Russian reactions to the NATO summit

Here’s a preview of my new post at War on the Rocks: The NATO summit in Wales was treated in Russia with a great deal of equanimity. The official reaction was quite predictable, with the Foreign Ministry putting out a statement that claimed that interfering in the affairs of foreign states was part of NATO’s “genetic code” and flowed directly from the organization’s desperate search for a role in the global security system after the end of the Cold War. The ministry went on to claim that NATO policy is dictated by hawks in Europe and the United States who have been “striving for military domination in Europe.” Moreover, the statement claimed, these hawks have shown themselves willing to prevent the emergence of a common Euro-Atlantic security system and sacrifice international efforts to counter real threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and WMD proliferation in order to achieve this end.

The Foreign Ministry argued that the build-up of NATO presence near Russia’s borders is part of a long-nurtured plan to strengthen the alliance’s forces in the east to counter Russia, with the Ukraine crisis serving as an excuse to begin its implementation. The statement continued, insisting that these plans, together with announced plans for joint exercises with Ukrainian forces, will escalate tensions in the region and forestall progress toward a peaceful settlement in Ukraine. The head of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, Alexei Pushkov, stated that the buildup of NATO rapid reaction forces in Poland and the Baltic States is a hostile act towards Russia.

Read the rest of the post at War on the Rocks.

Russian Interests and Policies in the Arctic

I have a new analytical piece up on  War on the Rocks. Here’s a preview:

Russian leaders have in recent months focused on the importance of the Arctic region to their country’s security and economic goals in the 21st century. Russian actions in the Arctic are governed by a combination of factors. The highest priority is economic development of Russia’s Arctic region. However, Russian leaders also see the Arctic as a location where they can assert their country’s status as a major international power. This is done by claiming sovereignty over Arctic territory, and through steps to assure Russian security in the region.

Russian policy is pursued on two divergent tracks. The first track uses bellicose rhetoric to highlight Russia’s sovereignty over the largest portion of the Arctic, as well as declarations of a coming military buildup in the region. This track is primarily aimed at shoring up support among a domestic audience. The second track seeks international cooperation in order to assure the development of the region’s resources. This includes efforts to settle maritime border disputes and other conflicts of interest in the region. Managing the lack of alignment between these two tracks, and the potential for counter-productive setbacks caused by inconsistencies between them, is an important challenge for Russia’s leadership.

The rhetoric of sovereignty claims

Russian officials have frequently made statements and taken symbolic actions to assert Russian sovereignty over parts of the Arctic. Many of these actions have had to do with enforcing Russian territorial claims in the region.

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

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.