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Russia Closes ‘CIA Backdoor’ Embedded In All Microsoft Software

September 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Russia has issued a ‘protective patch’ against a CIA backdoor found embedded within all Microsoft software programs.

Kaspersky Lab, one of the world’s largest privately owned cybersecurity companies, discovered the “backdoor” after running advanced scans on Microsoft software.

Kaspersky has a long history of thwarting US intelligence agencies’ attempts to spy on citizens. As The Economist notes:

“Kaspersky Lab has repeatedly impressed skeptics by exposing genuine and serious cyber-security problems. In 2010, for instance, it helped uncover Stuxnet, a computer worm designed to sabotage the Iranian nuclear programme.

On February 16th Kaspersky appeared to repeat this feat, not once, but twice.

First it released a report detailing how a gang it calls Carbanak had hacked the computer systems of banks around the world. It said the gang had stolen several hundred million dollars by moving money to fake accounts and making cash machines dispense their contents.

The same day the firm said it had discovered the “Equation Group”, apparently part of the NSA, which it said was able to embed spyware in computers that gives it total control over them, even after the hard disk has been erased and the operating system reinstalled.”

Whatdoesitmean.com reports:  On 12 May of this year, this report details, the international whistle blowing organization WikiLeaks released the latest instalment in their Vault7 Series that detailed two CIA hacking tools dubbed ‘AfterMidnight’ and ‘Assassin’ that target the Microsoft Windows platform providing these US spies with total access to anyone’s computer or cell phone they so choose.

Upon Kaspersky Lab experts examining these CIA hacking tools, this report explains, they discovered a “backdoor” embedded in all Microsoft software named “PsSetLoadImageNotifyRoutin” that sadistically prevents antivirus software from finding computer virus malware—and that Microsoft refused to issue a security “patch” for with their stunningly stating: “Our engineers reviewed the information and determined this does not pose a security threat and we do not plan to address it with a security update.”

With Microsoft failing to protect their software from this CIA “backdoor”, this report continues, Kaspersky Lab created their own “fix” for it, this past June, which they then placed in their global anti-virus software product called Kaspersky Total Security.

Immediately after Kaspersky Lab released this “fix” to protect people and their Microsoft software using computer devices from this CIA “backdoor”, this report further details, the FBI began nighttime raids against this company’s employees living in the United States, and then went on a vicious campaign telling private companies in America to no longer use the Kaspersky Total Security anti-virus programme because it was an “unacceptable threat to national security”—but with no one in the US offering any proof to substantiate this outrageous claim.

In response to this attack against his company, this report details, Eugene Kaspersky publically offered to provide to the US the source code to his Kaspersky Total Security anti-virus programmed in order to prove that it wasn’t a Trojan horse for Russian spies—with his further stating that he was ready to testify in front of Congress, too—“anything” to show that his company is above board.

Instead of accepting Kaspersky’s offer, however, and again without offering any evidence, this report says, US Democratic Party Senator Jeanne Shaheen began pushing for a total US federal government-wide ban of anti-virus security software developed by Kaspersky Lab—and America’s largest electronics retailer, Best Buy, further declaring that it was taking all Kaspersky Lab anti-virus products immediately off of their store shelves—and their even offering to have their Geek Squad remove it from their customers computers too—but with their failing to notify anyone that their Geek Squad tech workers are, also, employed by the FBI to secretly search computers for child pornography.

The “red herring” (something that distracts attention from the real issue) being used by the US against Kaspersky Lab, this report explains, is its supposed “connection” to the Russian government and intelligence agencies—which is an astonishing and outrageous accusation coming from a nation where the CIA has turned every Microsoft Windows PC in the world into spyware and can activate “backdoors” on demand, including via Windows update—and whose Patriot Act laws give US spy agencies the unlimited power to spy on anyone’s computers, emails, phone calls, you name it, they want to.

This report concludes by noting that its “findings and determinations” formed the basis for President Putin just ordering Russia to move away from foreign software for the sake of security—and who stated to all the Russian people: “You shouldn’t offer IBM products, or foreign software. We won’t be able to take it because of too many risks.”

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Russia Used Facebook Events to Organize Anti-Immigrant Rallies on U.S. Soil

September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Russia Used Facebook Events to Organize Anti-Immigrant Rallies on U.S. Soil

Source: Daily Beast

Pushing fake news was just one component of the Russian campaign to shape American minds. Part two: organizing anti-immigrant events echoing themes from the pro-Trump press.

Russian operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook’s event management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests in the U.S., including an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho, The Daily Beast has learned.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to the Daily Beast that the social-media giant “shut down several promoted events as part of the takedown we described last week.” The company declined to elaborate, except to confirm that the events were promoted with paid ads. (This is the first time the social media giant has publicly acknowledged the existence of such events.)

The Facebook events—one of which echoed Islamophobic conspiracy theories pushed by pro-Trump media outlets—are the first indication that the Kremlin’s attempts to shape America’s political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action.

“This is the next step,” Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and expert on Russia’s influence campaign, told The Daily Beast. “The objective of influence is to create behavior change. The simplest behavior is to have someone disseminate propaganda that Russia created and seeded. The second part of behavior influence is when you can get people to physically do something.”

Last week Facebook acknowledged for the first time that Russia used false identities and about 3,000 ads to spread politically divisive posts to Americans before and after the election. The content, according to an expert on Facebook’s advertising system, was likely seen by between 23 and 70 million people, based on the $100,000 ad buy alone.

Much of the Russian Facebook propaganda campaign has since been deleted. But bits and pieces remain visible in search engine caches, including a 2016 notice on Facebook Events—the site’s event management and invitation tool—announcing an August 27 rally in a rural Idaho town known to welcome refugees.

“Due to the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, becoming a center of refugee resettlement, which led to the huge upsurge of violence towards American citizens, it is crucial to draw society’s attention to this problem,” the event notice began. The three hour protest was titled “Citizens before refugees”, and would be held at the City Council Chambers beginning at 11:00 am. The notice provided the street address and ended with a fiery exhortation.

“We must stop taking in Muslim refugees! We demand open and thorough investigation of all the cases regarding Muslim refugees! All government officials, who are covering up for these criminals, should be fired!”

The event was “hosted” by “SecuredBorders,” a putative U.S. anti-immigration community that was outed in March as a Russian front. The Facebook page had 133,000 followers when Facebook closed it last month.

Although 48 people clicked that they were “interested” in the protest, only four said they went to City Council Chambers that day, according to the event page, possibly because it was a Saturday and the Council was not in session. It is also possible to claim attendance on Facebook at an event that didn’t exist. Some of the profiles of interested rallygoers listed themselves as Twin Falls residents.

Facebook did not explain if the “several promoted events” were upcoming ones at the time of the account deactivation or were events that had already occurred at the time of deactivation. But the spokesman confirmed that the “promoted” events were paid events, akin to the inflammatory ads that the company disclosed last week.

Far-right, pro-Trump firehoses Breitbart, InfoWars, and WorldNetDaily had pushed a series of stories implying immigrants were taking over Twin Falls since the beginning of 2016. The stories reached a fever pitch in the month before SecuredBorders’ event.

A WorldNetDaily writer called Chobani’s plan to hire immigrants to work at the Twin Falls plant an “Islamic surge” in a January 2016 piece once titled “American Yogurt Tycoon Vows to Choke U.S. With Muslims.” (That post’s headline has since been changed, and the “Islamic surge” wording was removed.)

One InfoWars article claimed that Chobani’s workers were responsible for a “500 percent increase in tuberculosis in Twin Falls.”

InfoWars and Alex Jones published videos with the titles “MSM Covers For Globalist’s Refugee Import Program After Child Rape Case” and “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists,” which have since been removed.

When Chobani sued InfoWars over the claims in April, Jones initially claimed that he was “not backing down, I’m never giving up, I love this” and that “I’m choosing this as a battle. On this I will stand. I will win, or I will die.”

Jones settled three weeks later, and was forced to issue a retraction of the false stories InfoWars invented about immigrants in Twin Falls. Some of the offending articles and videos have since been removed.

Breitbart, which was not sued by Chobani, still has a story titled “TB spiked 500 percent in Twin Falls During 2012, As Chobani Yogurt Opened Plant” on its website.

(Tuberculosis cases rose from 1 to 6 in 2012, then dropped back down to 2 in 2013. There is no proof in the article tying tuberculosis to immigrants.)

The tuberculosis story was posted one day before SecuredBorders’ real life rally was set to take place in Twin Falls.

The story was one of dozens of negative Breitbart stories about immigrants in Twin Falls in August of 2016. In the month before SecuredBorders created its Facebook event, Breitbart posted 37 articles about immigrants in Twin Falls.

Many of the stories, like one titled “Twin Falls Rape Special Report: Why Are the Refugees Moving In?” revolve around what Breitbart called a “gang rape” that Twin Falls County prosecutor Grant Loebs said was misreported.

“There was no gang rape, no knife attack, and we did not charge anybody with rape because no rape occurred,” Loebs told the Magic Valley Times News.

“There is a small group of people in Twin Falls County whose life goal is to eliminate refugees, and thus far they have not been constrained by the truth.”

Lawmaker: China and Russia Ahead of U.S. Military’s Space Capabilities

September 12, 2017 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON – Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said China and Russia have moved past the United States in the development of national security space capabilities.

He called on the Department of Defense to invest more dollars in the U.S. military’s space capabilities.

“I can’t overstate this. What Russia and China are doing is startling and I describe it this way to people back home. Keep in mind, I’m from Alabama, as George Wallace used to say, you’ve got to get the hay down where the goats can get at it. So I tell folks it’s like this – if you are a little fella and you want to whoop a big fella, but you know there’s no way you can whoop him, he’s just too big, but if you can poke his eyes out and take his ears away from him, all of a sudden he’s blind and deaf,” Rogers said Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) during a discussion on “How to Organize Military Space.”

“You might actually whoop that fella – that’s exactly what this is about. Russia and China want to take our eyes and ears out – our military’s eyes and ears, because that’s what’s up there and that’s why they are spending an inordinate amount of money in their defense budget on space capabilities and they have both already reorganized,” he added. “China set up a Space Corps last year. We are behind the curve on this, and that’s the message I want the Air Force to acknowledge is that change is not a bad thing, necessarily.”

Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, has proposed establishing a Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force by 2019.

“They’ve got six months to produce a report that reviews the ‘organizational and management structure of the Space Corps.’ Then Congress would have the next six months to decide if it’s good enough or if they missed the mark. That gives them plenty of time to come to grips with the reality of the situation and help to actively shape what the solution will be,” he said of his proposed legislation. “In the meantime, Congress will be able to provide input when we receive an interim report on the Space Corps design, and we’ll be able to authorize and appropriate any funds necessitated by this new service.”

Rogers said the military’s national security space operations have become “critical” to winning wars.

“I would like to see the Space Corps remain in the department of the Air Force and I hope it fixes it but all these people I talk with are a lot smarter than I am and they all think that eventually it will have to be a completely separate department and service, and maybe they are right but I think that is truly a 15- to 20-year process,” he said.

Rogers responded to concerns about the cost of creating a Space Corps.

“Some people have said setting up the Space Corps will cost too much, but as I mentioned earlier the Space Corps hasn’t been designed yet. Nobody knows if it will cost too much. Again, the DoD gets to design the Space Corps and then Congress will take that information and authorize and appropriate needed funds in the FY19 budget process,” he said.

“I’ve heard some Air Force leaders say that they are working to integrate space and separating the Space Corps out hurts the space enterprise. Let’s be honest, space is special,” he added. “You fight and win differently in space. You also need to organize, train, and equip differently for space. The Space Corps embraces this philosophy.”

Russia Slams UK, US For Supplying ISIS With Chemical Munitions

September 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Russia has accused the United Kingdom and United States of supplying chemical munitions to ISIS terrorists in Syria.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova slammed the US-UK supply of chemical weapons to terrorists, calling it a breach of international law and “beyond understanding.”

That was the extent of their commitment to the international law and the victory of democracy; supplying poisonous materials to the terrorists with presenting photos of pictures for killed children as a coverage,” Zakharova told Russian media, adding “this is beyond mind understanding.”

Themoscowtimes.com reports: “Yes, it’s true,” she told the state-funded Vesti FM radio station on Thursday morning. “Western countries and regional powers are directly and indirectly supplying militants, terrorists and extremists in Syria with banned toxic substances.”

The comment came after Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said on Wednesday that chemical weapons supposedly produced by the United States and Britain had been found in areas previously held by Islamic State.*

The Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, which Russia backs, has been been widely accused of using chemical weapons. In June, a report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said the banned nerve agent sarin had been used in an attack in northern Syria in April.

A joint United Nations and OPCW investigation earlier said Syrian government forces had used chlorine gas in three attacks in 2014 and 2015.

During the interview, Zakharova said the West was also providing terrorists in Syria with small arms, money and “informational support,” citing the White Helmets, a volunteer group which works in opposition-held territory in Syria, as an example.

She said it was “a proven fact” that the White Helmets engaged in the “falsification of its humanitarian activities, the recording of ‘fake videos’ on the reanimation of children and civilian population.”

“And look at what happened in the West,” she said. “I’m not even talking about the fact that [the White Helmets] were cited practically on a daily basis, that its videos were shared online with the speed of light on platforms supported by the West.”

“The pinnacle was when they received an Oscar,” she said, referring to the Oscar-winning Netflix documentary on the group. Zakharova also slammed the fact the group was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Islamic State is a terrorist organization banned in Russia

A battle is brewing with Russia over the Arctic, and the US is outnumbered

September 9, 2017 Leave a comment

The changing climate has created a new frontier in the Arctic, but as the world’s major powers scramble to take advantage, the U.S. is at risk of falling dangerously behind.

Melting ice has made vast amounts of mineral and energy reserves available for the first time in modern history. As many as 90 billion barrels of oil, the equivalent of 5.9 percent of the world’s known reserves, are up for grabs. That’s more than twice what Russia currently owns, and more than three times what the U.S. has available. The future opportunities could be crucial to the national interest, but the U.S. presence in the region is sorely outnumbered by Russia, according to Coast Guard commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft.

“So the numbers are roughly 40 to 2,” Zukunft told me in an interview regarding U.S. versus Russian icebreaker ship presence. “So if I was playing basketball, those are not good numbers … you are far outnumbered when it comes to having any presence in the Arctic.”

Icebreakers are tailor-made to smash through the tough Arctic ice that cuts off most ships. More icebreakers means more access, and the Russians have a lot more than the U.S. does. To make matters worse, Russia is also staking claim to much of the region.

“Russia has claimed most of the Arctic Ocean up to the North Pole,” explained Zukunft. “Which to me looks like they want to deny access by others.”

Russia is also in the midst of developing new Corvette-class icebreakers that can carry deadly cruise missiles.

“We have no surface presence really to counter a threat like that,” said Zukunft. “But if we have sovereign interests at stake, we might need to look at an icebreaker of the 21st century that we can retrofit with a modular weapons system so we can at least stand our own ground.”

Even if the U.S. were to increase its icebreaker presence, it could still run into some issues with international law. Russia, along with most countries, is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 agreement which outlined guidelines for how nations can use the world’s oceans. The U.S. participated in the convention, but has yet to sign the agreement.

A treaty requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate for ratification, and conservatives have historically been apprehensive on acquiescing to the convention due to concerns that it may restrict U.S. sovereignty. But James Kraska, an international law expert with the U.S. Naval War College, has argued that joining could empower the U.S. position by giving it a solid legal framework from which to gather ocean resources.

Zukunft believes that signing onto the convention would be a positive step when it comes to staking a U.S. claim in the Arctic, but even with the legal backing, the Coast Guard could use some financial help from Congress.

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“They already know what they need,” noted Zukunft, with a smile. “We need to grow our budget by five percent ever year.”

It’s a modest request for a force that is responsible for a litany of jobs along the nation’s massive coast line and beyond. With the increase, Zukunft can build the new icebreakers, ships and unmanned aerial vehicles the services needs. He can also expand his workforce and hire back 1,100 reservists that were cut due to budget constraints.

“Not a big ask for a service that is only funded at $10.5 billion to begin with,” said Zukunft. “That would put the Coast Guard where it needs to be in the 21st century.”

Zapad 2017: Should We Fear Russia’s Latest Military Dress Rehearsal?

August 31, 2017 Leave a comment

The Russian military is now a sharpened policy tool of choice for an emboldened but strategically defensive regime that relies on preemption.

In mid-September, Russia will conduct Zapad “West” 2017, a major quadrennial military exercise that takes place near the borders of the Baltic States and Poland as well as inside independent Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Not since the end of the Cold War has a modern-day military exercise prompted as much speculation and concern as this Western-oriented display of Vladimir Putin’s machines of war.

The prospect of Zapad 2017 raises tantalizing and worrisome questions. Will it turn out to be a traditional preparedness operation, in which a wide array of heavy, light and specialist forces train for higher readiness? Or, will it prove to be a well-calculated first step toward inserting Russian forces permanently into its prickly ally Belarus? Or, could it be, as some fear, the dark prelude to a surprise invasion of neighboring NATO’s Baltic States?

Four years ago, I witnessed Zapad 2013. I was the senior U.S. Military Attache to Russia and part of a large contingent of Moscow-based international military attaches who were invited to observe the proceedings by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

After flying from Moscow in an aging Ilyushin aircraft, our attaché group arrived in tiny Kaliningrad, the former East Prussian Konigsberg, a militarized wedge of Russia between NATO allies Poland and Lithuania. There, we settled into bleachers overlooking broad beaches to watch the grand finale of Zapad 2013—a large “anti-terrorist” amphibious operation.

President Vladimir Putin in black raincoat arrived in an armada of black SUVs, accompanied by Belarusian strongman President Alexander Lukashenko and his son, Kolya. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu also attended. The men sat in the glassed-in VIP gallery above us. Both Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, had been in their roles for less than a year, a result of major shake-ups in the Russian defense structure in late 2012. Tellingly, they both remain in place today.

The exercise began. In the distance, large indistinct gray forms on the water slowly approached us, veiled by early morning Baltic mists. Suddenly, red-starred fighter-bombers screamed past us overhead, followed by swarms of missile-laden helicopter gunships. “Terrorist” positions on the beach and behind were bombarded with firepower of all types. The air was filled with fiery flashes and ear-splitting booms. By then, the mysterious gray forms had revealed their identity: Polish-built “Ropucha” amphibious assault ships, Cold War holdovers. Near the shoreline, the ships rapidly disgorged amphibious armored personnel carriers laden with Russian marines who dismounted in the shallows and stormed the beach. Air transports flew high overhead loaded with paratroopers who did not jump due to the blustery winds.

Then, on the horizon, appeared the world’s largest military hovercraft, shrouded in a giant cloud of foam and mist, like some Mesozoic sea monster. The huge Zubr-class air-boat roared up onto the beach and disgorged more marines and vehicles. We gaped at the hovercraft’s immensity and its menacing array of weapons. After this memorable spectacle, President Putin popped out from the elevated command center above us, leaned over and said in English to our throng of attaches below, “I am glad you could come.” After shaking hands with a few Russian commanders, he was whisked away in his cavalcade of SUVs.

The carefully scripted display that morning was the culmination of a century’s worth of refinement of Russia’s traditional firepower-centric warfare. The muscle-flexing was meant to impress not only those of us on hand, but also Russia’s domestic population and the wider world. The exercise also was designed to intimidate Russia’s regional neighbors; I can only imagine what the Baltic, Polish and other eastern European attaches standing among us thought.

Yet even as we climbed down from the bleachers and waited for our ears to stop ringing, the deep-thinkers working for Russia’s general staff and intelligence services were already hard at work on a brand-new way of war. The world’s first glimpse of Putin’s new approach came just four months after Zapad 2013, in February 2014, when the collapse of the pro-Russian Ukrainian regime triggered a fast-moving chain of political and military events over a scant three years that shook and ultimately cracked the global post–Cold War order.

During that short period, the world witnessed a Russian military revolution on the same scale as our own U.S. “Revolution in Military Affairs” of the late-twentieth-century. In our revolution, technology was harnessed to sharpen and amplify the effects of firepower. We refined killing techniques, believing they would lead, inevitably, to victory. The new approach successfully deterred the late–Cold War Soviets and climaxed in the Desert Storm operation in Iraq a quarter century ago.

Unsurprisingly, the post-Soviet Russians intently studied our impressive performance on the battlefield and also watched carefully as we retooled for dealing with difficult counterinsurgencies. What they learned from us, and their own difficult experiences, led to a revised and nuanced approach to warfare—an approach used very effectively-in a “troika” of military operations between 2014–2017 in Ukraine’s Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria.

The Russians began by rethinking the concept of victory, and then worked backward to devise methods to achieve it. The result is an arsenal of asymmetric “influencers” that are difficult for free, open societies to combat in peacetime. The weapons range from a ruthless application of special operations through economic subversion, to cyber-assaults; from manipulated elections to the extensive use of disinformation and old-fashioned assassinations. Whereas the United States had the luxury of thinking in brilliant operational parts, the Russians—with far fewer resources—focused on the strategic whole to get the most bang for the buck.

Failure also played a role in Russia’s military reset. Putin’s 2008 invasion of Georgia was not the Russian military’s finest hour, and only succeeded due to massive advantages in manpower and firepower. Russia’s traditional military structures, leadership and training failed dismally. Vladimir Putin, the “new” Czar, already in power for eight years, was not happy. He brought in new leaders, and supported their “New Look” reforms, which ruthlessly cut and streamlined Russia’s bloated and largely Soviet-era military. The only assets left essentially unchanged were Russia’s formidable nuclear-capable forces, the key ingredient maintaining Russia’s superpower aspirations.

The first of the three applications of Putin’s new warfare approach was on display in the rapid and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March 2014. The move came on the heels of the Sochi Olympic Games and the bloodbath in Kiev’s Maidan Square that led to pro-Russian President Yanukovych’s hasty flight from Ukraine. The stealth operation was a major departure from what we had just witnessed at Zapad 2013. Aggressive and measured deployment of “little green men”—well-armed, nonattributed Russian special operations troops supporting local proxies—rapidly paralyzed Ukrainian resistance in Crimea and kept local ethnic Russian hotheads from fighting their Ukrainian and Tartar counterparts. Ukrainian governmental centers were seized without bloodshed while military bases were sealed off and allowed to peacefully surrender.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, my colleagues and I saw Russian state-owned television play patriotic movies about the Victorian-era Crimean War and World War II’s “Hero City” of Sevastopol. A coordinated disinformation campaign spewed forth invective about a (faux) NATO threat to the Crimea, planting the notion among the Russian populace that Putin’s preemptive invasion was justified.

Buoyed by success in Crimea, Putin’s second application of the new approach to warfare showcased the blending of special operations and conventional forces to support ethnic Russian separatists in the eastern Ukraine. The “hybrid” technique initially suppressed key ethnic Russian-heavy Ukrainian governmental and population centers. Major Ukrainian cities with large Russian populations such as Kharkiv, Mariupol and Odessa almost fell to Russian-steered “separatist” assaults. But the operation hit a major bump when separatists found themselves in unexpectedly tough and bloody fighting with a determined hodge-podge of Ukrainian government and volunteer forces. And many ethnic Russians in Ukraine refused to join Putin’s Russia—a miscalculation that took Moscow by surprise.

After a long summer of combat during which Russia never acknowledged its own forces fighting inside sovereign Ukraine, resurgent Ukrainian forces pressed the separatists into increasingly compressed pockets around Donetsk and Lugansk. In late August, undeclared main-force Russian units rolled across the border into eastern Ukraine to stave off an imminent separatist collapse and a colossal political setback for Putin. (His regime was already reeling from the ghastly, inadvertent separatist shoot down of a packed civilian Air Malaysia jetliner in mid-July 2014.)

Using much improved command and control, combat intelligence using drones and electronic warfare enabling precision fire strikes, Russian fires shattered the counter-attacking Ukrainian spearheads near Ilovaisk and restored a much diminished Russian separatist enclave. Throughout, the Russians maintained the somewhat inconvenient fiction that only volunteers were fighting, no main force units. In spite of less than perfect execution, the Russian campaign in eastern Ukraine marked the second major operation in which a wide range of Russian forces experimented with different tactics and techniques, gained valuable experience and combat-tested their equipment.

The third application of Putin’s new approach was Russia’s sharp-elbowed intervention into Syria in late September, 2015. Here, unlike Crimea or eastern Ukraine, Russian forces and firepower—for the first time since its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan—rapidly, robustly and unabashedly deployed outside the boundaries of the former Soviet Union.

Equipped with increasingly well-coordinated command-and-control, intelligence and surveillance, joint air-ground operations, logistics and precision weapons (including strategic air platforms and long-range, air and sea-launched cruise missiles) Russia, despite some setbacks, deftly showed off its new-and-improved capabilities to a watching world. These have included a capacity to wage coalition operations with partners Syria, Iran and Hezbollah—a partnership that culminated in Syria’s bloody Grozny-style destruction of the ancient city of Aleppo, in full defiance of international law.

Although high-casualty “dumb” bombs and shells are still being heavily used in a way that ultimately may boomerang on the Russians, Syria remains the most visible application of the regime’s “New Generation Warfare,” employing a full spectrum of tactical-to-strategic nonnuclear capabilities, with assets that proudly, and loudly, carry Russia’s white, blue and red tricolor.

Especially worrisome for the world, the much-improved Russian military is now a sharpened policy tool of choice for an emboldened but strategically defensive regime that relies on preemption. A key danger is the country’s robust nuclear capability, which the Russian leadership may believe can be threatened tactically to intimidate some potential opponents into acquiescence.

Even so, Russia struggles to fully man a professional million-man standing military that competes with the nascent National Guard and robust security services for resources. Draftees still make up over a third of the force. Deploying social-media savvy draftees into questionable and extended cross-border actions is difficult. The nation is vast geographically, relatively sparse demographically, and currently hampered by high costs exacerbated by sanctions on its weak oil-based economy. Russia is also hampered by thousands of miles of inhospitable borders carved out of the hide of other nations and civilizations, as well as a small and diverse population of about 144 million citizens, most of whom are concentrated west of the Urals. Current and future Russian defense planners face a daunting challenge to create and sustain Eurasia-wide security.

To cope with manpower limits, more and more second-tier forces are being trained as well—buttressed by a growing pool of combat veterans and honed by an aggressive program of short notice “snap” and programmed readiness exercises. The Russians are increasingly taking a “whole of society” approach for their military exercises and overall defense preparedness. This includes stressing the country’s rail, road, port and aerial infrastructure, as well as its economic and banking sector. The Russian leadership seems to be psychologically and materially mobilizing their population for what some see as an inevitable war with the United States and its Allies. This does not mean the Russians want war, but it signals that the United States must do its utmost to recognize, limit and defuse Russian opportunism before it is harmful.

As Zapad “West” 2017 quickly approaches—with all its military eye candy and pyrotechnics—we must not be distracted from the long view. Developing a pragmatic dual-track policy toward the Russian Federation is paramount.

First, the United States must continuously and unambiguously underscore that it will always stoutly defend the sanctity of NATO, the core alliance of our civilization. The United States must also firmly support worldwide allies and partners while always upholding cherished U.S. principles. This is nonnegotiable and includes being ready, along with allies and partners, to respond globally to a possible worst-case scenario in which Russia invades the Baltics States or somewhere else along its long borders. Fortunately, Putin likely recognizes that it would be pure folly to commit naked aggression with his ultimately outmanned, outgunned, out-financed and “out-allied” nation. Putin and the moneyed interests of Russia know that a globally-condemned attack, even against non-NATO members, would be “bad for business” and could ultimately bring down a Russian regime that needs credible relations with the west to survive for future generations.

Instead, an emboldened Russia could choose to launch a stealth offensive by probing and non-attributable “gray zone” activities, particularly if it senses an exploitable division in NATO cohesion. More likely, such a tremendous gamble would be a preemptive reaction to what the Putin regime perceives as a serious existential threat, such as a collapse of a geographical buffer like Belarus, or suspicion that one or more foreign elements are trying to instigate regime change in Russia.

The greater risk for the world is a major accident or incident that somehow rapidly escalates into cyber-fast brinksmanship before cool heads can prevail. Such an event could happen anywhere, not just in the Baltic region or over Syria. That is where the second track of a dual-track policy is critical. Without ever condoning malign actions or acceding on sanctions, senior political and defense links between our countries need to be reinforced. We must better understand each other’s tautly stretched threat perspectives. We need to reenergize atrophied deconfliction conduits between U.S. and Russian global operational level commands, while reenergizing the withered arms control regime arms that should now include cyber constraints. Without these and other confidence-building measures that through contact seek a convergence of interests amidst today’s well-documented divergences, the dangerous trust-deficit between our two nuclear-tipped nations only increases.

The West—both NATO and the European Union—must prepare for the type of worst case, all-guns-blazing scenario that Zapad showcases every four years, but we must not stop there. It is Russia’s deceptive, stealthy and highly imaginative array of corroding, subverting, non-attributed operations that is every bit as dangerous as old-fashioned battlefield weaponry. When combined with Russia’s resurgent conventional capability, the full bag of tricks at Putin’s disposal shows a country preparing for potential conflict in ways difficult for our western societies to fathom.

Brigadier General Peter Zwack (ret.), former 2012-2014 U.S. Defense Attache to Russia, writes as the senior Russia-Eurasia Fellow within the Institute for National Security Studies at the National Defense University. These are his own views and not that of the U.S. government.

Image: Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter of the Russkiye Vityazi (Russian Knights) aerobatic team performs at the ARMY 2017 International Military-Technical Forum at the Kubinka airbase outside Moscow, Russia August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Andrey Volkov

US orders closure of Russian consulate in SF, annexes in DC, NYC…

August 31, 2017 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an escalating tit-for-tat, the United States forced Russia on Thursday to shutter its consulate in San Francisco and scale back its diplomatic presence in Washington and New York, as relations between the two former Cold War foes continued to unravel.

The Trump administration said the move constituted its response to the Kremlin’s “unwarranted and detrimental” decision to force the U.S. to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia. The U.S. gave Russia a mere 48 hours to close its San Francisco consulate, along with smaller Russian posts in Washington and New York.

“The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. Still, she said the U.S. hoped both countries could now move toward “improved relations” and “increased cooperation.”

Russia said it regretted the order and pointed the finger at the U.S. for starting the “escalation of tensions” between the nuclear-armed powers. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Kremlin would return the volley by retaliating for the U.S. retaliation. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow was studying the decision to determine its response.

U.S. ties to Russia have soured in recent years over deep disagreements about Ukraine, Syria and Russian hacking. To the surprise of those who anticipated that President Donald Trump’s election would reverse that trend, the feud has only worsened this year, even as investigators continue probing whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow’s efforts to help him get elected.

In addition to its consulate, the Russians by Saturday must close an official residence in San Francisco. Though Russia can keep its New York consulate and Washington embassy, Russian trade missions housed in satellite offices in those two cities must shut down, said a senior Trump administration official. The official briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. isn’t expelling any Russian officials, so those who work at the shuttered offices can be reassigned elsewhere in the U.S., the official said. One of the buildings is believed to be leased, but Russia will maintain ownership over the others, the official said, adding that it would be up to Moscow to determine whether to sell them or otherwise dispose of them.

The forced closures were the latest in an intensifying exchange of diplomatic broadsides with origins in Washington’s opposition to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In December, former President Barack Obama kicked out dozens of Russian officials in the U.S., shuttered Russian recreational compounds in New York and Maryland, and sanctioned Russian individuals and entities. Russian President Vladimir Putin held off on any retaliation, and the next month, Trump took office, having campaigned on hopes of improving U.S.-Russia ties.

But earlier this month, Trump begrudgingly signed into law stepped-up sanctions on Russia that Congress passed in an attempt to prevent Trump from easing up on Moscow. The Kremlin quickly retaliated, announcing the U.S. must cut its own embassy and consulate staff down to 455.

Although Russia said 755 personnel would have to go to reach that number, Washington never confirmed how many diplomatic staff it had in Russia at the time. As of Thursday, the U.S. has complied with the order to reduce to 455, officials said.

That reduction also led the U.S. to temporarily suspend processing non-immigrant visas for Russians seeking to visit the U.S. Visa processing will resume soon, but at a “much-reduced rate” owing to fewer staff to process the visas, the official said. Earlier, the U.S. had said it would start processing visas only at the embassy in Moscow, meaning Russians could no longer apply for visas at the U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

Despite the exchange of penalties, there have been narrow signs of cooperation between the two countries that has transcended the worsening ties. In July, Trump and Putin signed off on a three-way deal with Jordan for a cease-fire in southwest Syria that the U.S. says has largely held intact.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conveyed the decision to shutter the Russian posts to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a Thursday phone call in which he also told Lavrov that the U.S. had complied with Moscow’s order to cut its diplomatic staff. Lower-level officials also spoke to their Russian counterparts in the U.S. about the details of the new U.S. order.

Given the reciprocal nature of the escalating tensions over the past year, it was likely the Kremlin would feel compelled to respond by taking further action against Washington. Nevertheless, the United States argued that the score has been evened.

U.S. officials pointed out that Russia, when it ordered the cut in U.S. diplomats, had argued it was merely bringing the size of the two countries’ diplomatic presences into “parity.” Both countries now maintain three consulates on each other’s territory and ostensibly have similar numbers of diplomats posted, though such numbers are difficult to independently verify.

“The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides,” Nauert said.

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

 

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