Posts Tagged ‘Putin’

East v West – The Battleground Is Syria

October 1, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

I October 2015

London

Russia is now at war with America. Let there be no diplomatic illusion. Putin has sent his bombers against American and British supported rebels. That is not even a proxy war. That action is a straight forward confrontation.

Putin is saying there are once more two, not one, superpowers. The Russian’s measure might in sheer military terms. There is more to come.

Talks in New York last night to make sure there is no miscalculation between USAF jets and Russian Air Force operations in Syria is nothing to do with good military practice.  Russia and America are on different sides.

The New York talks were in reality Russia telling America to stay out of Putin’s way and his determination to destroy US-UK backed rebels and for the moment, to keep Assad in power.

Whitehall is already asking what next does it do?

What happens for example when an RAF Intelligence gathering drone is brought down?

In Washington they are asking what military response does the President authorise when the anti-Assad rebels demand that the US stops Russian attacks on their forces now heading for the Assad held territory of Western Syria.

There is no way that Obama can authorise a combat air patrol over over the rebels. The next stage to that, by miscalculation or commission, is a shooting war over Syria. You don’t have to blink to imagine what that will lead to.

The military sandbox scenario is simple: Russia bombs rebels. Russia tells America and anyone else on the anti-Assadl side including Australia, France and the UK to stay out of the area because Putin is operating an emergency war to keep Assad in power.

If the USAF does not obey Putin what are the possibilities of a mistake or a retaliation?  The answer is High.

Or for students of Machiavelli is there an even darker story here?

Could this be the dangerous game in Syria: the US has decided that the rebels should be abandoned? Why would they do that? Answer: it is the only way in which they could end the war.

The Whitehall and Washington have concluded rebels in power will mean another Libya and the USA will be seen as the power that brought that about.  Worse still, the US and allies will have to maintain what could so easily become a blood-letting regime on the Syrian throne.

So let Russia successfully defend Assad, then let the Syria leader stay in power until a new leadership is established – not from the rebels but from people already in Assad’s palace. The next stage would be to go for IS.

The whole thinking in Washington and London is flawed.  It takes no account of Putin’s own plan. Like all Russian leaders from Tsarist times, through the history of the USSR to this century, Putin does not trust the idea of alliance. This is his war and as far as he thinks he is winning.

President Putin asks this question of his analysts: Does America abandon the rebels? Does America just want a deal in a war it cannot win because it cannot guarantee the outcome?  They tell him what he already thinks: America wants out.

What does he do next? Bomb more rebels.  Keep them out of Assad’s backyard. Lead a coalition against IS positions. Do a better job of occupation than his Soviet predecessors did in Egypt before they were kicked out in the early 1970s. Accept the idea of a partitioned Syria.

There is another plus: tell the US to stand back and Iran will like that. The rest of the world will nod wisely. Another Washington foul-up.

So Putin believes he’s on a roll.  The Military Mo is with him. He could be right.

This is all high military and political drama but let us not forget it all means more misery for the 7 million or so displaced Syrians.  The war ain’t over for generations to come.

Has Obama, Cameron & Co Underestimated Putin Again?

September 27, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

27 September 2015

New York

Putin is a dangerous ex-KGB bodybuilder who plans to knock over as many democracies as possible and if not rule the world then say how it should be ruled.

That is the mix of mocking and alarm bell ringing image put about by Washington and London and their client states such President Poroshenko’s Ukraine. Whereas London, Washington and the coffee morning gathering that runs the Western Alliance, NATO have the true masterplan to peace, prosperity and the eventual downfall of the leader of modern Russia.

The slight problem of it all is that when Putin ordered the taking of Crimea the West posted bare back and chested pictures of horse riding Putin and told him him to get out of Crimea and East Ukraine. The West’s Make My Day Punk plan did not work.  Putin put on his shirt and doubled the deployment.  The West did nothing about that.  Putin has already assessed that they would not. Obama, Cameron et al did not mention the subject again.

Then President Putin started loading its port facility in Syria and took over the main airbase south of Latikia.  Now at the UN General Assembly Putin (during his first visit in ten years – he does not need the UN) said the deal is that we all back Assad, bin and deals with the rebels and then go for IS in Syria.

The Western punditry, echoed by London and Washington leaders said Putin should wind in his military neck, get out of Syria and forget any deals with Assad.  Now there is an idea that Putin is right but no one can say so.

Today the plan is looking something like this:

The West has long realised that it should never have backed the Syrian Free Army etc but cannot say so.

The West should never have rushed in to the anti-Assad camp without thinking through the strategic end game. Putin did think it through.

Putin’s Russia has long been an ally of Assad and knows from decades of fighting rebel forces, especially in Chechnya, that backing Assad’s enemies was a mug’s game.

Now we have squeaky briefings in Whitehall and here at the United Nations that Assad can stay for a while but should agree to go eventually and that zapping IS should be the main effort.  The French have started.  The Australians are in on it.  The British have done so and will do more and the Americans are leading the way.

No one of course will put boots on the ground. No one that is other than the Russians. Russia is now running the show and the West is playing a dangerous catch-up.

There are three reasons for this change of tune and tactic by the Western coalition:

1  Bad Intelligence four years back made them back the wrong horse and they are only just realising that.

2  Secondly (and reluctantly) they are privately saying that Putin’s game could be the surest bet

3  Thirdly (and most significantly) there is every evidence that IS is beatable thanks to a combination of better Intelligence gathering, drone reconnaissance and attack and the fortitude and bravery of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters

What does this tell us today at the UN?

Firstly, Western Intelligence analysis four years back of what was going on in Syrian and the likely outcome was a failure.  (They should have listened to Sitrep on BFBS Radio – that programme has consistently got it right!)

Secondly, Putin may not have been right but his crude opportunism was based on what was possible and now he is looking right and although they will not say so Western governments know this

Thirdly, Syria is not a single example of Western failure to get Intelligence analysis right. Western assessment of what was happening in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Syria? All wrong.

When the critics of what goes down here at the UN blame the United Nations then they should think again.  It is not the UN that is consistently wrong.  The misjudgements are to be laid at the doors of foreign policy analysts who are either failures or who cannot overcome the preconceptions of political leaders too busy to think through the jumble of reality and possibility.

The shorthand for that is that Western leadership (the French and Germans are honourable exceptions) for all their assets are not up to the task of the management – never mind the crisis management – of today’s world.

Putin may be loaded with all the terrible characteristics our leaderships say he is but so far he has out thought them by sticking with the basics of Intelligence and Opportunity Assessment: it is easy to assess capability it is then the hard job of assessing intentions of an enemy and opportunities to exploit the current situation. So far at least, Putin is ahead of the game.

UK Defence Strategy – Time To Get It Right

September 21, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

21 September 2015. London.

Tomorrow the British Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon will set out his government’s view of the “strategic context” of the most important UK defence plan since the post Falklands War 1980s.  It will be the basis of a new Defence Review – the document that will say how Britain sees the world and in it the potential threats to the United Kingdom.

Today there are close on 40 wars around the globe. In each of a third of those conflicts as many as 10,000 are killed each year. British troops are deployed in 80 countries, most in peaceful roles but each with a security background.

It is very possible that a new deployment will be announced before this month is out; the UK has a request to supply a blue beret United Nations peace keeping force into Southern Sudan.  It is not a mission the British want but may have to take up.

Mr Fallon’s speech to the Royal United Services Institute, the London think tank on Tuesday will reflect the fact that three trigger words have to be in his thinking as never before on such a scale of importance: cyber, Daesh (IS) and refugee.

Cyber security is now so complex that the best Intelligence agencies in the world cannot cope with the way terrorist organisations are using this technology as part of attacking planning.  But cyber security threat is not all laptop terrorism.  Hacking units in China can get into the Pentagon and the British Defence Ministry the bastions of military opposition to state to state threats as well as the more complicated planning needed for asymmetric warfare.

Daesh can be disrupted but its true threat is that thus far there is little sign that regional governments can counter its ambitions without major military intervention from a coalition of Western forces. Few governments are willing to get directly involved at a level of eyeball to eyeball ground operations necessary to squash IS – a deceptively sophisticated enemy.

Perhaps of particular importance in Mr Fallon’s understanding of IS is that it constantly attracts men and women who see it as more than a cause.  Many of its recruits are young, educated and at odds with their own societies. In the UK for example, an IS recruit is typically the radicalised son or grandson of a family of sometime immigrants.  The radicalised generation says that the father, grandfather syndrome may live in the UK thankful for the shelter given by the British, but the young man – often with few long term prospects – has no deep identity and one who feels an alien and not willing to continue in that uneasy state as does his parent’s line. For Mr Fallon and his advisers here is a reminder of the threat of the enemy within. A mega buck defence budget cannot plan for that.  But it has to plan for the consequences of disaffection and radicalisation – the hardest aspect of his security diagram.

Refugees are not a direct military problem but they are destabilising. This phenomenon is not just about people escaping from war zones that Western governments have helped create either by commission or omission. It is not even about opportunism.  The greater and destabilising factor of mass movement of peoples is a reflection that most countries from whence they come simply do not work.  They come from corruptly governed states with individual high level corruption at an unprecedented level.  The refugee is in a mass movement that is already causing a long term schism in what was once a community of hope, the EU.

Here then the conundrum: at one time the British defence budget was simple.  The UK military had a nuclear deterrent system and then a traditionally balanced conventional tri-service that could honour post-colonial obligations and be part of that great coalition of the willing, NATO.  It may not have worked that well, but then it was not required to.

Today the British defence analysis  sees a world with uncertainty in Europe and not all the doing of President Putin of Russia.  It has to anticipate the consequences of a threat that it little understands – climate change and the imbalances of natural resources and changing societies.  Refugees are but one aspect of climate change. The Fallon plan has to look at the possibilities of conflict that are as yet quite unclear, for example, the grab for resources in the Arctic.  All this and more and not even mentioning the long term emergence of a Middle East and sub Saharan Africa with re-drawn boundaries.

In short there is hardly a spot on the globe that does not demand Mr Fallon’s attention. Hence his review. Hence his speech. The job of Britain is finally to decided how it sees its part in the world for the coming two decades and then to see if it has the military capability to support that vision.  Mr Fallon’s is an unenviable task.

Il Papa, Putin, Obama – A Word In Your Ears

September 20, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

21 September 2015. London

Today is the United Nations Day of Peace. It is the day the Secretary General says “stop the killings and the destruction, and create space for lasting peace.”  What Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would like to see is an end to the 16 big wars in the world (each with about 10,000 deaths a year) and the 22 minor wars (each with about 1000 killings a year).

The UN says it would be a good idea to halt the wars during this Day of Peace. Maybe the nearly 40 states or factions at war do not get the Secretary General’s Good Luck Peace cards.

But in one particular area of conflict, Syria, there is at least public demonstration of trying for a fix – however unlikely that is. Because this week, the world goes to New York and the General Assembly of the United Nations. It is the time when heads of government give speeches to the UN.  They talk of rights and wrongs.

On Friday Vatican flag will fly outside UN Headquarters, an unusual event because the Vatican is not a member of the UN. It is there on the day that the Pope will speak to the 180 or so delegates on his mood for peace, his hope for a world without hunger and his belief that it is possible for sides bitterly opposed to come together. It is more than a Have A Nice Day speech. The influence of the Holy Father should never be underrated – even Nikita Khrushchev admitted that after papal intervention in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the focus at the end of this week is on the seemingly intractable moment of the civil war in Syria.

The man with considerable influence who will be most carefully listened to is President Vladimir Putin of Russia. He has, or so we are led to believe, a plan to change the course of the war and to set a proper battle against IS – all in one.

Putin thinks he understands the weakness of the so-called Western Position. He believes that some allies of the United States are coming round to the idea that under America’s bidding they were too eager to jump into the war against Assad.  He believes that after four years bloodletting allies of the US believe that the rebel leaders are not to be trusted, that there is not unquestionable common leadership among them and that should they ever overthrow Assad then little would achieved but another Libya.

Putin on the other hand is building a military stronghold in Syria in support of Assad that has not been seen since the Soviet Union in the 1970s had a similar arrangement with the Egypt of the then President, Anwar Sadat.  The fact that the pact broke down and that the Soviet Union troops were told to leave matters not in the existing circumstance.  Putin is in.  Without him and Iran, Assad would be done for.

Mr Putin’s outline for his speech at the UN is that it would be best to support Assad and then bend a combined force against IS.  That could even, initially, mean Assad falling back on the Western Provinces of Syria, regrouping and then with a combined land-air operation for IS. Putin’s generals even see this as a combined operation with the counter-IS conflicy in Iraq.

The present state of US and UK thinking plus the support of other allies including Australia that has joined the bombing campaign against Assad’s forces is that it would be an unacceptable about face. It is not even certain that American President Obama will meet with Putin.

It might be remembered that the coming weekend in New York is a major part of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. Putin, who has not visited the UN General Assembly for ten years, understands the symbolism of the event. It will give him an opportunity to grandstand his plan (at home as well as abroad) and with it he hopes to get some of the adverse diplomatic and world opinion of his back.

Putin believes his master plan is such an obvious solution to the Syrian war. He understands also that the war is part of the great scheme to realign the 20the century origins of the Middle East and now the imagery of Sunni versus Shia. In this case Putin supposes  the whole region is used to surviving by undated compromise and volte face and therefore his position has more support than publicly demonstrated.

In short, we may not see the results of public and backstairs meeting at the end of this week. But it will not be a time to write off those rarely understood meetings in the margins that mean so much at the General Assembly.

Putin will need credible allies and so far there is none. Putin’s people have hoped to put together meeting with someone they may just rate more than Barak Obama on this occasion.  Putin wants the support of the Pope.

The Pope will be briefly at the UN.  But the Pope is not going to get involved in a very possible public failure in such a tragedy that plays in Syria.  The Pope will speak on Friday. Putin is due to arrive on Sunday.  The Pope will not wait for the Russian President. All a macabre political gavotte? Maybe. But the reality is that somewhere between them all is the start of an effort get people talking in this dreadful war.  Could be we should be watching the mood at the UN by the end of this week. It’ll not be a mundane General Assembly.

Putin Moves Into Syria – The War Just Got Worse

September 6, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

6 September 2015. London.

Russian advisers and equipment are moving into Syria on an increased scale.  Intelligence agencies in Washington, London and Paris suggest the evidence of this move is now documented.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants his UK air force to join in on bombing raids against President Bashar al-Assad ground forces, airfields and communications centres.

American air forces have been active for some time.

Has any one in London or Washington worked out the consequences of an UK or American guided system knocking out a Russian unit?  Sorry may not be enough.

We cannot write off such an incident as miscalculation especially with President Putin in his usual Make My Day mood.

Miscalculations start proper wars. The 4 year old Syrian conflict is a brush fire compared with what could follow the knocking out of Russian hardware & operational forces.

Russian intervention in Syria is not new. Russia along with Iran for different reasons has supported President Assad since the war against rebels began.  But the latest intervention is different.  Electronic, photographic and Human Intelligence sources now combine to show that Russian force protection units have been sent to a Syrian airfield.

The purpose of the units is to protect Russian armoured assets and a full air traffic control operation. This is not an in-out Russian operation.  Satellite monitoring shows that accommodation blocks including a medical unit have also been airlifted in.

The general operational conclusion is that the Russians have taken command of the airbase to begin further weapon deployments and even strike aircraft.

If you want to really get scared about Russian involvement then listen to what President Putin had to say on 4 September. It is “premature” to talk about Moscow getting involved in direct fighting.  That was not Putin saying the reports were rubbish.  That was Putin saying watch this space.

Unless Putin is about to change sides, then Prime Minister Cameron will have to answer this simple question when he goes to the Commons for permission to bomb Syria: “Does he want permission to bomb ALL pro-Assad forces? US Secretary of State John Kerry knows this.  That’s why he’s spending time this weekend talking to Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Cameron who has displayed little tactical or strategic understanding of the use of force and the long term consequence has a problem

One of his Brimstone missiles into the wrong armoured personnel carrier in Syria could start the rollout of an even harsher conflict in Northern Europe. According to some of his former military advisers, Cameron’s past view is that the military job is to go fight when he tells them to. Best listen very closely Mr Cameron.

And perhaps the House should listen if the British chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Crispin Blunt (who does understand these things)  asks his PM for a target list when legislators debate airstrikes in the coming weeks.

Christopher Lee

September 6, 2013

Image

 

Kremlin says the Brits no longer matter. Know any one who buys roubles?

6 September 2013

The Russians say the British rate no higher than a small Pacific Island about whom none has heard. The Kremlin take on the British is that the world does not care a toss what Cameron says on Syria or anything else.  

According to Moscow, the UK is an insignificant off-shore island run by ex-pat Russian oligarchs. A sort of Cayman set-up with lousy weather nine months of the year.

Forget that a whole bunch of Russian fat cats prefer to purr in London rather than Moscow and just accept that this a good diplomatic fanging. Syria has brought out the wonderfully worst in dip-speak.  The Americans are telling Putin’s lot to get real. Putin is telling the American’s to stick to the UN Security Council rules.

But why get grumps with the Brits? The answer’s a long and messy story that starts with the fact that the later Mrs Thatcher could do business with Mr Gorbachev, that modern Downing Street keeps demanding an admission from Putin that his agents murdered the former KGB officer of Alexander Litvinenko in London and that the apparently insignificant British Foreign Office refuses to stop accusing the Russians of aiding and abetting murder and mayhem in Syria.

There’s another line to follow that should not be dismissed: the British government doesn’t admire Putin.  They see him as gauche, a parvenu. a man uneasy in relatively sophisticated world-wise company who is giving to stripping to his middle-aged waist as a photo-op.  As our Great Aunt Betts would have said: “Our mother would never have had tea with his mother.”  Not one of us.

All that’s the daft side and what Russia says about the Britain of David Cameron and what Britain says about the Russia of Mr Putin, does not in the short term matter very much. Both leaders and both nations know what they think.

If there’s any pudding to be scoffed in diplomatic influence it has to be tasted in a terrible truth that is the world wide away from just the Syrian civil war.  The global economic position, the fragility of the whole Middle East s a result of Syria, the prospect of civil war in Lebanon, the unlikelihood of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement worth the paper that it’s not yet written on, the largely Sunni versus Shia war in Iraq that is killing sometimes 1000 people each month, the fragility of the leadership in so many Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, the uncertain future of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the unfinished and maybe unfinishable business of the Arab Spring, of African poverty, climate change and the impending disaster of mass migration as a result of all these things.

Russia has an insignificant role in balancing world government, democracy, economy and social order in any of these deeply concern issues. But the question is not Russia’s role in the world. More interesting is Britain’s role.  A busted flush rolled out and unrecognizable from the colonial great power?

In spite of the view from the Kremlin wall and, a part of the UK media, the British have enormous influences over the global spectrum of variously shaded difficulties.

For examples: other governments than Mr Putin’s recognize that the UK influence on EU reforms are considerable.  Who says so? The Germans. The UK concepts of middle management training – military and civilian – in an all but abandoned Afghanistan, will be crucial to that nation’s statehood and so will the British influences and help with the two major influences in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

Britain’s aid programmes and the speeds at which they get into needy areas have long term marks on bi-lateral as well as regional relationships. The influx of overseas students to UK colleges and universities (Moscow is not a natural academic centre for global students) has long-term influence on peoples and governments they may eventually shape. Language, the BBC World Service, colonial heritage and thus the Commonwealth of a quarter of the world’s nations, the seat on the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, a leading role in NATO and above all one of the major centres of banking and finance make the UK soft-power influence considerable.

There’s something else for Mr Putin to consider. If Cameron had got through his Syria vote in the British Parliament two weeks back, then Mr Obama would not have had such a hard job with the Congress. He’s still have had a tough time, but it would have been easier with British support. That by itself shows that the British still have a remarkable and durable influence in the decision making capitals of the globe.