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Blossoming Russo-Turkish alliance leaves U.S., NATO behind

Blossoming Russo-Turkish alliance leaves U.S., NATO behind [Lima Charlie News]

Amid the failed politics of Patriot missiles and F-35s, Moscow and Ankara’s blossoming relationship has left NATO and U.S. interests exposed.

Relations between Turkey and the West continue to face a number of challenges. The latest set of challenges, that culminated recently in a squabble over the purchase of American versus Russian weapons systems, are but mere symptoms of a much larger set of predicaments.

Many of these problems are being erroneously pinned on U.S. President Donald Trump, ignoring the fact that NATO-Turkish relations have been deteriorating since the early 2000s. From the first days of the War on Terror, Turkey has been a reluctant tactical partner to the West. This reluctance likely stems from the belief that Western engagement in the region does little to advance Ankara’s ambitions. Instead, the greater the Western presence in the Middle East, the greater the threat to Ankara’s ambitions. Such ambitions are namely the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

This problematic relationship has now reached a new height. A series of shifts and what some see as outright betrayals have emerged.

Putin Erdogan
[A Russian bodyguard stands near President Vladimir Putin as he talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. (Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AFP/Sputnik)]
In recent months Turkey completed its controversial purchase of the Russian made S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft weapons system (NATO codename SA-21 Growler, previously known as the S-300 PMU-3). This deal with Russia over a NATO ally was consummated despite the availability of a barely equal American option (more about that later). Aside from this transaction, Ankara has also politically and militarily sided with Moscow in the ongoing war in Syria, where questions have also arisen as to just how friendly Turkey appears to be with certain Jihadist-aligned militia groups that operate in Syria and worldwide. Overall, Turkey appears to be quickly forming a geostrategic alliance of potentially great regional impact with Russia.

In response to these developments, Washington announced a few weeks ago that it would not allow Turkey to purchase the highly advanced, yet probably flawed, trillion-dollar boondoggle that is the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. This announcement, however, did not have the expected effect. Rather than crawling back begging for Washington’s forgiveness, Ankara ramped up its dialogue with Moscow over the purchase of the Su-27 derivate multi-role Sukhoi Su-35 (NATO codename Flanker-E) air superiority fighter jet.

None of this is surprising. It all plays into a much larger mosaic, of which few are aware of its full extent. Ankara’s strengthening of ties to Moscow comes in no small part due to the pragmatism Moscow employs when it comes to the ground truths in Syria, Libya and Iran, just to name a few places that Turkey has an active interest. Russia’s actions on the ground throughout the Middle East, and elsewhere, show that while Turkey’s regional ambitions can be viewed as incompatible with the West, they are certainly compatible, for the time being, with Russia.

In the Shadow of a Coup

President Erdoğan has in recent years engaged in an aggressive consolidation of power. His actions have fueled domestic and international concern about increasing authoritarianism in the country.

In July 2016, Erdoğan survived a large-scale coup attempt by members of the Turkish military. The perpetrators accused their president of being, among other things, undemocratic. In the immediate aftermath, which is still ongoing, the government detained tens of thousands, often on undisclosed grounds, and shut down a variety of businesses, schools and media outlets. Also detained were a large number of Turkish citizens affiliated with U.S. diplomatic facilities, including even janitors and other service personnel. Since the attempted coup, the Turkish military has lost a considerable number of its most qualified officers and strategists. In June 2019, a quasi-civilian court sentenced 151 people, mostly from the military, to life in prison for their involvement in the coup attempt.

Officially, the objective of this “Great Purge” was to root out anyone associated with the former Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is viewed by some as the polar opposite of Erdoğan. The U.S. has refused to hand over Gulen, and many Turks believe that Washington had some degree of involvement in the coup. These acts by the Erdoğan government come in no small part out of fear that another coup may be brewing, one that must be found and quickly and savagely brought to an end.

Odd Couples

To facilitate a harsh rule and approach to a country’s domestic scene, one must carefully select international partners. The West is no longer a suitable partner for such things. Perhaps it never was. During the 2011 Arab Spring movement, the author worked extensively with the leaders of Egypt and Yemen witnessing firsthand how weak, even dubious U.S. support was for its regional allies, partners that had found themselves exposed to populist movements.

Russia however, with its natural habit of nihilistic realpolitik and little interest in moral condemnation is often an ideal partner. There is little doubt that Moscow would be more than a willing partner if called upon to assist. Additionally, recent speculations have implied that a deciding factor in favour of purchasing highly advanced armament systems from Russia is that such systems would not have any built-in safety protocols against firing on your own air force jets, or those of your allies.

Turkey has a long history of not siding with Western interests. As is often the case, this is in large part due to ill-understood practicalities. The West is not always the most practical or united entity to deal with. The West also has a tendency to not understand the ground truths in the places it elects to engage with. The U.S. has become near infamous for this. While Turkey’s ruling government had at one time become known for being passive-aggressive, often offering snide remarks from the sidelines, in recent decades Turkey has moved from a reluctant ally to an active obstacle to Western interests. This has been mostly under Erdoğan’s rule.

[Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in November, 2018. Photographer: Bulent Kilic / AFP]

Turkey in NATO

Turkey’s importance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is not just due to the nation’s geostrategic location. Turkey has the second-largest military force in NATO. A NATO without Turkey would be significantly weakened.

There does not presently exist a mechanism for suspending, much less expelling a country from the NATO alliance. The removal of Turkey as a NATO ally is unlikely. Erdoğan knows this. Western military operations throughout the upper Middle East remain heavily reliant on Turkey and its geographically vital position as the proverbial Gate to the East. The cost to NATO, meaning the cost to the U.S., of finding a replacement for Incirlik Air Base, a vital installation situated some 70 miles from the Syrian border, is both financially and politically immeasurable. Despite several willing partners, such as Greece and Jordan, such a shift is also unlikely. Having said that, it would not be a bad idea for NATO to at least remove its nuclear capabilities at Incirlik.

The War Against the War

Turkish reluctance as a NATO ally became particularly noticeable in the summer of 2002 as the U.S.-led coalition of The Willing to invade Iraq began taking shape. With the U.S. military and intelligence community having begun preparatory operations it was initially thought that Turkey would cooperate with a suitably shaped war plan. As a result, Turkish military leadership was given a seat at the planning table.

Turkish political and military support, however, was proven to be largely unavailable. Ankara had little to no interest in providing actual support for the coalition and its plans. No doubt this reluctance was in no small part because the Western plan relied heavily on swift-moving special operations forces, which would in turn rely on the humanitarian tactical landscape and some pragmatic alliances – namely the Kurds. This approach was one that Ankara could not adhere to.

Western special operations operators working closely with Kurdish assets was a deal breaker for Turkey. These Kurdish assets would gain immeasurable resources, tactical know-how and strategic benefits by their affiliation with the West’s premier fighters and intelligence operators.

Ultimately, Ankara feared that the Kurds would gain enough Western awareness and political support to further their quest for a sovereign nation under whatever titulary name and shape it might take. War has made stranger things possible.

In 2002 Ankara pitched to Washington a multi-decade plan that could alter the Middle East geopolitical and strategic landscape.

The Ankara Plan

Instead of the U.S. plan, Ankara and its military and intelligence leadership suggested alternatives more to their liking. This was made clear to me during conversations I had in 2007. At the time, then-Undersecretary of the Turkish Ministry of Defense General Işık Koşaner, and his colleague, Lieutenant General Necdet Özel, then-Commander of the 7th Corps and Deputy Commander of Training and Doctrine Command, told me that in 2002 Ankara had pitched to Washington an intelligence oriented operation that would disrupt Saddam Hussein’s and the Baathist rule of Iraq. It was sold as a multi-decade plan that could alter the Middle East geopolitical and strategic landscape, a highly cost-effective option that would see few Americans involved on a tactical level.

To the author, details of that plan appear very similar to the 1979-1989 CIA operation known as Operation Cyclone. Operation Cyclone had been deployed with great success against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan at an estimated total cost of some $6 billion. The proposed Ankara plan would have seen Turkey taking the same pivotal role that Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) had played during Operation Cyclone. It would have placed an undue amount of influence of Western interests in the Middle East at the hands of Ankara and would have sent Turkey’s pan-regional ambitions to unseen levels.

This is, at the very least, how Operation Cyclone played out for Afghanistan, the ISI and the Pakistani central government. No doubt there are still those in Turkey that believe such a solution would serve all interests and should have been implemented. The proposed Ankara plan only saw a predictable, tacit degree of consideration.

Instead, Washington and its coalition allies quickly saw fit to deploy more direct measures. Thus, by June 2002, Ankara and its military General Staff had already on multiple occasions refused entry for the CIA’s highly reputed counterterrorism field team. By early July 4th, the situation had reached a breaking point. The Turkish General Staff had yet again refused to allow the American intelligence team to enter Turkey, despite the fact that their destination was the NATO Incirlik Air Base. Ultimately, after a crisis meeting that same day, the counterterrorism team leadership decided it was necessary to override the Turkish refusal. The Show Must Go On.

Operation Hotel California

On the morning of July 7th, the team entered Turkish airspace after a brief refueling stop at a neighbouring NATO-membership nation and landed at the Western-military affiliated side of Incirlik. Ankara had not been told of the plan ahead of time. Mere days earlier, the team had seen reinforcements join their ranks from the U.S. Army 5th and 10th Special Forces Groups. Together, the CIA special activities team and their brothers from the Army would form the tip of the spear of the American tactical push into Iraq.

Nearly immediately after landing, the team received the necessary armaments and headed out towards the Turkish-Kurdistan border region. On July 10th, it crossed the Harburr River into Kurdistan. On the other side of the border, they would link up with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and begin operations set to prepare the necessary tactical human landscape for the not-yet-decided-upon invasion. When they crossed the border, they initiated one of America’s most complex and dangerous covert operations to date.

Under the header of Operation Hotel California this group of men, along with their Kurdish allies would, throughout the initial tactical operations in Iraq, come to form the entirety of the northern force against Saddam Hussein’s forces.

As part of the group’s tactical operations, a series of false flag and false front operations were conducted. As part of a larger false information campaign carried out by the U.S. Army’s Psychological Operations (PSYOP) and Warfare division, the group conducted a deception operation to convince the Iraqis that the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division would mount its primary assault into Iraq through Turkey. The plan to have the 4th Infantry Division enter the fray through the Turkish-Iraqi border had begun as part of the actual invasion plan, but was quickly rejected by the Turkish high command and thus abandoned by the U.S. command as well. The notion was, however, useful to keep alive as a rumour. This put additional pressure on the Special Operations field teams and their affiliated Kurdish militia groups tactical environment, putting their lives in direct danger, as the Iraqi military began to amass portions of its heavy armour and artillery in the area.

That this group would come to form the entirety of the northern flank against the Iraqi military was not planned. Instead, it had become a necessity. Within the months that followed Turkey would come to block scalable operations by the coalition from within the Turkish nation. The official fear was that the U.S. would initiate an additional northern front against Iraq from Turkey’s side thus forcing Ankara to take sides in a conflict it desired to be left out of.

As the Iraqi invasion plan quickly began to solidify, the Turkish political leadership attempted to throw yet another wrench in the Western war machinery. As 2003 began, Turkey’s parliament voted through a bill that would prohibit the U.S.-led coalition from opening a second front originating from Turkey. It also prohibited the use of NATO installations in the country from being used in “offensive matters” in regards to operations in Iraq. Ankara’s leadership did little to object to the parliamentary bill, instead giving its tacit support.

By March, mere days before the invasion was set to begin, the parliamentary decision allowed the Turkish military to prohibit the initial deployment of the 10th Special Forces Group from following their brethren’s path into battle via the Turkish border. In the days before March 20th, the day on which the invasion began, the 10th SFG group’s deployment had to be rerouted through the region. Instead of going through Turkey, it had to mount its assault from the Sunni Arab Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which also shares a border with Iraq. This meant that the deployment of troops, which had originally been scheduled to take four hours, would now take ten hours.

However, with March 20th looming ever closer, the writing on the wall was clear. The coalition would invade and Turkey risked being left behind. Thus, Turkey would eventually allow an increasing number of military operations to originate from Turkey. Midway through the initial stages of the invasion, Turkey would even turn its coat in the wind and join the coalition. This was done less out of interest of maintaining its alliance with the West, and more as a pragmatic measure to maintain its seat at the table.

As such, the remaining elements of the 10th SFG would be allowed to use Turkey as their staging ground, under the condition they would prioritise missions against al Qaeda affiliated group Ansar al-Islam fi Kurdistan (AAI) and its bases. Turkey viewed the AAI group as a potential threat against its interests in the border areas. Attacking them served the interests of all concerned parties and was part of the operational plan of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force — North (CJSOTF-N), more commonly referred to as Task Force Viking. However, the allowance to use Turkey as a staging ground was only extended to small-scale and small-team operations. Larger-scale operations, such as the bulk deployment of Task Force Viking was not permitted.

Task Force Viking
[Task Force Viking paver stone (via Eugene G. Piasecki, Veritas)]

Ugly Baby

To avoid this restriction, Task Force Viking created a plan known as “Ugly Baby”. The Ugly Baby operation meant that coalition forces would engage in the longest infiltration by air mission since World War II, utilising Lockheed MC-130 Combat Talon I. The Ugly Baby operations infiltration mission aspect was initiated from Jordan, meaning that it would take the troops nine to eleven hours by air before they would reach their target destinations. The troops that initiated their operations out of Turkey were able to reach their target zones within three to five hours. The operation began in the early evening of March 20th, 2003.

As Task Force Viking landed, it was joined by some 60,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from a variety of factions [1]. The Kurdish forces had received their training and were largely coordinated by the men from Operation Hotel California. It would take until March 23 before Turkey would allow air operations through Turkish airspace to be scaled up.

While the West engaged in special operations missions aided by the Kurds – who hoped their sacrifices on the battlefield would help make the Kurdish dream of a nation state a reality – the Turks covertly dispatched their own special operations troops. The Turks would train and equip the Turkmen Front with the goal of destabilising the Kurds and their militia capabilities. This, the Turks hoped, would allow them the pretext of entering the fray under the banner of a “peacekeeping” entity.

By mid-April, the Turkish plan had become apparent to the Western forces, and attempts were made to stop it. U.S. Army Colonel William C. Mayville Jr. began to intercept Turkish military forces operating covertly inside Iraq with the aim of escorting them back to the Turkish border.

[Russia’s S-400 missile system (Source: Mihail Mokrushin / Sputnik)]

Master Disruptor

These are just some of the more direct cases. Throughout the recent turmoil in Syria, Turkey’s role has been that of a disruptor of Western interests, even if such disruptions entailed a high humanitarian price – one that Ankara no doubt has little qualms of letting Syria’s civilians pay. Of course, adherers to Ankara would likely say the same thing about the West.

Turkey has sought to play a grander role in the affairs of the region since the early-2000s, and as it has done so, its Western relations have deteriorated. This comes in no small part due to the Turkish leadership’s erroneous belief that in order to hold an increasing geostrategic role in the region it must side with Islamic values and play the role of a foe to the West.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, first as Turkey’s Prime Minister in 2003 and then as President in 2014, has largely built his base fanning the traditionalist, Islamist and nationalistic winds of Turkey, while promising a return to the glory of Turkish-led empires long gone.

Ankara has placed Turkey on a problematic political trajectory, one destined to see increasing political friction with Israel, along with virtually any and all Sunni Arab countries in the region. In fact, the only Sunni Arab nation that Turkey has as of yet not “rubbed the wrong way” is Qatar. The only reason for the absence of conflict with Doha is that Qatar has been quite willing to share what influence it might possess with Ankara. Qatar’s willingness, however, may come to an abrupt end in the coming months as pressure from Riyadh is building, seeking to coerce Qatar to fall in line with the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s leadership. While Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s strong arm tactics are in direct conflict with Ankara’s lofty ambitions, Turkey has shown great reluctance to provide any meaningful support to Qatar.

Patriots Unite Us!

The U.S.-made MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) system is without a doubt among the most highly advanced pieces of equipment that any nation can invest in. The system is in use across the U.S.-allied realm, from Japan to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Buying it means that you have access to world-renowned accuracy and reliability. But perhaps more important, buying the Patriot system shows your nation’s fidelity to the U.S.

Not buying it, well… shows something else.

As such, the U.S. has long sought to sell its MIM-104 Patriot system to Turkey. Turkey and its military top echelon need something like the Patriot system to enable the Turkish Air Force to enter the next level of Concept of Operations (CONOPS) and be able to engage in anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategies with their peers. Without it, a foe from the East or from the Levant – such as Israel or Iran – could violate Turkish air space with little penalty. Ultimately, in this day and age, with the battle for air supremacy being a large and deciding factor in any war, it is essential to have a contemporary/next-generation SAM system. Ankara knows this.

In other words, this would appear to be an easy sell. The U.S. has actually had Patriot systems deployed on and off in Turkey for years. The U.S./NATO controlled side of Incirlik Air Base received a Patriot installation featuring several batteries in January 1999. This Patriot system was deployed in light of a perceived threat increase against the base in the shape of SCUD missiles fired in relation to the Northern Iraq No-Flight Zone (NFZ) patrol flights which were operating out of the Turkish airbase. The Patriot systems, while deployed and active, were never fired and have remained at the base since.

The deployment of additional Patriot systems to Turkey was announced on December 4th 2012 in light of the escalating conflict in neighbouring Syria. The intent was to deploy them to protect strategically vital positions inside the country from potential missile and rocket attacks fired by non-state or state-supported groups operating from within the quickly spreading security vacuum in the Syrian-Turkish borderland areas.

In part, the “free” 2012 deployment of additional Patriot systems to Turkey was done so that the U.S. could win the $3+ billion Turkish long-range air and missile defence systems (T-LORAMIDS) bid, an ambitious programme which sought to install a nation-encompassing surface-to-air defence system, in 2013. The T-LORAMIDS programme was launched in March 2007 and was set to run for 5 years, with an announcement being made by year 6. Despite political pressure to award the $3+ billion bid to a NATO ally, the main candidate being the U.S., the bid was awarded to China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC) and it is Hong Qi-9 (meaning “Red Banner-9), FD-2000 variation SAM system in September 2013. The Hong Qi-9 is an upgraded version of the Russian S-300 system. Its upgrades are believed to make it a hybrid variation between the S-300 and the S-400 systems out of a technological point of view.

The U.S. responded to the announcement by blocking funds which had previously been approved to integrate a Turkish SAM installation into the overall NATO defences. By 2015, the project appeared to have gone nowhere and was cancelled citing an undisclosed disagreement between Ankara and Beijing. The umbrella project T-LORAMIDS would, in turn, be cancelled a few months later in November 2015 without having seen a conclusion. The Chinese manufactured HQ-9, which had been intended for Turkey, would end up being shipped to Vietnam and Turkmenistan in exchange for Chinese companies gaining access to natural gas fields within these countries.

To further put pressure on Turkey to “do the right thing” during the summer of 2015 both the U.S. and Germany threatened to remove their in-country Patriot installations, thus exposing the nation to missile attacks from the uncontrolled areas in Syria. While the T-LORAMIDS programme would die the death of an orphan, Germany would still end up removing their Patriot installations. The trained German Patriot operators would, however, be redeployed along with Dutch operators to Turkey in October that same year to control the U.S. provided Patriot installations instead. This was however more likely due to issues with the installations rather than political causes. The U.S. Patriot installations have however remained.

[U.S Patriot Missile System]

A Western-Asian Standoff

Since the demise of the T-LORAMIDS project, Washington has continued to put pressure on Ankara to “choose wisely”, meaning to buy the Patriot system. At the same time, Turkey has engaged in negotiations for a T-LORAMIDS-like solution with all available producers. As such, the Turkish military has engaged in talks with not just the U.S. and Russia, but also France and the UK among others.

By the early summer of 2018, the U.S. went on a full charm offensive towards the Turks as it became apparent that the talks with Moscow were proceeding. It was, however, a widely held belief by Washington insiders that Turkey would, in the end, go with the United States. Turkish officials did express concern that the U.S. Congress would not agree to a sale of the Patriot system, citing previous opposition for other arms sales to Turkey on multiple of occasions. The U.S. countered this concern by offering favourable discounts and lines of credit. [2]

By December 2018, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of a possibly impending sale of eighty Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced Missiles (GEM-T), sixty PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles and related equipment at an estimated value of $3.5 billion. To proceed, congressional approval was required. [3] By the time that Congress was able to reply and an offer was provided to the Turkish armament acquisitions contact, Turkish officials had informed DSCA representatives that a deal with Russia for a greater number of S-400s and related equipment was a “done deal” and that it was all had for $2.5 billion, a billion less than the price of the Patriot offering.

The Turkish government had first expressed interest in purchasing the S-400 system during the 2009 International Defence Industry Fair in Istanbul. It was at that point considered the best system of its kind. Since then the Patriot system, among others, has seen several upgrades. But so has the S-400. It has without a doubt remained one of the most advanced and competitive surface-to-air systems on the market.  The Economist once, somewhat infamously, referred to the S-400 as “one of the best air-defence systems currently made”. It also features a more utilitarian design language, greater operational engagement range, a higher intercept speed and flight altitude, and a lower price point.

Turkish negotiators have specified very clearly that Turkey still could be interested in Patriot systems. But any purchase would be in addition to the S-400 systems from Russia, and the requirement of technical knowledge transfer stood firm.

That latter point, the technological knowledge transfer one, is key and has continued to haunt the negotiations between the U.S. and Turkey throughout. It is a problem that has remained since the early days of the T-LORAMIDS. Turkey wants to gain technological information and know-how not just to maintain these systems, but to develop and advance their own systems. One might add additional concerns to this fact when combined with the already mentioned ambitions of Ankara, and that Turkey has far-reaching ambitions of becoming a premier global armaments manufacturer to support that ambition. This no doubt makes Turkey’s NATO allies less than enthusiastic about co-production and technology sharing.

It is not unlikely that it was the technological knowledge transfer point that made the previous purchase of the Chinese Hong Qi-9 doomed to fail in 2015. According to Douglas Barrie of the International Institute for Strategies Studies in London, it is unlikely that the Chinese were able to hand over the technological know-how that the deal had stipulated. The S-300 design is owned by the Russian State and Beijing may not even possess the necessary knowledge base, much less been able to transfer such information without permission from Moscow.

It appears to be a straightforward, yet insurmountable problem. Fundamentally it comes down to two simple truths. The first is that Ankara wishes to understand what it is that they are buying and using. The second and more important truth is that Washington understandably does not trust Ankara. Considering the recent history in Iraq, events inside Syria, and overall moves by Ankara in the Middle East region — it is hardly surprising that Washington does not trust Ankara.

There are few indicators that Ankara will give in on the point of technology knowledge transfer, and the same can be said about Washington. A Western-Asian standoff if there ever was one. Combine this with Ankara’s ambition, and it does indeed make sense that Turkey went the way of Moscow. Russia is more than willing to not just play the role of a disruptive power but to also sell arms to just about anyone.

Technology transfers are not uncommon in weapons deals with regional powers that have a well developed military-industrial complex. It is indeed part of the package. There are however levels of technological transfer, and it is unclear just how vertical Russia’s technological transfer offering is at this point. Even Moscow is hesitant to provide full technological transfers to just anyone. Nonetheless, with Ankara, one supposes that the ultimate award would be grand enough to warrant any inherent dangers with doing full vertical level business with Erdoğan.

As part of this, the Turkish military has stated that it intends to be a partner with Russia as they jointly develop the next generation SAM system, the S-500.

Another entity that appears willing to chance it that Turkey’s ambitions will not come back to haunt the West is the Italian-French consortium Eurosam. Eurosam has been in cooperation with Turkish armaments producers Aselsan and Roketsan for four years with the ambition of creating a Turkish-designed SAM system. That system is believed to be ready for initial testing by October 2019.

To this day, the majority of actually-installed SAM systems in Turkey remains to be on-loan Patriot systems from the United States. The French Government, however has also installed the French-designed and developed SAMP/T system on at least two military sites inside the country.

In The Danger Zone

Turkey has been set to receive more than thirty Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealth jet fighters from the U.S. by the end of 2022. Public statements have indicated that the country was to purchase a total of 120 F-35A’s. That would make Turkey the biggest customer, bar the U.S. of course, of the F-35 program. In fact, the first four F-35As were handed over to Turkish Air Force representatives during a ceremony at the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas on June 21st, 2018. Two of the planes were flight-ready at the time. Those two were flown to Luke Air Base in Arizona, where the members from the Turkish Air Force would begin training on the new plane.

That ceremony was likely a bittersweet event for the ranking Turkish air force officers. The F-35A’s were intended to be delivered to Turkey by early autumn, but that was not to be. U.S. lawmakers had on a number of occasions threatened, either directly or indirectly, to ban the delivery of the already purchased F-35 jets to Turkey, and expel participating Turkish companies from the programme entirely.

On July 19th, 2018, the U.S. Senate passed through a vote which blocked the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. This meant the Turkish officers in the U.S. could only tacitly receive the planes, and only to train with, inside the U.S.

The reason for the ban of delivery was a fear that Turkey would trade F-35 secrets with Russia, either as part of the ongoing negotiations with the Russians, or if the deal was completed as part of a new alliance with Moscow. The deal to purchase the S-400 system from Russia was described in late June to be done, but the Turkish surface-to-air system purchases had already seen many false starts, and the world largely saw the deal as belonging in the category of soft and non-binding arms deals so often signed between nations in the interest of political expedience. In May 2017, one such category defining arms deal had been signed between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia with a stated total value of $350 billion over ten years.

The threat of being excluded from the F-35 programme was one that had an edge to it. A part of Turkey’s partnership status agreement in the F-35 programme is that Turkish defence contractors would provide some 937 individual parts necessary to make the F-35A plane airworthy. Additionally, select Turkish Air Bases were intended to function as part of the F-35 maintenance support backbone for European NATO allies. In May 2013, Lockheed Martin declared that Turkey was projected to earn $12 billion from licensed production of F-35 components alone.

By July 12, 2019, the first installment of Russian S-400 missile defence systems arrived to Turkey by way of air transport, utilising a Russian Air Force strategic airlift quad jet Antonov An-124 Ruslan. Almost immediately the U.S. threatened Turkey with sanctions under the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA). This was followed on July 17th with Turkey being dropped, officially suspended, from the F-35 programme.

It has not yet been divulged how, or when, the U.S. will return the over $1 billion of Turkish investments into the F-35 programme, or if Lockheed Martin has been able to source alternative providers of the some 937 necessary parts that Turkish manufacturers were providing the programme. Reports made before the events otherwise indicated that a Turkish expulsion from the programme could delay scheduled deliveries by upwards of two years.

On July 18th, a day after Washington announced the removal of Turkey from the F-35 programme, Sergei Chemezoc, the head of the Russian state-owned armament manufacturer Rostec, stated that Russia is ready to supply Turkey with Su-35 fighter jets to replace the absence of the U.S. F-35A deliveries. Ankara and Moscow have since been discussing this possibility.

The model that the Turks are interested in is the Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E, also known as the Su-35S. A fourth-generation plus, or even fourth-generation plus-plus super manoeuvrable jet fighter. Judging by what analysts and observers have stated, it appears to be at least equal, if not superior, to its Western competitors. Its development began in 2003, with the first prototype completed in 2007 and production starting in 2009. More information about this jet, and how it stacks up against the F-35, the F-22s or even the European allied alternatives can be had in Sebastien Roblin’s National Interest article “Airway: Russia’s Dangerous Su-35 vs. America’s F-22 or F-34 (Who Wins?)

[Russian Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E]
U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter
[U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John R. Nimmo, Sr.]
Some reports also indicate that Turkey has also shown interest in the Sukhoi Su-57 stealth multirole fifth-generation jet fighter. This jet is barely out of prototype status but was built with the intent of initially operating alongside the Su-35, but to supersede the plane a few generations later.

It not unlikely that the S-400 purchase, and the follow through by Ankara, was at least to some degree part of a larger plan to do more than just obtain a suitable missile defence system. Forcing the U.S. to agree to an acceptable level of Patriot-affiliated technology knowledge sharing, and forcing a solution to the F-35 conundrum are also part of the plan. If an F-35 solution was not forthcoming then that too would present Ankara with the option of forcing Washington to release Turkey from any contractual obligation regarding the controversial fighter jet. This could be further spun into not just giving Ankara more credit with Moscow, but aiding in its regional ambitions as showing one who stands up against Washington.

Such gambits often work well in the region.

Those credits with Moscow and the perspective these events helped cement will no doubt come to help strengthen Ankara’s leadership position in the soon-coming dialogues with Tehran and Damascus over the future of the upper Middle East. The region is seeing several underlying socio-dynamic changes and is poised for a change in power dynamics. The Damascus coalition has emerged as largely victorious, allowing Tehran to further solidify its influence and operational capabilities throughout the region.

These changes have all been at the expense of Riyadh, which has predictably begun to lose what lustre it had with its Western audience. Meanwhile the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is quickly emerging as the region’s Sunni éminence grise, a true Machiavellian operator.

Ankara remains uniquely positioned to utilise these new power dynamics, now without having to worry about Washington’s meddling. Indeed, Washington appears to have quite willingly helped assist a well solidified Ruso-Türk Geostrategic alliance to take form.

Indeed, some, like my dear friend and colleague, U.S. Army Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine would argue that Western-Turkish relations are even more endemic than what I have described.

John Sjoholm, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti ]

[Subscribe to our newsletter for free and be the first to get Lima Charlie World updates delivered right to your inbox.]

John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief, managing editor, and founder of the consulting organisation Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East and North Africa expert, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. Between 2007-2011 he was an adviser to the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. He has lived in the Middle East since 2005, and has been part of a multitude of Western-backed regionally stabilising projects. He currently resides in Egypt. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Offline References:

[1] Neville, Leigh, Special Forces in the War on Terror (General Military), Osprey Publishing, 2015 ISBN 978-1-4728-0790-8, p.9

[2] Department of Defense, FY19 NDAA Sec 1282 Report, Status of the U.S. Relationship with the Republic of Turkey, Unclassified Executive Summary, November 26, 2018.

[3] Congressional Research Service, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief, Unclassified, July 9, 2019.

Lima Charlie World provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans, intelligence professionals and foreign policy experts Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

In case you missed it:

Image Lima Charlie News Headline Turkey Trades Democracy JUN 26 2018image Lima Charlie News Headline Turkey Bridge of Martyrs JUL 20 2018

Cyber Warfare Now – Tales from the Digital Battlefield

Cyber Warfare Now - Tales From The Digital Battlefield [Lima Charlie News]

Democracies worldwide are facing critical challenges from ever expanding cyberwarfare operations with the ability to not just threaten infrastructure, but to control information. Until recently, it was generally accepted that there were just five countries that had the capability of carrying out offensive and defensive cyber-warfare operations on a large scale – the United States, China, Russia, Iran and Israel. But that list has grown. Lima Charlie News presents an in-depth guide to the major players and programs that have deployed to the world’s Cyber Battlefield.

On November 2, 1988, Robert Tappan Morris, the 22 year old son of Robert H. Morris, Sr., launched what is considered the first computer worm to be distributed via the Internet. The Morris Worm, or Great Worm, once released slowed down infected systems to a crawl rendering the networks they ran unusable. Within hours, the Internet was largely disabled in North America, while the worm was making its way around the world. It would take nearly a week before the Internet was able to reconnect and become united again. Robert Tappan Morris would become the first person to be prosecuted and convicted under U.S. federal law for releasing the worm.

At the time, Morris’ father was the leader of an innovative new team at the National Security Agency (NSA). Morris Sr. would co-author a series of books for the U.S. Department of Defense and the NSA known as the “Rainbow Series”, computer security standards and guidelines that would help develop America’s earliest cyber warfare doctrines and tools.

When Morris’ son released the Great Worm, it was a significantly different time. In 1989, there were just 27 known computer viruses. Today, that number is in the millions. The prevention of attacks and enforcement against violators has become an increasing quagmire costing billions. Cyber attacks against U.S. businesses cost $654 billion in 2018 alone. And while all network connections are to an extent traceable, this can only be taken so far before things get complicated. The Internet is essentially ruled by functional anarchy, and those wishing to control it will find that it is much like herding cats. Network traffic patterns, in combination with encrypted tunnels and anonymity servers, means that it is near impossible to control things on a good day.

Even worse, if you try to trace criminal traffic across world networks things will quickly become political. It has become even easier to hide an attacker’s true identity or intent by using proxies in nations that are less than cooperative with Western law enforcement agencies and counter-cyberterror efforts.

Attempts to trace an attack can be faltered with ease when traces require the cooperation of China, Iran or Russia. The refusal to assist with requests for data passing through their national networks leaves the case cold. It doesn’t help that attacks are often suspected of originating from state-sponsored or even state-operated outfits within those nations.

I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

– Albert Einstein

The Great Worm to Cyber Warfare

Cyber warfare is an extremely cost-effective means of disrupting or disabling an opponent. With far less reliance on large-scale industrial capabilities, the new battlefield of the digital era relies on the availability of key individuals with particular skill sets and mental aptitudes. In this new domain, smaller, often poorly funded players can effectively strike much more powerful, well-funded foes.

This type of warfare also has additional advantages to traditional asymmetrical or even symmetrical warfare. It can be extremely difficult to trace an attack back to the originating attacker. While seldom of importance to small asymmetrical terror-oriented groups, like al Qaeda’s cyber warfare wing or the pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army, that advantage is key to state-operated or state-sponsored groups seeking to mask their attacks.

A prime David vs. Goliath example is Palestine. Under the leadership of Iran-supported Hamas, Palestine is engaged in a protracted cyberwar with a significantly better-funded U.S.-supported Israel. Israel has in turn successfully attacked its other traditional foe, Iran, on multiple occasions with great success and accuracy utilising its cyber warfare capabilities.

The chief example of Israel’s offensive cyber warfare capability is the so-called Stuxnet computer worm attacks against the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems of Iran’s nuclear program in 2010. It is believed that these attacks, which exploited a well-known vulnerability in Microsoft Word, were the breaching point of Stuxnet’s designers to propagate a larger, system and network-wide infection. The Stuxnet attack is widely believed to have employed a joint US-Israel designed cyberweapon that had begun development in 2005 with the specific objective of disabling Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

While Stuxnet appears to have been successful, the wide distribution of the worm led to other groups using it as part of their own cyber attack toolbox under a variety of deviations and names. This may include use by Iranian-backed groups.

Triton, believed to be a version of Stuxnet developed by an unknown third-party group, was deployed in December 2017 against an unidentified power station in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Triton breached the plant’s security measures utilising a very similar method as the original Stuxnet worm, and disabled the power station’s Triconex industrial safety technology (made by Schneider Electric SE). As a result of this attack, the power station’s personnel had to manually override the security systems and shut it down, causing a minor, largely localised disruption in the power grid.

While that attack was not serious, it was a good proof of concept. It would take until the end of 2015 before that proof-of-concept was deployed on a large scale.

US cyber attacks
[Courtesy of Forgerock]
In Ukraine, on December 23rd, 2015, the first known successful large scale cyber attack on a power grid took place. Utilising a trojan known as BlackEnergy, embedded into emails sent to publicly available corporate email addresses belonging to the Prykarpattyaoblenergo energy corporation, a group referred to as “Sandworm” was able to gain access to the corporate network.

As a result the group gained access to 30 substation SCADA controls which they used to switch the power off to 230,000 homes just before December 24th. With cyber conflicts having no rules of engagement to dictate even a modicum of humanity, thousands of households faced the bitter cold of a Ukrainian winter.

To cover their tracks, and to make bringing the stations back online even more difficult, the hard drives of several key computers were wiped out using the KillDisk malware. Whole segments of the internal IT-infrastructure were shut down. Service technicians would have to travel to each individual, often remote substation to reinstall or replace the control installations. It would take up to 6 hours before the systems were restored. Similar, but not yet successful attacks on the U.S.-power grid appear to be frequent.

As global cyber threats have continued to advance and expand in scope and complexity, within the past five years, Western nations have begun to wake up to the realisation that cyber activities from foreign operators can even endanger the very foundation of democracy. From the 5G network concerns with Chinese tech giant Huawei, to the ongoing discourse regarding aggressive Russian interference in American and European elections, the West has realised that safeguarding democratic values requires active engagement as much on the human terrain as on the cyber battlefield.

The Big Five of Cyberwarfare

In 2009 it was generally accepted that there were just five countries that had the capability of carrying out offensive and defensive cyber-warfare operations on a large scale: the United States, China, Russia, Iran and Israel. In 2019, ten years later, that list grew to include the United Kingdom, North Korea and Vietnam. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is believed to be about to join the list as well. On a more tactical level, Syria, Lebanon and Germany are believed to be able to carry out targeted attacks.

The original five will for the foreseeable future continue to be the world’s primary cyber warfare actors.

USA (America First)

The United States of America is the oldest great cyber power with a strategic-level capability to not just carry out cyber attacks, but to defend against attacks on an open-war level. It is also one of the nations in the top five whose economy and social infrastructure are the most dependent on the Internet. Disruptions in the U.S. network could quickly prove devastating to all levels of its vital infrastructures.

As such, the U.S. has long prepared its offensive capabilities in a first-strike capable fashion, developing significant cyber capabilities. As far as defensive capabilities, the U.S. military and intelligence community quickly saw the need to divide the Internet – ARPANET for public use and MILNET for the relatively more closed off section.

However, the built-in defences implemented during the early days of the Internet were largely based on the notion of obfuscation rather than firm security measures. This approach was quickly proven to be inefficient, especially when even the so-called Morris Worm was able to make the jump from the public, academically oriented ARPANET, onto MILNET to infect systems.

This would lead to then-Vice Admiral John Poindexter suggesting in 1985 the introduction of a new security classification, “Sensitive but Unclassified” (SBU). The classification was intended to be implemented primarily on open academic research and fit below the usual levels of Top Secret, Secret and Confidential, while enabling the U.S. government to deny foreigners access to research on matters it perceived could be made sensitive if taken in a particular direction. One of the things Poindexter stated that would be labeled as SBU were research papers relating to what would become the Internet, and the U.S.-infrastructure of the networks which would come to encompass the Internet. The academic world rioted against the notion of being supervised by the cloak-and-dagger crowd. In the end, SBU would come into existence but it would only be applied, and then only sparsely, to research and related matters that were under explicit federal supervision and control. This was not at all near the grand scale that Poindexter had intended.

Throughout the 1990s, the U.S. worked to enhance its capabilities with the understanding that it would soon be forced to meet an enemy unknown on the cyber battlefield. However, the various agencies and units involved in these activities were largely held separate, with little overlap.

The CIA, which was quickly developing an impressive cyber offensive and espionage capability, did its thing separate from the NSA. The military would even divide its cybersecurity thinking and responsibilities to a regional, at times even localised, level under the control of base commanders. The Pentagon would, for a long time, merely advise bases on best practice rather than establish a common structure.

During this time, cyber attacks on U.S. military installations would be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), rather than the military intelligence division, despite the fact that the majority of attacks originated from inside Russia. The most famed such attack was the so-called Moonlight Maze attack in 1998, which managed to penetrate several sensitive U.S. government networks. That attack led to Newsweek reporting in September 1999 that the U.S. was “in the middle of a cyber war.”

U.S. Cyber Command Components [Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense / DoD News]

America’s Post 9/11 ‘Big Brother’

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, as the War on Terror began, it was apparent that the U.S. was in danger of being attacked by small non-state actors on a grand scale as well. Al Qaeda was attracting capable, often young people, with considerable knowledge of how to carry out cyber warfare and cyber terrorism as well as affiliated influence operations. At the same time, the threat from old and new state actor foes was emerging. Russia, China and Iran were all getting into the game with a vengeance.

This led to several controversial knee-jerk suggestions by the U.S. security community.

In early 2003, now-Admiral John Poindexter, the former National Security Adviser to the Reagan administration, and then-Director of the DARPA Information Awareness Office (IAO), suggested a large scale project called “Total Information Awareness” (TIA). This “Manhattan Project of Counter-Terrorism” would entail the constant automatic monitoring of all American citizens. This would enable the system, and its analysts to detect could-be persons of interest with the intent of anticipating and preventing criminal acts before they were even committed.

In 2003, the project was defunded by Congress, only to be renamed the “Terrorism Information Awareness” project. With a name like that, no one could refuse it. Yet certain changes had to be made to make the sale. In 2004, the Department of Defense (DoD) had it funded under a classified budget annex. The TIA project team members were transferred to the NSA which would supervise the new iteration of the project.

Now, the politicians argued, the purpose was to limit the project to only target military and foreign intelligence interests against non-U.S. citizens. This, of course, meant that the project would have to be even less privacy aware [1], as you can only know if a potential threat is of foreign origin after you have analysed it in detail. Since 2006, TIA has largely been operating as a classified in-house project at the NSA. Similar projects, such as Topsail and Basketball have also come under NSA umbrella.

Many of these projects, such as Topsail, were mainly developed on spec by the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in Reston, Virginia, with the help of the IAO under the name Project Genoa II. The SAIC board has the retired Admiral Poindexter as an adviser. Its former head of technology, Deborah Lee James, served as the Secretary of the Air Force between December 2013 and January 2017. Mrs James has been a voice in favour of increased military-related expenditures and has named Russia as “the biggest threat” to U.S. national security.

In 2009, a joint task force designed to coordinate the U.S. cyber warfare activities and be the tip of the spear was created – United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM). The command is situated at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. The base is shared with the NSA, among other similar outfits.

Iran (Not Your Father’s Persian Techno)

Cyber warfare has long been a part of Iran’s military strategy, and is considered a part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) “soft war” operations. It is under this header that the support of foreign militia groups, and drop-in Islamist political parties, et al., can be found. Examples include Hezbollah in Lebanon, the al Houthi movement in Yemen, and Hamas in Palestine. All have their own cyber warfare operative units, often trained directly by experts from Tehran.

For instance, the Iranian Cyber Army, famed for its disruption of Twitter in 2009, is largely believed to be controlled by the IRGC. However, Iran appears less reliant on seemingly external, or named, groups than most of its contemporaries. Instead, Iran appears to prefer that the majority of its cyber operations exist under the direct command of the IRGC or one of its domestic national defence organs.

Israel has no doubt observed Iran’s growing offensive cyber capabilities with great concern.

In October 2013, the Iranian commander of the IRGC cyberwar division, General Mojtaba Ahmadi, was found dead in a wooded area near the town of Karaj, north-west of Tehran. Two 9mm rounds were lodged in his upper torso. The Tehran leadership immediately accused Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, of having carried out the killing.

Less than a week later, in mid-October 2013, the IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Hossein Sepehr stated that Iran’s was the “fourth biggest cyber power among the world’s cyber armies.” The statement was agreed to by the civilian Israeli National Security Studies (INSS).

A July 2018 report by the American cybersecurity company FireEye detailed a suspected influence operation which originated from Iran. The operation aimed at individuals in the U.S., U.K, Latin America and the Middle East with the intent of leveraging a network of inauthentic news sites and supportive social media accounts to create anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, pro-Iran and pro-Palestinian drive. Such behaviour was previously largely only attributed to Russian cyber influence and political warfare operations. A May 2019 New York Times article reported that despite FireEye’s 2018 report, these activities continued unhampered and with a degree of success.

Just last week, in the midst of escalated tensions over Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone, USCYBERCOM announced that it had engaged in a cyber offensive against an Iranian intelligence group believed to have assisted in the disabling of oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.

Israel (Israeli Beach Party)

To read about Israeli capabilities, please check out the Lima Charlie News article “Israel-Hamas Cyberwar, when old warfare meets new” (May 11, 2019).

China (Might Makes Right)

China is without a doubt one of the more active cyber warfare actors. This is no surprise, as China was one of the earliest adopters of the doctrine as it evolved. With China having both the world’s second-largest economy, and the second-largest defence budget, both after the U.S., it also has the resources to be a real contender on the cyber battlefield.

Chinese military strategists were impressed by the use of information warfare by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies during the first Gulf War, such as its effectiveness in causing the Kurds to riot against Saddam Hussein. This included subsequent U.S. operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan and again in Iraq. It was self-evident based on results that this new umbrella warfare term would play a critical role in the increasingly interconnected world.

In 1993, two years after the first Gulf War, China’s military strategic guideline, “Preparations for Military Struggle” (PMS), would include the line “winning local wars in conditions of modern technology, particularly high technology”. This was the first, careful step, of China’s venture into the world of modern warfare. By 2004, one year into the second Gulf War, the PMS was changed to read, “winning local wars under conditions of informationization”. The term informationization is a China-specific term which would further be defined in the 2004 Chinese National Defense plan. That plan has a paragraph which reads “informationization has become the key factor in enhancing the warfighting capability of the armed forces.”

In essence, China intended to use information warfare, which they would come to refer to as Cyber Warfare in their 2015 Military Strategy plan, to maximize their strategic capabilities without firing a shot. To best facilitate this, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) set up its cyber warfare capabilities to work in tandem with the nation’s quickly growing industrial capabilities. This meant a focus on cyber espionage.

Down with CCP

In March 2019, the Swedish intelligence and research agency, Defence Research Agency (FOI), published a report titled “Kina’s industriella cyberspionage” (“China’s industrial cyberespionage”). The report was written by a team of intelligence analysts and consultants under the leadership of Johan Englund. It is the first public report by a government intelligence agency that details China’s increase in recent years of state-sponsored industrial cyber espionage, focusing on gathering information on next-generation IT-infrastructure equipment, missile technology, space and aeroplane technology.

In the report the FOI team shows that the Chinese cyberwarfare division is largely operated directly by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with the assistance of the Ministry of State Security (MSS). In addition, the CCP is increasingly becoming dominant within the Chinese corporate section. In fact, it appears that the CCP is pushing legitimate, non-state aligned companies aside if they are operating within the IT-infrastructure or high technology fields.

In essence, if you want to be in business, you must have the CCP involved along with its strategic interests. Huawei and ZTE are both listed in the report as a primary example of this.

While the Chinese cyber warfare division, under PLA and MSS control, is largely focusing on corporate and industrial espionage, the United States is not the only target. European and Asian nations have not fared much better. For instance, Australia, Canada and India have all claimed that Chinese government sponsored, probably controlled, hackers breached security protocols in 2013 and 2014 to secure access to blueprints of sensitive installations and intelligence research matters.

The number of attacks the U.S. government and private enterprises lay at the feet of China is numerous. While most appear to be targeting information hubs, such as attempting to gain access to the Google mail services, or installing spy-ware enabled firmware on CISCO routers before they leave the factory, some attacks have had lethal consequences in the “real” world.

For example, between 2010 and 2012, the PLA-MSS cyber unit was able to penetrate a vital CIA instant messaging and database system. This led to, the U.S. government claims, the deaths of between 18 and 20 CIA assets at the hands of Chinese government operators. A joint operation by the CIA and FBI resulted in the January 2018 arrest of a former CIA employee believed to have turned Chinese Spy, Jerry Chung Shing Lee. China has denied all accusations that it carries out offensive cyber warfare operations and has on a number of occasions accused the U.S. of doing the same against Chinese interests.

Yet, while China’s cyber espionage operations are aggressive in nature, it appears to be Russia that is on the largest offensive when it comes to disruptive cyber operations.

[Attack map image via the now defunct Norse Corp. security company]

In August 2016, GRU officers targeted … a voting technology company that developed software by numerous U.S. counties to manage voter rolls, and installed malware on the company network. Similarly, in November 2016, the GRU sent spearphishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. election. The spearphishing emails contained an attached Word document coded with malicious software … that permitted the GRU to access the infected computer.”

Mueller Report, Vol. I, pg. 51

Russia (You’ve got mail from Boris.Badenov@Kremlin.ru)

The Russian intelligence services GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye), SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki Rossiyskoy Federatsii), and FSB (Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii), are all highly active and on the offensive across the digital battlefields. Both the military and civilian intelligence services have had vital portions of their cyber operations exposed in recent times. Names of operators, internal unit designations and a wealth of confidential information have been released to the world. There is little doubt what the Kremlin is doing.

While there are, obviously, no official numbers on how many groups that the three Russian security services are either operating or to some extent controlling, it is widely believed that there are at least ten unofficial cyber warfare groups within the purview.

The outfit that carried out the Ukraine power grid attack in 2015, Sandworm, also known as SandWorm Team, is believed to be part of Russia’s emerging hybrid warfare and cyber warfare doctrine and directly sponsored by the Russian state. Sandworm along with Fancy Bear are both believed to belong to a particular cyber warfare division within the GRU, the military intelligence agency.

One of the premier Russian hacker signatures, Guccifer 2.0 has been tied to the GRU as well. Guccifer 2.0 became known for the so-called “DNC Hack”, the 2016 Democratic National Committee email theft which appeared on Wikileaks.

In March 2018, details from the Mueller investigation leaked attesting that Guccifer 2.0 was in fact a collective of persons working for GRU’s Unit 26165 and Unit 74455. This after server logs revealed that on at least one occasion someone utilising the Guccifer 2.0 persona had failed to activate a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to obfuscate his IP address. It was then revealed to investigators that his connection originated from a computer at the GRU headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.

On July 13th, 2018 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) acted on the Mueller investigation findings and indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers, all of which had utilised the Guccifer 2.0 persona to carry out their activities. The individuals on the DOJ indictment list were Viktor Borisovich Netyksho, Boris Alekseyevich Antonov, Dmitriy Sergeyevich Badin, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, Aleksey Viktorovich Lukashev, Sergey Aleksandrovich Morgachev, Nikolay Yuryevich Kozachek, Pavel Vyacheslavovich Yershov, Artem Andreyevich Malyshev, Aleksandr Vladimirovich Osadchuk, Aleksey Aleksandrovich Potemkin, and Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev. The Russian government has, however, declined to extradite the people named and shown little inclination towards reconsidering its position.

SVR and FSB are seemingly equally active in the field as well.

The Russian hacking group “Turla Crew”, which has been active for at least 15 years, appears to be tied with both SVR and FSB. Turla Crew appears to specialise in espionage, information gathering, and placement rather than outright disruptive activities. Between 2013 and 2015 they appear to have focused intently on European government installations, such as secretaries’ computers, embassy computers and military installations. The fact that the group has been active for at least 15 years, and during that time deployed at least 15 different, highly advanced Trojan horses and computer viruses, could be an indicator of how well protected they are.

One of the most telling tools of Turla Crew’s design is Uroburos. The tool suite belongs to the so-called advanced “rootkit” line of tools, used to infect networks using proprietary techniques with the goal of setting up rogue Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks, which it can then use to set up an ad-hoc network of infected nodes to covertly distribute or store confidential data. It is believed to have been active for three years before it was discovered by Western cybersecurity specialists. Pierluigi Paganini, a member of the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) and Cyber G7 Group stated in 2014 that he believed it could be a complex part of Russia’s cyber weapons programme.

In 2014, the Computer Network Attack (CNA) team at the joint Dutch intelligence task force, Joint Signal Intelligence Cyber Unit, was able to turn the tables on the Russian hacker group known as Cozy Bear. For more than three years the CNA team, which consists of members from both the civilian intelligence agency AIVD (Algemene Inlichtingen-en Veiligheidsdienst) and the military intelligence agency MIVD (Militaire Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst) had unfettered access to computers used by the Russian hacker group. During this period, the CNA was able to determine that ten individuals worked as part of the Cozy Bear group and that they were located inside the SVR headquarters.

In fact, the CNA had so thoroughly infiltrated the Cozy Bear group’s equipment that they had access to a built-in camera in the desk VoIP phone. Through that camera, the Dutch intelligence group was able to stream video and take pictures of visiting, ranking SVR officers.

Thanks to the evidence gathered during those three years by the Dutch cyber warfare division, the American intelligence community (USIC), including the CIA and the NSA, were able to convince several NATO allies that Cozy Bear was not only affiliated with the Russian intelligence apparatus, but had at times penetrated sensitive NATO installations.

In February 2017, it was discovered through an internal security review that Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear had made several attempts over a six-month period to breach network integrity at the Dutch Ministry of General Affairs and several other Dutch agencies. Rob Berholee, the head of the civilian intelligence agency AIVD, stated that they had concluded the attacks to have originated from Russia and had been seeking to gain access to privileged government documents. Fearing that a breach had occurred, but had remained undetected, Ronald Pasterk, the Dutch Minister of the Interior, declared that the 2017 Dutch General Election votes would be counted by hand. The Dutch intelligence agencies also warned that they had found evidence that the two Russian hacking groups had attempted similar breaches against French and German governmental server systems.

Cozy Bear, Fancy Bear and Guccifer 2.0 have all been directly linked to the DNC e-mail leak during the U.S. 2016 election.

Appearing before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, on June 20, 2019, Dr. Alina Polyakova for the Brookings Institution testified that, “Russian influence operations do not focus on isolated events. Rather, taken as whole, they are at the core of a political strategy—honed in Europe’s East and deployed against the West—to weaken democratic institutions, sow discord in societies, and divide the transatlantic alliance.” Polyakova detailed ongoing cyber operations against Western / European nations, that included France, Germany, and Ukraine’s election systems and infrastructure.

Known Methodology = Known Actors

The methodologies applied by both the Russian and Chinese hacker groups are, in essence, virtually identical with those utilised by the more advanced criminal hacker organisations. These focus mainly on economic hacking and the use of digital mercenaries operating on a commission from others. This is partly why it is exceedingly difficult for investigators to prove conclusively that alleged attacks, such as Stuxnet, come from state-sponsored or controlled entities, as opposed to private interests.

The primary difference can, however, be found in the level of professionalism and purpose that government-affiliated hackers display. They are more often than not seeking access to government or research systems, where the economic benefits of control are slim but the information benefits are interminable. This behaviour and selection of targets indicates nation-level espionage intents, which is seldom something that private organisations or non-commissioned individuals would be interested in.

Overall, these operations in the relatively new combat of cyber space are largely steeped in long-standing traditions, such as the tradition of Maskirovka.

Maskirovka: The Russian Art of Deception and War

One of the aspects that Iran, China and Russia all share, is the use of offensive cyber technologies in the art of gathering information and utilising that information to create disruptive deception. This methodology can be summarised in the Russian term “Maskirovka” – although this behaviour obviously predates even that defined practice.

The literal translation of Maskirovka means “disguise” and refers to the early-twentieth-century Russian military doctrine which encompassed deception and obfuscation intermixed with aggressive military operations to accomplish strategic as well as tactical objectives. While the doctrine has been applied as a tactical instrument by the Russians since the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380, it is not a Russian contraption in origin.

Seemingly the approach was defined by the Chinese in the 5th century BC. Found in the military strategy philosophical syllabus The Art of War, it was written by an amalgam of Chinese military strategists but widely attributed to General Sun Tsu. In it, the strategy is largely defined as turning one’s weaknesses to strengths by tightly controlling the enemy’s perception of your capabilities. This will then lead your foe to focus his forces and movements on the wrong capabilities in your arsenal.

Sun Tsu (or Sun Tzu) and his affiliates belonged to the so-called master thinkers (School of Zi), which came to define China’s “Hundred Schools of Thoughts”-era. It spanned the so-called Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods of 722-277 BCE. Other philosophers from the same school, such as Confucious (also known as Kongzi), who inspired Confucianism and the Six Arts concept, and Lao Tsu (Laozi), who inspired Taoism, would come to encompass similar thoughts of turning perceived weaknesses to strengths. This concept is also a recurring theme in other Far East military strategy-related philosophies, often under the guise of martial arts with all-encompassing philosophical aspects, such as the Japanese Budō.

 “Every society is three meals away from chaos”

-Vladimir Lenin

The West Awakens – Democracy Targeted

Lima Charlie News has written extensively about cyber attacks and cyber influence operations that threaten the very foundation of democratic institutions worldwide. In addition to the Russian interference operations detailed in the Mueller Report, ongoing operations throughout Europe and the former Soviet Republics have awakened the U.S. and its NATO allies to the fact that safeguarding democratic values and elections requires active engagement on all fronts.

Most recently, reports have surfaced that USCYBERCOM has aggressively stepped up the deployment of cyber tools within Russia’s infrastructure, including systems operating the nation’s power grid, on new authorities granted by the White House and Congress (“defense forward”). According to the NY Times, a senior intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity stated, “It has gotten far, far more aggressive over the past year … We are doing things at a scale that we never contemplated a few years ago.”

In Europe, a recent Finnish raid on what is likely to have been a joint Russian cyber and tactical operations cell headquarters inside Finland’s territory, is an alarming example.

On September 22nd 2018, Finnish authorities declared a no-fly zone over an archipelago of islands along the country’s southwestern coast, some 180 kilometres from the capital of Helsinki. This was followed by a large-scale raid by the civilian authorities acting on intelligence retrieved by the Finnish military Intelligence Division. Over a hundred heavily armed police officers, along with 280 individuals from other government organisations, descended on the small islands. To reach the area, the civilian authorities utilised military provided helicopters and naval vessels that had just received a fresh coat of paint to show that they were not, for the day, in military service. Still, the logistical aspect of the operation was carried out by military personnel on loan to the police for 72-hours.

The target was a series of buildings situated on the islands which were owned by a Russian corporation. Originally, the raid was described as being aimed at a Russian money-laundering operation. Information indicates, however, that the structures, one of which featured a helicopter pad and a private harbour, were believed to be used by Russian GRU as an operational hub for cyber and political warfare operations, as well as Spetznas infiltration operations and exercises in the area. Airiston Helmihe, an Estonian registered limited corporation, owned the buildings and is believed to be a known front for Russian intelligence services.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Western democracies have expelled at least 419 Russian spies from SVR, FSB and GRU. That number includes the approximately 180 Russians which were declared persona non grata after the March 2018 attempted murder on Sergei and Julia Skripal in Salisbury, England. In recent years, the majority of those expelled Russian agents have been involved in cyber warfare related operations, including influence, social media tinkering or outright espionage.

The American cybersecurity giant Mitre is one of the companies that has best surveyed the various hacking groups in the world, including groups linked to the intelligence services of various countries. Of the 72 so-called Black Hat-hacker groups on Mitre’s list, 24 originated from China, 6 from Russia, and 9 from Iran. India, Pakistan, North Korea, Vietnam and Lebanon all also featured at least one operative group each which could be affiliated with state actors. The other groups on Mitre’s index are largely criminal groups or so-called White Hat-hackers which merely seek to discover and explore security vulnerabilities.

A problem for cybersecurity researchers in identifying and publishing information about these hacker groups is the perception that the majority of information about state-sponsored cyber activities and affiliated hacking groups comes, not from private investigators or researchers, but from the American intelligence community (USIC). This is largely incorrect. While the USIC has provided a lot of information to its allies and even to the media, it consists of tainted information and usually with large information gaps. The most comprehensive and readily available information on these state-controlled hacking activities tends to come instead from the private sphere. Groups such as FireEye, CrowdStrike, Mitre, F-Secure or Bellingcat are key leaders in this realm.

The term cyber warfare is, in and of itself, quite deceptive. The overall doctrine used to fall under the term Information Warfare which was significantly more telling. This now legacy term implied that it was the management of information, i.e. a new way of creating information bubbles, psychological warfare and propaganda. It is easy to see how crowd-pleasing, commercially enabling information bubbles (also known as filter bubbles) imposed by corporations such as Twitter and Facebook fit under that header.

Control peoples’ information flow and you control their opinions and ability to express themselves. Just look at BREXIT — a very real result, with long-lasting ramifications due to a filter bubble.

Because of the nature of our contemporary interconnected society, it has never been more important – and in our pro-democracy foundation’s best interest – to combat such nefarious attacks on our information infrastructure. Cyber attacks will only increase in the foreseeable future. As such, the fight against hostile cyber acts, be it perpetrated by or on behalf of North Korea, Syria or Russia, is on principle something for all the world’s democracies to be concerned with.

John Sjoholm, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti ]

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John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

REFERENCE: [1] Shorrock, Tim (2008). Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. Simon and Schuster. p. 221. ISBN 9780743282246.

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North Korea By the Numbers – Little Choice Remains for Trump and Kim

North Korea By the Numbers - Little Choice Remains for Trump and Kim [Lima Charlie News]

OPINION: Despite another Trump-Kim meeting, by the numbers, America’s choices don’t appear promising.

“You hear the power of that voice, nobody’s heard the voice before,” President Trump said praising North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un this Sunday as he sat beside Kim during an impromtu press conference in the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). “[H]e doesn’t do news conferences, in case you haven’t noticed, and this was a special moment.”

This weekend President Trump became the first sitting American president to set foot in North Korea, briefly stepping over the concrete border before heading back to the South Korean side. While former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton had each visited Pyongyang after their terms, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton had visited the DMZ while president, but never met with North Korea’s leader.

“Nobody knows how things turn out, but certainly, this was a great day, this was a very legendary, very historic day,” Trump said of the meeting. “It’ll be even more historic if something comes of it, something very important.”

The Numbers

6, 11, 10M, 25.6M, 12, 65, 50, 12 thousand, 100s of thousands, millions, trillions. A quick explanation of these numbers to set the stage.

South Korea is currently the 6th largest US trading partner. Owing largely to this status, it currently maintains the 11th largest global economy. The population of Seoul, South Korea’s capital and largest city is just under 10 million. This is the population that lives within Seoul proper and does not include the rest of the Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area, or GSMA, which is 25.6 million and one of the largest metropolitan areas on Earth. This is, by the way, roughly half the entire population of South Korea.

12 is the number of hours it once took me to drive from my home in Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, only 65 kilometers (40 miles) away, owing to one of the worst traffic situations anywhere on the planet during the Chuseok holiday (Korean Thanksgiving). Seoul is closer to the DMZ than it is to Pyeongtaek. This distance is about 50 kilometers (31 miles). The largest US military installation in the world, outside of the US, Camp Humphreys has a population of approximately 12,000 US troops, civilian employees, and family members.

Hundreds of thousands, an admittedly very rough estimate, is the number of artillery rounds North Korea can start raining down into South Korea, every hour, with virtually no warning in the event of a second Korean War. Much of North Korea’s artillery can reach Seoul without North Korean forces crossing the DMZ. Some of their weapons can even reach Camp Humphreys in the same way. While the actual number of artillery rounds North Korea could send into South Korea is classified, it is “hundreds of thousands per hour”, and doctrinally many of these would be chemical or biological rounds, further exacerbating the death and destruction. It is also worth noting that due to the proximity of such a massive population center as the GSMA to the DMZ, even short-range artillery has the effect of long-range artillery.

Millions is a conservative estimate of the number of friendly casualties in any new war on the Korean peninsula, even if such a war only involved conventional and not nuclear weapons. Trillions are the number of dollars in cost to the US and our allies, a conservative estimate, of a new war between the two Koreas. This cost in lives and money would be expended very quickly, in days or weeks, not months or years.

The point these numbers, and many others not shared here, convey is that the only truly acceptable option in dealing with North Korea is a sincere, coordinated, global diplomatic effort bringing together all elements of national and international power. This effort must be diplomatic and must involve the entire spectrum of influence from informational efforts, economic, and of course the military option must remain on the table as a very last resort to make it abundantly clear that diplomacy must win out.

Yet, this option remains problematic. The United States not only has a vacuum of leadership, intelligence, historical awareness, and diplomatic acumen, it has a president so unaware of his limitations and so convinced of his own talents, he does not avail himself of the traditional advisors and institutions designed to help compensate for such shortcomings. For example, the U.S. currently has no permanent Secretary of Defense, no permanent Secretary of Homeland Security, and no permanent UN Ambassador.

Diplomacy by the Numbers

More numbers to illustrate this precarious situation are 0, 10, 86, and 1.

0 is the number of nations, other than the United States, who have announced the intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. This might not seem relevant to dealing with North Korea, but it is, as I shall explain. 0 is also the number of nations, other than the United States, who originally signed onto the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Nuclear Deal) that have announced plans to withdraw from this agreement.

0 is also the number of nations, other than the United States, who have now recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 10 is the number of US strategic allies who have specifically opposed US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 86, on the other hand, is the number of countries with embassies in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem.

1 is the number of times Article 5 of the NATO Charter (collective defense) has been employed. This was to the defense of the United States by all other NATO nations after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Finally, 1 is the number of US presidents who have ever called into question the United States’ commitment to the same NATO Charter that sees an attack against one NATO member as an attack against all NATO members.

And then we fell in love, okay? No, really – he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters.”

-U.S. President Donald J. Trump, referring to North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un at a rally in West Virginia

The purpose of this second set of numbers is to illustrate the diplomatic dilemma faced by the United States. At a time when diplomacy is, arguably, more important than at any time in our nation’s history, or at least as important as it has ever been, we have a president that is unprecedentedly unsuited to such a challenge. This same President has done more than any other in US history to single-handedly dismantle all the mechanisms resident in the international order that could be brought to bear on this challenge.

Writing in The Washington Post, Nicholas Burns and Douglas Lute stated that the greatest threat to NATO “is the absence of strong, principled American presidential leadership for the first time in its history.” (“NATO’s biggest problem is President Trump“). While North Korea does not fall under the purview of NATO, the problem is the same. Our allies no longer trust us.

The rhetoric coming thus far from the US President, alternating between petulant schoolyard name-calling and fawning terms of endearment, is disconcerting. While Trump oscillates between issuing threats, cooing love talk, and legitimizing the North Korean regime more than any single world leader since Kim Il Sung, the situation is only growing worse.

The bottom line is that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is continuing to develop his nuclear weapons capabilities while basking in the glow of international legitimacy that Trump enables with face-to-face summits.

Such meetings were long sought by all three members of the Kim Dynasty but were denied by US leaders, for good reason. Counter to claims from the White House, any president since Truman could have met with the North Korean leader. The North Koreans would have welcomed it. American presidents of the past simply had the requisite level of diplomatic and political savvy to realize it would be a mistake to do so.

Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un (PHOTO CREDIT: KCNA/AFP)

The Final Count

A final number to consider is 36,914. This is the number of Americans who died opposing the North Korean regime during the Korean War. Remember that Kim Jong-un, like his father before him, is not a democratically elected leader. He is a despotic continuation of the same tyrannical dynasty started by Kim Il Sung in 1948. Kim Jong-un is responsible for the premeditated murder of countless of his own citizens, to include his own brother. And of Kim Jong-un, Donald J. Trump said proudly, “We fell in love.” Such an attitude is perfectly maladaptive to any outcome other than further encouraging North Korea’s bad behavior.

Before us are two Koreas – one an open, free, and an imperfect but fantastically successful democracy; the other, the most repressive, and dangerous, regime in the world today, an economic basket case. The United States faces three choices, two of which must be avoided at almost any cost.

The first choice, to accept a North Korea with the ability to employ nuclear-capable, intercontinental ballistic missiles, would give North Korea the ability to target not only all of America’s allies in the region but the US mainland itself with the most destructive weapons yet developed by mankind. North Korea has already detonated an atomic bomb with a yield as high as 30 kilotons. North Korea also continues to refine its missile technology. The Kim regime is getting precariously close to the ability to marry the two technologies of nuclear weapons and a global delivery mechanism. This is a situation we cannot accept under any circumstances. Option one is no option.

As bad as the threat of a nuclear-capable North Korea is, the reality of the second choice, a pre-emptive strike to topple the North Korean regime at best, or eliminate their nuclear capability at least, is far more problematic.

The revolution in military affairs that has allowed the United States to defeat most adversaries with a minimum of casualties (to both sides) is ideally suited to conflict in areas like Iraq. Our years of experience at places like the National Training Center and advanced weaponry that allows unprecedented standoff lethality has prepared us for combat in the open desert against conventional forces.

The realities of terrain, military capabilities, regional and global economics, and most importantly, populations are all very different on the Korean Peninsula than any the US has faced since World War II. Counter-intuitively, a second Korean War would be very different from the last Korean War due to the vastly different demographic and economic conditions in South Korea now versus 70 years ago. While the US easily defeated the conventional Iraqi forces, our challenge in dealing with the resulting insurgency are telling and reveal our inability to deal with non-conventional threats effectively.

The third option, diplomacy, must resolve this situation.

Yet, while vastly preferable, it remains problematic. This course of action requires a level of diplomatic and intellectual sophistication that the current US administration seems both incapable of and unwilling to effectively pursue. It is not an exaggeration to say that a failure of diplomacy in resolving the North Korea problem could, conceivably result in the greatest concentrated loss of human life and wealth in human history. Clichés aside, failure simply is not an option.

Unfortunately, the United States is not the world leader we need it to be at this critical moment.

Tony Davis, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti ]

Tony Davis is a retired Military Intelligence Lieutenant Colonel and author of the book, God Loves You: Some Restrictions May Apply (and Many Other Christian Dilemmas). Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @TonyOBDavis

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Getting to Yes in Syria – Negotiating Peace

Getting to Yes in Syria - Negotiating Peace [Lima Charlie News]

After an 8 year bloody conflict in Syria all sides have a lot to gain from a negotiated peace.

The battle for control rages on in Syria. The Syrian Civil War has continued its metamorphosis from a large-scale civil war, to a gruelling counterinsurgency operation, all the while savagely devastating its civilian population and the Syrian soul. The forces of what remains of the Syrian opposition have found a modicum of respite within the defensive perimeter of the proverbial walls of the ancient city of Idlib.

The offensive to capture Idlib, led by the Damascus-coalition consisting of Syrian and Russian government forces and their affiliated militant groups, began on April 30th. Operation “Dawn of Idlib” – as the offensive is referred to – is the result of the promise Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made in February 2019 to “liberate every inch of the country.” It is reliant upon the effective air-to-ground support of Syrian and Russian air force assets which carry out round-the-clock strikes and barrel bombing of metropolitan centres.

After an 8 year conflict with hundreds of thousands in casualties, and over 3.4 million refugees, the “Dawn of Idlib” operation alone has already displaced over 150,000 civilians and resulted in the deaths of over 2,000 people.

With the end of this year’s Ramadan on June 3rd, the Damascus coalition renewed its efforts to retake Idlib – civilian losses be damned.

[Members of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the “White Helmets”, carry away a body on a stretcher following a reported regime air strike in the village of Benin, about 30 kilometres south of Idlib in north-western Syria, on June 19, 2019. (AFP)]

Peace Without Giving In

In 1981, Roger Fisher and William Ury published the first edition of their seminal non-fiction best-seller titled Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. This brief but brilliant treatise advises would-be negotiators on how to determine the “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” – or BATNA – of their opponents. That is, what can antagonists realistically expect to gain from continuing their violent conflict rather than coming to a reasonable compromise solution through negotiation.

In a recent Lima Charlie News article, entitled “Syrian Endgame – The Hard Truth” (May 14th, 2019) I, along with my co-author John Sjoholm, attempted to define the BATNAs of the key players in Syria. To help with this, we sought to determine the primary goals and interests of those identified players.

Vladimir Putin’s BATNA is what makes him, and Russia, the Syrian Civil War’s victor ludorum. As “winner” Russia gains an increased influence throughout the Middle East. Yet that victory has come at a significant cost both in resources and international condemnation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also seeking a BATNA that may gain increased regional clout for Turkey, but at a price of engaging in a never-ending and unpopular war against the Kurds, both at home and abroad.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad will likely regain a tenuous control of Syria, but as part of a proxy government of the Kremlin. More so, Moscow will retain the option of eliminating Assad, his clan, and even the Alawis sect, both politically and physically, if it is deemed optimal to minimize a draining long-term conflict.

In turn, Iran may seek to secure its supply lines through Syria to its various allies, many of which are in conflict with U.S.-supported Israel. Yet, the costs of continued large scale deployment of Iranian assets in Syria is likely to spiral out of control. A continued Iranian presence in Syria is also likely to put Tehran on an escalating collision course with Washington. The U.S. has continued to increase sanctions and may possibly implement its ongoing threat of force.

For the relatively organised Syrian Opposition forces, moderate and less radicalized alike, their continued fighting on the ground, while enduring constant bombardment from the air, offers little gain. While facing the prospect of thousands of innocent civilian casualties, these forces risk further loss of credibility to more radical Salafist Jihadist militia entities such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State. As for the United States, it has absolutely nothing to gain from further fighting and the deployment of its military on Syrian territory.

The whole world has only the prospect of widespread slaughter and the resulting chaos from nearly four million Syrian refugees fleeing the Idlib enclave. This includes risk of the destabilization of neighboring Lebanon.

Everyone, as discussed in “Syrian Endgame – The Hard Truth”, has a lot to gain from a negotiated settlement, while no one, except the radical Jihadis, has much to look forward to from continued warfare. The question now, is how to structure a negotiation to achieve a successful peace that will benefit everyone but the radical elements. This includes the Kurdish militia forces and their political entities, even though they would emerge as major losers in any settlement. The difference for the Kurds is if they are to gain anything, their solution must be a broader regional one.

Syrian Abdul Razzaq Tlas (L),leader of the opposition Katibat al-Faruq, walks with Moroccan UN observer, Colonel Ahmed Himmiche (C), during the United Nations monitors visit to the restive city of Homs, Syria on April 21, 2012. (UPI / Khaled Tallawy)]

The Elements of a Successful Settlement

Successful peace negotiations should include the participation of all but the most incorrigible players. They should also include a credible outside actor who is seen as substantially unbiased, one that would organize and host the discussions, and act as a guarantor to monitor the fulfillment of an agreement. Russia and the United Nations have both tried to jumpstart negotiations but have failed because one was not trusted for having played too much of a direct role in the conflict, and the other has gained a reputation for being impotent.

“Pre-cooking” the elements of an agreement acceptable to the parties is an absolute necessity. The sine qua non will have to be a guarantee that there would be no United Nations Security Council (UNSC) veto of the deal. Before the first word is spoken at a peace conference, at least among Russia, the United States, and their allies and proxies, there must be agreement as to the main parameters of the arrangements. This does not mean that all, or even most, of the actors will be completely satisfied. As Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic said at Dayton in 1995, “this is an unjust peace, but my people need peace.”

A Field of Possible Organizers and Guarantors

The United Nations

The United Nations has a traditional role in organizing and following up on peace negotiations. While its credibility has suffered in Syria during the past eight years, it has sometimes shown a significant capacity to play the honest broker in other conflicts. El Salvador and Liberia are two examples. In the former, however, the UN did not attempt to enforce the peace. In the latter, the success was almost completely personality-dependent due to the unique choice of Ambassador Jacques Paul Klein who had already proven himself in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately, the selection of such a strong Senior Representative of the Secretary General or SRSG is exceedingly rare.

Still, the United Nations might prove useful as a convener so long as there is substantial advance agreement and it is understood up front that the negotiation and enforcement will really be driven by the stronger participants. It would be unlikely that the United Nations would be able to stand up a strong and independent peacekeeping force. Yet any agreement could still lay out substantial roles for UN agencies like the Office for the Coordination of Humanitiarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The United Nations Security Council might also call upon the Secretary General to take the lead in organizing a separate international conference to discuss the exceptionally thorny issue of Kurdish statehood aspirations. The fact that the Kurds number up to 35 million people spread over the territories of four countries where they represent sizeable, often restive, minorities, cries out for international resolution. In Turkey, for example, they make up 18% of the population, and there has been open conflict between the Turkish Government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Kurdish question will be exceedingly difficult to resolve, and, as such, should be kept from complicating the already-complex Syria peace negotiation. A good case could be made that the United States, having used Kurdish forces as proxies against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, should be a major sponsor of this negotiation.

[T]his is an unjust peace, but my people need peace.”

-Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic

The Major Powers

Russia and the United States, possibly with Turkey and Iran as supporting actors, have emerged in this conflict as the “Major Powers”. There is precedent for a Major Power taking the lead in peace negotiations as a third party, even after having played a combat role in a conflict. A primary example is the role played by the United States in brokering the 1995 Dayton Agreement to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At the time, Russia was very weak, and the United Nations was almost totally discredited. While the U.S. organized, hosted and dominated the Dayton negotiations, it brought in the EU as bit players (causing resentment and lack of coordination), while engaging international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and various United Nations agencies to play specific roles. The result of this one-party-dominated process was a complicated, disorganized plan that was nearly dead on arrival, at least so far as the Bosnian Serbs were concerned.

On May 29th, the European Union called for a ceasefire in the Idlib region and said that Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Syrian Government must protect the population. From the perspective of safeguarding civilian populations in Northwestern Syria, it appears the EU has accepted the role of Major Powers as guarantors. By June 12th, the Russian military claimed that a ceasefire – the third since commencement of the Dawn of Idlib operation – had been brokered with Turkey. The ceasefire, however, failed immediately with Russia and the Syrian regime resuming intensive shelling and airstrikes. Turkish observers in Idlib also continued to come under mortar fire from territory controlled by Syrian government forces, with several casualties reported just last week. In response, Turkish forces shelled government-held villages.

The resulting problems with the Big Power-imposed 1995 Dayton Accords are not a reason to believe that an effort by Russia and the United States now in Syria would necessarily be doomed to failure. But they most certainly justify caution.

Russia has been far more of a combatant in Syria than the United States was in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its Iranian allies are possibly even more hated than the Assad Regime itself, and President Putin probably has a less favorable reputation among necessary international contributors than President Bill Clinton had in 1995.

Yet, given enough self-interest and goodwill on the part of President Putin and President Trump, their cooperation could lead to a successful conclusion. Together, they could have tremendous influence on all relevant actors, and might even improve the bi-lateral relationship in the process. Furthermore, their collaboration would probably avoid any threat of a UN Security Council veto and diminish the power of possible spoilers. However, widespread ill will toward both of them, and their allies, and their vastly different interests and policy objectives, could possibly sink a lasting peace.

If, indeed, Russia and the United States were to find enough common ground, they could certainly impose peace. This would increase to a great extent if the Americans took the lead in the Northwest and on the Kurdish question, while the Russians were left to handle the rest of Syria and control both Iranian ambitions and Assad’s desire for total victory and a return to the pre-war status quo.

[Turkish troops gather in Hassa, Hatay province, in preparation for offensive against Kurds in Syria, January 21, 2018 (Image: Bulent Kilic / AFP)]

Regional Organizations

This week the European Union issued a statement in which it called on all sides “to restore an immediate cease fire” and ensure “the protection of and unhindered humanitarian assistance to the civilian population, and giving space for the start of a genuine Syrian political process.” According to the statement:

“The EU is deeply concerned by the situation in the north-west of Syria, namely in the provinces of Idlib and northern Hama. After more than eight years of conflict the Syrian population continues to suffer indiscriminate shelling, airstrikes, bombing and attacks. Military strikes by Syrian regime forces – supported by Russia – have destroyed IDP camps, schools and health facilities, which should be the very safest spaces. More than 230 civilians have lost their lives, more than 330,000 have fled in just six weeks, and three million more remain at risk.”

Probably the only regional organization with enough resources, neutrality and political clout to take the lead on negotiations and implementation is the European Union. While some members have been involved in a combat role in Syria, this has been almost exclusively in opposition to ISIS. EU members have engendered little or no bitterness among either the more moderate Opposition or the Assad Government.

The EU also has a strong interest in avoiding the catastrophic chaos that would result from continued war and the possibility of an all-out military assault on the Idlib enclave resulting in millions more desperate refugees flooding across its borders. It has the resources necessary to play a major role in reconstruction and refugee return.

While President Putin has strategic concerns with the EU, if Russia was left to deal with Assad-controlled territory as he saw fit, and it could ensure the long-term security of Russia’s air and sea military bases in Syria, Putin would undoubtedly welcome the resources the EU could bring to bear. Both he and President Trump might be happy for someone else to take responsibility for the mess to which they have both contributed.

There is certainly enough technical and political expertise within the European Union to help solve Syria’s post-war problems, but it would require that other nations provide military forces to ensure the peace. This could fall upon Turkey, with the Opposition forces reconstituted, perhaps as a paramilitary police force in the Northwest, with Russian and Syrian Arab Army assets situated elsewhere. As in any other option, the U.S. and certain sympathetic EU allies would have to tend to the resolution of the Kurdish question on a regional basis and soothe any dissatisfaction or concern on the part of President Erdogan.

The biggest challenge for the European Union in playing a leading role would be its own frequent lack of consensus, especially in light of Brexit, and a number of disagreeable national leaders. Avoiding another surge of migrants, could, however, sufficiently motivate the members to facilitate a peaceful solution.

[President Donald Trump, right, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)]

Moving Forward

It seems most reasonable that Russia and the United States should cooperate towards building a lasting peace in Syria. President Putin, obviously, will be the primary leader of any effort given the far greater resources Russia has committed to Syria, not to mention the greater influence Russia has over its proxies. This calls for a well-planned, logical approach to a myriad of problems, something the current American Administration is not generally known for, but hopefully can rise to the occasion.

Reportedly, both the U.S. and Russia remain engaged in high-level talks, but each must give up the desired goal for either a reunified Syria under Assad (Russia) or a reunified Syria without Assad (United States).

At this week’s G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, President Putin assured that he and President Trump had maintained discussions concerning Syria, while he also criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for allowing a million refugees, mostly Syrians, to settle in Germany. This Saturday, while in Osaka, Chancellor Merkel announced that the next summit on Syria with Russia, Germany, France, and Turkey is planned for this year in Istanbul. “We want to stay abreast of the situation in Idlib and the situation around the refugees.”

The European Union, while certainly unwilling and probably incapable of fielding an effective peacekeeping force, can be relied upon to provide extensive reconstruction and refugee resettlement funding, as well as technical expertise democratization training at least in the Idlib region.

Turkey has also shown a willingness to stand up to Russia and Syria on recent ceasefire violations, and with the help of more moderate Opposition forces can be counted upon to move against Jihadist spoilers. The big question is whether the Turks and Americans can overcome recent disagreements over the purchase of SA-400 missiles and the disruptive effect it will have on the interoperability of the joint NATO air defense infrastructure. Even more important is the question of whether they can use cooperation in Northwestern Syria to inspire greater rapprochement and restore good diplomatic relations that began all the way back in 1830 and which made Turkey a NATO mainstay during the Cold War.

The Iranians and Kurds remain wild cards. So far, Iran does not appear to be playing a role in the Russo-Syrian offensive in the southern part of the Idlib enclave, which may presage a decrease in their combat role in the conflict while they prepare for a possible confrontation with the United States. It remains to be seen what Iran will demand in the negotiations as the price for its investment in the conflict. The Kurdish YPG and their cousins in the PKK will need to be given reasons to hope for some resolution of their demands for autonomy if they are not to disrupt regional peace through increased conflict with the Turkish military.

At any rate, time is running out if the worst consequences of an all-out fight to the death in Northwest Syria is to be avoided. It is time to put aside unrealistic demands and find a way for “Getting to Yes.”

William Stuebner, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[Additional edits by John Sjoholm and Anthony A. LoPresti] [Main Image: Reuters]

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William Stuebner served in the United States Army for twenty years, first in the Infantry and then as a military intelligence officer. The last five years of his career revolved around the wars in Central America where he first led a special intelligence team and then worked as the El Salvador desk officer for the Department of Defense. He was also an assistant professor in the Social Sciences Department of the United States Military Academy where he taught politics and political philosophy.

Stuebner’s Balkans work began in May 1992, shortly after the commencement of hostilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and continues to this day. His assignments included: Humanitarian Assistance Officer for the Department of Defense; Bosnian Field Representative for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, United States Agency for International Development; Expert on Mission, Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (twice); Senior Deputy Head of Mission for Human Rights and Chief of Staff, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has also headed two Non-Governmental Organizations dealing with international criminal justice and peace building.

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Africa’s Elections | In Malawi, food, land, corruption dominate

Africa’s Elections | In Malawi, food, land, corruption dominate [Lima Charlie News]
Africa’s Elections | In Malawi, food, land, corruption dominate [Lima Charlie News]

In a small African country battling poverty and starvation, land, farming and corruption remain key issues in Malawi’s politics.

Malawi – nicknamed “the Warm Heart of Africa” for the kindness of its people – is one of the poorest countries in the world. A small, landlocked country in southeastern Africa, over half of its almost 20 million people live under the poverty line. Ongoing food crises, often the result of extensive drought or devastating floods, have plagued the country for decades. Heavily reliant on foreign aid, in 2014, Malawi ranked as the world’s fifth most aid-dependent country or territory.

After Malawi won its independence from Britain in 1964, it eventually transitioned from a one-party dictatorship to a democratic system in the early 1990s. Democracy now thrives. This year 74% of the population turned out for presidential elections on May 21st.

By a slim margin voters returned incumbent President Peter Mutharika, head of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), for another five year term. Mutharika and the DPP took 38% of the vote, former evangelist Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) came in second with 35%, and Saulos Chilima (UTM) took 20%.

Yet, despite robust voter turnout, Malawi’s democratic elections are facing challenges by two of its losing parties.

A man casts his vote, with long lines behind him, at Masasa Primary School polling station in Mzuzu on May 21, 2019. (Patrick Meinhardt)]
[A man casts his vote, with long lines behind him, at Masasa Primary School polling station in Mzuzu on May 21, 2019. (Patrick Meinhardt)]

“Daylight Robbery”

After opposition parties unsuccessfully challenged the election in Malawi’s High Court last week claiming it was rigged, President Mutharika was sworn in for another 5 year term. On May 28, Mutharika took the oath of office before a capacity crowd at Kamzu Stadium, in the city of Blantyre.

“Whether you voted at all or not voted. Whether you voted for us or not for us. I am your President. I am the President of all Malawians. And Malawi is our country,” said Mutharika. “We cannot deny our history. Each political party played a fundamental role in the history of this nation. Now it is our call to develop this country. Let us remain focused on development and changing lives for the better.” Mutharika added, “As we say in our local language – nkhondo simanga mudzi. We cannot build this country with violence and bloodshed.”

This Tuesday however, protesters, led by Chakwera, stormed the offices of the president and government buildings demanding that Mutharika resign chanting anti-Mutharika slogans. Chakwera has called the election outcome “daylight robbery”.

“We are shutting down Capital Hill to show this illegal government that the people are in charge and not Mutharika,” MCP youth director Chimwendo Banda told Reuters. Mutharika, 78, a former law professor, won against Chakwera by 159,000 votes.

Also on Tuesday, Malawi’s High Court ruled that the petitions of the MCP and Chilima’s UTM party seeking to have the election results nullified can be consolidated. The petitions cited a number of alleged irregularities such as ballot stuffing, tampering with election sheets with a correction fluid (Tippex), as well as officials being caught with result sheets at home.

Malawi maintains a close military and security collaboration with the United States. In 2016, the U.S. opened the Office of Security Cooperation (OSC) in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. With U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the United States supports peacekeeping, training and equipment, multilateral exercises and conferences with the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) and Malawi law enforcement. The MDF, which originated from British colonial units formed before Malawi’s independence, became active in peacekeeping soon after the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Along with Tanzania and South Africa, it makes up the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (UNFIB).

The United Kingdom, having an historic presence in Malawi, continues to provide military assistance and training to the country, including in the protection of some of the world’s most endangered species, that includes elephants, rhinoceroses and lions. Operation Corded, the name given to the UK Army’s counter-poaching deployment in Malawi, assists in the training of park rangers to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. According to the BBC, about 30,000 elephants are illegally killed every year in Africa, with only about 450,000 elephants left. “In many places it has become literally a war against poachers – that’s why rangers are trained by British troops.” British soldiers, primarily the Coldstream Guards, have been deployed in Malawi’s Liwonde, Nkhotakota and Majete Wildlife Reserves.

Malawi’s Hot Topics: Food, Land and Corruption

Peacekeeping and poaching, while news in Malawi, were not issues of debate in #MalawiElections2019. The issues largely focused on were that of food, land and corruption. And for good reason.

In spite of having an overwhelmingly agricultural economy, with 80% of the population working smallholder farms, access to food is still a major struggle. 47% of children in Malawi are stunted from malnutrition. The nation is also subject to regular and devastating droughts, including one which has spanned over the last 2 years. When rain does come, the resulting flooding can further disrupt food production.

This March 2019, Malawi was struck by Cyclone Idai, one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the southern hemisphere. Idai left more than 1,000 people dead and thousands more missing. Maize is a staple food in Malawi. After the catastrophic floods created by the cyclone, Malawi’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha announced that the country may have lost 20% of the maize it would produce this season. (#MalawiFloods2019)

Malawi’s industrial agriculture is dominated by inedible cash crops. Tobacco constitutes an overwhelming 71% of exports. A further 10% is tea. Malawi is also known for growing “the best and finest” chamba (cannabis) in the world. The sale of “Malawi Gold” is considered by some to be a possible solution to the country’s economic woes and an answer to the steadily declining tobacco market.

Declining tobacco consumption in wealthy western countries has been undercutting tobacco prices. Malawi’s tobacco supply chain is dominated by a small number of large multinational corporations and many farmers are dependent on the tobacco leaf buyers for their farming equipment, which means that small farmers are relatively powerless to drive up prices.

“Most farmers used the land that was cultivating food crops for tobacco hoping that they would be able to purchase food from the market,” Dr. Milu Muyanga told Lima Charlie World. Dr. Muyanga, a faculty member at the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Michigan State University said that tobacco prices have not always been reliable, “but more critically the food markets have been problematic hence promoting widespread food insecurity.”

Michigan State University recently received a $7.8 million grant from the Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI) to develop policy to improve the lives of Malawi’s smallholder farmers. The ATI is a core mission of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, a U.S. nonprofit with the goal of improving global health “by ending smoking in this generation” and by supporting the diversification of tobacco-dependent economies.

Buyers at a tobacco auction in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. (Amos Gumulira)
[Buyers at a tobacco auction in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. (Amos Gumulira)]

Land Reform Fail

Another prominent roadblock Mutharika fended off is a controversial 2016 land reform bill.

“The major issue that made the 2016 land reforms unpopular were the provisions that aim to remove the governance and administration of land from the realm of traditional leaders,” Dr. Muyanga told Lima Charlie. The reforms to land tenure (property rights to land in Malawi) enabled consolidation of land away from smallholders. “The proposed tenure system, though intended to create a vibrant land market, somehow makes the acquisition of land from the poor smallholders by the rich elites and foreigners very easy.”

The apportionment of land is a critical issue in Malawi, especially because the initial colonial settlers in the country were British farmers who established the tobacco and tea export industry that persists to this day. The consolidation of land into estates places the country’s primary export industry into direct competition for land with the country’s primary source of employment, the smallholder farms. Even as 1.8-2.6% of Malawi’s forests disappear annually, opening up land in an environmentally unsustainable way, Malawian farmers still struggle to find land.

“Land sizes are shrinking and now stand at about 0.33ha per household,” said Dr. Muyanga. “The land question remains a very sensitive issue, not only in Malawi but in sub-Saharan Africa in general.”

The question of land availability in the arid southern portion of the African continent has been critical across the region, be it the role of redistribution of farmland in the rise of Zimbabwean Dictator Robert Mugabe or the current growing popularity of the Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa.

The controversial advocacy group, the People’s Land Organisation (PLO), or People’s Land Party, and its Supreme Leader Vincent Wandale attempted a radical appeal in Malawi on the land issue. With an aim to “take back all the land under estate ownership which was lawlessly grabbed from our grandfathers during the colonial period”, the PLO suffered a setback when Wandale was ordered to a psychiatric facility for treatment.

 “Wandale was by no means insane as he was described, because all he wanted was to address the problem of land, which the estates had apportioned themselves while the majority had nowhere to build and cultivate,” said MCP candidate Chakwera at a campaign rally. The MCP has angled to return to power, having ruled shortly after independence from 1966 to the establishment of free elections in 1993.

Corruption and Mismanagement

Malawi is the 120 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries, according to the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. According to the report, the Malawi corruption rank averaged around 90.81 from 1998 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 122 in 2017.

In 1995, soon after emerging from the 30 year absolute rule of “president-for-life” Hastings Banda, Malawi had created the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and launched a comprehensive Corrupt Practices Act. Regardless, corruption continued to such an extent that it led to the withdrawal of international support. A major scandal uncovered in 2013, known as the “Cashgate Scandal”, included a British audit showing that 16 Malawian companies had received an estimated US $32 million in illicit payments from the government for goods and services that were never delivered or performed. More than 70 people were arrested, many of whom were subsequently tried and convicted, and President Joyce Banda fired her entire cabinet. In 2017 police issued a warrant for Banda’s arrest. After returning to Malawi from self-imposed exile in the U.S., Banda ran for president in the 2019 election, before withdrawing in March, endorsing Chakwera.

According to a 2014 Transparency International report, “The progress in the fight against corruption … seems to have stagnated: petty and grand corruption are commonplace and the high levels of patronage, nepotism and clientelism constitute a hurdle to the proper functioning of the anti-corruption framework.” Malawi has ratified the UN Convention against Corruption but is not a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

In 2002, while Malawi was in the midst of a devastating famine, a cabinet member was implicated in the illegal sale of the nation’s emergency maize reserves to Kenya. The party emblem of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which rose to power in the aftermath of the 2002-2005 food shortage, is emblazoned with images of maize.

Malawi Democratic Progressive Party DPP logo

The DPP rose to power as a splinter group off the then-ruling United Democratic Front party. Led by President Bingu wa Mutharika (2004-2010), the brother of President Mutharika, the DPP brought multiple corruption charges against the former government.

President Mutharika faced a similar challenge during this 2019 election.

Chilima, former Vice President to Mutharika, formed the United Transformation Movement (UTM), challenging his predecessor on the basis of corruption and mismanagement. Chilima was an outspoken critic of the government, even while in office, and he quit the vice presidency in June to contest the presidency.

Protests in April 2018 over the "MK4bn scandal"
[Protests in April 2018 over the “MK4bn scandal”, in which 86 MPs were allegedly bribed for voting against an electoral reform bill, and the return of self-exiled former President Joyce Banda (2010-2012). Banda was chased out of office for the $32 million “Cashgate” scandal. (Photo: Lameck Masina)]
In June 2018, the Anti-Corruption Bureau had leaked a report on social media that accused Mutharika of receiving a bribe from a contractor tasked with supplying food to Malawi’s police. Mutharika called it fake news.

At his inauguration, standing before thousands of cheering supporters, President Mutharika said, “The honeymoon is over. If you belong to the DPP, you have no right to think that you are above the law or to be defiant to your superiors in the name of the party … We want a corrupt-free Malawi where our public resources continue to build roads, community technical colleges and buy drugs for the people.”

Anthony A. LoPresti and Diego Lynch, LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

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Lima Charlie World provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans, intelligence professionals and foreign policy experts Worldwide.

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The Art of Foreign Influence: The Russian Military Adviser

The Art of Foreign Influence: The Russian Military Adviser [Lima Charlie News]
The Art of Foreign Influence: The Russian Military Adviser [Lima Charlie News]

History’s superpowers have long employed military advisers around the world as extensions of a country’s power and influence. Russia has a wealth of experience when it comes to optimizing and maximizing the use of advisers. A prime example is the advisory operations of the former Soviet Union in Egypt.

I have long been particularly interested in the role of professional soldiers training foreign militaries of underdeveloped countries. I had two tours of duty in that capacity, in Egypt and Jordan. But I inherited my keen interest in what is generally referred to as security assistance from my father. As a professional Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), my father served as an adviser to the Philippine Scouts prior to the second World War. In 1946, he was then deployed to Korea where he served in the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) for 18 months. His many stories, as told to me, have well stood the test of time.

My father very much admired the Philippine Scouts, a force which fought as well as, or better than, the American units fighting against the Japanese in the battle for the Pacific. As he told their tale, he explained that these men did not need to be taught how to soldier. They were consummate professionals. Rather, my father’s contribution was technical assistance vis-a-vis signal communication. His experience during the war mirrored my own with the Jordanian forces in the 1970s. Back then, the Jordanian Army was a professional military, schooled by the British, yet it was in need of technical assistance. Today, the Jordanian military stands out as one of the best militaries in the Middle East, if not the best.

My father’s experience in Korea was far different. Korean soldiers were amongst the toughest in the world. I myself served with some in 1961-62 and saw firsthand the draconian punishment that the Korean command handed down towards recalcitrant troops. Yet, the American advisers in Korea during my father’s time, after having survived the horrors of the Second World War, held a reluctance in giving their all for a far away country that was mired in corruption and political fratricide. As my father related, the Korean soldier was inured to hardship and was a keen learner, but the officer corps was corrupt, incompetent and suffered from frequent turnover due to political infighting.

To some degree, this mirrors my experience in Egypt, 1981-1983. The Egyptian Army’s virtue was that it had soldiers inured to hardship, yet it consisted of a mostly self-indulgent officer corps. By and large, it had lost the fighting edge instilled in it by professional Egyptian officers and the hard-driving Soviet training mission to prepare for the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, more commonly referred to as the Yom Kippur War or Ramadan War. By the time I had arrived in Egypt in 1981, the general Egyptian way of soldiering was stuck in a bygone era of British colonial tradition, reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s classic “The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan” (1899). This entailed a slothful, materialistic minded officers corps, adhering to the adage that whoever sticks their neck out for anything gets it chopped off. The rule of the sage was to play it safe. I found the Egyptian Army to be demoralized and bereft of much-needed weaponry.

Yet, I knew even then that when Soviet and Warsaw Pact advisers had first arrived to Egypt in 1955, they found the Egyptian Army in even worse shape. While the Soviet training advisory mission was at first more of a political effort than military, after 1968 it had become a top military priority. It should be said, the Soviets did a remarkable job in rebuilding the Egyptian Army after its demoralizing defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Despite their commendable service in Egypt, Soviet advisers were given very little recognition. The Russian military had long held the same lack of esteem for advisory jobs as the American army still does. It’s a simple fact, if your primary orientation in the military is in security assistance (i.e. advisory roles) you’ll have a hard time making flag officer. This was true for Russian officers in Egypt and Afghanistan, and it still holds true to this day.

This brings us to the purpose of this article.

While there are rooms full of books and materials about Russia’s involvement in the Middle East in terms of political, diplomatic, and arms assistance, there is very little about the efforts of the military adviser. Yet Russia, particularly, has a wealth of in-depth knowledge and experience when it comes to optimizing and maximizing the use of advisers in sensitive environments.

A prime example can be found in Russia’s extensive advisory operations in Egypt during the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser, prior to the expulsion of Russian military advisers from the country by President Anwar el‐Sadat beginning in 1972. The assistance Russia provided to Egypt in that era is similar in some respects to that given today to Syria’s Assad-led Damascus regime and its Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

[Russian military adviser trains Syrians in mine clearance operations (Image: Russian Defence Ministry)]
[Russian military adviser trains Syrians in mine clearance operations (Image: Russian Defence Ministry)]

The Military Adviser – An Historic Role

The world’s superpowers have historically employed military and political advisers as extensions of influence and power, often to achieve long-term goals. For instance, America has kept advisers in the Philippines since the Taft administration.

One of the earliest American advisers in the Philippines was Captain John “Black Jack” Pershing, famed for his involvement in the hunt for Pancho Villa and later as a commander of American forces in World War I. Ultimately, his work leading indigenous Philippine troops during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) in their unending battle against Islamic insurgents would earn him his Brigadier General-title.

Another famed military adviser was one of General Douglas MacArthur’s aides in Manila. Future president Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, then a middle-aged U.S. Army Major, sought to define and organize the U.S.-supported Philippine national army in the mid-1930s. A Herculean task that few dared, it no doubt honed his skills, which would soon be tested during the D-Day invasion in Europe.

From Latin America to the depths of Asia’s jungles, America has dispatched military advisers throughout the world. Often these advisers have succeeded in accomplishing the impossible. And as warfare continues to move towards more asymmetrical micro-conflicts against non-state actors, the military and political adviser has grown in importance. This is an aspect that the U.S. government has thankfully realized.

The U.S. Army recently deployed the first Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) out of Ft. Benning to Afghanistan in mid-2018. Its operation was a measurable success and upon its rotation completion, it was quickly decided that the 2nd SFAB would deploy to Afghanistan out of Ft. Bragg. The plan is to eventually create a six brigade force of soldiers specially trained to assist host countries to combine nation-building with assistance in military training of indigenous forces.

This is an innovation of some note, as the U.S. Army has seldom given much priority to the act of military assistance. This despite the fact that it’s one of the premier roles for the U.S. Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, since the group’s inception in 1952.

The mission to train and assist is vague enough to allow virtually any type of training mission. Officially, the training program is modeled after the standard Infantry Combat brigade, leaving one to wonder what modifications and extensions could be made to encapsulate artillery, armor and other modern warfare tactics. At any rate, the most urgent issue for the SFABs will be the level and scope of the training they receive at the Military Training and Assistance Academy at Ft. Benning.

Will their training model include the cultural preparation needed? Will it require the seldom remembered but important study of lessons learned from other nations, not just the U.S.?

[Activation ceremony for the U.S. Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB)(U.S. Army photo)]

The Unrecognized and Unsung Role of Russia’s Egyptian Advisers

No one knew, or knows till now
About the awful heat and scorching sands
How in the fiery Arabian desert
We suffered thirst and yearning.

We defended the Fellah’s home and life
But no one ever thanked us
No one but Allah knew
How it was there and what happened.

And there in the sands on the Suez canal
It was as any war is:
Fate did not spare my comrades
But commanded me to remember them.

And to my last day, I’ll recall them
Whose life they gave for the struggle
Let the [Afghans], my friend and heir,
Sing about their fate and his.

-Vassily Murzintsev, “No One Knew”

The act of supporting Egypt was not a painless one for the Soviets. In a published poem entitled “No One Knew”, found in the excellent book “The Soviet-Israeli War 1967-1973” (by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez), Soviet veteran Vassily Murzintsev laments his time in Egypt. The poem captures the vital, yet usually unrecognized role of the so-called Security Assistance, more commonly known as an adviser, professional.

Russia’s military intervention in Egypt was a mammoth effort to rebuild the Egyptian army after its demoralizing defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War. Russia’s involvement with the Egyptian military was all encompassing and essential. The Soviets would become instrumental in Egypt regaining the honor of its military. General Saad Shazly, the Egyptian Army Chief of Staff at the time, wrote in his monograph “Crossing the Suez” that this accomplishment would have been impossible without the assistance of the Soviet advisers.

Can we learn from Russia’s experience in Egypt?

[Soviet maps of the region in 1953 and 1967]
[Soviet maps of the region in 1953 and 1967]

Cultural Clash: Russian Advisers and their Egyptian Hosts

In examining Russia’s experience in Egypt, many of the same problems the United States experienced in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Iran prior to the revolution, were similarly experienced by Russian advisers. With around 20,000 Russians in Egypt, friction was bound to occur.

Soviet advisers were at every level involved in every aspect of Egyptian planning, training and logistics. Many senior advisers even brought their families and they lived in tightly guarded compounds where access in and out was rigidly controlled. At times the Russian commander in Egypt prohibited Russian families from leaving the compounds at all.

Once let out, the bumptiousness of Russians – from an Egyptian standpoint – was often on display. In one instance while traveling in Egypt in 1968, my wife and I took a small ferry across the Nile along with a number of Russian women and men. The women wore short house dresses with short-sleeved blouses. When we reached the other side of the Nile, the Egyptian boatman, his face twisted in disgust, kept repeating the word “zift” — a colloquialism that denotes anything dirty or lowly.

After some probing, the boatman said that his primary problem wasn’t so much their attire, but that the women had copious amounts of hair under their arms. To Egyptians, who prefer their women to have hair only on their heads, this was a massive breach of accepted behavior. To the ultra-conservative Muslim fellah this was more than a breach of etiquette, it was blasphemous. Understanding these norms is essential to intercultural relations.

Another cause for friction involved the apparent frugality of the Soviets. Russians in Egypt were paid relatively well, and were often granted monetary bonuses. Yet, when they left the compounds, often in groups, merchants complained they spent very little money, that they were cheap. Many Russians had volunteered for Egyptian duty in order to buy cars upon their return to Russia. At that time, this was beyond the dreams of most Soviet citizens. It was widely known that the monetary incentive was far more attractive than the patriotic duty of opposing capitalism.

[President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser greets First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev (L) during his visit to the United Arab Republic in 1964. (Photo Vasily Yegorov / ITAR-TASS)]
[President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser greets First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev (L) during his visit to the United Arab Republic in 1964. (Photo Vasily Yegorov / ITAR-TASS)]
A favorite item for Russians returning home, however, was gold. At one time the Egyptian security services complained to then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that the Russians were depleting Egyptian stocks of gold. This vignette is symptomatic of the basic distrust, which characterized the Egyptian-Soviet relationship.

General Saad Al Shazly probably expressed this tension best when he wrote:

“The Russians have many qualities, but concern for human feeling is not among them. They are brusque, harsh, frequently arrogant and unwilling to believe anyone has anything to teach them.”

Meanwhile, the Russians were highly critical of their Egyptian military hosts. Most irritating to Shazly was the condescending and preachy attitudes of Soviet officials. They often accused the Egyptians of failing to mobilize their people and seeking luxury instead of putting all their energies against Israel. They frequently asserted that the Egyptian army was largely composed of peasants, most of them poorly educated, and that officers were self-seeking, using their position for personal gain. The Russians also complained that the Egyptians did not know how to use Soviet weapons, and that the problem was low training standards of the Egyptians.

Despite some public acknowledgements of appreciation by the Egyptian embassy and Egyptian press, many sources, especially Israeli ones, described the eventual departure of Soviet advisers as a welcome relief to both Egyptians and Russians. Dan Asher in his book, “Egyptian Strategy for the Yom Kippur” wrote, “most Egyptian personnel loathed the Soviet’s self – righteous and heavy-handed involvement in all levels of the army.” A classmate of mine, Colonel Nicholas Krawciw, attached to a United Nations unit at the time, once recalled being invited to a party by Egyptian officers celebrating the departure of the Soviets.

The training of over 20,0000 Egyptians in Russia didn’t promote intercultural relations either, according to Colonel E.V. Badolato and the Egyptian writer, Mohammed Heikal. Social mixing between the Egyptians and Russians was almost non-existent. Nevertheless, in some aspects, the cultural hurdles were less for the Russians than Americans and other Western advisers.

[Soviet military advisers against the background of the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Sphinx, 1972]
[Soviet military advisers against the background of the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Sphinx, 1972]

Combat Training and a Tower of Babel

The Russian system was to instill in the trainee confidence and knowledge by using set-piece drills over and over. Generally speaking, trainees were never expected to exercise initiative or innovation but rather go through drills repeatedly until it was second nature. Basic soldier drills were emphasized, especially survival on the battlefield. If an Egyptian unit stopped for just a brief break, soldiers would immediately dig foxholes.

The Soviet training compared to Western training could be explained this way: in American training of small unit commanders the instructor would say, “This is the situation, as commander what are your actions?” In the Soviet system of training the instructor would say, “This is the situation, and this is what you should do. Now we will practice this until you get it right.”

Most of the training was “show and tell” in order to mitigate the language difficulties. Few Russians knew Arabic and fewer Egyptians knew Russian. The Cyrillic and Arabic writing systems are so difficult that translations were poorly done and often translations at general staff levels forced the Egyptians and Russians to use English.

The Russians also had immense problems with translators and interpreters qualified to work in the military field. In many cases, they were pulled out of language schools before they had completed their training creating a very disgruntled group. The translators were usually only half trained and were not at all happy being dumped in the desert when most were expecting some cushy foreign service posting.

There were often times when translators arrived without any tropical clothing or lodging arranged. Translator social media groups in the Glasnost period often complained about the shoddy treatment in Egypt at the hands of Soviet authorities. According to General Shazly, the Egyptians were often given no notice of the arrival of translators and had to produce clothing and living arrangements for the bewildered Soviet students in a matter of hours.

One of the facets of the Russian interface with Arabs, was that often Russians who spoke Arabic didn’t seem comfortable in their use of Arabic. Perhaps it was their fear of misspeaking creating a security breach. For instance, my counterpart, the Soviet assistant Army attaché in Jordan spoke modern standard Arabic quite well, but he continually asked the Jordanian officers if my Arabic was better than his. It was not, but the Jordanian officers would, just to “pull his chain” heap praise on my mixed Bedouin and Levantine Arabic. Like many KGB officers assigned to the Arab world, he had received two years of Arabic study. Yet the Arabic taught was of the modern standard variety, never used in normal Egyptian conversation.

Training the Trainers and Surviving Egypt

In both the Egyptian and Afghan interventions the Soviets had little time to train or acculturate their officers and troops. While staff work was excellent, it was largely modeled on Soviet intervention in Eastern bloc countries. As the dust settled it became clear that trainers had much to do to become competent at their jobs.

While advisers did do longer tours than American advisers in Iraq and Vietnam, usually about 18 months, and two years for senior officers, interpersonal skills were largely absent and they received no cultural training of any significance. The vast majority of officers knew nothing of Egypt and its people. What they were told was that Egypt, despite the so-called Nasser revolution, was still a “feudal state”.

While in Egypt the enemy was boredom and a lack of any diversions. Soviet troops, like most troops everywhere, were unimpressed with officially conducted tours of museums and historical tourist sites. Russian trainers worked hard and mostly learned on the job what they needed to know, but there was a lot of downtime. Examples include Ramadan, when training virtually shut down, and weeks of overwhelming heat which often limited training to a few hours a day.

Two major problems evident among the Russians in Afghanistan, vodka and drugs, were mostly absent in Egypt, but psychiatric problems were not. Junior officers and NCO’s found their spartan existence tough, and according to one of my fellow Egyptian instructors, a former Egyptian military psychiatrist, there were many cases of Russian soldiers and officers being sent home because of their inability to adjust to the environment.

Overall, the Russians were generally found to be dedicated instructors and stern masters. Despite the grumblings of senior Egyptian officers, President Nasser gave the Russian advisers carte blanche in training scenarios, all the while keeping a certain security distance between them. Nasser made it clear that the Russian instructors were the bosses and in time the Russians were even involved in promotions and assignments.

Russian advisers were intimately involved in the planning for the Ramadan War. Yet later, according to Yevgeny Primakov, former head of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service, President Sadat denied any Soviet involvement in the planning. As many sources attest, this is not true.

On an early official visit in 1978, with the U.S. Army Assistant Chief of Intelligence to Egypt, we were shown some of the minutely detailed and beautifully hand drawn cartographic depictions of the Suez Canal Israeli defensive positions and devices installed on the sand berms on the Israeli side. On many documents, in addition to Arabic text, I saw notes in Cyrillic. It should be added that the Russian skill in river crossing techniques was obvious in the Egyptian assault across the canal.

Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Air Force, Chief Air Marshal P.S. Kutakhov with the squadron pilots of the 135th air regiment, February 1972, Egypt.
[Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Air Force, Chief Air Marshal P.S. Kutakhov with the squadron pilots of the 135th air regiment, February 1972, Egypt.]

The Russian Equipment and Logistics System

The Russian logistics system and equipment tend to be better suited for third world recipients; for the most part, simpler to operate and maintain. The Russian “push” logistics system worked far better for the Egyptians than the U.S. “pull” system which depends on better educated and more mechanically inclined crewmen, as well as a systemic approach to logistics.

For instance, the common toolset, which, at that time was found in the American battalion maintenance, would be found at depot level in the Egyptian army. Egyptians were also incapable of battlefield recovery and getting damaged heavy weapons back into the battle. The Egyptian system, based on their level of training and education, was very single task oriented. For example, each tank crewman had specific jobs and the cross training required to do multiple tasks was not usually done.

The Russians reinforced their method of compartmentalized instruction. This seemingly inadequate training has to be understood within the context of the reality of the Egyptian educational level at the time and the general unfamiliarity with machinery. An example, the Egyptian army had to establish a driving school just to train drivers on the rudiments of driving wheeled vehicles.

Military logistics systems are culturally based. The Soviet/Russian system was predicated on a lesser degree of mechanical aptitude and education, which fitted into the Egyptian requirements and educational environment much better than the American systems. Many times in the interminable meetings with Egyptian officers I heard how much better American equipment was than its Russian counterpart, only to hear a few minutes later how “delicate” American equipment was compared to the Russian equipment.

No doubt this was true. For example, repair work on a tracked vehicle, which included pulling the engine out of the chassis, could be done at a U.S. battalion level. Yet, Egyptians did not have the expertise to use the required U.S. equipment (or perhaps the commanders did not want the responsibility). It had to be sent to the rear. In some cases, I felt this was simply a matter of certain officers maintaining their prerogatives and exercising the Arab military cultural tendency to hoard supplies and information.

Russian-Egyptian Cultural and Political Advantages

Despite the above, I do believe that at the time many similarities between Russian and Egyptian cultures existed. A general acceptance of authority, paranoia about military security, and living with few if any amenities are a few examples. The Egyptian soldier expected very little and received even less. Russian junior officers and NCO’s also had lower expectations.

The U.S. Department of Army Pamphlet, A Historical Study of Russian Combat Methods in WWII had described the Russian soldier as one who, “in addition to the simplicity which is revealed in his limited household needs and his primitive way of living, the Russian soldier has a close kinship with nature.” The forbearance of Russian advisers in Egypt suffering 120-degree temperatures, sleeping on the ground in cots just high enough to get them above the scorpions crawling around at night, were some of the privations endured by junior Soviet officers that bewildered Egyptian officers who themselves detested the desert.

Unless they were on exercises, most advisers retreated to their compounds in the evening, a policy acceptable to both the Egyptian and Russian security apparatuses. Personal relationships were abjured. In neither the Soviet army nor the Egyptian army were junior officers and NCO’s expected to exercise much initiative. In both militaries the NCO was simply a higher grade enlisted man and simply relayed and enforced orders. This made the training scenarios much easier for the Russians to conduct.

Renowned Sovietologist Walter Laqueur explained in his seminal studies of Russia in the Middle East that the Soviets came in with a relatively clean slate in regards to colonialism and attitude toward Israel. Western egregious political mistakes, such as the ill-fated Baghdad Pact, paved the way for Soviet involvement. Admiration among Arab intellectuals and military officers for the rapid Soviet industrialization and military prowess was also an important factor.

The large Muslim population of the USSR also enabled Russians to find enough compliant Muslims to present a “Muslim face” to the Arab World. Despite the earlier effort of the Stalinists to eradicate Islam in the USSR as incompatible with Marxism, according to American premier Middle East historian, Bernard Lewis, in consideration of geopolitical reasons, a great deal of intellectual outreach was expended to surface compatibility of Islam to communism.

[VIDEO: Russian advisers train Syrian troops – Zvezda]

Lessons Learned: A Look Forward

The Soviet experience in Egypt can be narrowed down to three salient lessons.

First, one cannot expect gratitude from even the most expensive and elaborate military assistance programs. Egyptian sources, other than Saad Shazly, scarcely mention the real impact of Russian assistance. Upon their departure, they also left behind a residue of ill-will.

Second, no long-term benefits accrued to the Russians. While Russia seems to be regenerating its relations with Egypt, both are very wary of political entanglements.

Third, and most importantly, the cultural component of the security assistance programs is vital. Despite the massive transfer of arms and equipment, along with the best professional efforts of competent Soviet officers, the constant friction between the two sides, especially at the top level, negated the Russian investment.

Some might say it has been quite a number of years since the last Soviet soldiers left Egypt, that times have changed. Yet it is well established that cultures change very slowly even as technologies surge ahead. The culture of societies, particularly the military subculture, changes almost imperceptibly and not always in a “progressive” sense.

An analysis of Russian military attempts to modernize and reform have been well captured in the book, “Military Reform and Militarism in Russia” by Aleksandr Golts. Attempts by a series of Russian Ministers of War, particularly Anatoliy Serdyukov, to institute reforms in the Russian armed forces were ultimately defeated by the colossal Russian military bureaucracy. As Golt wrote, “a Russian officer should stop being a minuscule cog in a huge military machine, deprived of the right to initiative, who acquires knowledge to the area relevant to him.”

Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has apparently chosen a somewhat different path in Syria. Russia’s specialized forces, the Spetsnaz, have been engaged in combat alongside and sometimes commanding units of the pro-Assad regime forces. Rather than instituting the more formalized training that characterized the training of Egyptians and Afghans, it would seem that Russia has opted for a sort of on-the-job training offered by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Putin may not wish to face the issue of attriting young soldiers lives in another Afghanistan, an increasingly precious commodity in view of the rapidly declining Russian population. He has wisely chosen a sort of “hybrid warfare,” using irregular forces, mercenaries, clandestine methods, information and disinformation programs, at which the Russians have excelled for decades.

Professional military trainers require specialized education and personal attributes. Hopefully the American army creation of Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB) will develop the required attributes and knowledge. In establishing these units Americans have learned, somewhat belatedly, the unique requirements and roles of a military adviser. The SFAB should delve deeply into American Lessons learned, not just from Iraq or Afghanistan, but also from America’s training of Filipinos, Central American forces, Koreans, and irregular forces such as in the Burma Theater in World War II.

As important, while studying our own security assistance lessons learned, we should always ensure that we study those of other nations, particularly our rivals, and those of former enemies such as Nazi Germany and its training of European (non-German) Waffen SS units and the Muslim legions. In an article I wrote and published in 1999, I illustrated the failure of Western military advisers to institute lasting changes in the Arab military. Much of the failures can be attributed to futile attempts to re-create a military modeled on Western traditions and ethos.

History does not always repeat itself, and sometimes does in a modified and unrecognizable form. Charging ahead in a futurist fashion arrogantly assuming that technology and “new wave” doctrine will put us ahead of our adversaries is a recipe for disaster.

Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[ Edited by John Sjoholm and Anthony A. LoPresti ]

U.S. Army Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine spent nearly nine years of his 30-year military career in the Middle East as a military attache, student or political military officer. After retirement he taught for 18 years as the Middle East seminar director at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Following his retirement from the JFK Center, Colonel DeAtkine held positions with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Iraqi Intelligence Cell and Marine Corps Cultural and Language Center. He has written a number of articles for various periodicals on primarily Middle Eastern military topics.

SOURCES:

The following sources are most helpful in terms of Soviet advisory material: Russia and the Arabs, by Yevgeny Primakov; Foxbats over Dimona and The Soviet-Israeli War 1967-1973, by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez; The Egyptian Army in Popular Culture, by Dakia Said Mostafa; The Yom Kippur War, by Abraham Rabinovich (the later version); The Soviet Union and Egypt 1945-1955, by Rami Ginat; The Soviet Union and the Yom Kippur War, by Galia Golan; Armies of Sand, by Kenneth Pollack; The Soviet Union and the Middle East, by Walter Laqueur; Naval War College Review, “A Clash of Cultures: The Expulsion of the Soviet Military Advisors from Egypt”, by E.V. Badolato. – Author

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Iranian crackdown on MEK shows the activist group has popular support

Iranian crackdown on MEK shows the activist group has popular support [Lima Charlie News]
Iranian crackdown on MEK shows the activist group has popular support [Lima Charlie News]

OPINION | Iran’s increasing crackdown on the MEK, an activist group accused by the mullahs of organizing mass protests, proves the group is the main alternative to the present Iranian regime. Lima Charlie World is publishing the following opinion article in its entirety. At times, Lima Charlie World will publish opinion articles that are relevant to critical foreign policy issues. The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions or viewpoints of Lima Charlie World.

In light of escalating tensions with Iran, the terrorist designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and increasing popular protests inside the country, many are asking: Is there a viable alternative to Iran’s mullahs?

Well, the Iranian Regime itself gives us the answer.

Last month, once again, senior Iranian regime officials publicly underscored the role of the main opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) in organizing domestic protests. This comes after comments by the regime’s highest authority, supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who last year lambasted the MEK for organizing the uprisings. In January 2018, the regime’s president, Hassan Rouhani, even called French President Emmanuel Macron to complain about the movement’s presence in Paris.

When no European leader, including President Macron, paid heed to Rouhani’s desperate pleas, the regime even attempted to bomb the “Free Iran Rally – The Alternative” in Paris, as part of an increasingly aggressive international assassination program of its critics.

Tehran routinely refers to the MEK as an “existential threat” and subjects sympathizers to prison, torture and death by hanging. Since 1979, the Iranian regime has executed no less than 100,000 MEK members and sympathizers. In 1988 alone, the mullahs conducted what Amnesty International has called a “prison massacre” executing over 30,000 members and supporters of this organization for their democratic beliefs. Now, the struggle for democracy and freedom in Iran has entered a new phase.

A recent statement at a major event in Tehran speaks to the growing impact of the MEK and its vital role in directing mass protests inside Iran, drawing the authorities’ wrath.

Mahmoud Alavi, Minister of the regime’s intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) said on April 19 that “over the past year 116 teams tied to the MEK have been confronted or dealt with.” During his Friday prayer speech, which was televised by state-run TV, he employed sensational phrases to play up the regime’s intelligence capabilities against the MEK. He stated that the arrest of 116 MEK “teams” (as opposed to individuals) across the country was inspired by supreme leader Ali Khamenei himself.

Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi (Photo: Ebrahim Noroozi / AP)
Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi (Photo: Ebrahim Noroozi / AP)

On April 22, MOIS Director General for East Azerbaijan Province announced in an interview:

“In 1397 (Iranian calendar beginning March 21) MEK activities in the Province had increased and for 1398 they have been given reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering missions to further their agenda inside the country. Last year the MEK exploited the economic and social problems to expand its activities. Some 60 individuals associated with the group were arrested and 50 more people identified and warned.”

On May 20, the revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced a 34-year-old MEK activist to death and three others to five years in prison for engaging in peaceful anti-regime protests.

In reaction to Alavi’s comments, the MEK stated that the number of last year’s arrests of its activists was actually much higher than the figures Alavi portrayed. It published a small sample of the names and specifics of 28 of the detainees, calling for urgent international action for their release. This sample list speaks volumes about the movement’s growing status inside Iran. Over half of those listed are less than 35 years of age. Among them are women, and they were arrested in 13 different cities across Iran, indicating the extensive reach of the MEK.

Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the political coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which has the MEK as a member organization, called on the Secretary-General of the United Nations to take immediate action to release those detainees.

The Iranian regime is crippled by major crises and is deadly frightened of the Iranian people as its true enemy. It does not want them to be organized, and it certainly does not want any semblance of an alternative to its authoritarian rule. That is why it is on the hunt for anyone associated with the MEK. It has done this before. Following the 2009 protests, the regime hanged several MEK supporters to suppress dissent and discourage sympathy with the organization.

[NCRI Supporters rallying in Washington D.C. on March 8th, 2019. (Photo: Bruce Boyajian)]
[NCRI Supporters rallying in Washington D.C. on March 8th, 2019. (Photo: Bruce Boyajian)]
The regime is also vengeful towards the MEK because the group has revealed many aspects of the mullahs’ clandestine nuclear weapons program, including the revelations about the Natanz enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water site in August 2002.

To justify its massacre of MEK activists in Iran and its terror plots against the group, the Iranian regime has falsely claimed that the MEK has been involved in terrorism. Yet, a French investigative magistrate concluded after an eight-year investigation that the MEK’s military operations, which were unilaterally halted in 2001, were not terrorism, but rather resistance against tyranny.

Now, however, the MEK has significantly expanded the depth and breadth of its domestic activities through “Units of Rebellion” – small teams of ordinary Iranians organized to lead protests, write anti-regime slogans and deface the symbols of the regime’s suppressive might. This includes the establishment of IRGC and paramilitary Bassij offices scattered across the country.

Alavi’s comments belie what the regime apologists are spewing out about the “lack of popular support” for the movement inside Iran. The head of the regime’s intelligence service boasts about the “epic” scale of arrests of MEK members. The MEK has proven itself to be the only democratic opposition capable of rallying Iranians against the regime, through a formidable organizational structure and popular network inside the country.

The world should recognize the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations to change the regime. The only solution to the Iran crisis is a grassroots and indigenous one. As such, the international community should also take immediate action to release detainees who have been suppressed by the terrorist IRGC and MOIS forces. Designating the MOIS as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is another important step to be taken. Let’s send another strong message to Tehran that its terrorism is no longer tolerated.

Ali Safavi, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

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Ali Safavi is an official with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. An activist during the anti-Shah student movement in the 1970s in the US, Safavi has been involved in Iranian affairs since then and has lectured and written extensively on issues related to Iran, Iraq, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and the political process in the Middle East. Safavi was involved in the successful legal campaign to remove the main Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), from the lists of terrorist groups in the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States.

Safavi’s articles have been published in various books and periodicals including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, The Boston Herald, The Washington Times, The McClatchy Newspapers, The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune, among others, and he has appeared on many television and radio programs on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, CBC, The BBC, Sky TV, Al-Arabiya, and Al-Jazeera, among others. Safavi’s older brother, Hossein, a US-educated aerospace engineer from Northrop University in California, was executed by the current Iranian regime in 1981 for his opposition to their repressive policies. A sociologist by career, Safavi studied and taught at UCLA, California State University Los Angeles and University of Michigan from 1972 until 1981.

Safavi tweets at @amsafavi

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The Mind of Bolton – AUMF and the New Iran War (A Parody)

The Mind of Bolton - AUMF and the New Iran War [Lima Charlie News]
The Mind of Bolton - AUMF and the New Iran War [Lima Charlie News]

John Bolton, President Trump’s National Security Advisor, is searching for a way to use the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) to bypass Congress.

Evidence. All I needed was the evidence …

As I exited the Oval Office, that objective repeated in my head. Just a whiff of Iranian ties to the right terrorists would move Trump to say ‘yes.’

Just a whiff John. Just a whiff.

The plan was simple. My experience working in the Bush Jr. administration helped clarify which steps will legally justify these moves. My weekly breakfasts with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan made it clear that these two are largely willing to tow the President’s line.

Call me” – the President said making a gesture with his thumb and pinkie, rotary dialing with his other hand.

Pompeo had issued a written statement after the last flare up. “[Trump] looks forward to someday meeting with leaders of Iran in order to work out an agreement and, very importantly, taking steps to give Iran the future it deserves.”

And at least he has laid the legal groundwork for invasion.

‘They have hosted al-Qaeda, they have permitted al-Qaeda to transit their country,’ Pompeo told a dubious Senator Rand Paul in Senate testimony in April. ‘There is no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al-Qaeda. Period, full stop.’

That’s all I have to say…

Conveniently, al Qaeda has sprung back to life. The Islamic State’s destruction left space for this old enemy to return. Just in time.

Thanks to the AUMF, we – the President – can use military force if he thinks he has public support. Otherwise, war can spell dire electoral consequences.

Congress will sit back and do nothing.

The President has already rallied his base against the Iranian regime with his “maximum pressure” campaign.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

Fire and fury!

I love it.

Trump tweet Iran

Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group perfectly positioned. Check.

Brilliant brinksmanship this is. Brilliant.

This is not North Korea 2.0! Fake news.

“An Attack on Two Saudi Oil Tankers is An Attack On All Americans”.

Oh, Onion you can still make me laugh.

Onion tweet John Bolton

They have hosted al-Qaeda, they have permitted al-Qaeda to transit their country”
-U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo

This has all freed me up to focus on my main objective: transforming decades of bubbling up tension into open conflict then bam! Regime change in Iran.

The one page AUMF, passed in the Senate 98 to 0 and 420 to 1 in the House, authorizes the President ‘to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the US by such nations, organizations or persons.’

‘Harbored’ is my favorite part.

That’s the advantage of evolving franchises and the fluidity of terror cells, and the reason why the 2001 AUMF was written so broadly. Makes logical sense as well in that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so naturally that’s where the terrorists are hiding.

The AUMF is conveniently absent of a definition of just how much evidence is needed for the President to move troops. I reminded the President that this timing (of course) would distract from the Mueller backlash and also be great for a reelection bid. Most wartime presidents are reelected.

Congress will do nothing.

Amendment by consent.

The Saudis approve.

He seemed to be pleased.

Under the AUMF, I don’t even have to deal with those ass clowns in the Congress. Just the President.

Even if Congress wants to get crazy and pull funds from this military operation, the President only needs ⅓, plus 1, of the Congressional vote to wage war on any target at any time. All he has to do is veto the act of withdrawal, requiring a ⅔ vote from both houses to overcome that.

That’s not going to happen. Congress isn’t going to risk being painted as failing to support troops in the field. Congress will continue funding because at the end of the day, the individual representative does not want to look weak or anti-American.

What’s the big deal anyways?

President Bush used the AUMF 18 times and President Obama used it 19 times — for military actions, to enact mass surveillance and to secure prisoners. President Trump has only used it twice!

Restraint, if you ask me…

As former Ambassador to the UN, I know nations have the right to defend themselves. Of course they do! Yes, we can also go to war when there is a joint authorization from the UN Security Council or through NATO under Article 5. This helps if we want to build coalitions and follow treaties and such.

What? Is Congress suddenly going to grow a spine?

The Walter B. Jones Restoring Power to Congress Act, which would repeal the 2001 AUMF, has a mere two co-sponsors. The bill was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee in January, and hasn’t seen the light of day since. The bill is named for the late Senator Walter B. Jones (R. – N.C.), and is based off of his previous legislation.

Seems pretty easy to ignore.

Of the 17 Republicans running to assume Jones’ old seat, not one has in anyway critiqued Trump’s foreign policy.

OK now.

Is the media going to skip the reality TV cash cow that the 2020 presidential campaign will be, to cover some war in some country?

The media played its role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and little has changed. The war in Yemen has been largely ignored by major networks. The aftermath of the U.S. intervention in Libya is rarely mentioned. Opponents of regime change in Venezuela barely have a platform. None of the top ten circulated newspapers in the country spoke out against the President’s April 2017 strike on Syria.

But under the AUMF, I don’t even have to deal with those ass clowns in the Congress. Just the President.

Eighteen years into the War on Terror, the U.S. is involved in military actions in 76 countries, or 40% of the countries on the planet. What’s one more?

These are dangerous times. And I took an oath.

–END

Don Martinez (reporting from Washington, D.C. as the imagined John Bolton, or John Bolton Fan Fiction), for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[Diego Lynch and Anthony A. LoPresti contributed to this parody]

[Main image, from photo by Alex Wong]

U.S. Army Combat Veteran Don Martinez reports from Washington, D.C. where a campaign against the use of the September 18th, 2001, Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran is being held.

Don Martinez is a senior correspondent with Lima Charlie News and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of Lima Charlie Media. Don is a retired US Army Field Artillery officer living in Colorado Springs, CO. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom with two combat deployments to Iraq where he earned his Combat Action Badge.

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Opinion | A Trump war crime pardon dishonors us all

A Trump war crime pardon dishonors us all [Lima Charlie News]
A Trump war crime pardon dishonors us all [Lima Charlie News]

President Donald Trump is reportedly considering granting pardons for several military members who have been accused or convicted of war crimes, including some who have not yet gone to trial. The pardons may be issued this Memorial Day. OPINION by U.S. Army Veteran William Stuebner.

On May 27th America celebrates its 151st Memorial Day, and it looks like President Donald Trump is going to dishonor us all. Make no mistake about it, the bottom line of every soldier’s job is either to kill or support those who pull the trigger in service to their country.

Killing is not something most service men and women relish, and the need to take a life is usually the result of the failure of civilian authorities to find non-lethal solutions to the world’s problems. This is true for every infantryman, but also every clerk, every mechanic, every intelligence professional.

While a good soldier may, of necessity, be a good killer, good soldiers are not murderers. They follow legal and moral orders, and do what they must. Once they step over the line into premeditated crimes like torture, the murder of innocents, and persons who are hors de combat, they no longer deserve our respect and should be treated like any other criminal.

All that said, the fog of war is real. Many of us have made honest mistakes that result in unjustified injury and death, especially in conflicts where it is difficult to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants. In the heat of battle, with the heady mix of adrenaline, excitement, and fear, one can do things that only in retrospect are understood to be wrong.

A good soldier who holds a wounded child in his or her arms and watches the light slowly go out in their eyes or hears their cries for Mommy lives with that moment forever. This is the cost of professionalism and service. It is also why the decision of our presidents to employ deadly force should never be taken before every other reasonable option is tried.

We all understand our roles as military professionals.

While a good soldier may, of necessity, be a good killer, good soldiers are not murderers.

None of these words is unfamiliar. Every one of us knows the standards we are expected to uphold. Most of the time, we obey the rules even under the most horrific conditions. This is something that makes the American military, usually, stand out. It differentiates us from many of our opponents.

So why discuss these things now?

President Trump talks openly of killing terrorists’ families and makes light of torture techniques like waterboarding, even declaring that he plans to do much worse. He is not the first politician to say things like this. It is typical of civilian officials who, when their time to stand up came, were too selfish or cowardly to serve.

Some, like former Vice President Dick Cheney, wrap themselves in the flag and suddenly become the greatest patriots of all time. Another good example is National Security Advisor John Bolton; the man who never saw a war he didn’t like but who, of course, never saw any war up close and personal.

Now President Trump, playing to his “patriotic” base, is considering pardoning military members who have been rightfully convicted by duly-constituted courts-martial of what amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity (although we Americans almost never use those terms when prosecuting one of our own.) More disturbingly, he is reportedly requesting the records of those convicted and currently being prosecuted so that he can announce a whole batch of pardons on Memorial Day, thereby dishonoring the just service of all the American heroes we celebrate on that day.

My Father, the old paratrooper who we proudly laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, would be outraged. Wounded fighting against the Japanese and later participating in the airborne crossing of the Rhine, he once disarmed and arrested two new replacements for shooting two German men in civilian clothes who were running away from a house they were clearing.

No question. No bullshit. No excuses.

War crimes and crimes against humanity are not only illegal and immoral, they are counterproductive. The massacre of American prisoners of war by SS Kampfgruppe Peiper at Malmedy can be credited with stiffening American resistance and defeating the German Ardennes offensive. Years of murder and torture by some Salvadoran Army units only increased the resolve of guerrillas and their civilian supporters. If you knew you would be abused and probably killed upon capture, why would you surrender?

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the massacres, rapes and death camps in the summer of 1992, ensured that people would resist what appeared likely to be a quick victory by better-armed and organized Serb forces. Finally, the brutal tactics of ISIS in Syria and Iraq turned the populations and, ultimately, the whole world against them and led to their territorial defeat in the region.

This Memorial Day veterans who served our nation with honor should stand up to protest the President’s cynical use of pardons to serve his own political interests. We all know our chains of command are not prone to railroading combat veterans with false charges and fabricated evidence. If anything, they lean over backwards to avoid prosecution.

We all want to believe our brothers and sisters in arms would not blemish our reputation with wanton cruelty and disregard of the laws of war. But these things do happen, and once they cross the line, those rightfully judged to be guilty are no longer part of our professional military fraternity regardless of any previous honorable service.

Civilian authorities who encourage such crimes are not worthy of our respect.

William Stuebner, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

William Stuebner served in the United States Army for twenty years, first in the Infantry and then as a military intelligence officer. The last five years of his career revolved around the wars in Central America where he first led a special intelligence team and then worked as the El Salvador desk officer for the Department of Defense. He was also an assistant professor in the Social Sciences Department of the United States Military Academy where he taught politics and political philosophy.

Stuebner’s Balkans work began in May 1992, shortly after the commencement of hostilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and continues to this day. His assignments included: Humanitarian Assistance Officer for the Department of Defense; Bosnian Field Representative for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, United States Agency for International Development; Expert on Mission, Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (twice); Senior Deputy Head of Mission for Human Rights and Chief of Staff, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has also headed two Non-Governmental Organizations dealing with international criminal justice and peace building.

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Syria’s oil, gas and water – the Immiscible Solution to the War in Syria

Syria’s oil, gas and water - the Immiscible Solution to the War in Syria [Lima Charlie News][Photo: ANDREE KAISER / MCT]
Syria’s oil, gas and water - the Immiscible Solution to the War in Syria [Lima Charlie News][Photo: ANDREE KAISER / MCT]

There is a major battle going on for control of Syria’s oil and gas industry among the U.S., Russia, Iran and Turkey. The roots of the Syrian Civil War can be traced to conflicts over the control of Syria’s energy. Resolution of that conflict will depend heavily on resolving disputes over Syrian oil and gas, while ensuring an adequate supply of water in a continuously dehydrating climate.

The roots of the Syrian Civil War can be traced to the conflicts over control of Syria’s energy supplies. Achieving a final conclusion to that war will also depend heavily on concluding arrangements for the distribution of Syrian oil and gas, onshore and offshore, and ensuring adequate supplies of water in a continuously dehydrating climate.

Syria has had many problems in its history, as well as opportunities, most of which have come from its location as an Arab country with broad access to the Mediterranean Sea. Iraq, Iran and Jordan all have access to the Mediterranean through Syria.

Syria’s oil sector has been in a state of disarray … The impact of a lack of supply is magnified by the effects of the sanctions placed on Syrian oil by the U.S. and the European Community.”

Syrian Oil & Gas

Syria’s oil reserves are small by Arab standards, yet the oil and gas sector is a crucial contributor to Syria’s government revenue and foreign exchange earnings.

In 2010, the energy sector contributed about 35% of export earnings and 20% of government revenue. The Oil & Gas Journal estimated Syria’s oil reserves at 2.5 billion barrels, as of January 1, 2015. These are located mostly in the east and northeast. Natural gas reserves are estimated at 241 billion cubic meters, located primarily in central Syria. Most of Syria’s crude oil is heavy (low gravity) and sour (high sulphur content), which requires a specific configuration of refineries to process. This places its oil at the lower end of the price range.

Syria’s oil sector has been in a state of disarray since 2011. Production and exports of crude oil have fallen to nearly zero, and the country is facing supply shortages of refined products. The impact of this lack of supply is magnified by the effects of the sanctions placed on Syrian oil by the U.S. and the European Community.

As a response to the Syrian government’s support of international terrorism and violations against democratic and human rights in the country, sanctions were imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the British (HM) Treasury, the European Union, the United Nations, and several other regulatory entities, one of the most comprehensive ever implemented. Currently imposed sanctions include trade restrictions, travel bans and asset freezes on certain Syrian officials, as well as a ban on Syrian investment by U.S. persons.

[SYRIA ENERGY (U.S. ENERGY INFORMATION) AND WWW.LIVEUAMAP AS OF MAY 16, 2019]
[SYRIA ENERGY (U.S. ENERGY INFORMATION) AND WWW.LIVEUAMAP AS OF MAY 16, 2019]
Syria’s domestic production of oil this year reached only 24,000 barrels a day, about 20-25 percent of the country’s total needs. This is down from about 350,000 barrels a day before the civil war. The government’s need for subsidized fuel was being met by Iran, which also offered vital military support to the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. This presumably ended by late 2018, as a result of the pressure of U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury also issued a global advisory warning of sanctions for illicit oil shipments, naming specific vessels, while pressuring insurance companies. At least one tanker with Iranian oil headed to Syria remained docked outside the Suez Canal since December 2018, according to TankerTrackers.com, yet recent indications are that Iranian shipments have resumed.

In early 2011, there were about two dozen international energy companies operating in Syria. Chinese, Indian, and Russian companies were particularly active, along with some European minor oil companies. The major interest in Syria’s energy industry was in exploration of its offshore acreage which abuts a rich treasure of Israeli gas fields. These finds indicated that there might also be subsea gas fields in both Lebanon and Syria.

To ‘fix’ this problem, the CIA and the American Embassy in Damascus actively promoted a coup d’état.”

A Syrian oil pipeline

Syria first became important for the delivery of crude oil from the rich Kurdish fields in Iraq when oil companies decided to create pipelines to the sea through Syria. For centuries Syria had been controlled by the Ottoman Turks, until, after the First World War, it was given to France to manage under the League of Nations Mandate. Syria only got its independence after the Second World War, but, in reality, it continued to be dominated by external forces.

In 1935, the British, who ran the Iraqi oil industry at that time, built the Mosul-Haifa pipeline. It ran from the oil fields in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, through Jordan to Haifa (then under the British Mandate of Palestine).  At about 942 kilometres (585 mi), it took about 10 days for crude oil to travel the full length of the line. The oil was then distilled in Haifa refineries, stored in tanks, and then put in tankers for shipment to Europe. It provided most of the fuel needs of the British and American forces during the Second World War and was a key target for the Axis forces.

The pipeline, however, had been beset by waves of protests from the Palestinian Arabs, especially during the Arab Uprising of 1936-1940 led by Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, and later the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The Palestinians fought against the British and the French colonial forces in Lebanon and Syria, as well as the Jewish settlers who had been allowed into Palestine by the British under terms of the Balfour Declaration. Al-Qassam was eventually captured and executed by the British, while the Grand Mufti allied himself with the Axis forces during the Second World War, with the Nazis and Vichy French determined to cut off oil supplies to the Allies.

Arab irregulars consistently attacked the Mosul-Haifa pipeline, and were later supported by a team of Abwehr specialists who advised the Grand Mufti about sabotaging the oil stream. These attacks on the pipeline made it clear to the oil industry that it would be difficult to protect the Mosul-Haifa pipeline in the face of a sustained Arab uprising as well as enduring the waves of strikes and go-slows of the organised workers in their territories.

And so began the planning of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (the ‘Tapline’), an oil pipeline that would run from Saudi Arabia through Syria.

After the unsuccessful Arab-Israeli War in 1948, Syria maintained a fragile parliamentary democracy, but its political leadership was fired with the fury of Arab nationalism and frustrated by the signing of the peace treaty with the victorious Israeli state. The West was worried about the rise of a sustained hostility in the region and feared the rebuilding of a Soviet-supported Arab bloc which would threaten the multinational oil companies and Saudi Arabia’s export capacity.

To “fix” this problem, the CIA and the American Embassy in Damascus actively promoted a coup d’état.

In April 1949, the Army’s Chief of Staff, Husni al-Zaim seized power, jailing many of his opponents. Al-Zaim, who was in favour of a secular state, ordered the end of veiling of women and gave women the franchise. He also forced businessmen to pay taxes they owed. Most importantly, he signed a number of long-term deals with multinational oil companies to participate in the creation of the Tapline pipeline, which the previous government of Syria had refused to sign.

The construction of the pipeline had actually begun while the British Mandate of Palestine was still operative in 1947. It was designed and managed by the American company Bechtel. Originally the Tapline was intended to terminate in Haifa. However, due to the establishment of the state of Israel, an alternative route through Syria (Golan Heights) and Lebanon was selected with an export terminal in Sidon.

Between 60 and 70 per cent of the Syrian population belongs to a clan or tribe.”

The Tribal Factor

The history of Syria’s energy sector cannot be fully understood without consideration of Syria’s tribal history. One of the most fundamental forces in Syrian political life, and the key to understanding the kaleidoscope of political interactions and coalescences, derives from the fact that Syria is divided into competing clans and tribes combined with regional identities.

Between 60 and 70 per cent of the Syrian population belongs to a clan or tribe. These tribal and clan relationships are not stable or fixed alliances. There are shifting loyalties and social changes which often cause strife among tribes and clans as well as within tribes as kin and outsiders seek dominance. These conflicts allow non-tribal entities to agree to alliances with and among the tribes and clans.

One result of the catastrophic transformation of Syria since the inception of its current civil war has been the reduction of the control of the tribes and clans by their traditional chiefs. These changes have allowed the tribes to ally themselves with the Syrian Government, the Syrian rebels, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and ISIS (‘Daesh’), often on a fluid basis. As the conflict in Syria spread different tribes became identified with one or more of these combatants.

Until the fall of Raqqa and the defeat of ISIS there was grudging support of ISIS by the local tribes. However, as the Kurdish forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), began to succeed and expand their control of Northeast Syria, the tribes and clans began to participate with the Kurds in forming the Syrian Democratic Federation.

The successes of the SDF forces (aligned with U.S military advisors) and NATO aircraft in driving out the last vestiges of ISIS occupied territory, left the oil-rich centre of ‘Deir Ez-Zor in the hands of the SDF and their tribal supporters and presented an opportunity for clans of other ethnicities and religions, such as Kurdish, Turkmen, Alawite, Druze and Christian clans, to participate more fully in local politics.

Unfortunately for Turkey, the subsequent military successes of the SDF forces have left the Turks largely out of the equation and diluted the ties between the Syrian tribes and the Al Nusra Front in the oil-rich region. The efforts by the Turks to threaten the array of forces in Eastern Syria caused a major rift with the Syrian tribes; especially when they used tribal fighters in their efforts.

Getting the various tribes to agree on some common political principle in the abstract is a difficult task (see Lawrence of Arabia). The tribes are loyal to whoever ‘rents’ their territory from them. When these ‘renters’ change or are replaced, the tribes drive a bargain with the new ‘renters’. That is why considering the actions of the tribes in Syria is an important part of the analyses of the force arrays.

The Battle for Syrian Oil and Gas

There is a major battle going on for control of the Syrian oil and gas industry among the U.S., the Russians, the Iranians and the Turks. The U.S. operates through the Kurdish forces of the SDF in the region which controls the oil fields in the northeast of the country. It contains 95 percent of all Syrian oil and gas potential, including al-Omar, the country’s largest oil field. Prior to the war, these resources produced some 387,000 barrels of oil per day and 7.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually. However, more significantly, nearly all the existing Syrian oil reserves – estimated at around 2.5 billion barrels – are located in the area currently occupied by the Kurds and the SDF.

In addition to Syria’s largest oil field, they also control the Conoco gas plant, the country’s largest. Originally built by U.S. oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips, the plant was operated by Conoco until 2005, after which Bush-era sanctions made it difficult to operate in Syria. Other foreign oil companies, like Shell, also left Syria as a result of the sanctions.

The SDF and the Kurds have an advantage. Not only are they selling oil to Assad, they are able to take the Syrian oil through to Iraqi Kurdistan where it can be refined and sent out through the Ceyhan pipeline to the world markets without sanctions.

Russia

In late January 2019, Russia signed an agreement with Assad and the Syrian Government to take over Syrian oil and gas. Russia will have exclusive rights to produce oil and gas in Syria. The agreement goes significantly beyond that, stipulating the rehabilitation of damaged rigs and infrastructure, energy advisory support, and training a new generation of Syrian oil technicians. This is likely to be a very expensive task— IMF put the estimate expenses at $27 billion in 2015 but the current estimate lies most likely between $35–40 billion. This includes the totality of rigs, pipelines, pumping stations etc. to be repaired and put back into operation.

While Russia has access to the gas fields near Palmyra, its access to the North-eastern oil fields is blocked by the SDF control.

Another impediment to Russia’s takeover of Syrian oil and gas supplies is finding a Russian company which is not itself under sanctions to market the products. U.S. and European sanctions have restrained the free movement and growth of that sector so Russia is more likely to concentrate on the gas sector. Most of Syria’s gas is used by the domestic energy sector and is burned for electrical power. That is a stable domestic market for the gas and, if the implied gas boom offshore Syria is ever allowed to function, offers Russia the possibility of a return on its investment by gas exports through the new pipelines being built in the region.

Image [Pyotr Veliky missile cruiser makes port call in Tartus, Syria (Image: Sputnik)]
[Pyotr Veliky missile cruiser makes port call in Tartus, Syria (Image: Sputnik)]

Iran

Iran has a great deal at stake in Syria and Syrian energy. Until October 2018, Iran had been supplying oil to Syria in tankers. At that point Iran, watchful of its dwindling resources due to sanctions being re-imposed by the U.S., ran out of available funds to keep up with its expanded military presence in Syria. The Revolutionary Guard has thousands of soldiers in Syria supporting Assad and their presence has kept open a secure landline to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon supported by Iran.

Since the stoppage of Iranian tankers to Syria there has been a growing shortage of petroleum products in Syria. Residents of the Syrian capital have been forced to once again use horse-led carriages to get around as a severe fuel crisis has taken hold. The regime’s response to the crisis has been to ration gasoline. Private cars are allowed 20 litres every five days while taxis can receive 20 litres every 48 hours.

The situation has become so desperate the Syrian regime has been buying fuel from a company run by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham rebel group, which controls opposition Idlib province.

Tehran has had to cut $200 million in credit for fuel supplies to Damascus. Syria consumes around 100,000 barrels of oil a day, but only produces around a quarter or this, according to the government, forcing Damascus to import around 2 to 3 million barrels from Iran. This credit line for oil supplies started in October 2013 with Damascus racking up $3 billion in debt so far.

On February 25th, 2019, Syrian president Assad met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran. They agreed that Iran and Syria would join in a number of commercial deals for which Iran would provide credit. As part of this restatement of their co-operation, the Syrians have focused on Latakia (the Alawi heartland) for a number of military and electrical power projects. Most importantly, Syria has turned over the running of the port of Latakia to Iran; a crucial step towards Iran having a permanent route to Lebanon and the sea to maintain its presence in Syria. Iran has also promised to address Syria’s ongoing fuel shortage by sending all future shipments of heating fuel, cooking fuel, and gasoline to the Iranian-leased section of Latakia, once it is fully operational.

This leasing of Latakia to Iran was seen as a challenge to Russia at its naval base at Tartus and air base at Hmeimim. Having the Iranian presence so close might well obstruct Russian surveillance and intelligence gathering, jam radio-electronic technology, and jeopardize Russian air-defences, aircraft, and the lives of military personnel. The frequent drone attacks on Iranian troops and movements by Israel might attract further interest in the area.

In recent months the Israelis have been attacking Iranian installations within Syria, especially when Iran ships missiles and other equipment to Syria and onwards to Hezbollah. It is a badly-kept secret that Russia, which operates several sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence systems in Syria, turns them off before the Israelis strike Iranian targets in Syria after communications with the Israeli ‘hotline’. The Israelis are pleased with this, as are the Russians, in that it is widely believed Israel has developed effective counter-measures to the S-400 anti-aircraft system. A public demonstration of this would embarrass the Russian military and damp down foreign S-400 sales. Having the Iranian military control Latakia port changes many of the strategic programs for the Russian military.

Russia, upset at this move by Syria, made an analogous offer. It was agreed that a Russian firm, Stroytransgaz, would take over Syria’s largest port of Tartus for 49 years and invest $500 million in expanding it. Today, the port of Tartus is too small and shallow to accept the larger vessels used in international commerce. When it is improved and expanded, it can also provide access to the Russian naval fleet. Unspoken in the agreement was that Russian companies would take advantage of the opportunities off Tartus for a possible opening of Syrian offshore gas facilities.

Turkey

The third major player in the search for Syrian oil and gas is Turkey. Turkey has a long and notorious history of intervention inside Syria in pursuit of Syrian oil. The fundamental problem for assessing the Turkish role in the region, however, is the long and well-documented charges of corruption by Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

In December 2015, the Russian Defence Ministry accused Erdogan and his sons of ‘stealing’ Syrian oil which they trucked back to Turkey for sale. The ministry produced extensive photographic evidence of this claim, inviting journalists to see satellite images and video purporting to show tanker trucks with oil crossing into Turkey from ISIS-held territory. It was alleged that Erdogan did so in direct collaboration with ISIS from whom they purchased the oil.

Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov stated, “According to available information, the highest level of the political leadership of the country, President Erdogan and his family, are involved in this criminal business. They have invaded the territory of another country and are brazenly plundering it.”

The Russian Defence Ministry also alleged that the same criminal networks which were smuggling oil into Turkey were also supplying weapons, equipment and training to ISIS and other Islamist groups. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff stated, “According to our reliable intelligence data, Turkey has been carrying out such operations for a long period and on a regular basis. And most importantly, it does not plan to stop them.”

This expose of the Turkish role in supporting ISIS and Al Nusra was the origin of Erdogan’s break with his former partner, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan was losing support in Turkey with all his foreign policy tergiversations, and the recurrence of corruption charges over his family’s involvement in marketing Daesh oil was threatening in the national assembly.

In January 2015, secret official documents about the searching of three trucks belonging to Turkey’s national intelligence service Mille Istihbarat Teskilati (MIT) were leaked online to the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, once again corroborating suspicions that Ankara has not been playing a clean game in Syria. According to authenticated documents the trucks were found to be transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition. The Gendarmerie General Command, which authored the reports, alleged, “The trucks were carrying weapons and supplies to the al-Qaeda terror organization.”

Yet, the Turkish public was unable to see these documents because the government immediately obtained a court injunction banning all reporting about the affair. The editor and publisher of Cumhuriyet were jailed for treason. There have been many additional reports of MIT officers acting as paymasters of both ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front in Syria and many more Turkish journalists have been jailed.

Since then, and after the trial and imprisonment of thousands of Turkish military officers, journalists, trades unionists and politicians in the aborted 2016 coup, Erdogan has directed his energies toward obtaining oil and gas supplies from Syria and elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.

Theoretically, Turkey is in a strong strategic position vis-à-vis energy markets and suppliers, thanks to the ongoing TurkStream project with Russia, the Transanatolian Pipeline Project (TANAP) with Azerbaijan, and the East Anatolia gas-transmission line with Iraq. Having been thwarted by the exposure of Turkey’s oil theft in Syria, Turkey has had to rely on Russia for its oil and gas supplies. Erdogan’s vision of becoming the oil and gas hub for Europe is not proceeding very well.

Although the share of imported gas originating from Russia has decreased continuously over recent years, it is still more than 50 percent. At around 17 percent, the second-largest share of Turkey’s gas mix has been imported from Iran over the last years. Turkey succeeded in being granted an exemption from U.S. Iranian sanctions, but President Trump recently announced that these waivers have been withdrawn.

Turkey has maintained its hostility to the Kurds, it has invaded Afrin, and it threatens to attack the SDF in Syria in an effort to block Rojava (a united Kurdish state) on its borders. It has also tried to drive Kurdish forces from ‘Deir ez-Zor and other oil and gas producing regions of Northern Syria. Turkey, which initially financed the Turkomen minority participation in the creation of the SDF, has now sent money, arms and supplies through MIT to the Arabian tribes in the SDF areas around the oil installations to foment a rebellion against the Kurds within the SDF. In addition to their military efforts, the Turks have maintained their support for the Al-Nusra front (‘Jabhat al-Nusra’) an erstwhile al-Qaeda affiliate, and several other Salafist forces opposed to Assad as well as opposed to the Kurds.

Image Putin Erdogan
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan [Image AP]
The Turks have also supported several Arab tribes in the region. Sheikh al-Bashir, leader of the Baggara tribe in Syria’s eastern ‘Deir ez-Zor Governorate and a former member of the Syrian Parliament, has organized several armed groups that have actively sought to attack Kurds in and around the ethnically mixed city of Ras al- ‘Ayn in the north-eastern area of al-Hasakah governance, along the Turkish border. Pro-government Baggara fighters, without links to Sheikh al-Bashir, have also participated in attacks against the Kurdish PYD.

The participation of Baggara tribal fighters in attacks against Kurds demonstrates the continuingly fragile state of Kurdish and Arab tribal relations in ethnically mixed regions such as Aleppo and al-Jazirah. Many of the tribes lost control of the oil wells in their region to Daesh and to Al-Nusra. These oil facilities are now in the hands of the PYD Kurds and the local tribesmen, and Assad wants them back. Turkey is supporting both in the efforts around ‘Deir ez-Zor.

With the Kurdish loss of the oil facilities around Kirkuk by the Iraqi reaction to the Kurdish Referendum, the loss of the ‘Deir ez-Zor facilities would have a major impact on Kurdish economic plans.

Recently, the Arab residents of eastern Syria have complained that the YPG-led SDF administration seems to favour the Kurdish majority areas of northern Syria and has neglected Arab areas, where living conditions are poor and many towns remain without electricity. Not only have the Kurds been taking the oil to Iraqi Kurdistan, they have been shipping increased volumes of the oil and gas to the Assad Government in Damascus to make up for the drop-off in supplies from the sanctioned Iran. The Turks are pushing the line that the Kurds are taking all the money and not sharing properly with the tribes.

The announced Trump policy of speedily withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria has added to the aggravation. The local tribes put their faith in the YPG leadership in forming the SDF because the Kurds brought U.S. might with them into the bargain. As it became clear that the U.S. was withdrawing its overt support for the Kurds and the YPG, their stature was reduced in the SDF coalition and the tribes began looking elsewhere to see who would take their place; preferably someone who would pay them more than the Kurds. Turkey has exacerbated this development, but, at the moment, is increasingly reliant on Russia for additional supplies.

Turkey has also been attempting to muscle-in on the massive gas discoveries off of Cyprus; especially in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which Turkey, alone, recognises as a separate state. It has been unsuccessful in its claims despite its frequent statements and petty harassments of the drillers.

Erdogan was losing support in Turkey with all his foreign policy tergiversations, and the recurrence of corruption charges over his family’s involvement in marketing Daesh oil”

Gas Discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean 

In December 2011, U.S. company Noble Energy announced a successful deep water gas find offshore at Cyprus in a field estimated to hold at least 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This made Cyprus, overnight, a potential major player in the gas to Europe business. Cyprus and Israel agreed to co-operate on building a pipeline from Israel’s offshore facilities to Cyprus and continuing to Europe through joining up with the new offshore Greek gas fields.

The main beneficiary so far of the gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean has been Israel. Some Israeli gas was provided by the Yam Tethys – the Mari B and Noa – natural gas reservoirs discovered in 1999 and 2000 by a partnership of Noble Energy and the Israeli company Delek Energy. These reservoirs marked the start of a new era. Mari-B and Noa established the Israeli offshore holdings in the oil and gas game for the very first time, and introduced natural gas to the Israeli market. Yam Tethys has been supplying natural gas to the Israeli market since 2004. The major clients of Yam Tethys include the IEC (Israeli Electric Corporation); ICL (Israel Chemicals, Ltd.) and the sole Israeli Independent Power Producer.

Then, in 2009, Noble Energy discovered the Tamar field in the Levantine Basin some 50 miles west of Israel’s port of Haifa with an estimated 8.3 tcf (trillion cubic feet) of highest quality natural gas. Tamar was the world’s largest gas discovery in 2009. At the time, the Yam Tethys gas reserves were estimated at only 1.5 tcf. Moreover, estimates were that Yam Tethys, which supplied about 70 per cent of the country’s natural gas, would be depleted within three years.

With Tamar, prospects began to look considerably better. Then, just a year after Tamar, the same consortium led by Noble Energy struck the largest gas find in its decades-long history at Leviathan in the same Levantine geological basin. Present estimates are that the Leviathan field holds at least 17 tcf of gas. In a few months, Israel went from gas famine to feast. There were also large discoveries of oil in the same basin. The USGS, (US Geological Survey), stated that undiscovered oil and gas resources of the Levant Basin Province amount to 1.68 billion barrels of oil, and 122 tcf of gas.

Main gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea (via geopoliticalatlas.org)
[Main gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea (via geopoliticalatlas.org)]
There have been claims by both Lebanon and Syria that their maritime zones include part of the Tamar and Leviathan fields, but they are in no position to enforce their claims. Although Lebanon believes it has a claim to the Leviathan field, Lebanon and Israel are technically at war and do not recognise either land or sea borders. Israel has declared its maritime boundaries with Lebanon.

Based on its boundaries on land, Israel established a maritime zone that veers well to the north, an area that encompasses all the known major gas fields. Lebanon responded by submitting to the United Nations the coordinates of what it says are its maritime boundaries. It also lodged a formal protest against Israel.

However, Israel, like the U.S., has never ratified the 1982 UN Convention on Law of the Sea dividing world subsea mineral rights. While the Israeli gas wells at Leviathan are within undisputed Israeli territory, Lebanon believes the field extends into their subsea waters. The Lebanese Hezbollah claims that the Tamar gas field, which has just begun gas deliveries, belongs to Lebanon.

Syria was too busy to advance its claims at the time but, in late 2018, Oil and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Ghanem said contracts for five offshore blocks had been signed with “friendly countries”. He also said Syria has an estimated 1,250 billion cubic metres of offshore gas reserves. The report did not say when or how the Syrian government had appraised the reserves.

As Israel’s gas reserves are expanding it is beginning to introduce new technologies to its operation. The Greek energy company, Energean, will produce gas by 2020 from the Karish and Tanin fields using the FPSO method. Egypt, as well, has expanded its offshore gas industry.

The irony of the delay and unlikelihood of Syria’s claim to its offshore gas is that the U.S. has just recognised the legal claim of Israel to the Golan Heights, taken from Syria after their last war. The Golan is the site of Syria’s second biggest, and until now, unexploited, gas field.

Drought changed the economic, social, and political landscape of Syria”

Water, Water is Not Everywhere – The Water Crisis

Syria was never a rich state and was vulnerable to two major non-political challenges over the years which it found difficult to address: oil and water. The oil and gas problems have been well understood. The water problem, however, is more complicated.

There is a severe crisis of adequate supplies of fresh water in the region. Turkey’s geographical position as containing the source of both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers gives it a great advantage in the competition for water. The twin rivers rise in the high mountains of north-eastern Anatolia and flow through Turkey, Syria and Iraq before eventually merging to form the Shatt al-‘Arab, which empties into the Gulf. Turkey is the upstream country and has not traditionally enjoyed warm relations with the Arab countries downstream. Crucially, it controls the water supply of the Euphrates-Tigris River Basin.

Approximately 90 per cent of the water flow in the Euphrates and 50 per cent in the Tigris originate in Turkey. This has left Syria and Iraq vulnerable. The Turks only use about 35% of the water flow and this is largely because it manages the flow through an elaborate system of dams.

In the 1960s, Turkey, Syria and Iraq negotiated a new phase of their relationship over water, as a result of Turkey’s decision to construct the Keban Dam on the Euphrates. After prolonged negotiations, Turkey guaranteed to maintain a discharge of 350 m3/s immediately downstream from the dam, provided that the natural flow of the river was adequate to supply this discharge. This was communicated to Syria and Iraq the same year. During this meeting Turkey proposed the establishment of a Joint Technical Committee (JTC) which would inspect each river to determine its average yearly discharge.

In 1965, the three nations met again to exchange technical data on the Haditha (Iraq), Tabqa (Syria) and Keban (Turkey) dams being built on the Euphrates. There were several small procedural agreements over the next few years but there was no overall agreement on the ownership and use of the water. In 1987 the Turks and the Syrians made an interim protocol on the waters of the Euphrates as Turkey was filling its Ataturk dam. Since 1975, Turkey’s extensive dam and hydropower construction has reportedly reduced water flows into Iraq and Syria by approximately 80 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.

The drought caused 75 percent of Syria's farms to fail and 85 percent of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011, according to the United Nations.
[The Syrian drought caused 75 percent of Syria’s farms to fail and 85 percent of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011, according to the United Nations.]
The pièce de résistance of the program of dam-building in Turkey was the gigantic Southern Anatolian Project (known by its Turkish acronym, GAP), which commenced in the 1970s and encompasses 22 dams, 19 hydroelectric power plants and several irrigation networks. GAP remains the second biggest integrated water development project in the world, covering approximately 10 percent of Turkey’s population and an equivalent surface area.

Nonetheless, there is and remains a critical shortage of water in the region. It was the continuing crisis over water which provided the backdrop to the Syrian Civil War. The drought during 2005 caused 75 percent of Syria’s farms to fail and 85 percent of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011, according to the United Nations.

By 2011, drought-related crop failure in Syria had pushed up to 1.5 million displaced farmers to abandon their land. The displaced became a wellspring of recruits for the Free Syrian Army and for such groups as the Islamic State (Daesh) and al Qaeda. Drought, and the lack of governmental remediation was a central motivating factor in the anti-government rebellion in Syria.

Moreover, a 2011 study shows that the rebel strongholds of Aleppo, ‘Deir ez-Azor, and Raqqa were among the areas hardest hit by crop failure. Drought changed the economic, social, and political landscape of Syria and was a prime motivator for the disillusion of the Arab tribes with the Syrian Government which was not living up to its bargain to supply them with water and energy.

There is still a massive deficit of water in the region as climate change accelerates. The Turkish “red line” of prohibiting the Kurdish troops in Northern Syria controlling both sides of the Euphrates was generated by Turkish fears of giving the Kurds control of the water supplies of the Euphrates into central and southern Syria.

The important dimension of this struggle for water is that, while Turkey controls the water supply of the Tigris and Euphrates, the rivers rise and flow through that part of Turkey which is the homeland of the Kurds. As the struggle between Erdogan and the Kurds continues there is little real ability of the Turks inside Turkey to prevent actions by the Kurds in their own mountains from diminishing further the flows of water which will have a devastating effect on the downstream nations.

It’s better to fix what you have, than wait to get what you don’t have

The problems facing Syria over asserting full control over the whole of Syria are enormous, prompting a response which might allow for the partition of the country. To a large extent this doesn’t depend on the Syrians alone; the Russians, Iranians, Turks, Kurds and the U.S. will all have a say.

At the heart of that decision will be the question of security, the end of terrorism and the more fundamental problems of oil and water. As long as the U.S. presses its demands on Iran and interdicts its exports, the concurrent pressures on Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas will not be resolved. The dispatch of two US Navy carrier groups to the Eastern Mediterranean will make it much more expensive for Russia to compete for influence in the region as it doesn’t have the comparable equipment. The key factor will be Turkey.

The Turkish military may have been beheaded by Erdogan with many leaders jailed, but the recent elections could be an indication that the political tide may be changing and that the failure of Erdogan to deliver a stable economy may seal his fate. Erdogan has little room in which to manoeuvre and there is a rising interest in changing the restrictions of the Treaty of Montreux which gives Turkey control of naval access to the Black Sea. Turkey’s place in NATO also appears weak and fragile as Erdogan insists on buying Russian military radar for use in a co-ordinated NATO belt of security in the region.

Nothing seems likely to change much in the region but the financial pressures and sanctions on Russia, Iran and Syria will continue to constrain the willingness to expand the search by Lebanon and Syria for offshore gas. The Israelis have used their new supplies of energy to construct elaborate systems of desalinisation, thus removing the water question from their equation. The gift of Golan gas and oil to Israel is a blow to Syria and a boon to Israel.

As the old Arab proverb indicates, it is time to stop destroying Syria and get on with fixing it. إصلاح الموجود خير من انتظار المفقود (“It’s better to fix what you have than wait to get what you don’t have”).

It will be a long time coming.

Dr. Gary K. Busch, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD 

[Edited by John Sjoholm and Anthony A. LoPresti]

[Main image: Photo by ANDREE KAISER / MCT]

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Dr. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting professor at several universities. He was the head of research in international affairs for a major U.S. trade union and Assistant General Secretary of an international union federation. His articles have appeared in the Economist Intelligence Unit, Wall Street Journal, WPROST, Pravda and several other news journals. He is the editor and publisher of the web-based news journal of international relations www.ocnus.net.

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Lima Charlie News Headline Syrian Endgame Hard Truth MAY 14 2019Lima Charlie News Headline Israel Hamas Cyberwar MAY 11 2019Image Lima Charlie News Headline Is Russia Failing In Ukraine - G.Busch MAR 23 2019

STRATEGIC OPTION | Syrian Endgame – The Hard Truth

STRATEGIC OPTION | Syrian Endgame - The Hard Truth [Lima Charlie News][Photo: Bulent Kilic]
STRATEGIC OPTION | Syrian Endgame - The Hard Truth [Lima Charlie News][Photo: Bulent Kilic]

A harsh reality is that the Syrian revolution is an abject failure. Nothing will rescue the dream of Syrian democracy. It’s time for radical policy initiatives, even distasteful ones, to stop the needless slaughter of countless innocents. It’s time for realpolitik. It’s time for an “ugly peace.” OPINION by John Sjoholm and William Stuebner.

Eight years, the Syrian Civil War has dragged on at the cost of hundreds of thousands of casualties. The conflict has been characterized by widespread atrocities, torture and murder in government-operated prisons, and the relentless bombing of hospitals and civilian targets. The war has seen the rise and fall (at least in terms of territorial control) of the Islamic State, the extreme radicalization of many opposition groups, and the intervention of numerous foreign players.

If not for the support of Russia and Iran, the so-called Damascus coalition, the Damascus government under Bashar al-Assad would have been dismantled long ago. This, coupled with the betrayal, or worse yet, the indifference of Western countries has led to a situation where approximately 3.9 million people are trapped in northwestern Syria with their backs against the wall.

Turkey, with around 3.4 million Syrian refugees, has closed its borders. Lebanon, a nation teetering on the edge of its own internal security crisis with one-fourth of its population now consisting of Syrians, is incapable of accepting more refugees without endangering the very fabric of its society.

Damascus and its allies strategically set out to neutralise pockets of opposition towards the goal of regaining control over large parts of the country. Rather than risk further international condemnation by committing a series of Srebrenica-style massacres, the coalition forced the concentration of remaining resistance into one location. Here they can be finished off before the world works up the courage to react.

The day of reckoning has come. To the capital, the city of olive groves, Idlib.

America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”
― Henry Kissinger

The Bitter Reality

In direct defiance of an agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan, Russian and Syrian aircraft have resumed the bombing of the Idlib enclave. To accompany the increased aerial operative tempo, the Damascus-loyal Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has vastly increased its own operational tempo and is carrying out an offensive in the southern part of the region.

Already, hundreds have been killed, and at least 150,000 have fled northward.

[Children walk in a makeshift shelter in an underground cave in Idlib, Syria September 3, 2018. (Photo: Khalil Ashawi / Reuters)]
[Children walk in a makeshift shelter in an underground cave in Idlib, Syria September 3, 2018. (Photo: Khalil Ashawi / Reuters)]
The United Nations is, as per its norm, standing impotently by. Instead of acting proactively or aggressively to protect the innocents that it pledged to defend, the UN is quickly relocating its humanitarian assistance infrastructure to Damascus. There it will be under the complete control of the Assad government and its al-Mukhabarat, the military intelligence service. The non-political Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) has reported that several of the hospitals in the “neutral zone” identified to the United Nations Mission have now fallen victim to the renewed bombing.

It’s time for radical policy initiatives. Radical initiatives, even distasteful ones, must be made not just to save the revolution but to stop the needless slaughter of countless innocents. It’s time for realpolitik. The goal must now be the survival of millions.

To accomplish this, we must accept reality, identify the true decision makers in the region, and offer proposals that cater to their interests. Many will condemn this as immoral, many will accuse the authors of betraying cherished international values. So be it. If any critics are willing to stand and fight for the remaining Syrian democrats, let them step forward now. If any critics have better ideas for avoiding a Syrian holocaust, they must offer them before it’s too late.

A harsh reality is that the Syrian revolution is an abject failure. Nothing will rescue the dream of Syrian democracy. The Obama Administration sold the Syrian Opposition out to Iran for the chimaera of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). The Trump Administration decided to resell Syria’s democratic future to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, eager to use military force to save a puppet regime and gain more influence in the Middle East.

With the United States avoiding true investment in Syria, it was left to the European Community to act. Having no discernable ideas beyond two-dimensional humanitarian assistance projects, which could only occur in reality with the tacit support of Damascus, the EU offered no real support.

The goal must now be the survival of millions.”

So who are the Decision Makers?

Russia (1)

The number one international operative in Syria today is Russia. By saving the Damascus government, President Putin has made Bashar al-Assad his puppet. Assad dare not disagree if he wishes to survive. Putin rolled the dice; first to maintain limited Russian assets in Syria, then to use these assets as disposable pawns to gain infinitely more. Putin bet that President Obama, and then President Trump, would do little or nothing to counter Russian intervention. His bets have paid off.

Even when photographs emerged of Russian jets loaded with incendiary payloads at Russian-controlled Khmeimim Air Base, the guardians of the “Free World” remained mute. When Assad, and possibly even Putin, continued to employ chemical weapons, no one stood up to challenge them with force. A futile missile strike by newly-elected Donald Trump did little to no damage. Russia carried the day because Putin recognized the weaknesses of his international competition.

Turkey (2)

The second most important player is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Like his Russian interlocutor, Erdogan knows what he wants and is in a position to take it; at least with the cooperation of Russia. The Turkish President has witnessed many years of his country’s humiliation at the hands of the European Union membership process and has decided to move on without the anti-Muslim bias of his Western neighbours.

In fact, European prejudice and disdain have helped alienate the Turkish electorate and launch Erdogan into the highest echelons of Turkish power. Erdogan has won the appreciation of many Syrians for accepting millions of refugees and taking relatively good care of them, even offering Turkish citizenship. Syrians face annihilation and are quite willing to look towards the Turks as their only salvation. This serves the Erdogan power base quite well. Syria was once part of the Turk-controlled Ottoman Empire, an empire Erdogan would gladly revive.

Iran (3)

While it is assumed that Iran would take second place due to the extensive engagement of Iran-controlled forces in Syria, this is not the case. The Tehran government and affiliated forces did play an important role in propping up Assad, but Iran’s importance will likely diminish significantly in the near future for several reasons.

First, while many members of the Syrian Opposition are used to Russian involvement in their country and are generally willing to tolerate Russia’s continued influence, there is even less tolerance for Iran than there is for Assad himself. Second, Iran is under increased pressure from Trump Administration sanctions, threats and now, the EU appears about to turn up the heat. This lessens the funds Iran has to invest in foreign intervention, and also requires that Iran concentrate its forces towards defending the homeland. Third, with the ground war soon coming to an end, Iran’s military importance will decrease significantly.

Reinforcements for the Syrian Army arriving in rural Idlib ahead of the offensive, on May 9, 2019 (Photo: Abshir Saeed Yousuf
[Reinforcements for the Syrian Army arriving in rural Idlib ahead of the offensive, on May 9, 2019 (Photo: Abshir Saeed Yousuf)]

Moderate Wing of the Syrian Opposition (4)

In fourth place we find the relatively more moderate wing of the Syrian Opposition, including those military elements which do not favour the radical Salafists. This group will have an important role to play; they will have the support of Turkey and would be willing to negotiate a settlement in good faith. They will be key towards helping to end the war and to serve Erdogan’s goals for northwestern Syria.

Syrian Kurd Militia (5)

The fifth position has been earned by the Syrian Kurd militia forces, which have proven to be an effective group of fighters. Unfortunately for them, they are without a doubt about to suffer another treachery in a long line of historical betrayals. Someone ought to give the Kurdish leadership a copy of Thucydides’ “The History of the Peloponnesian War” and tell them to read the Melian Dialogue. Hopefully they will never again rely on a great power to help defend them.

The U.S. will abandon the Kurds, as is necessary, to assuage Turkey in hopes of maintaining its loyalty to NATO. The U.S. need for the Kurds as its “boots on the ground” element ended the minute the Islamic State was disabled as a strategic threat. Turkey, for its part, will insist on crushing all armed Kurdish groups and will aim for the destruction of any last vestige of a Kurdish homeland near the Syria-Turkey border.

Russia, like the U.S., will no longer see a need for Kurdish fighters, while Assad will not want an effective armed group in Syria that he has no hope of controlling. Still, the Kurds will not go gentle into that good night. They will rage against the dying of the light, and likely surprise the other players with their resilient might.

United States (6)

Coming in at a distant sixth is the United States whose influence in the region is at its lowest since, at least, the end of the First Gulf War. The last three administrations have made a mess of Syria, the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. In the region, Americans are seen as brutish, unreliable, hypocritical, arrogant and ignorant – a combination of traits that made the U.S. an almost forgotten player in any Syria peace negotiations.

Nevertheless, the United States can never be completely ignored, as it might suddenly decide to wield its massive power for good, or ill. And, with the mercurial personality of Donald Trump, it would be unwise to base any predictions on logic. If for no other reason, the U.S. may decide to act in order to check Iran or defend Israel.

And the Rest

The radical Jihadis will be dealt with and marginalized, although they can certainly never be completely eliminated. However, it is possible to push them to the point where they no longer present an existential threat on the strategic plane.

At the same time, the European Union will be no more than a cash cow used for reconstruction funding, much of which will be wasted or stolen by other unscrupulous players. As angry as this may make EU citizens, the European Union will cough up the funding regardless just to forestall another massive wave of migrants.

The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”
-Thucydides

A Hard Proposal: The Syrian Solution

The key to saving the lives of thousands, or even millions, in the Idlib enclave while allowing for the return of others from Lebanon and Turkey lies in feeding the beast. Any deal must depend upon giving the main players something more than what could be gained without an agreement.

In the first instance, the top priorities of Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan must be addressed.

Russia seeks to be the main player in Syria. It has substantially achieved this, but will want to secure a few more areas for its puppet, Bashar al-Assad. This includes ensuring the safety of major Russian bases of operation, such as those at Latakia and Tartus. Russia must also secure supply routes to Aleppo, and it most certainly needs to control the Syrian oil fields.

Additionally, areas of rebel control in the south along the Jordanian border must be eliminated. This can be accomplished by land swaps and further relocation of populations. The Opposition will have to give up the southern enclaves, and its people must be relocated to Idlib Province. At the same time, it will have to relinquish territory in the southern part of the Idlib enclave which seems to be the objective of the current government offensive.

Image Putin Erdogan
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan [Image AP]
Turkey and the Opposition, however, will have to to be compensated with additional territory in the north, especially along the Turkish border. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) will have to move out of its small enclave north of Idlib city.

All of these territorial exchanges are dependent upon something that will rightfully enrage some international observers, and most certainly the YPG. This includes the designation of Idlib Province and border areas as a formal Turkish protectorate with the possibility they might someday be annexed by Turkey through a popular referendum.

The land swap must feed Erdogan’s vision of recovering some Ottoman territory. Yet even more important, it must give him a free hand to oppose the Kurdish forces along as much of Turkey’s southern border as possible.

This is supremely unfair to the Kurds, and they will resist with the courage they have already shown in the Syrian Civil War. In the end, however, they will once again fall victim to great power politics. Assad may oppose this deal, but Putin has ways to gain his acquiescence, or elimination, if necessary.

While international opinion may view Turkish acquisition of part of Syria and the betrayal of the Kurds very negatively, there is little doubt that any proposed action by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will be blocked by Russia. No other effective action is likely since the purpose of the agreement is to save Syrian lives and stop the war. Through this course, Putin would not just gain the added benefit of Erdogan as an ally on past and future territorial acquisitions, but he will also gain the solidifying of their alliance and the further distancing of Turkey from NATO.

It is not love, or morality, or international law that determines the outcome of world affairs, but the changing distribution of organized force”
― William Woodruff

In addition to the Kurds, Iran will also be counted amongst the losers in this agreement.

Yet, Iran holds significant importance to Putin and Assad. It will be given a seat at the table. This will ensure access to secure routes of resupply to Iran’s Shiite allies in Lebanon, as well as the Damascus coalition’s diplomatic support in Iran’s continuing confrontation with the U.S.

“The Protectorate”

The more moderate, pseudo-democratic Syrian Opposition forces who participated in the Astana talks, and who for the most part did not engage on the battlefield with Russian forces, have good relations with Turkey. They will benefit greatly from becoming Erdogan’s favoured clients in what could become known as “The Protectorate.”

These groups would play a leadership role not only in governing but also in organizing reconstruction and the return and resettlement of many thousands of refugees from abroad. There will, of course, be a cost for Turkey’s support.

First, their fighters will have to work directly with Turkish forces to eliminate the many radical Jihadist formations within their territories. This is a necessary but bloody task. It is necessary because so long as there is one fighter willing to take offensive actions against the Russian, Iranian and Damascus forces, there will always be an excuse to renew the air and ground campaigns. If the Jihadis refuse to be disarmed, as is likely, they will have to be neutralized or at least driven out of The Protectorate where they can be dealt with by others.

Both the Turks and the Syrian Opposition can expect widespread international support in this effort, assuming that media access to these acts remains restricted. A more distasteful task may be a requirement to aid Turkey against the battle-hardened and immensely capable Kurdish YPG.

As to the plight of the Syrian Kurds, there is really nothing in the proposed agreement for them. Undoubtedly, they will come under increasing attacks from the Turkish military and perhaps even by Russian and Syrian government forces. Regrettably, their interests are likely to be sacrificed. This is shameful but almost inevitable.

Sometimes, a war saves people.”
― Jose Ramos-Horta

The wild card is still the United States and what President Trump considers as being in his best re-election interest. Trump campaigned in 2016 on lessening American military involvement abroad. Yet so far he has been unable to extract U.S. forces from America’s many violent entanglements. Although this is not a popular position among some international observers, for the sake of peace in Syria, it is probably best that Trump follow his initial instincts and the U.S. withdraws all military personnel from Syrian territory.

Image Fighters of the YPG Kurdish People's Protection Unit in Syrian Kurdistan, North Eastern Syria.
[Fighters of the YPG Kurdish People’s Protection Unit in Syrian Kurdistan, North Eastern Syria.]
So long as there are American soldiers on the ground, pseudo-moderate Opposition forces and the YPG will maintain some unrealistic hopes that the U.S. will intervene in an effective way to help them. There is also the ever-present danger of fatal confrontation with Iran and Jihadis, and even an accidental incident with Russian forces.

It’s time for the U.S. to cut its losses and stop creating false expectations, expectations that began with America’s Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford (2010-2014) taking to the streets in the beginning to support Opposition demonstrators. President Trump can claim the fulfillment of a campaign promise and can probably even work with President Putin to help secure the assistance of America’s ally, Israel.

An Ugly Peace

One of the common characteristics of any effective peace agreement is that it is ugly. The major decision makers pick winners and losers and work primarily to secure their own best interests.

A negotiated settlement in Syria will be no different. Yet, it will hopefully save many lives and perhaps, even lead to the realization that there must be an international solution for the Kurds and great power agreements on other intractable problems in the region.

In the end, to paraphrase Otto von Bismarck’s immortal words, “Peace is like sausages. It’s better not to see it being made.”

John Sjoholm and William Stuebner, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[Additional edits by Anthony A. LoPresti] [Main Image: Photo by Bulent Kilic]

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John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

William Stuebner served in the United States Army for twenty years, first in the Infantry and then as a military intelligence officer. The last five years of his career revolved around the wars in Central America where he first led a special intelligence team and then worked as the El Salvador desk officer for the Department of Defense. He was also an assistant professor in the Social Sciences Department of the United States Military Academy where he taught politics and political philosophy.

Stuebner’s Balkans work began in May 1992, shortly after the commencement of hostilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and continues to this day. His assignments included: Humanitarian Assistance Officer for the Department of Defense; Bosnian Field Representative for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, United States Agency for International Development; Expert on Mission, Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (twice); Senior Deputy Head of Mission for Human Rights and Chief of Staff, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has also headed two Non-Governmental Organizations dealing with international criminal justice and peace building.

Lima Charlie World provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans, intelligence professionals and foreign policy experts Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

In case you missed it:

Lima Charlie News Headline Israel Hamas Cyberwar MAY 11 2019Lima Charlie News Headline Putins Great Game in the Balkans MAY 9 2019Image Lima Charlie News Headline GailForce to Space Force G. Harris MAY 2 2019

Israel-Hamas Cyberwar, when old warfare meets new

Israel-Hamas Cyberwar, when old warfare meets new [Lima Charlie News]
Israel-Hamas Cyberwar, when old warfare meets new [Lima Charlie News]

While strategies shift, Israel and Hamas continue to battle in both cyberspace and conventional space.

Israel struck 320 ground targets in the Gaza Strip last weekend targeting Hamas, the Islamist militia and governing political party of Palestine. The attack included a strike against the headquarters of Hamas’ cyber warfare division, a five-story building located in the upscale Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City. Israel claims to have knocked out Hamas’ cyberwarfare capabilities in the attack.

According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli Air Force (IAF) the attack was in response to a series of recent cyber attacks carried out by Hamas against Israeli IT-infrastructure. Incidences of cyber attacks by Hamas and other similar groups have been nearly constant for some time, meaning the attack was likely planned long before last weekend’s strike. Israeli military spokespersons described the targeting as a last-minute defensive measure.

Israel IDF cyber attack

In recent months, the number of rockets fired from Hamas-controlled areas into Israel-controlled areas has increased, and there has been a predictable corresponding increase in counter-attacks from Israel. Rockets utilised by Hamas are primarily the Palestinian built J80, which is based on the Iranian Qassam-2 or Qassam-3 rocket designs, having an ideal operative range of about 16 kilometres.

During the first week of May, it was reported that up to 700 rockets were fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip against targets inside Israel. Local news outlets reported that 25 Palestinians and four Israelis died, in addition to over one hundred injured civilians. The majority of the rocket strikes were, however, prevented by Israel’s Iron Dome counter-air system.

A Cyber Dream Job

While Hamas has been outmatched by Israeli air power, it is also tangling with one of the true superpowers of the Internet. With well-funded and highly developed offensive and defensive cyber-capabilities, few cyber attacks manage to have any significant impact on Israeli systems and infrastructure.

Today, the dream duty-station for Israeli military conscripts is no longer the Air Force, despite its attractive living standards and snazzy uniforms, or the elite Paratrooper division, which sport red (reddish-brown) boots signifying “the best of the best”. Instead, conscripts want to be assigned to Unit 8200, the Israeli signal intelligence service. For graduates of Unit 8200, the cyber war (or the more generic term ‘electronic warfare’) world is their oyster.

Many of those assigned to Unit 8200 go on to land lucrative careers in various tech hubs around the world, or become well paid (according to the low wage standards of Israel) contractors to the intelligence services.

The Israeli technology firm NSO Group Technologies, headquartered in Herzliya, produces a commercial spyware software named Pegasus. That software is believed to have played an integral role in the surveillance efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service, the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP). Pegasus was also reportedly employed to glean information from the phone and computers of the late Saudi journalist-in-exile Jamal Khashoggi. Information possibly key in implementing the decision to terminate his existence.

Palestinian students look at a building that was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes near their damaged school in Gaza City, Gaza, May 7, 2019. (Photo: Mohammed Salem / Reuters)]
Palestinian students look at a building that was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes near their damaged school in Gaza City, Gaza, May 7, 2019. (Photo: Mohammed Salem / Reuters)]

Hamas’ Cyber Eggs

While Hamas does not have the same resources available to Israeli intelligence services, its experts are trained by Iranian and Russian cyberwarfare specialists of merit.

One of the key lessons in any war, dating back even before the teachings of Sun Tzu, is to know your enemy. One of Hamas’ favourite attack methods is to send pictures of attractive, half-naked women to Israeli conscript soldiers, establish a social media contact, and then gain insight into the soldiers’ activities through their smartphones. This is referred to as a cuckoo’s egg in National Security Agency (NSA) phraseology, bringing the age-old ‘honeypot trap’ into the 21st century.

By injecting spyware into images, embedded in the very image codec, Hamas and other agencies can record calls and can even activate, or aggregate, the phone’s microphone under particular circumstances. As a result of the prevalence of these types of attacks across Israel, soldiers are constantly warned over radio and television of this type of lure.

One of Palestine’s pioneers of cyber-terrorism inside the Israeli-sphere is Amna Muna. Muna befriended an Israeli teenager online, and lured him to terrorists waiting to murder him in Ramallah, in the West Bank. She used a chat forum on the Israeli ‘ICQ’ instant messaging service back in 2001. In 2011, Muna was traded along with 10 other Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Shalit was captured in 2006 by Hamas during a cross-border raid on an IDF checkpoint. Muna currently resides in Turkey, where she receives a small monthly stipend from the Palestinian state. She was recently hailed as a national hero by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Israel’s Strike – Was it effective?

Israel’s claim to have knocked out Hamas’ cyber warfare capabilities in this attack should be taken with a hefty amount of salt. The targeted building housing the cyber warfare division was destroyed after a so-called “door knock,” meaning that residents in and near the building received a phone call about fifteen to twenty minutes before the attack began. The call featured a pre-recorded message which stated that the building would be targeted by the Israeli Air Force. Since cyberwarfare is primarily a matter of individual expertise and access to specialised software, it is assumed that the Hamas division will return online within the week. Israel is likely aware of this fact, and has probably taken it into account in its strategy.

As a result, Israel has recently shifted its overall strategy. While in the past several years Israel generally carried out wide-spanning attacks against infrastructure rather than individuals, by 2018 it shifted back towards what is generally referred to as individual targeting of key High-Value Target (HVT) individuals.

An example is the killing of Hamed al-Khudry on the evening of May 5th. Al-Khudry was a member of Hamas’ financial unit, which is known to transfer Iranian funds to Hamas and affiliated Islamic Jihad groups. Al-Khudry’s vehicle, a light blue late-model Toyota Camry, was struck at 1945 ZULU+3 by a missile as he was travelling home from his office in Gaza City. No other casualties were reported in relation to the strike. In recent weeks, several other individuals, mostly second-level figures from within the Palestinian Jihad movements, have been similarly and successfully targeted by Israel.

Hamas gunmen display their military skills during a rally to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the militant group ( AP )
[Hamas gunmen display their military skills during a rally to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the militant group in 2014 (AP)]
In response, Hamas has increased its attacks. 700 rockets were launched from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip over a single week in May, in contrast to a total of 1,000 rockets in all of 2018, according to Israeli figures.

The unspoken message in Israel’s continued targeted bombing is fairly clear: Israel will continue to eliminate the various leadership members as long as the rocket attacks continue from the Hamas-controlled areas. These are the same tactics Israel deployed during the second Intifada in 2004. The IAF carried out a string of targeted attacks against HVTs, utilising helicopter gunships equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, with great tactical success. Among the HVTs terminated were both of the founders of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin and Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin.

This approach is not without danger. Israel is not the only combatant that can turn up the heat. Hamas has proven proficient in producing more powerful and accurate variations of its rockets. The rockets are both able to destroy apartment buildings and appear to be increasingly capable of striking designated targets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Hamas’ more dangerous armaments are well hidden, likely stored in facilities even Israel is unaware of. Threatening the Palestinian leadership in Gaza, its home turf, might push Hamas to escalate matters even more rather than de-escalate.

A possible silver lining is that both parties are, for various reasons, anxious to return to the “normal” level of hostilities, rather than the current heightened level as soon as possible. Ramadan is ongoing, and Gaza doesn’t have an Iron Dome to defend it.

Israel is about to celebrate its Independence Day. From the 14th of May through the 18th of May, Israel will host the high profile Eurovision Song Contest at the Expo Tel Aviv.

Hopefully the winning song will be one of peace.

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

[Edits by Anthony A. LoPresti]

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John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Lebanon. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC

Lima Charlie World provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans, intelligence professionals and foreign policy experts Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

In case you missed it:

Image Lima Charlie New Headline - Strike a deal with the devil - J. Sjoholm MAR 22 2019Image Lima Charlie News Headline Welcome to Jordan SEPT 7 2018Lima Charlie News Headline Putins Great Game in the Balkans MAY 9 2019

Putin’s Great Game in the Balkans, and Beyond

Image Putin’s Great Game in the Balkans, and Beyond [Lima Charlie News]
Putin’s Great Game in the Balkans, and Beyond [Lima Charlie News]

OPINION | Russia’s Vladimir Putin has a clear vision of his international objectives and how to achieve them. The Balkans and Turkey play a role in these plans, especially those aimed at weakening NATO, stopping its expansion, and diminishing the desire of countries to join the European Community.

History does not repeat itself in every detail, but the broad patterns of history do reflect certain similarities. Nowhere else does this ring truer than in the Balkans. Winston Churchill once said, “[The Balkans] produce more history than they can consume.” While not claiming Churchill’s brilliance, I would modify the quote to say, “The Balkans produce more mythology than they can consume.”

History in the Balkans is constantly molded and reshaped to support the predetermined prejudices and half-truths espoused by various ethnic groups. And one thing is certain – no one ever forgets a slight or perceived injustice. If you harmed my great grandfather, you harmed me, and I must seek redress. If, on the other hand, someone sided with me hundreds of years ago, he is forever a friend, regardless of the efficacy of past interventions.

Today, we are experiencing a pattern somewhat similar to that of the 19th century. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to restore the power and prestige – not of the Soviet Union – but of Czarist Russia. In Turkey, President Recep Erdogan carries a similar desire – a return to the glories of the Ottoman Empire, with Erdogan playing the role of a 21st century Sultan.

In the 1900s and before, the Russian Czar and the Ottoman Sultan were the great rivals in the Balkans. The Ottoman Empire, for whom the term “Sick Man of Europe” was created, was in decline after centuries of Islamic expansion that took the faith of the Prophet all the way to Tours in France in 732 AD and to the walls of Vienna in 1683.

The Serbs, over five centuries, repeatedly rose up against their Muslim overlords and were frequently, to one degree or another, supported by their co-religionists in Holy Mother Russia which took on the responsibility for all Orthodox Christians in Southeastern Europe.

These and other actions left a residue of Serbian nationalistic regard for Russia. In World War I, it was Czar Nikolas II who came to the defense of Serbia against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where it is estimated that one in three Serbian adult males perished in the war. In April 2014, Russia donated a statue of Czar Nikolas II to Serbia as part of a park renovation it funded in Belgrade.

[Serbian troops stand under the flags of Russia, Belarus and Serbia as the trilateral Slavic Brotherhood-18 tactical exercise begins at the Rayevsky range, Krasnodar region, Russia, June 26, 2018 (RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE)]
In 1992, Russian volunteers of the so-called 1st Cossack Division arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina to fight alongside the Army of the Bosnian Serb Republic. One of the young officers who served in the vicinity of Visegrad, Moscow-born Igor Vsevolodovich Girkin (aka Igor Ivanovich Strelkov), would eventually come to play a key role in the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the fighting in Eastern Ukraine after completing a career in the Russian Army.

Today, Serbian volunteers are fighting in solidarity with ethnic Russian separatists in the Donbass.

Putin’s Vision

Russia’s primary goals under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin are: to restore Russian prestige; to weaken European Union (EU) influence and independence while undermining democratic norms; to stop the spread of the NATO Alliance; and to improve the Russian economy (Putin’s domestic Achilles’ heel).

Towards these goals, Russia’s relationship with Serbia and the region of Southeastern Europe plays only a secondary, but still significant role.

Russia has, under the leadership of Putin, supported Serbia in its diplomatic and territorial disputes with American-sponsored Kosovo, much as the Czars supported the Serbs in their rebellions against the Ottoman Turks. This is a strong point of leverage Putin holds over Serbian President Alexander Vucic. Politically, Vucic needs to show his base that he has not given up on reestablishing Belgrade’s control over the historical Serb heartland of Kosovo, which Serbia lost after NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign.

Late President Slobodan Milosevic made Serbia a pariah state through his struggle for “Greater Serbia” by inflicting widespread terror, murder and genocide. After Milosevic’s failure to carve out Serb territory in Croatia, gaining only a partial victory in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he climaxed his debacle by losing Kosovo to the hated Albanian ethnic majority. Ironically, he launched his disastrous rise to power in 1987 with a nationalistic speech at Kosovo Polje, the site of Serbia’s ultimate defeat at the hands of the Ottomans on June 15th, 1389, just outside of the Kosovan capital Prishtina.

Like Putin’s acquisition of Crimea and ongoing interference in Eastern Ukraine, President Vucic’s hard line on Kosovo is important to his political survival. It also garners very little international favor. Consequently, the Serbian President benefits from the support of Serbia’s traditional ally, Russia. On the other hand, his failure to resolve matters with Prishtina leadership has blocked Vucic’s other major goal of achieving European Union membership, which is in-line with one of Putin’s primary foreign policy objectives, to slow the spread of EU influence.

[Russian President Vladimir Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic arrive for a news conference in Belgrade (Stoyan Nenov / REUTERS)]
Yet, the aims of the two leaders conflict. Putin seeks to keep the Kosovo conundrum on the table as long as possible in order to maintain Serbian dependence on Russia, while Vucic needs to resolve such matters for the sake of his country’s economic future. And while Putin is particular to favor a type of corrupt, nationalist, populist strongman leader, one that promotes his policy goals (such as Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister, or, some would argue, President Donald Trump), Vucic is not quite the type.

In reality, there is little concern for Putin of Serbia becoming a NATO member in the foreseeable future. Serb resentment about the American-led NATO bombing campaign will take decades to diminish. Consequently, there is little appetite among the populace to join the alliance they feel cost them both Kosovo and their rightful share of Bosnia and Croatia. They see this as just one more betrayal in a long history of anti-Serb bias.

Putin has, however, been increasingly alarmed by NATO creeping ever closer to Russia’s borders. One Eastern European country after another has succumbed to the allure of the most powerful military alliance in the world and the anti-Russian security guarantee it provides. Cut off from “rescuing” the Russian minority populations in the former Soviet Baltic states by Article 5 of the NATO Charter, Russian influence has redirected further southward, first to Ukraine and now to the Balkans.

Having already lost several of the Southeastern European countries to NATO, and significantly, Croatia having celebrated its tenth anniversary of membership, Putin appears determined to give up no more.

Just this week, a court in Montenegro sentenced two pro-Russian opposition politicians to jail for attempting to foment a coup and assassinate Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in October 2016, the eve of that country’s accession as NATO’s 29th member. Montenegran prosecutors alleged that the plotters had Kremlin support to assassinate Djukanovic and block NATO accession. Russia has denied any connection to the coup.

Putin’s best current opportunity to halt losses to NATO is in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the American-imposed Dayton constitution makes it possible for any one of the three constituent peoples to block almost any significant change.

Consequently, Russia has consistently supported Bosnian Serb nationalist and populist politician Milorad Dodik, who has thus far delayed Bosnian accession to NATO. Russia continues to provide Dodik with loans, political campaign funds, and police and civil defense trainers and advisors, while encouraging Dodik to continue the dream of a “Greater Serbia” even if greatly diminished from the days of Milosevic. Dodik has always argued for the dismemberment of Bosnia and Herzegovina, yet did not advocate joining his Republika Srpska with the Serbian motherland, largely because he thought it more advantageous to his personal interests to be a big fish in a small pond.

Recently, however, Dodik has been more vocal about Republika Srpska becoming part of Serbia proper and has argued that the Drina River is not the border between Serbia and Bosnia. As a current sign of Dodik’s ruthlessness and participation in the Putin-favored destabilization of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on 22 April 2019, prominent Bosnian-Serb moderate and pro-Western businessman Slavisa Krunic was assassinated in a shootout just north of the Republika Srpska capital city of Banja Luka. Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic (a highly respected Serb official and member of the ethnic Serb political party that rivals Dodik’s) stated to the press that Krunic’s killing had the “signature” of the authorities, without specifying which authorities he had in mind. As in Russia, this kind of political murder is almost never officially solved.

Dodik has proven, far more than Vucic, to be Putin’s favored kind of tool.

[Bosnian Serb politician, Milorad Dodik, kissing the Bosnian Serb flag in 2010 (Photo: Milan Radulovic / AFP)]
Putin’s other lever is an economic benefit for those willing to advance Russia’s primary goals. The greatest weakness of Russia’s economy is its almost complete reliance on Russia’s natural resources, much like that of many underdeveloped nations. Russian manufacturing has little demand worldwide, except for military equipment, and even that is often inferior to hardware made in the West, especially the United States. Consistently low worldwide oil prices have especially stymied the use of export profits to finance Russia’s ambitions. Yet fossil fuels, especially natural gas, have given Russia an edge within the EU and with non-EU neighbors, and have given Putin some ability to blackmail weaker, energy-starved economies.

Along with Russia’s political/military focus southwards, Putin has also redirected future gas pipeline plans to the South in the form of projects known as “South Stream” and “Turk Stream.” These enable Russia to limit the control more advanced (and antagonistic) EU and NATO countries to the North have over the shipment of energy, while providing benefits both to Russia’s economy and the economies of weaker and friendlier countries to the South.

Serbia, Hungary and Turkey would all benefit from these pipelines and would become even more dependent and pliable. Turkey is hungry for fuel for its robust economy, which experiences some of the highest energy costs in the world. Russian-Turkish relations have experienced significant warming, a development that bodes well for Putin, but is ominous for the unity of NATO. Erdogan and Putin have continued to accommodate each other in Syria, while Turkey has purchased new air defense missile systems from its long-time geopolitical rival.

Ясное видение

Vladimir Putin, unlike some world leaders, has a clear vision of his international objectives and how to achieve them. The Balkans, including Turkey, play a significant but not primary part in these plans, especially those related to weakening NATO, stopping its expansion to the East, and diminishing the desire of countries to enter into EU membership.

While Putin and his predecessors have often failed in the past, today, Putin has little concern about Serbia joining NATO. He can rely on Milorad Dodik to stop the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is also enjoying some success in fracturing Turkey’s affinity for NATO.

As for EU membership, Putin has a relatively weak hand but benefits from the EU’s own political and economic divisions. These divisions have made membership less attractive, actively hindering further expansion of the union. Serbia is still several years from possible membership, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s aspirations are going nowhere fast, and Turkey’s hopes have been dashed repeatedly by European biases and, now, Erdogan’s own anti-democratic behavior.

Although not related directly to the Balkans, Russian leadership appears to have successfully employed internet trolls to influence the Brexit vote. They may also have contributed to the election of an American President, one that has denigrated NATO and praised Brexit. If Putin was, indeed, successful in influencing these electoral decisions, this represents an intelligence coup his Soviet KGB overlords could not have conceived of in their wildest fantasies.

In Syria, Russia has made Iran an ally and Assad a puppet, while at the same time it has benefitted from higher oil and gas prices resulting from U.S. sanctions against Iran. This can only strengthen Russia’s fossil fuel-based economy, aiding stability at home, and the ability to project influence abroad.

Only time will tell whether President Vladimir Putin can win the game and “Make Russia Great Again.” But one thing is certain. He understands the game better than his opponents and is willing to do whatever it takes to win. Russia will keep undermining democratic elections and supporting corrupt, anti-democratic politicians as useful tools. The European Union, meanwhile, is poised to remain feckless and impotent, focusing more on near-term energy needs.

For its part, U.S. policy leaders will continue to remain clueless, seeing little or no strategic value in the Balkans.

William Stuebner, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[Edited by John Sjoholm ]

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William Stuebner served in the United States Army for twenty years, first in the Infantry and then as a military intelligence officer. The last five years of his career revolved around the wars in Central America where he first led a special intelligence team and then worked as the El Salvador desk officer for the Department of Defense. He was also an assistant professor in the Social Sciences Department of the United States Military Academy where he taught politics and political philosophy.

Stuebner’s Balkans work began in May 1992, shortly after the commencement of hostilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and continues to this day. His assignments included: Humanitarian Assistance Officer for the Department of Defense; Bosnian Field Representative for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, United States Agency for International Development; Expert on Mission, Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (twice); Senior Deputy Head of Mission for Human Rights and Chief of Staff, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has also headed two Non-Governmental Organizations dealing with international criminal justice and peace building.

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What exactly is the extent of Russia’s influence on North Korea?

Image What exactly is the extent of Russia’s influence on North Korea? [Lima Charlie News][Photo: Yuri Kadobnov]
What exactly is the extent of Russia’s influence on North Korea? [Lima Charlie News][Photo: Yuri Kadobnov]

With America’s stalled progress in achieving the denuclearisation of North Korea, on a phone call this Friday, Donald Trump urged Vladimir Putin to put more pressure on Kim Jong Un. By Saturday morning, North Korea fired several short-range projectiles that crashed into the Sea of Japan, a clear signal to the United States. With North Korea and Russia both under the yoke of crippling international sanctions, last month’s brief Putin-Kim summit in Vladivostok appears to have had little impact on North Korean policy. China is generally considered to wield the most influence over North Korea, so what exactly is Russia’s role?

Russia’s direct relations with North Korea have been largely ignored in the West. The general belief has been that the prime influence in North Korean economic and political affairs is that of its large northern neighbour, China, and that Russia is primarily interested in political and diplomatic influence and exchanges in conferences like the Six-Party talks.

These talks, now stalled, were designed to find a solution to the challenges presented by North Korea’s nuclear program and its development of ICBMs. Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have now agreed to try and revive them.

Image orth Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend an official reception following their talks in Vladivostok, Russia in this undated photo released on April 25, by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA). -- Pix: KCNA via REUTERS
[North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend an official reception following their talks in Vladivostok, Russia in this undated photo released on April 25, by North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS]
Despite two well-publicised meetings between President Trump and Kim, there has not been a lot of progress in resolving the U.S. demand for the total denuclearisation of North Korea, nor in reducing or eliminating the severe restrictions enforced against North Korea by the U.S. and some of its allies.

On 21 September 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order (EO) 13810 which broadly expanded sanctions against North Korea. North Korea has been under international sanctions since the late 1950s, in 1988 it was added to the U.S. list of state-sponsors of terrorism, and in 2006 additional sanctions were imposed by the UN. The 2017 EO significantly expanded the U.S. Treasury’s authorities to cut from its financial system or freeze assets of any companies, businesses, organizations, and individuals trading in goods, services, or technology with North Korea. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared that, “Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that, going forward, they can choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea, but not both.”

Under these sanctions, any aircraft or ship entering the DPRK is banned for 180 days from entering the U.S. This same restriction also applies to ships which conduct ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean vessels. Upon the U.S. announcement, China’s central bank reportedly ordered banks to strictly implement UN sanctions against North Korea amid U.S. concerns that Beijing had not been tough enough over North Korea’s repeated nuclear tests.

On April 25, President Putin and Kim Jong Un conducted unstructured discussions in the Eastern Russian port city of Vladivostok about how to proceed further in getting these sanctions reduced or removed. Considering this is a subject near and dear to the heart of Russians, suffering similar sanctions, there was much to be gained, or lost.

This Saturday, just hours after a phone call in which President Trump urged Putin to put more pressure on North Korea, North Korea conducted a missile test firing several short range projectiles that flew up to 200 kilometers before crashing into the Sea of Japan. Three weapon systems were tested that included an unidentified Short-Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM), and 240mm and 300mm Multiple Rocket Launchers (MRL).

The test was a clear message to the United States.

Russia’s influence on North Korea?

Russia has more extensive economic influence on North Korea than is often cited.

Before the economic advance of China after its embrace of proto-capitalism, Russia was the main foreign partner of North Korea. In the 1970s and 1980s the Soviet Union accounted for up to 50% of North Korea’s foreign trade. Today, Russia is reportedly now responsible for a mere 1.2% of the North’s external trade. While Russia is still the DPRK’s second largest trading partner, albeit a very distant second, China holds the unassailable top position with 92.5%.

According to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, as reported by Artyom Lukin and Lyudmila Zakharova in Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), “in 2016, bilateral turnover stood at $76.8 million. North Korean exports ($8.8 million) included frozen fish (24.6%), parts and accessories for tractors (22.3%), articles of apparel and clothing accessories (16%), and wind musical instruments (12.4%). Russian exports ($68 million) consisted mainly of bituminous coal (75%), lignite (5%), petroleum oils and gas (4%), as well as wheat (5%), and frozen fish and crustaceans (3%).”

While China has historically been the main supplier of bituminous coal to North Korea – a critical raw material in smelting iron ore – since 2015, North Korea received most of its coal imports from Russia (85% in 2015 and 75% in 2016). While North Korea “runs a chronic deficit in bilateral trade with Russia,” this is compensated somewhat by other economic exchanges such as the exportation to Russia of North Korean labour.

There is also considerable evidence that Russia actually exports a great deal more to North Korea via shipments made through third parties, primarily China. A large volume of petroleum products are shipped from China to North Korea, but the origin of the oil and refined products is Russia.

Image [Port of Nakhodka, Primorsky Krai, Russia, near Vladivostok, a hub to China for coal and petroleum products]
[Port of Nakhodka, Primorsky Krai, Russia, near Vladivostok, a hub to China for coal and petroleum products]
According to Russia’s Ministry for Far East Development, up to one third of China’s exports to North Korea (roughly $900 million in 2015) was actually made up of Russian-originated goods. This indirect trade is mostly constituted by petroleum products. It is estimated that China exports about 500,000 metric tons of crude oil and 270,000 tons of oil products to North Korea each year while Russian-originated oil supplies to the DPRK, mostly gasoline and diesel fuel, are estimated to be within the range of 200,000-300,000 tons per year, which amounts to roughly $200-300 million in the current prices. (“As U.S. and China find common ground on North Korea, is Russia the wild card?”).

While Chinese oil deliveries to North Korea are made through the state-owned pipeline, Russians supply petroleum products brought to Primorskiy Krai by the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) oil pipeline’s main terminal near Nakhodka and shipped on small North Korean tankers from Nakhodka, Slavyanka, Vostochny and Vladivostok.

Deliveries by small tankers have not always been from Russian ports. Along with these port pickups there are numbers of North Korean registered tankers loading at sea from larger vessels operated by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and private Russian corporations engaged in sanctions busting.

In March 2019, a North Korea-flagged tanker was caught violating UN sanctions as it engaged a ship-to-ship transfer of fuel with an unidentified vessel. The North Korea-flagged tanker ‘Saebyol’, which was transmitting on ship tracking systems as a fishing boat, was spotted alongside a vessel of unknown nationality on the high seas, conducting a prohibited ship-to-ship transfer. The illicit operation was documented by a Royal Navy frigate which was operating in the East China Sea in cooperation with Japan, enforcing the UN sanctions against North Korea.

Russia’s North Korea Trade Routes

In an attempt to deal with its economic plight, North Korea established a number of trade zones to assist in the expansion of its international trade. These are spread among three regions of the country. The most advanced is the Rason Special Economic Zone, earlier called the Rajin-Sonbong Economic Special Zone. Established in 1992 near Rason to promote economic growth through foreign investment, shipping is conducted through the port of Rajin, a warm-water port near the border with China and Russia. It is being expanded with new energy supplies from China and fuel deliveries from Vladivostok in Russia.

Although rail is the easiest link for this region the rail system to nearby Russia has suffered from a major impediment. There are significant variations in track infrastructure and rail connections and facilities vary considerably in size and capabilities.

Image North Korea - Russia Railway Map
[beyondparallel.com / CSIS / Song Ji-yoon]
For example, Korean rail lines are Standard gauge rails of 1,435 mm (4 ft. 8 1/2 in), the same as for China, while the Russian gauge is 1520 mm (4 ft. 11 27⁄32 in). In order to load railcars in North Korea for onward shipment to Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the carriages must be lifted at a crossing near the Tumen River bridge (at a crossing that consists of the Korean-Russian Friendship Bridge, Tumangang railyard and Khasan railyard), and placed on Russian bogies for their onward journey on Russian tracks. Currently, the Tumangang facilities remain active year-round.

The same is true in the other direction. Since 2013 the line over the Tumen River to Rajin has been rebuilt with dual gauge track, so that standard gauge and Russian broad gauge trains from the Russian Khasan can access the port of Rajin. A Russian railway from Khasan in Siberia across the border to Rason began operations in 2014. Shipments have been steadily increasing ever since. Russia plans on bringing more than 1 million tons of coal through here. The appeal of Rason to Russia is simple: it’s a gateway to Chinese markets.

Transhipments of coal through the North aren’t banned under UN sanctions, and it’s far cheaper to transit Rason than to get coal to China using other routes or means. Russian and Chinese cargo ships are used because the North doesn’t have any ships built for that purpose that are big enough.

Now there are four new ferries plying the Russian-Korean route as it is cheaper than trying to use rail. The ferry service will move up to 200 passengers and 1,000 tonnes of cargo six times a month between North Korea and the Russian port of Vladivostok. There has also been a recent steady flow of oil tanker traffic from Vladivostok into North Korean east coast ports.

Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un (PHOTO CREDIT: KCNA/AFP)

Why Kim Needs Russia

During the period when Kim enjoyed a so-called “love fest” with President Trump, China was as accommodating to North Korea as possible. As a price for its assistance, China demanded a series of reforms in North Korea; reforms which didn’t take place or were suspended.

In March 2019, North Korea resumed work on nuclear and missile facilities. Worse, greater scrutiny of satellite photos revealed additional nuclear and missile development sites that North Korea never admitted it had. America, and its allies (South Korea and Japan) now have more reason not to trust North Korea.

This distrust has made it more difficult for North Korea to appeal to South Korea for relief from both the U.S. and China, which have been negotiating a new trade deal and the removal of tariffs. North Korea found that it had few options, deciding that its only possible saviour would be Russia, particularly when it came to smuggling.

Image [People watch a TV screen showing images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, days before their summit meeting on April 24-25, 2019. The Korean letters on the screen read, "Kim Jong Un plans to visit Russia ." (Photo Ahn Young-joon / AP)]
[People watch a TV screen showing images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station, South Korea, days before their summit meeting on April 24-25, 2019. The Korean letters on the screen read, “Kim Jong Un plans to visit Russia .” (Photo Ahn Young-joon / AP)]
President Putin was happy to agree to the April 25th meeting with Kim in Vladivostok, yet Russia has very little more it can do to assist. Russia operates under relatively severe international sanctions right now and is attempting to carve a greater role for itself as an arbiter in the Middle East, along with efforts in Venezuela and Africa.

Russia would not benefit by overt actions that could directly help North Korea, only serving to antagonise the West further. Russia will likely continue to expand its trade with North Korea through the new southern transport corridor from Primorsky Krai, it will call for the resumption of activities in the Tumen River Basin, and the resumption of the Six Nation discussions.

These activities are small enough to not raise the level of defiance with China, a growing trade partner. Russia will assist, but not enough to save North Koreans from serious food and other shortages.

At the moment, the U.S. has little to fear from Russia and North Korea working together more closely than before. There is little they can achieve of value, but the possibilities of propaganda campaigns are extensive. As in many other aspects of Russian foreign policy what is actually achieved and celebrated is often far less than the reality. Russia has survived on bluff and bluster for centuries.

Russia operates under relatively severe international sanctions right now and is attempting to carve a greater role for itself as an arbiter in the Middle East, along with efforts in Venezuela and Africa.

North Korea’s Other Trading Partners

For many nations of the world the problems posed by the DPRK’s international pariah status are viewed as an opportunity rather than an impediment. For some nations, a close working relationship with the DPRK has been nurtured for a long period.

In Egypt, for example, there has been a Cairo-Pyongyang axis growing since the days of Nasser when Kim Il Sung sent financial support for the closing of the Suez Canal by Egypt. The DPRK set up an embassy in Egypt in 1961 and offered military and financial support to Egypt in the Six-Day War in 1967 and military supplies to help Egypt and its proxies drive the British out of Aden. In the 1973 war against Israel, Egypt’s senior air force commander, Hosni Mubarak, used North Korean pilots to fly missions in Egyptian aircraft. Mubarak made four visits to Pyongyang from 1983-1990 where he laid the foundation for Egyptian investments in the North Korean economy.

Samual Ramani wrote in The Diplomat that, “The most striking demonstration of Cairo’s willingness to invest in North Korea was Egyptian telecommunications giant Orascom’s establishment of Koryolink, the DPRK’s only 3G mobile phone network, in 2008. This business deal, which was authorized by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, gave Orascom 300,000 new North Korean customers. This deal highlighted the potential for mutually beneficial economic links between the two countries, and Sawiris’s subsequent visits to Pyongyang facilitated further Egyptian investments in the North Korean economy.”

North Korea has been a critical supplier of military technology to Egypt since the 1970s. In 1975, President Anwar el-Sadat authorized the purchase of Soviet-made Scud-B missiles from the DPRK. The North Korean military responded to Cairo’s missile purchase by technologically assisting Egypt’s Scud-B missile production efforts. These Scud-B missile procurements established long-term technical exchanges between the two nations during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, with the Iranian progress in producing missiles, Egypt is very anxious to continue to acquire more missile technology from the DPRK which will help it against its main enemy.

Moreover, the indelicate Trump tweet offensive against the Iranian 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the U.S. withdrawal, has made the acquisition of nuclear technology reappear on the technical military horizons of many Middle Eastern States, Egypt among them. Despite U.S. and Russian objections, Egypt has not given up hopes to be a nuclear power. Egypt has continued to refuse to accept comprehensive international inspections of its nuclear energy program.

Egypt is not the only nation in the Middle East with such a fall-back position of engaging with the DPRK if nuclear proliferation becomes an acceptable norm.

Image KIM YONG-NAM, PRESIDENT OF THE PRESIDIUM OF THE SUPREME PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY OF NORTH KOREA, MEETS WITH THEN-EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT HOSNI MUBARAK AT THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE IN CAIRO, EGYPT, JULY 26, 2007 (AP / BEN CURTIS).
[KIM YONG-NAM, PRESIDENT OF THE PRESIDIUM OF THE SUPREME PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY OF NORTH KOREA, MEETS WITH THEN-EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT HOSNI MUBARAK AT THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE IN CAIRO, EGYPT, JULY 26, 2007 (AP / BEN CURTIS).]
In 2015, Abu Dhabi purchased USD $100 million worth of weapons from North Korea to use in the war in Yemen (according to a leaked memo from the US State Department). The deal included a shipment of rockets, machine guns and rifles that were sent to Yemen to support groups loyal to the UAE in the conflict. According to the memo, the US State Department warned Abu Dhabi that North Korea would use the money from its arms deal to finance its nuclear programme.

The UAE’s covert arms purchases from Pyongyang results from Abu Dhabi’s belief that North Korea is a potentially valuable missile system supplier in the world market and should be deterred from selling sophisticated military technology to Iran and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Again, as a result of President Trump’s dissolution of the JCPOA pact with Iran, the UAE and other states in the region are seeking the acquisition of missiles and nuclear technology to counter the expected rush towards competency by Iran, freed of the ICPOA.

From 2007 to 2015, the value of annual trade activities between African states and the DPRK amounted to $216.5 million, higher than the average $90 million recorded from 1998 to 2006. Pyongyang has built arms factories in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Uganda. It has been contracted to construct military sites in Namibia. This relationship with Namibia led to Namibia being cited as a violator of UN sanctions.

Theoretically, Namibia halted relations with the DPRK in 2016 but Namibian newspapers bemoaned the fact that the DPRK technicians are still there. Officially, the Namibian Government announced that it had terminated the services of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID) and Mansudae Overseas Projects. KOMID, North Korea’s primary arms dealer, was blacklisted by the Security Council in 2009 and described as Pyongyang’s key arms dealer and exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.

Construction company Mansudae is known for having built several state houses, statues and monuments in Africa. In Namibia, they have already built the national history museum and State House, and are busy with the defence headquarters and the shadowy munitions factory. Namibia has already given over N$1,3 billion to North Korea through various construction projects since 2002.

Police training and leadership-protection courses provided by North Korea have also been popular across the continent, including Benin, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe (best noted for its training of the notorious Fifth Brigade). Pyongyang has also sold ballistic-missile manufacturing lines to Libya, while South Africa intercepted a shipment of weapons from North Korea bound for the Congo in 2009.

Image North Korean vice Minister of the the Ministry of Peoples Security, Mr. Ri Song, inspects weapons at a police training academy in Kampala, Uganda, June 13, 2013 (AFP/Stringer)
[North Korean vice Minister of the the Ministry of Peoples Security, Mr. Ri Song, inspects weapons at a police training academy in Kampala, Uganda, June 13, 2013 (AFP/Stringer)]
The ISS reported in February 2016 that Pyongyang was still exporting ballistic missile-related items to the Middle East and Africa. The DPRK has had a long and profitable relationship with Malaysian traders using the company Glocom, which exports DPRK small arms and communications equipment throughout Central Asia and the Middle East.

The DPRK has extensive relations with African countries; especially Equatorial Guinea, Angola, DR Congo, and Burundi. The DPRK’s relationship with DR Congo also recently sparked an international controversy when a UN report was leaked on May 16, 2016 revealing that Congo had purchased pistols from the DPRK in 2014 and recruited 30 North Korean instructors to work alongside the Congolese police and presidential guard.

The DPRK has also not been restrained from delivering substantial quantities of chemical and biological weapons to countries around the globe. Of particular interest has been the deliveries of chemical and biological agents to Assad’s Syria (in addition to Scuds and surface to air missiles). In a confidential August 2017 report of UN experts to the Security Council, experts reported the delivery of prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms by the DPRK to Syria. The report added that this was because of a log-term contract between Syria and the firm, KOMID.

And in closing … Vladivostok

It is interesting that Putin and Kim held their April talks in Vladivostok. Vladivostok is where, a century ago, 8,000 U.S. soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force, Siberia (AEF in Siberia), were sent to help remove the Czech Legions trapped behind in the Russian Civil War. This is a history not usually taught in U.S. schools.

After the Bolshevik Revolution and the displacement of the Menshevik Government in early 1918, the Russian Civil War had continued across the rest of Russia with the Red Army battling the White Army throughout former imperial Russia. A large military force, the Czech legion, which had been brought in to fight the Red Army was trapped and couldn’t return home.

Meanwhile, the Japanese had stationed 72,000 troops in Siberia and were funding a wild bunch of Cossack guerrillas who tortured, raped, and decapitated innocent Siberians, according to US Army reports. They travelled up and down the Trans-Siberian Railroad in special “Death Trains” underwritten by the Japanese.

The Japanese were also interfering with U.S. business, threatening to confiscate 600,000 tons of U.S. supplies sitting in Vladivostok. As a gesture of neutrality, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ordered the AEF to be sent at once to Vladivostok under the leadership of Major General William S. Graves. The troops landed on the first of September 1918, and were there, not to take sides in the civil war, but to try and rescue the Czech legions and the thousands of German and Austrian prisoners of war.

Image American troops in Vladivostok parading before the building occupied by the staff of the Czecho-Slovaks. Japanese marines are standing to attention as they march by. Siberia, August 1918. NARA.
[American troops in Vladivostok parading before the building occupied by the staff of the Czecho-Slovaks. Japanese marines are standing to attention as they march by. Siberia, August 1918. (National Archives and Records Administration / NARA)]
After taking up their duties patrolling the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Chinese Eastern Railway, they were attacked by all sides. The Red Army attacked them in battles along the Trans-Siberian Railroad; the Red Partisans attacked their encampments; and the Cossacks (pushed by the Japanese) fought the U.S. troops all over the Far East. The Japanese used proxies to try and drive the U.S. out of their headquarters in Vladivostok and their regional headquarters in Khabarovsk.

Despite the kidnappings and executions of American soldiers by the Cossacks and the raids by the Partisans, the Expeditionary Force tried to maintain its neutrality. In the winter of 1919-1920 the White Russian Army was defeated by the Red Army on the Volga Front and the Red Army succeeded in capturing Spassk in the Far East. The war was over and there was an outcry in the U.S. to bring the troops home.

The last troops left Russia on April Fool’s Day 1920.

Dr. Gary K. Busch, for Lima Charlie News 

[Edits by Anthony A. LoPresti] [Main image: Photo: Yuri Kadobnov / Pool Photo via AP]

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Dr. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting professor at several universities. He was the head of research in international affairs for a major U.S. trade union and Assistant General Secretary of an international union federation. His articles have appeared in the Economist Intelligence Unit, Wall Street Journal, WPROST, Pravda and several other news journals. He is the editor and publisher of the web-based news journal of international relations www.ocnus.net.

Lima Charlie World provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans, intelligence professionals and foreign policy experts Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

ADDITIONAL SOURCES

  • Julian, “Trump issues new sanctions on North Korea and claims China is following”, Guardian 21/9 17.
  • Artyom Lukin and Lyudmila Zakharova, “Russia-North Korea Economic Ties: Is There More Than Meets The Eye? “FPRI, 7/10/17.
  • “North Korea-Flagged Tanker Busted Violating UN Sanctions, World Maritime News, 8/4/19.
  • Samuel Ramani, “The Egypt-North Korea Connection”, Diplomat, August 28, 2017.
  • Middle East Monitor, “UAE bought weapons from North Korea for war in Yemen” 20/7/17.
  • The Namibian, “Namibia: Sacrificing Ourselves for North Korea’s Gain”, 1/9/17.
  • “Korea: Kim Catches A Clue” Strategy Page, March 12, 2019.
  • There are several good accounts of the American Occupation of Siberia. Among them are:
    R.M. Connaughton, The Republic of the Ushakovka: Admiral Kolchak and the Allied Intervention in Siberia, 1918-1920, Routledge; William S. Graves, America’s Siberian Adventure, Peter Smith, 1941); Betty Miller Unterberger, America’s Siberian Expedition, 1918-1920, Duke University Press

In case you missed it:

Image Lima Charlie News Headline Is Russia Failing In Ukraine - G.Busch MAR 23 2019Image Lima Charlie News Headline Organised Crime Part 2 Busch FEB 24 2019Image Lima Charlie News headline Korea May 8, 0217

Acknowledging America’s free press fall on World Press Freedom Day

Image World Press Freedom Day has us asking ‘What is the state of free press in democracies worldwide, and why has America’s free press ranking dropped?' [Lima Charlie News]
World Press Freedom Day has us asking ‘What is the state of free press in democracies worldwide, and why has America’s free press ranking dropped?' [Lima Charlie News]

World Press Freedom Day has us asking ‘What is the state of free press in democracies worldwide, and why has America’s free press ranking dropped?’

World Press Freedom Day – a day proclaimed by the United Nations (UNESCO) to “celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession” falls on May 3rd. World Press Freedom Day is critical to remind ourselves that the very bedrock of every healthy democracy is a free and vibrant press.

Which is why it’s also important to remind Americans that according to this year’s Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, a ranking of countries based on their state of media freedom, the United States dropped 3 notches lower than last year. The U.S. is now 48th in the world with regard to press freedom – beneath Romania and above Senegal. This drop changes the U.S. ranking to “problematic”, where rankings range from good, to fairly good, to problematic, bad and very bad.

The index is determined by pooling the responses of experts worldwide to an 87 item questionnaire that has been translated into 20 languages. It addresses seven criteria that include pluralism (the degree to which opinions are represented in the media), media independence (the degree to which the media is able to function independently of political, governmental, business and religious influence), transparency (the transparency of the institutions and procedures that affect the production of news and information), and abuses (data gathered about abuses and acts of violence against journalists and media).

The top three? This year, Norway ranked first for the third year in a row, with Finland ranking second and Sweden ranking third. The bottom three? Eritrea falls in at 178, followed by North Korea at 179 and Turkmenistan at 180.

In its U.S. review, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières – RSF) was careful to mention President Trump’s labeling of the press as “the enemy of the people”, the Trump administration’s attempts to block and even revoke White House access from certain media outlets, and the president’s consistent verbal attacks on what he deems “fake news.” Just this February, reporters from the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, the Los Angeles Times and Reuters were banned from covering President Trump’s dinner with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un because of what White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said were “sensitivities over shouted questions in the previous sprays.”

Also mentioned in the RSF freedom index report are press impingements that predate the Trump Presidency, such as the utilization of the Espionage Act by the Obama Administration to prosecute whistleblowers who leak information of public interest to the press, the fact that there is still no federal “shield law” guaranteeing reporters’ right to protect their sources, and the arrests of journalists during protests.

Aside from the U.S.’s three point ranking drop two years into the Trump Presidency, the Trump Administration’s attitude toward the media is nothing if not consistent.

So what has changed?

Image The photos of five murdered Capital Gazette employees adorn candles at a vigil in June in Maryland. (Jose Luis Magana)
[The photos of five murdered Capital Gazette employees adorn candles at a vigil in June in Maryland. (Jose Luis Magana)]
In June 2018, a gunman stormed the Capital Gazette newsroom in Maryland murdering 5 people. The gunman’s ire was personal, not political; he had a longstanding feud with the paper over its coverage of a 2011 criminal harassment complaint against him. RSF did not regard the attack as an isolated attack that could be written off, and prominently featured it in their analysis.

Mass shootings targeting journalists already have significant implications for the press, such as the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack, but the American phenomena of non-political mass shootings targeting the press is something new.

Also factoring into this year’s decline are disturbing developments over the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) targeting of journalists. In March, a secret DHS database of journalists and advocates who were critical of the DHS’s border enforcement policies leaked to the press. The reporters on the list were subject to harsher treatment during otherwise routine border crossings. Over 100 civil liberties organizations, including RSF, signed a letter to the DHS calling them out for this action.

But what about the rest of the World?

In its summarization of the key findings of the 2019 Press Freedom Index, RSF illustrated that although the deterioration of press freedom is global, the most precipitous declines occurred in countries with otherwise strong democratic institutions. Specifically, RSF called out the tenor of political debates as being a key factor in this year’s findings.

“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”

This means that the most precipitous declines occurred in the Americas and Europe, the regions with the greatest proportion of people participating in free, if increasingly contentious, elections.

For example, Spain has seen a fundamental shift in the treatment of the press over the last two years. First, the pro-Catalan independence partisans were hostile to media covering the referendum and subsequent independence efforts in terms of intimidation of TV crews reporting on events and in online harassment.

The new right wing Vox party, which rose partially in response to the Catalan Referendum, held rallies marked by the shouting of verbal abuse at members of the press. Exemplifying a “civil war-style atmosphere,” one of the primary sources of Vox’s ire at the media was a perception that the press had been too sympathetic to the Catalan independence movement.

“There’s no longer any trust in the press,” Manuel Mariscal, the head of Vox’s online accounts, told El Pais. “We are turning into our own communications channel.”

Vox has increased its media platforms since it launched in 2014, capitalizing on the publication of short (under 1 minute) video content. These videos are easily shareable, and the party uses them to build their platforms. Although media repeatedly call out the party’s content as misinformation, their platform helped them communicate directly with their voters and effectively bypass the media. In spite of Spain’s electoral commission banning Vox from participating in televised debates, the party gained 24 seats in the parliamentary elections.

Brazil’s new democratically elected President Jair Bolsonaro, who speaks via weekly Facebook streams, is a poster boy for animosity toward the press.

“The elections are over. Enough lies. Enough fake news. Really, we’re in a new era,” President Jair Bolsonaro said, opening an interview the day after he was elected in October 2018. The president went on to express admiration for the press, before he threatened to withdraw government advertisements from Folha de São Paulo, one of Brazil’s most widely circulated newspapers. “That Newspaper is done.”

Image Current President Bolsonaro of Brazil performing one of his weekly Facebook live streams during his campaign.]
[Current President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil performing one of his weekly Facebook live streams during his campaign.]
An interesting common factor in the rise of politicians hostile to the press, such as President Trump, is their successful utilization of social media. Bolsonaro’s campaign eschewed big rallies and television news events in favor of the heavy usage of social media, taking prospective voters with him on his campaign and into his home.

The bottom line is that the symbiotic relationship between the press and politicians, where the press gets access and the politician gets exposure, is breaking down because politicians can get millions on their own. And this isn’t just true in Europe and the Americas, notably, Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli, nicknamed “bulldozer” has replicated these activities.

At question, however, is whether and how news consumers can learn whether what they are reading, seeing and hearing is accurate.

Innovative Anti-democracy Technologies Arise

Although RSF is most concerned with the politicalized animosity directed at reporters, governments in less developed, or less free, countries are becoming increasingly effective at censorship.

Again, thanks to new technology.

South Asian countries like Pakistan, India, and Myanmar are plagued by fake information spread by social media, engendering a hostile environment for reporters.

The RSF report focused special attention on two Reuters journalists that were handed 7-year jail sentences for reporting on Myanmar’s Rohingya and the role that social media fear-mongering played in normalizing repression.

China, which ranked 177th of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index (just two above North Korea), has a much more highly developed economy than most poorly ranked countries, and an ever growing surveillance apparatus. With 200 million government-run cameras, China’s surveillence of its own citizens – and journalists – is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

In February 2018, an independent journalist found an unsecure government database monitoring Xinjiang province. Utilizing facial recognition and AI, the government was tracking the locations and purchases of 2.6 million people – live. What is more, recent New York Times reporting has exposed that China is exporting its surveillance models.

In Russia (ranked 149), according to RSF, “Leading independent news outlets have either been brought under control or throttled out of existence” and “more journalists are now in prison than at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union and more and more bloggers are being jailed.”

In a technology coup, on April 22nd, Russian parliament’s upper house approved, and on May 1st President Putin signed into law new measures that would enable the creation of a national internet network able to operate separately from the rest of the world. This “sovereign” Russian Internet controlled by the Kremlin would require ISPs to direct traffic through a centralized system of devices controlled by the state, with approved Internet exchange points, and to use a national domain name system (DNS). According to RIA-Novosti, the law also calls for the creation of a monitoring and management center supervised by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecoms agency. No doubt “free press” will have a new meaning if and when the system becomes operational.

Image In spite of the brutal murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and its importation of millions of dollars of surveillance equipment from the U.S. and Britain, Saudi Arabia still lags behind China in 172nd place. (Y. Akgul)
[In spite of the brutal murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and its importation of millions of dollars of surveillance equipment from the U.S. and Britain, Saudi Arabia still lags behind China in 172nd place. (Y. Akgul)]

Success stories?

Although press freedom is deteriorating globally, there were some success stories.

For example, Ethiopia, which jumped up 40 places, composed a multi-ethnic governing coalition in an effort to end strife in the Oromo ethnic group. The new government released all formerly imprisoned journalists, unblocked web access to some 264 news websites, and facilitated the repatriation of dozens of Ethiopian language news services based in other countries. However, the increase only brought them to 110th, and over the summer a regulator chastised the two major television networks for inadequate coverage of a ruling party rally.

Armenia’s ‘Velvet Revolution’ last spring caused it to jump 19 places in the index; however, the new leader of the country, who is a former journalist himself, hasn’t hesitated to utilize the language of “fake news” to attack critical coverage.

Malaysia’s left wing multi-ethnic parties gained power for the first time, in no small part because of investigative journalism uncovering a $4.5 billion embezzlement scandal, resulting in the ouster of Malaysia’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, the ethno-nationalistic party that had power for some 70 years. The incoming prime minister fulfilled his campaign promise to repeal a draconian anti-fake news law. However, the new prime minister, 93-year-old Mahathir bin Mohamad, a former UMNO leader, ruled the country as a practical dictator from 1987 to 2003, undermining press freedom during his last time in office.

With the support of considerable financial backing from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Gambian citizens were able to expel the dictator Yahya Jammeh in 2017. Press freedom is increasing in Gambia thanks to lawsuits challenging Jammeh’s anti-press laws.

In the Arab world, Tunisia, with one of the freest media environments in the region, is continuing its struggle to live up to the expectations set by the 2011 Arab Spring and the hundreds of millions in foreign aid that followed. These gains, however, are only positive relative to countries in the rest of the MENA region (such as Iran – ranked 170 or Saudi Arabia – ranked 172), where journalists who face prosecution are often left to fend for themselves, numerous media outlets face financial insolvency, and efforts to report on negative government activity are frequently stonewalled.

In Asia, press freedom is also being undermined in countries that are heavily linked to China’s economy – such as former bastions of press freedom Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

We wrote on Press Freedom Day 2017:

[T]he reason we created Lima Charlie, is the mandate proclaimed in our mission statement: “Lima Charlie journalists seek to investigate and report the truth, with unparalleled access and a noble eye towards promoting peace, understanding, and positive political engagement.”

We believe to our core that it is indeed the media’s role, our role, to work towards the advancement of peace, understanding and positive political discourse, crucial to any true democracy. For the men and women in our team that have seen conflict firsthand, that have made great sacrifices to ensure peace and security, and that have fought to protect a noble and free press, the role of the media “in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies” is an equally honorable mission. We strive to accomplish this mission every day.

We hope that by the time we report on World Press Freedom Day 2119 we have remained true to that mission.

-Editors, LIMA CHARLIE NEWS / LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[John Sjoholm, Diego Lynch, and Anthony A. LoPresti contributed to this article]

[Main image: Photo by Oliver Contreras / SIPA]

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Lima Charlie World provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans, intelligence professionals and foreign policy experts Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

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Russia and China’s ongoing ‘hybrid warfare’ – When does it cross the line?

Image Russia and China’s 'hybrid warfare' - Does the West even care? [Lima Charlie News]
Russia and China’s 'hybrid warfare' - Does the West even care? [Lima Charlie News]

With the subtle and clandestine methods of ‘hybrid warfare’ available to any nation, from disinformation to influence operations to election interference, Russia and China continue to be very creative. Some argue that amid the increased onslaught of hybrid warfare tactics by Eastern powers, Western style democracies are facing a threat of extinction. But what is the tipping point, where push comes to shove, when an ally is facing more than just a domestic problem, and a nation is “under attack”? And if such an “attack” involves a member state, or partner, at what point would NATO intervene? The following is an OPINION piece by Håkan Gunneriusson. – Editors

The term Hybrid Warfare has evolved over the years. Originally it defined irregular non-state actors with advanced material capabilities. A prime example, and what popularized the term, is Hezbollah’s activities during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. During that conflict Hezbollah successfully engaged the highly-advanced and well funded Israeli Defense Forces utilizing a host of different missiles, technologies and tactics that the IDF was simply ill-equipped to deal with.

Since then, the term has morphed into meaning conceptual warfare, involving a blend of approaches, from conventional warfare to the polar opposites found in irregular warfare and cyber warfare. A recent RAND Corporation funded study states that while the term has no consistent definition, it generally refers to “deniable and covert actions, supported by the threat or use of conventional and/or nuclear forces, to influence the domestic politics of target countries.”

Author Peter Pindják wrote in NATO Review that hybrid conflicts “involve multilayered efforts designed to destabilise a functioning state and polarize its society.” Pindják writes that unlike conventional warfare “the ‘centre of gravity’ in hybrid warfare is a target population [where] the adversary tries to influence influential policy-makers and key decision makers by combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts.” This can even include the collective and organized generation of “fake news” or engaging in election interference.

Hybrid warfare is not about translating a national doctrine to see if the exact wording is found in the tomes of text. Instead one has to look towards the actions of the nation-state and its agents. The virtue in using such terminology and approach is to avoid being limited by archaic concepts and their historical connections or conjugations, and to avoid becoming bogged down in academic discussion with little relation to current developing events.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Two countries always occupy the discourse when it comes to innovations in hybrid warfare; Russia and China.

One such recent example is the weaponizing of the maritime environment through “terraforming” as part of a multi-pronged offensive. Lima Charlie News has written extensively about China’s construction of an expansive network of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea. Last year China’s Defense Minister, Wei Fenghe, stated, “The islands in the South China Sea have long been China’s territory. They’re the legacy of our ancestors and we can’t afford to lose a single inch of them.”

Officially, China claims that the intent behind the islands is strictly commercial — yet they are being used as de facto weapons in China’s regional gunboat diplomacy.

Image (Raw Imagery of Subi Reef from Google Earth, April 30, 2016; graphic overlay by David Firester, Lima Charlie News)
(Raw Imagery of Chinese facility at Subi Reef, Spratly Islands, South China Sea, from Google Earth, April 30, 2016; graphic overlay by David Firester, Lima Charlie News)

Image South China Sea China construction [Janes]

In Russia’s case, immediately following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia began the planning and construction of the Crimean Bridge over the Kerch Strait in Ukraine. With the opening of the bridge in May 2018 (also called the “Unification Bridge”), tensions have continued to rise with Ukraine.

On November 25, 2018, Russian ships attacked and boarded three Ukrainian vessels in the Crimean port of Azov near the Black Sea. The Ukranian vessels were attempting to break through an unofficial blockade organised by Moscow seeking to disrupt Ukrainian access to the Sea of Azov via the Kerch strait by placing a fully loaded oil tanker ship beneath the bridge.

On February 18-20, 2019, in the Sea of Azov, close to the Kerch Strait, Russia closed an area of the sea for navigation due to military exercises with live fire.

Image The tanker-blockade under the Kerch bridge, Crimea, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. (AP)
[The tanker-blockade under the Kerch bridge, Crimea, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. (AP)]
Image tweet

In both the cases of China and Russia, these actions are illegal and offensive by their very nature. What is yet more unsettling, these are also examples of what can be seen as the 7th generation warfare, hybrid warfare.

Neither Russia nor China use the term “hybrid warfare” as a doctrinal word. This has led some experts to argue that these nations don’t subscribe to the strategy, such as British academic and Russian affairs observer Keir Giles.

With this debate in mind, Russia seeks to avoid the classification of its actions in Ukraine as armed conflict in its legal and political form. This despite the fact that Russia has and continues to launch warfare at an impressive scale. Evidence of Russian troops and material in Ukraine is obvious. Yet, it is clear that the West prefers to look the other way as no one really wants open war with Russia for what is perceived to be at stake.

Far reaching consequences

I would argue that something much bigger is at stake. I have written extensively about hybrid warfare as a reflexive control, as an example of the long-running asymmetrical duel between Russia and the West.[1] Reflexive control refers to a Soviet war stratagem which seeks to manipulate and utilize the mind of the adversary in order to create or expose vulnerabilities. European operators are more primed by the logic of globalization and the creation of a unified fellowship than by the autonomous political doxa of specific national policies.

Vladimir Lefebvre, the renowned Russo-American mathematical psychologist, defined the term reflexive control as “a process by which one enemy transmits the reasons or bases for making decisions to another”.[2] This is not a new concept, but rather a familiar one for students of sociology. For example, social theory has shown that through well-placed agents an operational area can be modified before any form of offensive to create a beneficial predisposed situation for friendly forces.[3] Such preparations, to soften the proverbial ground long before any overt actions are taken, are key aspects in a hybrid warfare offensive.

The actual consequences of Russia’s hybrid warfare are far-reaching. Russia’s actions, which can be quantified and qualified by the value of its actions, disrupt the Western narrative. This creates an untenable situation where the West represents rather than stands for its own values. Fundamentally, this undermines the international system, which the West is meant to support. If this continues, it will lead to the system, and its values, being replaced step-by-step by another system, one which serves Russia, China, and any other actors that may correlate with the policies of these countries.

Eventually emerging Asian powers, predominantly China, feel little reason to pay attention to, much less align themselves with, an “outdated” Western system. Particularly when the West is unable or unwilling to fill its proverbial shoes on the global stage.

Empirically we do not find much new with Russia’s present-day warfare. At least when viewed out of a historical perspective. The past hundred years of Russian history alone holds a magnitude of acts revolving around aggression coupled with deception and obfuscation, or maskirovka. But unlike in the past, today Russia might very well get away with acting in such manner.

Terraforming the maritime environment as Russia and China have done is an aggressive practice. The fact that Russia, and China along with it, can act in such a fashion signals something new and troublesome. This is about the West not standing up for core democratic values and international systems, which Russia is actively playing upon.

Thus, it is paramount to think of these developing conflicts, and the decisions made therein, as matters of life and death for the West.

Russia is using Ukraine as a proverbial canary in the coal mine, to see how NATO responds. NATO’s inaction can then be translated and implemented in the Baltics.

Ukraine – A test subject

Russia is waging a war of aggression in Ukraine, a fact that Western politicians are unlikely to acknowledge. Regardless of how much proof there is to support that statement, acknowledging the state of war in Ukraine would lead the West onto a rocky road. The Nüremberg principles would come into play. With those principles enacted, the international community’s responsibility to enter the fray would be unquestionable.

At the same time, the formalized instruments of international law and institutions are often, much like Lady Justice, blind to the realities taking place. Russia has multiple venues and methods to block or delay efforts to create a coordinated international response. For example, Russia could utilize its veto power in the United Nations Security Council, regardless of the prohibition of the use of force in Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the principal judicial organ of the UN, is built on the fact that only states can be parties to cases and jurisdiction is dependent on consent (e.g. Marshall Islands cases). The International Criminal Court (ICC) requires that a key state be a member of the institution, which Russia and China are not (nor the USA for that matter). The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Court of Conciliation and Arbitration is all but forgotten and thus hard to activate in a practical way and then only for European matters.

The West’s primary weapon, one that it often elects to utilize when a nation-state acts out of alignment with Western interests, is the imposition of sanctions. Realities have shown, however, how pointless sanctions can often be.

The sanctions imposed on Russia do not truly deal with Russia’s premier hybrid warfare weapon — the energy sector — and thus do little to rob Russia of its contemporary warfare capabilities. It is the energy sector, along with aggressive weapons exports, that enables Russia to engage in such a successful offensive. The enactment of truly functional sanctions against Russia’s energy sector, a cornerstone of its national economy, would have a detrimental effect on Russia’s abilities.

The amount of natural gas exported from Russia to Europe is at an all-time high. It shows little sign of slowing down despite political concerns from the European Union (EU). Soon, Russian natural gas exports to Europe will increase further with the impending completion of Nordstream 2 in the Baltic Sea. This massive project, with the support of German politicians, has been enabled despite the fact that presently active Baltic pipelines are yet to reach full capacity. [4] Germany, the economic engine of Europe, has made itself dependent on Russian energy, just as it is scaling down its own energy production of domestic coal and nuclear energy.

Image Rytis Daukantas
[Graphic: Rytis Daukantas]
China, on the other hand, has a dominant position regarding world trade; the West has made itself dependent on Chinese exports. The logic of the Western political leadership of today is not disposed to disturb the global market in order to protect democratic values. Economic rationality is governing the political field of today to a much higher extent than during the Cold War when ideological beliefs were allowed to be defended despite the high economic cost.

With this reality in mind, it has become obvious that the willingness to meet Russian or Chinese interests using suitable means is very distant. No nation, including Ukraine, wants an open armed conflict with Russia. ASEAN-countries, wedged between the giants India and China in the South Chinese Sea, are in much the same situation.

Nor does Russia or China expect an armed conflict with the West in the near future. This is a reasonable assumption, which has been weaponized at the political-strategic level. A direct result is the weakening of international systems and organisations which support Western style democracies. The West’s cohesive ability to actually meet the Eastern offensives is eroding each day. NATO and the EU are both facing internal strife to the point where external threats have been ignored.

This, in turn, creates the perfect environment for Russia and China to offer their authoritarian systems as drop-in replacements. Considering the vast number of failing democracies, pseudo-democracies or even outright authoritarian regimes presently operating across the globe today, the number of potential recruits for the Russian and Chinese spheres of influence is not one to be ignored.

Those opting for a “peace in our time” approach often point out that Ukraine is not a NATO country, but rather just a NATO partner. This means that article 5 in the North Atlantic Treaty relating to collective self-defense doesn’t apply to Ukraine.

Image A pro-Russia separatist fires his machine gun toward Ukrainian Army positions near Debaltseve in late January 2015.
[A pro-Russia separatist fires his machine gun toward Ukrainian Army positions near Debaltseve in late January 2015. (Photo: MANU BRABO / AFP)]
However, Ukraine is likely to be a blueprint and a test bench for future plans. Russia is using Ukraine as a proverbial canary in the coal mine, to see how NATO responds. NATO’s inaction can then be translated and implemented in the Baltics. Such an incursion would not be because of some minor land grab, which would be a secondary goal at best, but rather a clear declaration of Russia’s ambitions to again dominate its former satellite states, with perhaps pan-European ambitions.

If Russia’s hybrid warfare tactics in the Baltics are perceived as simply a domestic problem rather than an overt Russian attack, NATO member states could not invoke the collective defense implementation of Article 5. NATO would once again be presented with the opportunity to look the other way while a NATO-member state is essentially under attack.

This eventuality is one that several Baltic military strategists and researchers have looked at.

Perhaps the best study was that carried out by Janis Berzins at the Center for Security and Strategic Research of the National Defence Academy of Latvia in April 2014. In his paper, entitled “Russia’s New Generation Warfare in Ukraine: Implications for Latvian Defense Policy” he stipulates that this scenario is not just likely, but is likely already taking place.

If this is allowed to transpire, NATO itself would be in real and present danger due to its inaction.

Of course, a single NATO or UN member can still act unilaterally, likely sustaining intense public scrutiny in the process. The likeliest candidate would be, if history is any judge, the United States of America. Such an act could, theoretically, force European NATO member states with a strong allegiance to the US to follow suit, lest they wish to face a situation where their own protection by NATO becomes endangered, and a domino effect takes place. But in the current pan-NATO political environment, such a series of events appears unlikely.

It is far more likely that all NATO members would continue to turn a blind eye towards the emerging situation, until it’s too late.

Håkan Gunneriusson, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[Edited by John Sjoholm and Anthony A. LoPresti]

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Håkan Gunneriusson is Associate Professor (Docent) in War Studies at the Swedish Defence University and has recently been research fellow at NATO Defense College, Rome. He also holds a position as Visiting Research Fellow at the center of Conflict, Rule of Law and Society, Bournemouth University. He served in the Swedish military. The views expressed here are his own.

Lima Charlie World provides global news, featuring insight & analysis by military veterans, intelligence professionals and foreign policy experts Worldwide.

For up-to-date news, please follow us on twitter at @LimaCharlieNews

SOURCES

[1] H. Gunneriusson and S. Bachmann, “Western Denial and Russian Control. How Russia’s National Security Strategy Threatens a Western-Based Approach to Global Security, the Rule of Law and Globalization”, Polish Political Science Yearbook, 46(1), 2017; S. Bachmann and H. Gunneriusson “Russia’s Hybrid Warfare in the East: Using the Information Sphere as Integral to Hybrid Warfare”, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs – International Engagement on Cyber, V: Securing Critical Infrastructure, 2015, pp. 198-211.

[2] Thomas, L.T., (2004). “Russia’s Reflexive Control Theory and the Military”. Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 17 pp. 237 – 256.

[3] Håkan Gunneriusson, Bordieuan Field Theory as an Instrument for Military Operational Analysis. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan

[4] The Russian owned gas pipeline Nord Stream also creates an incentive for Russia to possibly intervene in the Baltic Sea region. Gazprom does for example own 51% of Slite harbour on the Swedish island Gotland in the Baltic sea. SvD (“Nordstream storsatsar pa Gotland”, 2016 November 27). Gotland is a large island (3184 km2) which in itself is an unsinkable carrier in the Baltic Sea and dominates the SLOC to the Baltic.

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