?

Political parties have increasingly shifted from problem-solving organizations to organizations that administrate problems. Reasons are manyfold, be it constraints of coalition governments (Germany, until recently also Austria) or a rigid legal environment (France). On the one hand,  main stream political parties have administered real problems of their voters, on the other hand, they have pushed “progressive” topics – but with this strategy they now have partly lost their electorate.

Additionally, political leaders who have been too long in power, namely the US president and Germany’s chancellor, have tended to skip problems that do not match with their understanding of reality, and even started to impose their understandings of a “better society” on reluctant majorities.

Generally, there is also the understanding that western media democracies have to avoid scandals and unpopular decisions as those are an imminent risk to political power; see notably French elites not seriously tackling the crisis of French society.

The risk of being exposed leads to cautious political measures, mostly being limited to administering problems – this might function in regard to tax collecting and state regulation, but gets increasingly difficult if facing structural problems, such as the unwillingness of social groups to train or work, the unemployment of the unskilled or large-scale deindustrialization.

Limiting politics to administering issues is turned ad absurdum if it is extended to warfare – efforts focus on generating an agreement of some kind in order to lay the ground for an “administration” of the situation. In regard to Ukraine, the Minsk agreements have sufficiently proved the failure of such a policy. If there is no agreement or agreements that are not observed, the only tool available is verbal “action” in form of calls for an immediate cease-fire.

This approach gets increasingly difficult or impossible if it involves humans who harbor different world views. Such the Russian view of negotiations as a platform to issue ultimatums or to connect them with an escalation on the ground collides with a more passive and reactive western stance, with a focus on identifying common grounds in order to enable an administration of the problem.

Despite those shortcomings, “administrative politics” is still held high. Initially, it might have helped to control problems without greater attention from the public (and for selected topics also to control for issues in using the media). However, it also masked the unwillingness of main stream political parties to deal with real social and economic reforms, and as a consequence has significantly limited the ability for action. Politics has been reduced to symbols and nice words, the German chancellor meeting with refugees or the US president having a meal with a chef.

The problem of administrative politics is not only the loss of substantive action. A more seriously outcome of an administration of issues of different complexity is the leveling of problems and to a loss of transparency. It is here were administrative politics is most dangerous. Leveling and happy-talking problems has the effect the actors lose the sense for what is really important. This ultimatley leads to the loss of the ability to grasp reality correctly – and to falsely interpret threats.

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Sweden is under attack from Russia.

World media and politics keep silent – but this does not change the situation is increasingly similar to Russian hybrid war efforts against Ukraine in spring/early summer 2014.

See an analysis of the situation from Aldrimer:

ANALYSIS: Analysts with the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) and the Swedish security service Säpo believe the country is under continuous and increasingly serious hybrid warfare attack from Russia. Swedish officials fear the worst is yet to come.

By KJETIL STORMARK /kjetil@aldrimer.no

An intense effort is underway to uncover technical traces after recent serious incidents. The goal is to determine whether Russia is behind what is – in part or in full – considered to be deliberate attacks.

Almost every day, Sweden faces serious cyber attacks. Swedish officials believe Russia is behind many of them, although most are never made public. However, recent days, weeks and months have brought a striking increase in attacks on Norway’s neighbour.

  • Two TV and communication masts were sabotaged. A third mast fell down and an unknown object at a fourth sparked off a bomb alert. Communication masts are important elements in Sweden’s emergency information system for the civilian population. Swedish police believe foreign powers may be behind the attacks. Russia is the only country seen as having both the capacity and the will to target Sweden.
  • Public broadcaster Radio Sweden was hacked Wednesday, when a fake news report about a supposed ‘terror attack’ on Stockholm Arlanda Airport was posted on social media. There was no attack.

Major Swedish news media faced a coordinated Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) network attack as recently as 19 March that is also believed traceable to Russia.

There were more incidents on Thursday (19 May):

  • Air traffic control systems for Stockholm and large parts of Sweden went down at about 11 a.m. The Swedish Civil Aviation Administration told Swedish news media that the problems were due to «a data communication error.» Infrastructure Minister Anna Johansson told the Swedish news agency TT on Thursday that the exact cause of the problem had yet to be determined and was under investigation.
  • Swedish State Railway SJ’s ticketing system suffered major glitches, making it impossible to buy tickets on line for an extended period.

It is unknown whether these events were in fact Russian cyber attacks. But the number of attacks from Russia are now so high that it keeps Sweden on its toes. In recent days, there have been a series of other serious incidents that have not yet become public knowledge, sources tell Aldrimer.no.

Behind closed doors there is a strong concern that several or all of these events are not random. Sweden already has strong circumstantial evidence and other information suggesting that these incidents are part of Russia’s increasingly brazen hybrid warfare forays against Sweden. Respected experts in the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) and the Swedish security service Säpo believe, according to a variety of sources, that Russia is behind several or all of the incidents.

At the moment, the public does not know the real strength of Swedish forensic evidence. Fear of an escalation could also result in the outside world never finding out. The same concerns could cause officials to go on the offensive or seek to quash information because of this report by aldrimer.no. The current stance in NATO as well as in Sweden and Finland, which are not members of the Western military alliance, is for officialdom and national governments to curb escalation by hiding as many serious incidents as possible. The idea is that transparency could lead to a public outcry for countermeasures against Russia, which, according to the prevailing doctrine, could spin the situation out of control.

In what could be in accordance with such a strategy, Swedish authorities issued a statement Friday stating the events the last few days are unrelated. However, experts tell Aldrimer.no, the statement is probably closely linked to what the country feels it currently is able to legally prove. What intelligence it has and what the intel analysis might show, is a different matter alltogether. Intel source protection might also be a significant factor in what the country can and/or is able to share with the public.

However, the strategy of deflection is probably unwise, some analysts say, in the face of a Russia that is known for constantly flexing its military muscle and testing the limits of what it can get away with. There is also disagreement on the national government level in several countries, including Norway, about this the silent approach.

Russia has developed sophisticated methods for hybrid warfare, also called non-linear or ambiguous warfare, under the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine (named aftefor chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov). Through various means, without Russia openly being behind them, the country seeks to seize the advantage without the burden of conventional military action. Cyber attacks, extortion, kidnapping, information operations, coercive diplomacy, attempting to create conflicts that may give the military room to manoeuvre, harassment and manipulation of social media are just some of the tools.

Unless it faces clear, tough countermeasures, Russia will continue to test the limits to see how far the country can push without suffering significant consequences. In this context, Sweden emerges as a country Russia feels confident in bullying. Neutral Sweden is not a NATO member. At the same time, Russia seeks to remind Sweden not to meddle in an on-going turf battle between Russia and NATO over military superiority in the Baltic Sea.

Sweden cannot exclude the possibility that recent events could be the prelude to more uncomfortable and difficult situations. The question is what the real Russian goal and endgame might be, and how it might be achieved. In limited military scenarios, Sweden fears that its island of Gotland might be vulnerable. That concern is underscored by Swedish-Finnish naval and land exercise SWEFINEX underway this week on and around these the strategically important Baltic Sea islands. There is also a large NATO and Russian military presence monitoring the exercise. In June, NATO and partners are holding the BALTOPS 2016 exercise in the Baltic Sea, with around 35 warships and 70 warplanes.

Recent events in Sweden have lead to a variety of crisis meetings in the Swedish government as the leadership seeks to find out what has happened and prepare for potential new twists and turns. Recent events also have a prehistory.

Early last November, Swedish authorities – either via MUST or the National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) – alerted NATO to a serious cyber attack that was underway against the country. International power company Vattenfall was named in an urgent message to NATO as a possible target for the attack. An Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) hacker group with links to Russia was mentioned in Sweden’s reports to NATO. APT groups are capable of the most advanced, stealthy and continuous hacker attacks, often against a single, specific target. The APT group had previously carried out missions for the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate GRU.

At the same time as Sweden reported the serious cyber attack to NATO, the country experienced air traffic control problems that were similar to those that crippled traffic this week. The Swedish Civil Aviation Administration said a solar storm was the reason for the disruption of the Swedish air traffic control computer systems.

Read more: Sweden issued cyber attack alert

As Sweden was reporting on-going cyber attacks to NATO, the alliance also detected jamming of various communication channels for air traffic in the Baltic Sea region. The signals were traced to a new communications mast that Russia set up in its military enclave of Kaliningrad, south of Lithuania.

Just a few days after those incidents in Sweden and the Baltic Sea, hackers launched attacks on power companies in Ukraine. The first of at least three attacks occurred on 15 November, and was a major one, on a scale with a later 15 December attack. A third attack took place on 23 December that was smaller than the previous two, but drew the attention of the Western news media. The hackers switched off electrical power for several hundred thousand households during the depths of cold winter in Ukraine.

According to NATO sources, Russian special forces also attacked key points in Ukrainian power grid in tandem with and in support of those cyber attacks.

Read more: Vattenfall possible cyber target 

That method of operation has clear similarities to recent incidents in Sweden, sources tell aldrimer.no.

Analysing events in Sweden easily shows how they could fit into a military plan of operation. In any military conflict, an advantage could be gained by controlling or crippling: 1) Power, 2) Transport (rail/aviation/shipping/roads), 3) Command and Control (telecoms, military and civilian communication, emergency information systems and hostile weapons systems), 4) News and public information platforms, 5) Water and Food supplies. An edge could also be gained in causing chaos and confusion, leaving the defenders unable to consider options before it was too late.

Russia appears to have already tested vulnerability and ability to reduce functionality for the first four categories in Sweden. In recent years, Russia has developed superior electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, which is a major concern for NATO. Russia appears to have the upper hand over the United States, NATO’s most important member, when it comes to electronic warfare. Experts say many US weapons systems are extremely vulnerable to Russia EW systems.

Russia has adopted a highly aggressive line in the Baltic Sea, as aldrimer.no has reported in several articles, including those about a secret NATO special forces exercise in Estonia in April 2015. Russia responded with an iron fist of intelligence prowess. Among other things, aldrimer.no reported that the Estonian Internal Security Services KAPO informed NATO that Russian special forces were believed to have operated within the Estonian territory at the time.

Those revelations drew a lot of attention in Estonia and led to intense efforts to dismiss the claims as absurd by Estonia’s prime minister and various levels of the Estonian government. But none of them managed to pinpoint any factual errors in aldrimer.no’s reporting on the issue.

Read more: War of nerves between Russia and NATO 

Read more: – Russian special forces inside Estonia

Read more: Russian diplomats catalogue bridges

Now the stage is set for a serious tug-of-war in Sweden over which government agency is to take the lead in handling this troubling situation. If a foreign power is behind the attacks, Swedish police might not be the most natural agency to handle the threat. One Swedish source points to the country’s so-called IKFN Ordinance, which makes Swedish Defence Forces responsible for identifying and responding to any violation of Sweden’s sovereignty. Paragraph 3 of that law says the defence force ‘shall’ immediately step in to repel any violation of Swedish sovereignty. Sweden delegates this responsibility to the defence forces, giving it an independent mandate to react immediately without any political approval process. But in the face of Russian hybrid warfare, it may become increasingly difficult to say what actually constitutes an infringement of Sweden’s sovereignty.

Read more: Förordning (1982:756) om Försvarsmaktens ingripanden vid kränkningar av Sveriges territorium under fred och neutralitet, m.m. (IKFN-förordning)

In the event of further escalation, such as if Sweden experiences more dramatic incidents in the near future, a discussion on whether this is a military or a civilian task could also be triggered. Swedish experts, speaking on the condition on anonymity, said under international law, the country is already facing what could be called ‘warlike’ acts. But Sweden knows it could never emerge unscathed from a direct conflict with much larger Russia. Nor is there anything to gain from a direct confrontation with Russia in full public view. However, simply turning the other cheek could result in Sweden having to endure harder and harder slaps. As before, Russia will continue to see how far it can push things. The Swedish government is facing a difficult balancing act.

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