MCIS 2014 photos and tank maneuver videos

I’ll have a wrap-up post on the MCIS tomorrow. In the meantime, a few photos, courtesy of Ruslan Pukhov from the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies and from the MOD Press Service. Also, if you are interested in Russian tank maneuvers, make sure to scroll to the bottom for some videos I took on the second day of the conference.

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Sergei Shoigu addressing the conference.

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Sergei Lavrov addressing the conference.

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Left to right: myself, Chief of the Russian Navy Viktor Chirkov, and CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov.

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Left to right: myself, Sergei Koshelev (the head of the Defense Ministry’s Chief Administration for International Military Cooperation), Chief of the Russian Navy Viktor Chirkov, chair of the State Duma Committee on Defense Vladimir Komoedov, CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov, and director of the State Duma expert council on defense Boris Usviatsov.

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Panel on Stability in Afghanistan.

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Head of Military Initellgence Igor Sergun.

And here are links to a few videos from the second day of the conference, during which we were taken to Alabino to observe a tank ballet and tank biathlon.

 

Moscow Conference on International Security 2014, part 2: The panels

In addition to the plenary panel, the MCIS conference included two panel discussions, one on the Middle East and North Africa and the second on Afghanistan.

The panel entitled “Finding Ways of Stabilization in the Middle East and North Africa” was moderated by Vitaly Naumkin of the Institute of Oriental Studies. Participants included Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, General Vladimir Zarudnitsky — the head of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, Deputy Syrian General Staff Chief Mahmoud Abdul Wahab Shawa. Deputy Director of the Israeli Institute for National Security Udi Dekel, Director of the Iranian Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies Kayhan Barzegar, Chief of Military Intelligence and Counterintelligence of the Lebanese Army Fadel Edmond, and CIS Executive Secretary Sergey Burutin.

Since I am not a MENA specialist, I was primarily interested in how the region influenced Russian foreign policy. The only speech directly relevant to this topic was by Vladimir ZarudnitskyThe Russian language text of his remarks is also available. Like the plenary speakers, Zarudnitsky focused on the military aspects of colored revolutions. He argued that while the West considers colored revolutions to be a peaceful way of overthrowing undemocratic regimes, events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown that military force is an integral part of all aspects of colored revolutions. This includes external pressure on the regime in question to prevent the use of force to restore order, the provision of military and economic assistance to rebel forces, and if these measures are not sufficient, the conduct of a military operation to defeat government forces and allow the rebels to take power. Colored revolutions are thus a new technique of aggression pioneered by the United States and geared toward destroying a state from within by dividing its population. The advantage of this technique is that it requires a relatively low expenditure of resources to achieve its goals.

Zarudnitsky argues that since this type of warfare is based on the network principle, it has no front line. It is used primarily in urban areas, frequently using civilians as shields. Commonly accepted rules of warfare are ignored, since official state-run armed forces are not used. Instead, criminal and terrorist forces and private military companies are allowed to act with impunity. Counter-guerrilla warfare tactics are required to defeat this type of warfare.

The key question for military planners is which state will be targeted next. Weak states with poor economies are generally the most vulnerable to these tactics, but the main factor in determining targets is the geopolitical interest of the provoking state. For this reason, such revolutions are organized primarily in countries with significant natural resources or ones that have an important strategic position and conduct an independent foreign policy. The destabilization of such countries allows for a major shift in the balance of power in a particular region (in the case of the Arab Spring — the Middle East and North Africa).

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The final panel covered the situation in Afghanistan and its impact on regional security. It was moderated by Deputy Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov. Speakers included GRU Chief Igor Sergun, Special Representative of the Russian President for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, First Deputy Kyrgyz Defense Minister Zamir Suerkylov, Deputy SCO Secretary General Keneshbek Dushbaev, President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute Sohail Amin, and Indian Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis Senior Fellow Phunchok Stobdan.

Zamir Kabulov described the security situation in Afghanistan, noting that the Taliban is active in all parts of the country and has parallel organs of power. Most Afghans are opposed to the Taliban but fear and insecurity make it difficult for people to express their opposition. He also mentioned that there are more than one kind of Taliban fighters, including nationalists fighting against foreign occupation, local religious activists, and global jihadis of the younger generation.

Igor Sergun‘s speech was made available on the conference website. He noted that the Taliban views the withdrawal of ISAF forces as a success. They expect victory, so see no reason to bother with negotiations at this point. He discussed the three most likely scenarios for future developments in Afghanistan, including some fairly ridiculously exact percentage likelihoods for each scenario:

  1. Balance of political forces within the country remains relatively unchanged, supported by a limited Western presence. Afghanistan remains a source of terrorist, extremist, and drug threats for Central Asia. Likelihood 39 percent.
  2. Taliban seizes power in the absence of a foreign presence. Islamists could begin infiltrating Central Asian states. Likelihood 27 percent.
  3. Afghanistan disintegrates and is divided into ethnic enclaves. This scenario leads to an increase in battle for influence by local and regional powers. Likelihood 31 percent.

In the second part of this speech, Sergun discussed the logistics of the ongoing withdrawal of ISAF forces from Afghanistan. Given the amount of equipment present in the region, his analysis showed that Western states would not be able to withdraw their equipment in the allotted time frame. He argued that while the 40,000 personnel could be withdrawn by the end of 2014,  it would be impossible to complete the withdrawal of 40,000 vehicles and 300 helicopters any earlier than 2017. As a result, he claimed that Washington will soon need to start a propaganda campaign to convince the international community that U.S. presence in the region will need to be extended at least through 2024 in order to ensure regional stability. However, this will not change the threat posed by the Taliban to Central Asian states.

(A small editorial comment on this score. While I claim no expertise in logistics and have no idea whether the GRU analysis is valid or not, it does seem clear that it ignores the fact that a large part of US equipment in Afghanistan is being scrapped on site, rather than removed. That seems likely to change the calculations of how much equipment can be removed by what date.)

And, to conclude, a few key points from other speakers and from the Q&A.

Sokhail Amin‘s key points

  • The drawdown in Afghanistan is well-planned and being done gradually
  • If it is done right, Afghanistan will be stable for the future
  • The process of reconciliation in the country must be led by Afghans

Phunchok Stobdan‘s key points

  • It would be best to have power-sharing between the leading candidates for president of Afghanistan
  • The West is preparing for future activity in Central Asia
  • Sectarian conflict is spreading from the Middle East to Afghanistan, in part through the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia
  • There are training camps in Central Asia, Chechnya, and Pakistan’s FATA region that have been negatively affecting Afghanistan’s security

Key points from Q&A

  • A journalist asked about the fate of the joint NATO/Russia helicopter project for Afghanistan’s military. The cancellation of this project was described as a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. (Actually, the project was not canceled, the U.S. just chose to not pick up the option on additional orders — DPG) Stopping other NATO/Russia cooperation, such as counter-narcotics work and training in demining, is also not helpful.
  • It seems that NATO is removing itself from responsibility for Afghanistan, handing it over to the international community.
  • Alexei Arbatov noted that the U.S. operation in Afghanistan was the greatest blow against the success of the operation to stabilize Afghanistan. It gave comfort the the Taliban. Now, the Taliban is trying to maximize civilian casualties to increase discontent and fear. They have lots of financing and can stay in the field indefinitely. He argued that if they win in Afghanistan, the Taliban will definitely try to destabilize Central Asia.
  • Yevegeny Kozhokhin argued the the Taliban threat to Central Asia is overstated. When the Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan, they showed no intention to attack Central Asia and instead sought talks with Russia.

 

Moscow Conference on International Security 2014, part 1: The plenary speeches

Last week, I attended the Russian MOD’s Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS). Over the next few days, I plan to share my impressions of the event. First up, the keynote speeches. The lineup of presenters at the plenary session could not have been more prominent. The key Russian speakers included Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. The other speakers included Belarusian Defense Minister Yuri Zhadobin, Pakistan Defense Minister Asif Khawaja, Iranian Defense Minister Hossien Dehghan, CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha, the political commissioner of China’s Lanzhou Military District General Li Changcai, Egyptian Deputy Defense Minister Mohamed Said Elassar, and Indian Deputy Defense Minister Anuj Kumar Bishnoi. So quite an all-star cast. The links above go to videos of the speeches  (with audio in Russian) whenever they are available. Text summaries of the Shoigu and Gerasimov speeches have been posted online in Russian.

For those who don’t understand Russian, here are some highlights. I didn’t take verbatim notes, so consider these the key points — what seemed to me to be most significant from what was said.

Sergei Shoigu opened the conference. After some preliminary remarks, he launched directly into what turned out to be the main theme — the negative impact of colored revolutions on international stability. He made the claim that popular protests of this type were a new form of warfare invented by Western governments seeking to remove national governments in favor of ones that are controlled by the West in order to force foreign values on a range of nations around the world. He made the argument that the same scheme has been used in a wide range of cases, with the initial goal of changing the government through supposedly popular protests shifting into efforts at destabilizing and fomenting internal conflict if the protesters are not successful. This scheme was used in Serbia, Libya, and Syria — all cases where political interference by the West transitioned into military action. Now the same scheme is being followed in Ukraine, where the situation in recent weeks has become a virtual civil war, and in Venezuela, where the so-called democratic opposition is actually organized by the United States.

Shoigu pointed out that the consequences of colored revolutions are very different from the protest organizations’ initial states goals. The main result around the world has been instability. The Arab Spring, for example, has destabilized the Middle East and North Africa. Now, a whole range of African states are near collapse because of the effects of events in Libya. Afghanistan is also increasingly unstable, which has forced Russia to increase its military presence in Central Asia in order to contain threats coming from the south.

The second speech was by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He noted that Western states have been focused for years on containing Russia. They wanted to force CIS states to choose between East and West. This is what led to the crisis in Ukraine. Lavrov called for an end to zero-sum games and said that a Euro-Atlantic security regime was needed, with Russia and the U.S. involved on equal terms rather than having each side looking for geopolitical gains. What is needed is a new poly-centric international system.

He also noted that the same forces that the West are assisting in one country (Libya, for example) subsequently start being labeled as terrorists when they move on to a neighboring state (Mali). Lavrov then restated the main theme — “the export of democracy without taking local values into account leads to instability.”

Valery Gerasimov also focused on the role of the U.S. in international relations. He argued that the U.S. can’t deal with more equal relations among states, so it is using new tactics to assure its supremacy. These include sanctions and assistance for protesters, all backed up with the potential of using military force. He said that the U.S. and NATO are responsible for initiating the majority of conflicts in the world, including those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. The only difference among these cases is the specific pretext for the military operation with which the United States seeks to eliminate opposing governments. The ostenisble goal of peace and stability is not achieved. Instead, the result is an increase in instability and many casualties.

Gerasimov then reiterated the idea that the United States has developed a new method of warfare, beginning with using non-military tactics to change opposing governments through colored revolutions that utilize the protest potential of the population to engineer peaceful regime change. But military force is concealed behind this effort. If the protest potential turns out to be insufficient, military force is then used openly to ensure regime change. Libya was cited as a textbook example. In Syria, the West is using mercenaries and military assistance in an effort to overthrow the government. What began as a purely internal conflict has turned into a battle between religious radicals and the government.

In Libya, the post-conflict period has been characterized by a crisis of power, with tribal control of parts of the country, widespread terrorism, large numbers of refugees, and the spread of arms to neighboring states that have also been destabilized as a result. Western countries have failed to take responsibility for post-conflict security in Libya. The same thing would happen in Syria if the government was overthrown. The Ukraine crisis is now turning into a civil war, with paramilitary groups being used against the peaceful population in eastern Ukraine. Mercenaries have arrived and it is not clear what will happen next, though military force is increasing in importance.

NATO is turning more anti-Russian, organizing a military build-up on its eastern borders. This will necessitate a Russian response. What is needed is more cooperation between Russia and NATO, but this is frozen. Again, colored revolutions are causing instability throughout the world.

Next up was Yuri Zhodobin, the Belarusian Minister of Defense. He began, not surprisingly, by focusing on how colored revolutions spread conflict to neighboring states. He even mentioned Gene Sharp as the originator of the strategy used in these revolutions, noting that colored revolutions are always set up from outside. The model is to train local activists for peaceful action. If that’s not effective, then paramilitary organizations are brought in and trained. He then went on to a discussion of how to counter colored revolutions, focusing on the importance of international organizations and joint defense and security structures.

Zhodobin highlighted the danger of arms falling into the wrong hands. He also mentioned that the Baltic States are not subject to any conventional arms control regime and could be used to concentrate and prepare forces that could then be used in third countries. He also highlighted the danger posed by a new NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe, with five NATO military exercises going on now in the region. He noted the danger of a new Cold War and mentioned the need to develop rather than destroy existing East-West military contacts.

Nikolai Bordyuzha made a few interesting arguments:

  • The information war is always lost by those who speak the truth.
  • The US has to block Russia from Europe in order to maintain control of the European economy.
  • Ukrainian scenario follows directly from US policy on Yugoslavia.

And, to conclude, a summary of Li Changcai‘s key points:

  • Russia and China are friends.
  • China is being provoked regarding the ownership of several island groups.
  • The Ukrainian crisis has a complex history and should be solved through dialogue on the basis of the Geneva agreements.
  • Terrorism and extremism are the greatest threat in Asia.
  • China will not allow the violation of Chinese sovereignty and interests.
  • China supports further EU integration.
  • Chinese economic development should be seen as an opportunity for the world.

Crimea Taught Us a Lesson, But Not How the Russian Military Fights

I have started a new collaboration with War on the Rocks. I’ll be writing for them once a month or so. Here’s the first piece, on Crimea and the Russian military.

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With the rapid operation that resulted in the annexation of Crimea earlier this year, the Russian military returned to the collective consciousness of the American public. Many commentators were impressed with the “little green men’s” professional demeanor and shiny new equipment. In some cases, this impression was undeservedly expanded to apply to the rest of the Russian military. In this context, it is important to discuss what the Crimean operation does and does not tell us about the capabilities of the Russian military.

The first clear lesson from the Crimean operation is that the Russian military understands how to carry out operations with a minimal use of force. This observation may initially seem banal or trivial, but we should keep in mind how Russian troops acted in previous operations in Chechnya and even to some extent in Georgia. Subtlety was not a strong suit in these operations, nor did it seem to be particularly encouraged by the political leadership. Instead, the goal seemed to be to use overwhelming force without much regard for civilian casualties. By contrast, the entire operation in Crimea was conducted with virtually no bloodshed or violence. There were three keys to this success:

Diversionary tactics

The Swedish analyst Johan Norberg was perhaps the first to highlight the significance of the major military exercise that was held on Ukraine’s eastern border in late February. While the Ukrainian government, as well as Western analysts and intelligence agencies, were distracted by the large-scale publicly announced mobilization in Russia’s Western military district, forces from the Southern military district and from airborne and Special Forces units located elsewhere in Russia were quietly transferred to Sevastopol.

You can read the rest of the article at War on the Rocks.

Midrats appearance

I was on the Blog Talk Radio show Midrats yesterday, talking about Russian security issues, Ukraine, and the like. The recording is now available on the show’s website.

The show description is as follows:

Episode 226: Quo vadis Putin’s Novorossiya, with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg

So far in 2014, the big lesson is what people have known for centuries; in Eurasia you cannot ignore Russia. The cliché is accurate, Russia is never as weak or as strong as she seems.

What do the developments so far mean not just for Ukraine, but for all the former Soviet Republics, slumbering Western Europe and Russia’s near abroad?

Ukrainian protests: A tale of two maps

I have a post on the Ukrainian protests on The Monkey Cage. Washington Post rules don’t allow the entire text to be published here, but here’s a teaser: 

As the situation in Ukraine’s eastern regions deteriorates, with more and more administration buildings in eastern cities and towns being occupied by separatist activists, it is worth remembering some parallel events that took place in late January. In the immediate aftermath of the passage of a set of repressive anti-protest laws by the Viktor Yanukovych government, anti-Yanukovych activists took over local administration buildings in a host of western and some central Ukrainian regions. The map below, posted on Facebook by Sergii Gorbachov, shows the extent of these protests as of Jan. 25. Regions with occupied administrative buildings are marked in blue and yellow, while regions where seizures were attempted but had been unsuccessful are marked in red. The southeast is largely quiet.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=850763154938797&set=pb.100000153610067.-2207520000.1398887460.&type=3&theater

It’s worth comparing this map to a map produced on Wednesday, based on information provided by the Ukrainian Information Resistance group…. [To read the rest, click here]

Russian Politics and Law, September 2013 Table of Contents: Ukrainian Right-Wing Extremism

I’ve fallen behind in posting tables of contents from Russian Politics and Law. Here’s the September 2013 issue, which presciently enough was devoted to Ukrainian right wing extremism.

Volume 51 Number 5 / September-October 2013 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the mesharpe.metapress.com web site.

Starting Post-Soviet Ukrainian Right-Wing Extremism Studies from Scratch: Guest Editor’s Introduction pp. 3 – 10
Andreas Umland
Ukrainian Integral Nationalism in Quest of a “Special Path” (1920s-1930s) pp. 11 – 32
Oleksandr Zaitsev
Ultraright Party Politics in Post-Soviet Ukraine and the Puzzle of the Electoral Marginalism of Ukrainian Ultranationalists in 1994-2009 pp. 33 – 58
Andreas Umland and Anton Shekhovtsov
Right-Wing Extremism on the Rise in Ukraine pp. 59 – 74
Viacheslav Likhachev
Social-Nationalists in the Ukrainian Parliament: How They Got There and What We Can Expect of Them pp. 75 – 85
Viacheslav Likhachev
A Typical Variety of European Right-Wing Radicalism? pp. 86 – 95
Andreas Umland