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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Tensions high in the Baltic region

The Polish defense minister just has underlined in Polish TV that Russian drones have conducted active reconaissance at the border with Poland (mainly around the Kaliningrad Oblast) in 2015. There also had been reports of reconaissance activities near the border with Belarus in summer 2015.

Also on 12 May 2016, his British counterpart spoke of a “Russian act of aggression” when RAF’s Typhoon fighters were scrambled from Estonia’s Amari air base in order to intercept three Russian military transport planes. The Latvian army also reported an incident with six Russian Su-fighters.

At the same time, Russian media outlets are pushing the isse that NATO is threatening Russia, culminating in the claim it might prepare a large-scale summer offensive against Russia. Additionally, expert note Russia is really preparing the occupation of the Baltic States as it has been convinced the west is afraid of a real military conflict, happy-talking military realities on the ground (see the west tolerating Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria and the continuing ignorance of large-scale Russian military involvement and build-up in the occupied Donbas and around Ukrainian borders). Thus, the Baltic States would become a valuable bargaining chip in another round of negotiation games with the west.

 

 

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Drones from Belarus penetrate into Lithuania

After Estonia, Lithuania confirms, Russian-combined forces conduct active reconaissance of military targets/objects with drones.

Just one week ago, Russia also threatened Sweden with military intervention should it join NATO (“technical-military measures” in Rutalk).

It also has to be added that Russia issued an ultimatum at the recent NATO-Russia Council meeting: “Russia’s Ambassador Alexander Grushko delivered an ultimatum to NATO, saying that any move by NATO to enhance its self-defense will be regarded by Russia as a threat that precludes negotiations and will impel Moscow to take its habitual ‘appropriate responses‘.” No wonder, western officials were very tight-tlipped on the outcomes of the meeting.

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Russian special forces already operating inside Estonia

The Estonian security service KAPO has informed NATO it observed tactical drones near Estonian military facilities – the navigation systems of such drones however have limited range.

This effectively means Russian special forces are already operating inside Estonian territory.

For more information see here.

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Germany refusing US troops to enter Poland

Reportedly, there has been more German obstruction of NATO: According to Polish reports, US troops were refused to enter Poland (they are currently heading for the “Anaconda-2016” drills in Poland that will start in June – afterwards some of the military material is to be supposed to stay in the region). Additionally, Germany does not want Ukraine to participate in the drills.

On the other hand, Germany has been pressured to do more for NATO (just recently during Obama’s visit of Hanover). Such, the country might send soldiers to Lithuania, Spiegel reported and found Germany would be the “leader nation” to build up a NATO-battalion in Lithuania (after the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw in July would have agreed to such measures). But the question remains on how suited the Bundeswehr is for such a task. At the beginning of April, Bild reported that new regulation on working hours among others had the effect, the German army could only participate 12 days in a NATO-exercise in Norway (despite the planned month; otherwise the accumulation of overtime would be devastating). Just two days ago, media discussed the annual report of the military evoyee of the German parliament. The example of a tank battalion was given that possibly would be involved in new NATO-tasks: It was ill-equipped and had to borrow material for exercises from other units. The report suggested the state of the German army now is similar to the quality of the Ukrainian army in spring 2014.

 

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The OSCE silently pushing Russia’s Eurasian project

While the special monitoring mission of the OSCE has played an at least ambiguous role in Ukraine, there are indications the organization’s leadership strives for greater projects.

Back in December 2014, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov stated Russia planned to promote the idea of establishing a free trade zone between the European Union and the Eurasian Customs Union during the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council meeting in the Swiss city of Basel. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also mentioned the idea of a dialogue between the EU and the Eurasian Customs Union during his November 2014 visit of Russia (see also here).

Also in Basel, OSCE‘s Chairman-in-Office, Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, had launched a OSCE Panel of Eminent Persons on „European Security as a Common Project“, in close cooperation with the OSCE chair Serbia (2015), and afterwards chair Germany (2016). The panel has been headed by Wolfgang Ischinger who the German Spiegel has characterized as lobbying for a common security architecture including Russia (in 2012 he had proposed to build-up a common missile defense). The panel issued a report on European security at the end of 2015 (in English and Russian, among others urging the reestablishment of the NATO-Russia Council). It then met at the 52nd Munich Security Conference in February 2016, including Gernot Erler, Special Representative of the Federal Government of Germany for the OSCE Chairmanship, a special lobbyist for a „dialogue“ with Russia. OSCE’s General Secretary Zannier had found „The OSCE is perhaps a bit different from other international organizations in that we respect and openly recognize the existence of divergent perspectives. While accepting these differences, we try to build bridges and find common solutions to the challenges we all face […].“

Russia during the same Munich Security Conference had called for dialogue among equal partners. This has also well-fitted in the motto of the German OSCE Chairmanship – “Dialogue, Trust and Security” – which Lavrov found „completely conforms to the line towards enhancing the OSCE role.“  Also in this regard OSCE’s Secretary General Lamberto Zannier was to participate in a security conference in Moscow in later April 2016.

Those developments suggest that the Russian narrative of its special security needs (i.e. to harass and/or invade its neighbors militarily in order to ensure Russian national security) is more and more accepted.

Additionally, it can be observed that issues of security are increasingly linked to „economic connectivity“ and „free trade.“

In December 2015, for example, a conference took place in Vienna pushing the issue of „economic connectivity“ and looking for a role of the OSCE in it. „It was noted that, moving forward, discussions on this topic within the OSCE should involve the business community. This will be one of Germany’s priorities during its Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2016. It was noted that the recent report by the OSCE Panel of Eminent Persons included recommendations designed to increase the OSCE’s work in the field of economic connectivity.“

A joint statement of the OSCE Troika in April 2016 underlined the important role of the OSCE as a regional security organization, and pushed the idea of „economic connectivity“. The German chair of the OSCE organizes an economic conference in regard to „connectivity“ at the German foreign ministry, to take place in May 2016.

An important aspect of this „connectivity“ has been a free trade zone with Russia.

Efforts of Germany’s Foreign Minister Steinmeier to get Russia back into the G-8 and to push trough local elections in the Donbas despite of the de facto integration of the Donbas into Russian state structures can be regarded as part of plans to pave the road for a free trade zone with Russia.

Such a plan in January 2015 had also been supported by German Chancellor Merkel; another supporter has been Economic Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. He repeatedly requested to dispose of sanctions against Russia (here in autumn 2015).

During the annual assembly of the strongly pro-Russian German-Russian Forum in March 2016, Gabriel said the goal was to lift sanctions in summer 2016. He also announced a renewed dialogue with Russia, and that he and his Russian counterpart had already consented on reviving business relations (especially having North Stream-2 in view). Recently, the German „Ost-Ausschuss der deutschen Wirtschaft“, a powerful associations of business representatives that mainly propagates German trade relations with Russia, promoted the idea of a common free trade zone; its head Büchele finding the „crisis“ in Ukraine had made a common trade area between Vladivostok and Lisbon even „more urgent“.

So we now are back at the stage of Steinmeier’s request of a dialogue between the EU and the Eurasian Customs Union mentioned above.

The above developments highlight important issues:

The OSCE is still looking for a bigger role in international politics – a new window of activity emerges with an increasingly weak EU (and NATO – reviving the NATO-Russian Council certainly does not support the strengthening of NATO, quite the contrary).

German elites play a crucial role under the umbrella of the OSCE in order to push an exit-scenario if the EU should fail in order to ensure national German interests, which pretty much are economic interests.

A focus on „economic connectivity“ and „free trade“ with Russia through the OSCE, an organization in which Russia is able to play a considerable role, essentially means to accept Russian narratives as equal, which in the long term could lead to the adoption Putin‘s Eurasian Customs Union project dating from 2010.

Alarming is the belief of western elites that economic cooperation and dependence are sufficient in order to ensure wealth and security.

PS A document posted by the Valdai-Club gives more insights on how Russia sees the issue currently: “Time has come to stand firm on making foreign trade issues largely an EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) responsibility. We must work for the EAEU’s recognition by individual EU countries while Brussels is free to make its decisions on its own (…) The negative experience of the zero sum game that characterized all the numerous Russia-EU dialogues and partnerships until 2014 is bound to reproduce itself. This is why we must first lay a new foundation for these relations and openly discuss what we want from each other. We must definitely broaden our horizons on European security. Events of the past few years have proved that the issues of war and peace in Europe are too important to let Europeans deal with them single-handed. China, for one, is already a very keen player in Eurasia, of which Europe is part. Its trade and economic ties with the EU countries and economic presence in the EAEU states are growing. It is high time to ponder over new negotiating formats. We could speak about a new SCO-OSCE discussion platform in the future. Summing up these observations and ideas, it is important to say that Europe, Russia and our EAEU allies have entered a difficult and important stage in their development. The future of our common Eurasian home from Shanghai to Lisbon will depend on how they emerge from 2016. As for the central issue – direct contacts between the two unions – there is no rush. Eventually, if the leaders of the EAEU countries continue relegating their powers to supra-national bodies, Brussels will simply have no choice but to start cooperating with the Union. At this point, the young Eurasian bureaucracy will face a new and even more serious challenge: the need to deal with their seasoned and sophisticated EU colleagues. Let’s hope, however, that we will not need to worry about this until 2017.”

 

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Russia violates sovereignty of Norway, Lithuania and Poland

Within some two weeks, Russia send paratroopers to Norwegian Svalbard for “exercises”, and Russian helicopters entered both Lithuanian and Polish airspaces.

All three national governments have chosen to play down the incidents or (even worse) to ignore them.

Besides all three countries belong to NATO.

Why do NATO officials not protest against this behavior?

Ignoring Russian provocations will not make them go away – it will just be another confirmation for Russia that the organization does not take its defense tasks seriously.

For a further discussion see also here.

 

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