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Lima Charlie News reports on the latest stories from around the world.

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
[ / 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

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.

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

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

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  • 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

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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.


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

[Main image: Photo by Oliver Contreras / SIPA]

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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.

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[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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Image Lima Charlie News Headline Is Russia Failing In Ukraine - G.Busch MAR 23 2019

Image War in Eastern Ukraine and the New Heroes of ‘Novorossiya’ (New Russia)Image Lima Charlie News Headline NATOs value Trump APR 24 2019 M. Morford

NATO’s value can’t be measured in nickels and dimes

image NATO’s value can’t be measured in nickels and dimes [Lima Charlie News]
NATO’s value can’t be measured in nickels and dimes [Lima Charlie News]

OPINION: President Trump has viewed NATO’s strength in the dollars it spends on weapons, yet history has shown that the 70-year old alliance provides the most value when no shots are being fired.

For a week in the spring of 2000, I awoke in an old World War II concrete barracks. Where swastikas were once prominently displayed on the sides of the buildings, only water stains remained. Before being abandoned, the buildings had also been used by East German athletes as Olympic training facilities. This particular week, they were being used for a NATO-sponsored event in Berlin.

At the time, I was a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, fortunate enough to be selected as part of the United States’ Company-Grade Officer Delegation. It was a surreal week that involved day-long meetings with officers from across North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries. Our assignment was to identify ways of improving operability in joint environments. Every day, we worked hand in hand on our presentation for the general delegation, and every night, a few hundred military officers from all countries would share drinks and stories.

Every time I’ve heard one of President Trump’s incendiary verbal barrages about NATO over these past two years, I’ve thought of my personal experiences with the alliance and grown increasingly frustrated. I was a firsthand witness to the direct and indirect values that this venerable 70-year old institution has created for its member nations—values which are all the more important to discuss in light of recent antagonistic actions by the White House on the international stage.

Ultimately, when we ignore President Trump’s antagonism towards this alliance, we set up our foreign policy efforts for failure and put our national security at risk.

My statement on NATO being obsolete and disproportionately too expensive (and unfair) for the U.S. are now, finally, receiving plaudits!”
Tweet from candidate Donald Trump, March 27, 2016

Even before becoming president, Trump had publicly attacked NATO. From making uninformed comments showing a poor grasp of how the organization works to openly questioning the United States’ involvement in it, Trump has made NATO-bashing a central component of his foreign policy rhetoric. It is a mistake to let these verbal threats and derogatory comments continue to slip through the cracks, for doing so could be confused as tacit approval and further the crisis this alliance faces.

Essentially, by sowing seeds of discord about the value of the alliance, President Trump has fostered an environment that, at the very least, could greatly diminish NATO’s ability to respond to critical situations. At worst, it could lead to the organization’s permanent demise. Neither outcome is acceptable.

Image Graphic from NATO 2018 Annual Report
[Graphic from NATO 2018 Annual Report]

The Spending Argument

The primary crux of President Trump’s objection is purely monetary. He believes the majority of member countries are not maintaining their fiscal obligations to the organization. This argument, however, is overly simplistic and logically flawed. After all, NATO was not formed with spending requirements. In fact, the two-percent level was only established in 2014 at NATO’s Wales Summit, and the guideline was merely a suggestion.

The two-percent guidance does not actually measure how much member countries contribute to the common defense. As The Washington Post recently noted, Greece meets the two-percent threshold because it spends a lot of money on military pensions and weapons systems aimed at deterrence against Turkey. But as Michael Birnbaum points out in this article, “neither [of those expenditures] makes America and Europe safer.”

NATO was not formed with spending requirements … the two-percent level was only established in 2014 … and the guideline was merely a suggestion.”

To further illustrate the hollowness of the spending argument, even if all member countries met the two-percent level, the results would be negligible.

Robert E. Litan and Roger Noll at the Brookings Institute ran the numbers, and the results paint a picture that confirms this point. They also found that only four member nations would have to increase military spending by more than $10 billion to meet their respective two-percent spending levels—a negligible number in the grand scheme of things.

Image NATO member countries by year - Graphic from NATO 2018 Annual Report
[NATO member countries by year – Graphic from NATO 2018 Annual Report]
Ultimately, the administration’s evaluation of NATO member countries’ involvement should be based upon its intangible benefits to U.S. national security. Such an evaluation process considers the many ways NATO enhances U.S. policy efforts to address current needs, perceived threats, and likely future threats; money does not even factor into the equation.

If President Trump knows these facts, one could argue that his constant criticism gives him political leverage over the alliance. However, such a strawman argument incorrectly implies that the United States does not need NATO as much as NATO needs the United States.

A prime example of NATO’s true worth occurred on April 8th when the Trump Administration designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Labeling part of another nation’s government as a terrorist organization is unprecedented. His own national security advisors warned against it. The action jeopardizes the safety of U.S. soldiers.

Apologists dismissed this announcement as another case of President Trump’s hollow bombast.

In reality, the designation endangers our country’s national security apparatus. Yet, lost in the debate is the fact that such reckless international declarations require unwavering collective support from U.S. allies abroad. It is thanks to NATO that Iran can continue meaningful diplomatic contacts with the West.

IMAGE NATO 2018 Summit

Another example occurred the first week of April when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decried to NATO member nations:

“We must adapt our alliance to confront emerging threats…whether that’s Russian aggression, uncontrolled migration, cyberattacks, threats to energy security, Chinese strategic competition, including technology.”

To plead to the organization’s constituents to help the U.S. towards its own foreign policy goals directly validates how vital NATO is to American interests.

The bottom line is that the United States has a symbiotic relationship with NATO, not merely a monetary one. The alliance provides an extremely cost-effective proxy to carry out critical foreign policy aims of the United States. Its existence validates and furthers our National Security Strategy. It takes the lead on complex diplomatic issues dealing with near-peer adversaries, climate change mitigation, and even cyber-security.

Without a strong position with NATO, the United States would not have been able to establish such a strong military presence in Poland. Without NATO, it would have to stand alone against Russian and Chinese aggression, including Russia’s efforts to destabilize NATO members such as Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and Poland, and Russia’s attacks on U.S. and European elections. America would become the isolated nation with whom no one wants to be allied.

Michael Morford, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

Michael Morford is a former U.S. Army captain and a Security Fellow with Truman National Security Project. He is also president of VertiPrime Government Services, a service disabled veteran-owned small business. An Iraq War veteran, Michael was a two-time Louisiana Reserve company-grade officer of the year and a 2000 MacArthur Leadership Award recipient. A logistics officer focused on war planning, he worked ‘down trace’ to 3rd Army and CentCom and served in the Joint Logistics Headquarters in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. The views expressed here are his own.

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[Main Image adapted from: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP]

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War in Eastern Ukraine and the New Heroes of ‘Novorossiya’ (New Russia)

Image War in Eastern Ukraine and the New Heroes of ‘Novorossiya’ (New Russia) [Lima Charlie News]
War in Eastern Ukraine and the New Heroes of ‘Novorossiya’ (New Russia) [Lima Charlie News]

The War in Donbass continues to affect life in Ukraine five years after pro-Russian separatists declared the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic independent in 2014. Estimated to have claimed the lives of approximately 12,800 to 13,000 people, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has also displaced nearly two million people. Amid the fighting, larger-than-life individuals have arisen to strengthen “the cause”. Every good myth needs its heroes and villains. The case of the new heroes of “Novorossiya” (New Russia) is no exception to this rule. OPINION piece by Dr. Kiril Avramov and Cody Wood.

People often need a cause to rally around. Such causes often need a personification, an icon. Only then can a cause become functionally cohesive, and accomplish what it sets out to do. Political tacticians, as well as intelligence and military professionals, have been well aware of this for centuries.

Such people are often tasked by their masters, be it Washington or Kremlin, with creating favorable conditions in an “area of interest”. This often means engaging in what is referred to as state-building efforts, or possibly state-rebuilding efforts. To accomplish such a task, it helps to establish a rallying point. This is often the creation of a national myth around which the public can mobilize.

Heroes – figures larger than life – can inspire, unite and ultimately personify the spirit of the endeavor. These heroic characters can become instrumental to the varied purposes of the national propaganda apparatus. Once deified and elevated to their respective pedestals, a new myth centered around a hero can embark upon a life of its own – even after the cessation of the hero’s earthly existence.

The case of the new heroes of the so-called “Novorossiya” in occupied Eastern Ukraine are no exception to this rule. In our multi-year research dedicated to analyzing pro-Russian propaganda in war-torn Eastern Ukraine, we have encountered multiple cases of such heroic martyrs among the so-called “people’s commanders”.

These heroes represent an archetype within Novorossiya’s national pantheon. They also play an indispensable role in propagating the discourse and meta-narratives of the pro-Russian forces and their grassroots supporters in Eastern Ukraine.

So-called “heroes”, such as the late Arsen Pavlov and Mikhail Tolstykh, were a perfect fit for the crafting of Novorossiya’s national proto-epos. Their personal traits and carefully crafted public personas easily served the needs of the pro-Russian propagandists in the early stages of the conflict.

Image Public commemoration of heroes in Donetsk, Ukraine, 2017
[Public commemoration of heroes in Donetsk, Ukraine, 2017]

They Loved the Cameras, and the Cameras Flattered Them

Among the cast of characters that make up Russia’s propaganda effort and national myth establishment in Eastern Ukraine, two stand out – Arsen Pavlov and Mikhail Tolstykh, known colloquially by their combat call signs, or nom de guerre, Motorola (Моторо́ла)(Pavlov) and Givi (Ги́ви)(Tolstykh).

These men have been propped up by Russian propagandists as the archetype of volunteer fighters in the Donbass; an archetype intended to draw new volunteers and mobilize popular local and foreign support. The deaths of these Russian backed separatists are now being utilized as tools in Russia’s propaganda campaign against Ukraine and the West, despite the very suspicious circumstances around their demise and their less than savory character.

Their lives and deaths were and are used to communicate and offer, for internal and foreign consumption, the ideals of the modern Kremlin.

These ideals are tightly connected to what could be best described as orderism, i.e. an amalgamation of ultra-nationalism, the promotion of Orthodox conservative values, and the blatant display of hyper-masculinity. Essentially, these poster boys of the so-called “People’s Republics” (the self proclaimed proto states Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic formed after Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014), were the ideal early prototypes for casting the massively orchestrated pro-Russian disinformation deluge.

As in every effective national meta-narrative, the main protagonists have to possess certain traits which make them appeal to the masses. Every good myth needs its heroes and villains. The more the heroes can flirt with modern technology, the better the result.

In this case, Givi and Motorola loved the cameras and the cameras flattered them in order to elevate them to the status of local celebrities. That celebrity status could be later exploited and exported to the needs of the “Russkiy Mir” or Russian World. Through fake news articles and staged documentaries, a celebrity image status of these men, as the new “heroes of Novorossiya” has been very carefully cultivated.

Casting the Roles

Image Motorola billboard on the streets of Donetsk. 
[Billboard of Arsen ‘Motorola’ Pavlov on the streets of Donetsk.]
Following the classic tenets of effective propaganda, both of the characters were cast to fit and be molded into predetermined roles.

Thus, Givi, a native of Ukraine, is portrayed as a homegrown defender heroically standing up for his homeland. For his part, Motorola, a native Russian, is portrayed as having sacrificed the comfort of his life in Russia to stand up for what he saw to be a noble cause in Eastern Ukraine. Their ‘heroic’ sacrifice is played against the backdrop of their family and personal lives.

Both protagonists are portrayed as going through the process of the evolution of “patriotic consciousness”, coming from very different backgrounds and regions to ultimately forge the coveted unity of the so-called People’s Republics.

Image Billboard of 'Givi'
[Billboard of Mikhail ‘Givi’ Tolstykh]
In order to cast these essential rebel protagonists as patriotic celebrities with their own on and offline following, wherever there was action happening in occupied Eastern Ukraine, these two were central. They have been seen performing a variety of celebrity feats, such as capturing and emasculating Ukrainian soldiers during a great, heroic battle or gracing the troops of the “People’s Republics” with their presence and a wad of cash. Despite hearing the call of the battlefield, they still make time to care for their families, as their mothers and brides have become celebrities in their own right.

Patriarchal Warriors

The aim of this post-mortem, person-centered propaganda is to create a new national myth for Novorossiya compatible with the Kremlin’s new state quasi-ideology. Thus, the evolving pantheon of heroes needs to be populated by a specific type of what we refer to as “patriarchal warriors” – those that have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend their homeland against the “fascist” aggressors. As such they are elevated to almost “Great Patriotic War” (i.e. WW2) heroes status, and are thus in line with an already established pattern. They make up a new pantheon of conservative tradition based on rigid social hierarchy, inspired by religious Orthodoxy, while resting on solid family values with well-defined gender roles.

The bitter irony of this narrative is that both men had ties to factional infighting, and they ultimately died under suspicious circumstances away from the battlefield.

Motorola was assassinated by a remote-controlled bomb in his apartment elevator. Givi was hit while in his office by a rocket that Ukrainian authorities claim was the result of factional rebel infighting. For its part, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claims the rocket was fired by Ukrainian forces. Yet, the narrative falls short when it comes to the culmination of a “heroic death on the battlefield” and the carefully curated images of both commanders.

It also adversely affects the larger image projection of the DNR’s leadership, which seeks to create a close symbolic association (and thus directly tie its “foundational myth”) with that of the short-lived, self-declared Donetsk-Krivoy-Rog People’s Soviet Republic of 1918. The carefully curated image projection of the Donetsk “People’s Republic” is one of a “safe haven” for the Russian-speaking, Slavic and Orthodox majority of people in Southeast Ukraine; a community specifically designed as a sort of “shelter” from internal strife, factional division, corrosive corruption and rampant crime in Ukraine. A stark contrast to the Russian propagated narrative of an “oppressive Kiev” rule.

However, following the violent deaths of Motorola and Givi, Russian state propagandists have been able to spin the media attention to pin the blame on sinister Ukrainian forces, diverting attention from the malfunctioning, criminal and corrupt republics. The Kremlin invested considerable amounts of disinformation in advancing multiple theories regarding their deaths, a move consistent with the well-established Soviet art of military and intelligence deception known as “maskirovka”, whose modern updates are an integral part of the arsenal of Russia’s modern “gray zone” modus operandi.

All was a diversion away from the fact that both men had become a nuisance for Kremlin strategists once they outlived their tactical utility. Thus, to no surprise, if it was not Ukrainian secret services and not Latvian hitmen, then perhaps it was Ukrainian Neo-Nazis who perpetrated the killing of these men.

Image [Eastern Ukraine - Left: Donbass as of 2014; Right: Donbass as of April 20, 2019]
[Eastern Ukraine – Left: Donbass as of Oct. 5, 2014 (via Olegzima); Right: Donbass as of April 20, 2019 (via]

Martyrdom as Cultural Exploit

Beyond diverting attention away from the infighting within the malfunctioning DNR, Russian propaganda surrounding the deaths of Motorola and Givi served to glorify these men as martyrs and thereby produce elements of “Novorossiya’s” perceived legitimacy. These men can, even beyond the grave, serve as potent information warfare implements in the Kremlin’s arsenal.

It certainly was no coincidence that when the Immortal Regiment March was held in May 2017, the then-leader of the DNR, Alexander Zakharchenko marched holding a portrait of Motorola. Zakharchenko was accompanied by the leader of Putin’s favorite biker gang, “The Night Wolves” — symbolism intended.

Image [The traditional “Immortal Regiment March”, Donbass, 2017. The event was held under the motto “Legends never die”. Note the presence of the leader of “The Night Wolves” - Alexander Zaldostanov (i.e. “The Surgeon”) behind the late leader of the DNR Alexander Zaharchenko)]
[The traditional “Immortal Regiment March”, Donbass, 2017. The event was held under the motto “Legends never die”. Note the presence of the leader of “The Night Wolves” – Alexander Zaldostanov (i.e. “The Surgeon”) behind the late leader of the DNR Alexander Zaharchenko)]
Beyond the Kremlin’s desire to show support for the DNR there is an extra layer of manipulation added to the showmanship. The annual Immortal Regiment is a march billed as an event to honor the fallen of the Second World War. By holding up the portrait of Motorola, Zakharchenko is equating his death with the sacrifices made by those who fought against the fascists, i.e. Nazi Germany. Just as the Soviet Union fought against fascist invaders in WW2, the audience is intended to equate Russia’s current enemies, Ukraine, with fascist aggressors.

For targeted foreign audiences, such as the ones in the “near abroad”, these characters are portrayed as the prototypes of the proverbial everyman who have elevated themselves to offer the ultimate sacrifice in the face of the imminent perennial Western-plotted invasion and dismemberment of Mother Russia. In essence, they are the human faces of the “besieged fortress” heroic defenders.

Today, the faces of Motorola and Givi adorn billboards across the occupied territories of the Donbass, young children sing songs about their sacrifices, and stories that both glorify their deeds and drum up conspiracies about their deaths are proliferated online by Kremlin information handlers.

All of this is intended to personify and deify the martyrs of “Novorossiya”, to brand its enemies as contemporary fascists, and to recruit new volunteers for the cause, all whilst diverting from the not-so-glorious battlefront reality of the lives and deaths of the Russian backed separatists in the Donbass.

[Main image: mural of Arsen ‘Motorola’ Pavlov unveiled in Belgrade by two Serbian organisations, the Serbian League and Serbian National Movement 1389: Photo: Pierre Crom]

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Kiril Avramov and Cody Wood, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

Dr. Kiril Avramov is a post-doctoral research fellow of the Intelligence Studies Project (ISP) at the University of Texas at Austin. He is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Department of Political Science and former Vice-Rector of the New Bulgarian University in Sofia and a former Senior Fulbright Visiting Researcher at CREEES, UT Austin, Texas. His main research interests are information and irregular warfare, psychological operations and mass cognitive hacking, as well as the “weaponization of information” and their respective application and effects on individual and group decision-making processes in the Central and Eastern Europe and MENA regions. He carried out his military national service in the Bulgarian army.

Cody Wood is completing his undergraduate degree in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and is a member of Dr. Avramov’s disinformation research project at the ISP. He has experience as a policy researcher and has worked for the Texas Legislature.

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

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Image Lima Charlie News Headline Is Russia Failing In Ukraine - G.Busch MAR 23 2019

Image Lima Charlie News Headline - Radovan Karadzic - William Stuebner - APR 19 2019Image Lima Charlie News Headline Sanctions and the Rise of Putin G.Busch APR 27 2018

Murder, genocide, politics and the almost surrender of Radovan Karadžić

Image Murder, genocide, politics and the almost surrender of Radovan Karadžić [Lima Charlie News][Lima Charlie World]
Murder, genocide, politics and the almost surrender of Radovan Karadžić [Lima Charlie News][Lima Charlie World]

Amidst a bloody genocidal war that erupted after the breakup of Yugoslavia, in 1992, author William Stuebner was sent into the fray to represent the international community’s efforts to end the Bosnian War, Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War 2. In this, Stuebner would come to know Radovan Karadžić, the first president of Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb arm of the newly formed state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Karadžić would serve as president during a brutal conflict fueled by ethnic cleansing that pit three main ethnic factions against each other, Muslim, Serbian and Croatian. With 100,000 dead and over 2.2 million people displaced, Karadžić would become a fugitive indicted for war crimes, evading arrest for over 10 years. On March 24, 2016, he was found guilty of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, which included the Srebrenica massacre and the siege of Sarajevo, and he was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment. Last month, on March 20, 2019, after an unsuccessful appeal Karadžić’s sentence was increased to life imprisonment. Serving as the Chief of Staff and Senior Deputy for Human Rights of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992 to 1995), Stuebner would have a front row seat to the political infighting, the banality of war and peace, and the international community’s incapability of handling the realities on the ground during the various conflicts that would become known as the Yugoslav Wars. – EDITORS

Over the past seven decades, I have had the occasion to meet all kinds of characters. I count among my acquaintances saints and sinners, heroes and cowards, pathological liars and paragons of integrity. The one trait they all had in common is that they are not defined by just one facet of their persona.

For example, Roberto D’Aubuisson (also known as Major Bob), famous for founding death squads in El Salvador and having had Archbishop Oscar Romero assassinated, passionately loved his country and his family and believed, in the end, that he would have to look God in the face and atone for his sins.

Radovan Karadžić, who on appeal has just had his sentence increased from forty years to life, is similarly complex and was driven by his personality and ego to reject the defense strategy that might have won him a vastly reduced sentence.

Karadžić requested that three Americans testify at his trial: Madeleine Albright; Richard Holbrooke; and me.

Image [A member of the Serb nationalist militia known as the Tigers, led by Zeljko Raznatovic ("Arkan"), under the command of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) controlled by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, kicks a Muslim woman (Ajsa Sabanovic, white sweater) who had been shot and killed by Serb forces during the Bijeljina massacre, April 1-2, 1992 (Photo: Ron Haviv)]
[A member of the Serb nationalist militia known as the Tigers, led by Zeljko Raznatovic (“Arkan”), under the command of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) controlled by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, kicks a Muslim woman (Ajsa Sabanovic, white sweater) who was shot and killed by Serb forces during the Bijeljina massacre, April 1-2, 1992 (Photo: Ron Haviv)]
The last time I spoke face-to-face with Karadžić was in May 1996 shortly after I resigned as Senior Deputy Head of Mission and Chief of Staff of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I resigned because of the election fraud being perpetrated by the U.S. administration under President Bill Clinton against both the Bosnian and American electorates.

The election fraud is in and of itself a very long story that revolved around the Administration insisting that the Bosnian election proceed, prematurely, by September 1996. This was done to signal to the American electorate that the promise of bringing home, after one year, 20,000 American troops sent to implement the Dayton Accords was being kept. For the Bosnians, this meant having to postpone locally scheduled elections, where it was believed there would be a high probability of widespread violence and voter intimidation.

Richard Holbrooke’s successor flew to Sarajevo to personally deliver the blunt message that the Bosnian election had to take place by sometime in September. Later, many Bosnians would joke that OSCE stood for “Organization to Secure Clinton’s Election.” Meanwhile anonymous Administration sources were quoted in the New York Times saying that I had resigned to hurt Bill Clinton’s reelection and to help his opponent, Bob Dole.

Having announced my resignation in Sarajevo, I drove to the city of Pale, then the Republika Srpska (RS) capital and Karadžić headquarters, with the Senior OSCE interpreter and my soon-to-be wife (an ethnic Serb who had absolutely no affinity for Karadžić’s regime and whose father had volunteered at the beginning of the war to join the Bosnian Army to defend Sarajevo). My intent was to formally inform Karadžić of my departure, and return to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY.)

We first met with Chief of Protocol Luka Petrovic to give him the bad news and the good news. I was leaving, and we were getting married. Before returning to Sarajevo to clean out my OSCE desk, I casually asked Luka if his “President” might like to speak with me, as I was a private citizen for one week before resuming my work with the ICTY.

Petrovic quickly placed a call to Karadžić who was chairing a cabinet meeting and announced his President would see me in five minutes. Leaving my fiancé behind, Luka and I climbed the stairs at the FAMOS (Fabrik Motora Sarajevo) aircraft parts factory where the President of the Srpska Republic had his wartime office.

Luka entered first and spoke for a few moments to Karadžić behind closed doors and then took his leave. Immediately, Karadžić came out to greet me and, sticking out his big paw to shake hands, said: “I understand you are going to marry a nice Serb girl!” Despite the fact that my wife rejected his cause and did not even identify herself as a Serb, in Karadžić’s mind with his warped worldview, if I was marrying a Serb, I must be pro-Serb.

Image [Radovan Karadzic faces the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)(Photo: Valerie Kuypers)]
[Radovan Karadzic faces appeals judges of the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 20, 2019. (Photo: Valerie Kuypers)]

The Conversation

I had met Radovan Karadžić on previous occasions, and from the beginning had found him courteous and seemingly sincere. In fact, one needed to remind oneself of the enormity of the evil in which he was intimately involved so as not to find him likable. This was nothing like Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, whom I used to describe as an unabashed pathological liar and fake, nor was it like Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who was bullying and boorish.

This time, Karadžić’s demeanor was different. He seemed nervous and began speaking while pacing the room. Whenever a NATO helicopter passed over Pale like some modern-day Angel of Death, he would move to the window and peer out. After two nervous trips to the window, he practically shouted, “If NATO comes for me, there will be blood on the carpet!” I responded, “That is probably true, but let’s be serious. If NATO is determined to do something, there is no force on earth that can stop it, and the blood on the carpet will be yours.”

After this exchange, the mood shifted and we began to discuss the situation in earnest.

As stated previously, Karadžić knew me from our previous meetings and, I believe, saw me as honest and relatively unbiased. From our first encounter in Pale over two years earlier, I had pegged him as a romantic steeped in the Serb mythology I had learned about by reading Tim Juddah’s excellent book, The Serbs. Throughout my career, I have always read ahead to try to have some prior understanding of the history and customs of my interlocuters be they Ugandans, Salvadorans, Chechens or the peoples of the Former Yugoslavia.

Dr. Karadžić was a poet who played the traditional one-stringed Serbian gusle and recited epic poems from memory. Early on, someone had made him aware of a December 1992 night-time trek I had once taken into the surrounded enclave of Gorazde, which was besieged by the Bosnian Serb Army. Rather than condemning this as an unwarranted interference to assist his sworn enemies, Karadžić plied me with questions about what it was like traversing the icy mountains in mud and waist-deep snow in pitch darkness while dodging minefields and ambushes of his Army. He was especially enthralled by my stories of the Bosnian Muslims employing age-old smuggling routes and singing the old songs to take their minds off the cold and danger. I could almost feel him imagining himself on such a journey.

I believe he saw himself as the embodiment of a Serbian hero selflessly leading his people to the promised land. Of course, the fact that he grew up in Montenegro, where the epic poem “The Mountain Wreath” – a recount of the bloody battles against the Ottoman Turks – was required reading certainly helped to shape his worldview. He was a man for whom the Serbian defeat at Kosovo Polje (in 1389) was like current news.

During this meeting in May 1996, we did not have to retrace the historical terrain and we settled down to discuss Karadžić’s immediate problems. Over the course of the next hour, I learned that he was seriously interested in surrendering to NATO for transfer to The Hague where he could stand before the world and defend both himself and his people. By doing so, he believed he would eclipse Slobodan Milosevic in the pantheon of Serb heroes and take his rightful historical place alongside Prince Lazar of Serbia (medieval ruler over Serbia, 1373–1389 AC) who perished in battle against the Ottoman invaders. It was clear that Radovan preferred a jail cell to bleeding out on the floor of his office.

We talked about how we could affect a safe surrender that would preserve Karadžić’s reputation with his people but also enable NATO to accomplish his arrest without bloodshed and a remotely possible restart of hostilities. There was, however, a major roadblock that had nothing to do with NATO’s use of deadly force. It was that Radovan knew too much about the nature of the involvement of Milosevic and the Yugoslav Army General Command in Belgrade in war crimes and crimes against humanity. It seemed possible, even likely, that if he tried to turn himself in, one or more of his bodyguards, who had been secretly inserted by his Serbian enemies, would murder him and pin the blame on NATO.

Image [Radovan Karadzic (R) and General Ratko Mladic, at Mt. Vlasic, April 1995 (Photo: RANKO CUKOVIC / REUTERS)]
[Radovan Karadzic (R) and General Ratko Mladic, at Mt. Vlasic, April 1995 (Photo: RANKO CUKOVIC / REUTERS)]
After discussing several options, we decided upon a skeletal outline of how to pull off the surrender. We determined that Radovan had the fewest number of guards around him when he was traveling by car around Republika Srpska, and therefore the fewest possible infiltrators. We would coordinate a time and route where there existed an excellent, isolated ambush site where a Western special operations force (likely the British Special Air Services (SAS)) would lie in wait. I would be seated next to Radovan in the back seat of his official car and would probably be armed to provide a last line of defense, for unlike General Mladic’s guards who were almost exclusively special “Red Berets” from Nis in Serbia, Radovan’s Bosnian Serb guards almost never searched foreign visitors.

Once secured, Radovan would be helicoptered out to an American aircraft carrier in the Adriatic Sea where he would make a NATO-facilitated radio broadcast to every corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina stating that he had voluntarily surrendered and was on his way to the ICTY to defend the sacred honor of the Serbian people.

I, of course, had no authority to make any commitments, but we agreed that, once we had worked out all the details to Dr. Karadžić’s satisfaction, it would be my responsibility to sell the plan to my contacts in the Clinton Administration and NATO.

As our meeting drew to a close, Radovan asked if he and I could continue to meet to finalize the plan. I told him that when I returned to the employ of the ICTY, it would be awkward or even unethical for me to see him again, unless it was to accept his surrender. He then called for his personal advisor, Jovan Zametica, with whom I was quite well acquainted and who, at that time was not under indictment. We spoke for a few more minutes, and it was agreed that Jovan would be our intermediary going forward.

As I once explained to a Congressman, the Serbs and Croats both love the Muslims to death.

Follow-up with Jovan

Upon arriving back in Sarajevo, I immediately visited the American Embassy and the ICTY office to provide them with a detailed report on the Pale meeting. At that time, I still believed the Clinton Administration would welcome the opportunity to see a big fish like Karadžić safely in The Hague facing trial. I did not take into account how angry some officials were at me for my resignation, nor how fearful they were of any Serb reaction that might reveal the fragility of the peace initiated by the “brilliant diplomatic achievement” of the Dayton Agreement.

Little did I know that I was being viewed as a traitor whose actions could put Bill Clinton’s reelection in jeopardy. But, again, how that played out is another story.

Image Two Bosnian boys salute a U.N. convoy departing for the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, where some 30000 refugees awaited evacuation, April 17, 1993. (Pascal Guyout)
[Two Bosnian boys salute a U.N. convoy departing for the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, where some 30000 refugees awaited evacuation, April 17, 1993. (Pascal Guyout)]
A few days later, I resumed work with the ICTY, despite the Clinton Administration’s objections, but remained in Bosnia and Herzegovina where I was assigned supervisory responsibility for the Srebrenica mass grave exhumations and became the liaison with local authorities. I also began weekly meetings with Jovan Zametica in Pale.

Radovan’s personal advisor Jovan is an interesting character in his own right. He began life as Omer, son of one of President Alija Izetbegovic’s (the first president of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina) best friends and fellow Mladi Muslimani or Young Muslims. His mother was a Slovak. In other words, while he seemed to see himself as Super Serb, to the best of my knowledge he carries not one drop of Serbian blood: that is unless one accepts the Serb mythology that all Slavic Muslims are descended from Serbs who betrayed their Orthodox brethren by converting. Of course, then one would be denying Croatian mythology that claims they were Croats who betrayed their Catholic brethren.

Either way, as I once explained to a Congressman, the Serbs and Croats both love the Muslims to death.

Jovan had left Sarajevo with his mother after his parents divorced and ultimately ended up in the UK. There he became ‘John’ and eventually earned a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics. While there, he published a diatribe against Slobodan Milosevic accusing him of using and betraying Serbs for his own self-interest. He completed his metamorphosis in the summer of 1992 when he suddenly appeared in Pale as Jovan and an advisor to Radovan Karadžić.

I have often wondered whether Jovan suffered from an Oedipus Complex in that he became such a Serb nationalist in opposition to his father’s Muslim activism. Be that as it may, I never encountered anyone in the RS government who was more loyal to Karadžić. Once, when I visited Jovan at his quarters in a former Olympic hotel, I was surprised to find not only a Serbian Orthodox icon complete with a votive candle, but hanging next to it was a Messianic portrait of the Bosnian Serb President surrounded by admiring cherubs.

Through Jovan, I gained an insider’s view of the workings of the top civilian echelons of the RS government. It was clear that he felt slighted by the real Bosnian Serb civilian second-in-command, Momcilo Krajisnik, who refused to call him anything but Omer. Jovan also told me of how the brutish Krajisnik constantly humiliated the senior female political figure in the RS, Biljana Plavsic, commenting on her pre-war long-term relationship with a Muslim and even making crude remarks about her anatomy. It was not unusual for Momcilo to bring Biljana to tears in the middle of a cabinet meeting which may explain why she later turned and testified against some of her colleagues at the Hague Tribunal.

Radovan chose his intermediary well. Jovan is a very intelligent, business-like individual who was driven by his belief in Serb victimhood, loyalty to his boss and hatred of Karadžić’s enemies; especially Slobodan Milosevic.

Through Jovan, I felt I came to understand more about Karadžić’s aspirations and fears than I ever could have from the outside looking in. It became clear after a few weeks of meetings that his chief had a deep fear of possible Belgrade-sponsored infiltrators and that he was enamored with the idea of speaking on a world stage where he could use his oratory skills and charisma to become the greatest historical champion of Serbism, the last prophet so to speak. His idea, in Jovan’s words, was to mount an OJ Simpson-like defense.

Since at that time Karadžić believed NATO action was imminent, he planned to surprise everyone by going to The Hague and, at the trial, display his brilliance, prove his innocence and rescue his people from both international condemnation and Milosevic’s betrayal. Jovan so despised Milosevic that at a meeting in Belgrade in 1998, he told me, “Milosevic will end up like Ceausescu, but we’ll kill her (Milosevic’s wife who was one of the most reviled characters in the Former Yugoslavia) before we kill him.

Nicolae Ceausescu had served as the General Secretary of the Soviet-supported Romanian Communist Party from 1965 until his death in 1989. His rule had not always been a popular one, and as the Soviet-supported rulers across eastern Europe fell one by one, Ceausescu quickly joined them. A quick but bloody rebellion against him saw to it. Along with his wife, Elena, they were both executed in the courthouse backyard after a brief trial held mere minutes earlier.

Image [Slobodan Milosevic, then President of Serbia (L), with Radovan Karadzic (R)]
[Slobodan Milosevic, then President of Serbia (L), with Radovan Karadzic (R)]
After three meetings, Zametica and I were, I believe, very close to finalizing a plan of surrender that I would then try to persuade NATO and American officials to put into play. I believe to this day that Karadžić would have followed through and would have gone to The Hague rather than going into hiding. But then politics intervened.

Jovan was to lead the Bosnian Serb delegation to the Florence Conference on 13 June, where my former boss and friend Ambassador Bob Frowick, would announce whether or not the conditions existed for a fair and free election in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was the issue over which I had resigned as Senior Deputy of the OSCE Mission. Bob, under extreme pressure from the Clinton Administration, and with his usual abundance of optimism that things would work out, announced the proper conditions did indeed exist, and the elections would take place in September of 1996.

A couple of days later, Jovan returned to Pale from Florence and called me over to have another meeting that I was sure would cement our surrender plan. Instead, he told me a tale that sickened me and destroyed what little faith I had left in Clinton Administration policies. He recounted a speech delivered by Judge Antonio Cassese, President of the ICTY, whom I knew to be a forthright and honest man with a passion for justice. Jovan said Cassese presented a tough, passionate appeal for UN member nations to affect the arrest of those indicted, including RS President Karadžić. Jovan joked, “Cassese made his case so well that I almost wanted to arrest Karadžić myself!

However, he noticed that only the Bosnians and the Arab observers applauded Cassese, while the American delegation was visibly upset. Going over to speak to the Americans, he was greeted by an avalanche of colorful invective directed at the ICTY President. He then said to me, “I had to come back and tell my boss the Americans don’t want you, so why go sit in a cramped jail cell when no one is going to come for you?

Unwilling to give up, I suggested to Jovan that we keep meeting, but I knew that what we had accomplished to date was no more than a wishful fantasy that was easily overturned by the Clinton Administration’s desire to continue the illusion of a stable Bosnia and Herzegovina to help their President’s reelection effort. A peaceful election had to take place in Bosnia by September 1996 (two months before the American election), to send the message to U.S. voters that all was well and that President Clinton’s promise to withdraw the 20,000 American peacekeepers after one year would be kept.

Shortly after the November Clinton reelection, the name of the peacekeeping force was changed from “Implementation Force” to “Stabilization Force.” Not one American soldier came home. That summer, Karadžić had already dropped out of sight.

Image [Karadzic while in hiding, disguised with a beard, glasses and a top knot.]
[Karadzic while in hiding, disguised with a beard, glasses and a top knot.]
My failure to realize Dr. Karadžić’s peaceful surrender, while depressing, did not end my efforts, nor my regular meetings with Jovan Zametica which continued even after I departed the ICTY in June 1997. He continued to act as an intermediary, and I gained some benefits for the ICTY from the exchange.

Specifically, we needed help to secure our Srebrenica mass graves exhumations. NATO, especially the Americans, was fearful that too much open cooperation with Tribunal investigations could result in hostile acts against their soldiers. Consequentially, American soldiers, in whose sector we were operating, were only allowed to provide broad area security, and even that was only present when we had personnel on the grave sites. This left us vulnerable to snipers and acts of sabotage, like mining of the sites, which resulted in the significant extra expense of hiring people to sleep at the mass graves during hours of darkness when our careful forensics work could not be performed.

Through Zametica, I requested that RS police assist with close security and protection of convoys carrying remains as far as Bosnian Federation territory. I told Jovan this cooperation would reflect well on his boss should he ever be brought to trial. He agreed, and police personnel and vehicles arrived almost immediately.

Except for the police protection issue, I never gave Jovan any ideas that could have been useful to Karadžić’s defense strategy. Our long and frequent conversations, however, helped me to understand key points of the best case that could have been made but also why, given his deeper desires, Karadžić was unlikely to use them.

To my mind, Radovan Karadžić is undoubtedly guilty of illegal acts encompassing crimes of both omission and commission, but I am also convinced that had he been willing to use certain arguments, he might have received a much-reduced sentence. There might even have been a chance that if he survived into his 90s, he might once again have tasted freedom.

Image NY Times Bosnian War election
[FULL article here, courtesy of the NY Times]

Cassese made his case so well that I almost wanted to arrest Karadžić myself!
– Jovan Zametica, personal advisor to Radovan Karadžić

The Case for Karadžić

Radovan Karadžić acted as his own trial attorney, but received legal advice from lawyers paid for by the ICTY. I met one of them, Peter Robinson, a couple of times, and he impressed me as professional and well-informed. The first time we met was after Karadžić had requested that three Americans testify at his trial: Madeleine Albright; Richard Holbrooke; and me.

It was obvious why he wanted the first two. He thought he could pin the charge of anti-Serb bias on the former Secretary of State and U.N. Ambassador who was key to the establishment of the ICTY and the release of satellite evidence of the Srebrenica massacre. Regarding Holbrooke, Karadžić had long claimed that if he dropped out of sight and did not cause problems for the peacekeeping mission, the former Assistant Secretary of State had promised in writing that he would never be prosecuted. Radovan was never able to produce a copy of the supposed letter signed by Holbrooke, so he wanted to make him testify under oath as to whether or not he had promised immunity from prosecution. This would probably have been seen as irrelevant by the judges, but Karadžić is no attorney.

But why call me, a relative nobody?

Probably part of the reason was that Karadžić knew I was unbiased, and because he hoped to have me testify to Serb victimhood. This stemmed from earlier conversations when he complained to me that there had been too many ICTY indictments against Serbs.

Victimhood is a valuable historical commodity. Every ethnic group in the Balkans tries to take the moral high ground by portraying themselves as the biggest victims. My response to Karadžić’s complaint was, “If 80% of crimes in the recent war were committed by persons who happened to be ethnic Serbs, then the indictments should reflect that fact. If, however, 5%, 10% or even up to 20% of victims were Serbs, the indictments should show that to be the case.”

Image [Exhumation Site in Čančari valley (Photo Exhibit used in ICTY Srebrenica Cases, UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia]
[Exhumation Site in Čančari valley (Photo Exhibit used in ICTY Srebrenica Cases, UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia]
Karadžić and his co-defendants knew very well that their fighters had committed wide-spread massacres and atrocities and were responsible for the bulk of war crimes and crimes against humanity between 1990 and 1995. Yet, their romantic view of Serb suffering stretches back to at least 1389, and they wanted to present the past war in the broader context of history. Karadžić also knew I had also been responsible for publicizing the Croatian Army massacre of elderly Serbs at Mrkonic Grad during the final offensive of the war when others refused to pay it any attention.

Another, more mundane, reason for Karadžić calling me to testify may have been the result of an interview I had given earlier to Radio Free Europe in Prague. It was a wide-ranging interview that I was called upon to provide while my wife and I were on vacation there visiting friends. We departed the next day and never heard the translation of my answers. Once my wife obtained the long-forgotten interview, she discovered the translation had been horrendously flawed, and that my words were totally misconstrued making me sound almost like a rabid Serb apologist.

To Peter Robinson’s credit, it took him only a few minutes to realize there was no way he wanted me to appear in court.

Had I been directing Karadžić’s defense, I would have emphasized the following arguments: 

(1) Karadžić had repeatedly used the RS Official Gazette during the war to remind his followers to obey international law. This, of course, could have been declared just a public relations ploy on the basis of ‘acts speak louder than words.’

(2) There were places of tranquility in the RS during the war where local police maintained civil order and refused to allow crimes of ethnic cleansing. A primary example of this was Prnjavor where the police commander, a member of Karadžić’s SDS political party ousted the paramilitaries and preserved the ethnic mixture of one of the most diverse municipalities in the country. Karadžić could have argued that where he had political control of the police atrocities did not happen. This could have been refuted by the fact that police in most areas were a large part of the problem, but he could have hoped the exceptions would prove the rule and would plant doubt in the minds of the judges. Another problem for Karadžić was that he had officially stated that no more than 2% of the population in the RS could be non-Serbs, thereby showing that he promoted ethnic cleansing.

(3) Given that the international and local media overwhelming filed negative (but mostly accurate) reports about the RS Army and Serb Paramilitary actions, he could have argued that he believed the media was biased against the Serbs, and so he believed them to be “fake news.” Many Serbs, for example, believed that reporting on the siege of Sarajevo was a made-up story and that the shelling and sniping was directed solely at the Bosnia Army that was assaulting Serb defensive positions. Once again, however, direct evidence and his own words could have been used against the RS President. In this case, Karadžić had foolishly appeared on Pale TV above Sarajevo with a Russian poet. Conveniently for the Court, the common language the two shared was English. Karadžić was shown looking down on scenes of carnage telling his fellow poet that he had written a poem years earlier about Sarajevo on fire and stating, “I was a real prophet.” This in and of itself was not so damning except that then Karadžić explained to the Russian how to use a heavy machine gun and then stood by while his friend shot at people on the streets below.

(4) Karadžić could have made the argument that many of the worst abuses were organized from Belgrade where Milosevic, the General Staff, and others committed crimes over which Karadžić had no control. In the Spring of 1995, Karadžić tried to relieve the top RS Army commander, Ratko Mladic of command under his authority as the President of the RS. Only one Serb General supported Karadžić while all the others backed Mladic as did, presumably, the Yugoslav Army General Staff in Belgrade which provided the bulk of logistical support to the RS Army including officers’ salaries. Karadžić could have argued that he did not control the military and paramilitaries but also that he had tried and failed. He, therefore, could not be held responsible for their crimes. The major weakness of this argument, once again, was that it could be shown that he did control the police who were complicit and he often bragged of his leadership of the Army.

(5) The final and most important argument would have been about Karadžić’s actions after the Srebrenica massacre of approximately 8,000 Bosniaks. Under the terms of the Dayton Agreement, no one indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity could hold political office. Consequently, Karadžić was officially ousted from the Presidency. Later, my friend Bob Frowick, as Head of the OSCE Mission, also stripped him of his leadership of the SDS Party. In the interim, Karadžić had issued an order to the RS Ministry of Justice commanding that they investigate the Srebrenica killings and to pay particular attention to the possibility of extrajudicial executions. By the time the short investigative report was completed stating basically that ‘many Muslims had killed themselves, and the mass graves were used for sanitary purposes to dispose of battle casualties,’ it was too late. Karadžić’s argument could have been, ‘Look, once I became suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the deaths at Srebrenica, I took action as part of my legal responsibility to order an investigation. However, by the time the obviously flawed report came back, the OSCE had stripped me of the last vestiges of political authority, so there was nothing further I could do.’

While there are problems with all of these possible defense arguments, I believe a defense strategy built around them could have caused enough doubt in the minds of the judges that it would have convinced them that Karadžić bore the burden of far less command responsibility that the prosecution claimed. He would still, rightfully, have been convicted on serious charges, but it is a distinct possibility that his initial sentence could have been 20-25 years, rather than the initial 40 years and eventual life sentence he received upon appeal.

Image Mural celebrating Karadzic in Belgrade. (Aleksa Vitorovic)
[Mural celebrating Karadzic in Belgrade. (Aleksa Vitorovic)]
So why did Karadžić reject the approach that might have seen him, one day, walk out of prison a free man?

I believe the answer lies largely in his romanticism. Karadžić sees himself as a tragic heroic figure, not unlike Prince Lazar who it is said ‘Chose the Kingdom of Heaven’ (i.e. a martyr’s death in battle) rather than giving in and becoming a vassal of the Ottoman invader. In Serbian historiography, the greatest places of honor are reserved for martial characters.

Karadžić was a civilian leader, and even though he donned a camouflage uniform on occasion, his image was never that of a warrior. As a matter of fact, woodland print trousers on him looked like something Americans might describe as “mom jeans.” Combined with his unruly mop of hair, Karadžić did not cut much of a heroic figure. While he might eclipse an unpopular civilian like Milosevic, he would have far more difficulty supplanting someone like General Ratko Mladic.

By admitting he did not control the latter or directly guide the war effort, Karadžić would have appeared almost superfluous to the noble military struggle to defend the Serb people. Since he was pretty certain he would be convicted and given a long sentence no matter what he did, it is likely that he chose the honorable Serb path of martyrdom.

Why, then, did defendant Karadžić appeal his 40-year sentence and why is he now angrily disputing the life sentence handed down by the appeals panel?

It is all about remaining on the world stage and fighting for Serb honor and victimhood as long as possible. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic both died before they were ever indicted for anything. Their stories will never be told by the ICTY. There will be no public judgment of their culpability. Milosevic also passed away before judgment was rendered, but he still spent years in court, and it was clear he would have been convicted. This means that only the top Serb leadership, and by extension the Serbian people, are seen as responsible for the recent horror.

As for the life sentence, the difference between that and a 40-year sentence for a man in his 70s is only symbolic, but symbolism is paramount in the Balkans. A life sentence basically says you are totally guilty and unredeemable. For Radovan Karadžić this is and always will be unacceptable.

Image [Gravestones at the Potočari genocide memorial near Srebrenica (Michael Büker)]
[Gravestones at the Srebrenica–Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide, near Srebrenica, to honor the 8,372 victims of the July 1995 Srebrenica genocide (Photo: Michael Büker)]

Karadžić sees himself as a tragic heroic figure.

IMage [Testimony of witness Jela Ugarkovic on her account of Croatian Army attack on her village of Komic, August 5, 1995]
[Testimony of witness Jela Ugarkovic on her account of a Croatian Army attack on her village of Komic, August 5, 1995][Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Croatia v. Serbia)]

The Aftermath

Whatever comes out of the argument over the life sentence, and no matter how guilty Dr. Karadžić might be, the result will be largely negative for reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia in general. For in that violent corner of the world, perceptions count more than reality. Perhaps the same is true everywhere.

The ICTY got a slow start on public outreach, and so the tale was told by Serb and Croat propagandists before the Court even got in the game. Overwhelmingly, Serbs and to a slightly lesser extent Croats, see the ICTY as a flawed international mechanism that picked sides from the very beginning.

Bosniaks, while somewhat disappointed by the overall achievements of the ICTY, will certainly be boosted by Karadžić’s conviction and sentence. But reconciliation cannot be successful if it is desired by only one of three antagonists. Serbs will go on thinking that “the others” started the war and that their own victims will be forgotten. They will believe that they have been further victimized by a biased, corrupt international judicial process. They will point to the fact that Tudjman and Izetbegovic escaped any blame whatsoever, something which in their collective minds will resonate forever.

Many Croatians, even though they initially may have supported the Court, were outraged when Croat generals were indicted. They will continue to see this as injustice even though they can claim some vindication from some of the convictions that have been overturned on appeal. The Croatian justice theory that has been promulgated for over twenty years is that they were fighting a defensive war and that, as such, the actions their leaders took could not be war crimes. The Croatian government has also been arguing that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a breeding ground contributing to the spread of Islamic extremism and that this supposed secret scheme of the Bosniak leadership resulted in their conflict with the Bosnian Army in 1993-1994.

Today, the nationalist politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest of the Balkans are busily creating three or more (the Kosovars, Montenegrins, and Macedonians have their own) versions of truth and history. These conflicting tales of the origins of the war and who did what to whom are already sowing the seeds for the next round of vengeance. Just as the histories of the World Wars and the centuries-long Ottoman occupation fed this last war, the new histories will fuel the next.

To end on a slightly positive note, there is hope that the ICTY and other International Courts might still cause future mass murderers to take pause. While I am not optimistic, if this is the case, Radovan Karadžić’s “martyrdom” might yet serve some good purpose.

William Stuebner, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[Edited by John Sjoholm and Anthony A. LoPresti]

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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.

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

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The Alevis Dilemma – Turkey’s Erdogan sets a religious minority on a collision course with Erdogan’s Turkey

Image The Alevis Dilemma [Lima Charlie News]
The Alevis Dilemma [Lima Charlie News]

A significant religious minority in Turkey, the Alevis, have become increasingly subject to President Erdogan’s populist ire, as they find themselves on a collision course with the Islamification and ‘Turkification’ of Turkey.

When I visited Antalya, Turkey, in the late 1990s, I was surprised by the amount of Syrian Arabic I heard on the streets. Antalya, the eighth-most populous city in Turkey, was suffused with a cascade of Syrian tourists at the time, coming across the border to enjoy the beautiful countryside of the Orontes River and Nur mountains. As I sat in the shade, looking at the young Syrian Arabs enjoying themselves on their first vacation abroad, I began to reminisce about one of my earliest trips to the area.

It was the late 1960s, and I had just entered Anatolia, Southeast Turkey, by way of Syria, driving an old jeepster loaned to me by the U.S. military mission in Turkey. At the time I was studying at the American University of Beirut as a military Foreign Area Specialist (today generally referred to as a Foreign Area Officer). As such, whenever I was not studying, the U.S. Government furnished me with enough funds to travel and see as much of the Arab world as possible.

While traveling through Turkey, I went through several villages that appeared to host a people mismatched with the villages around them. Many of the women did not wear a Muslim headdress. Many wore Western clothing. Later, when visiting the American general consul, I asked about them. I could not recall the name of the village, but I explained, “these people, they appear a bit different.” “Indeed,” the consul responded. “They are Alevis, hated by the Sunnis.”

I suppose one could say that Alevis are sort of like the Buddhists of the Muslim community, a peaceful, but second class, minority. I had never heard of this group of people before, the Alevis, but I made a mental note to learn as much as I could about them. Since that day, this somewhat esoteric topic has been a keen interest of mine, one that has led me to worry on their behalf. Their present-day situation appears grim; the Alevis have found themselves at odds with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Image Alevi demonstrators shout anti-government slogans during a protest against the violence in Okmeydani, a working-class district in the center of the city, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 25, 2014. (Murad Sezer)
[Alevi demonstrators shout anti-government slogans during a protest against the violence in Okmeydani, a working-class district in the center of the city, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 25, 2014. (Murad Sezer)]
A number of Middle East security and political observers have written at length about the re-emerging power of a reinvigorated Turkey, energized by President Erdogan. His “strong man”-leadership is backed by nationalistic dogma, which harks back to the “Young Turk“ movement of yore, and is further supported by fringe Sunni Islamic elements. This particular configuration, a nationalist strong man with the backing of Islamic values, is nearly always a resounding hit in the Muslim World.

Along with this, President Erdogan brings unremitting attacks on Israel, and he continuously espouses a flavour of Islamism that appeals to his backers in the conservative Sunni Arab communities across the Middle East, while ever maneuvering towards a central role of leadership in the region.

Amid this nationalistic and religious frenzy, there is a group of people that I feel represent the very antithesis of where Turkey appears to be heading. Indeed, it would be difficult to describe a people and their religion as any more antithetical to Erdogan’s brand of institutionalized Islam, than the seemingly peaceful and gentle faith of the Alevis.

Consisting primarily of ethnic Turks and Kurds, the Alevi make up 11-12% of the nation’s population. This makes Alevis the largest religion, after Sunni Islam, in Turkey.

Thus, the Alevis represent a growing threat to the pretensions of President Erdogan.

There is little doubt that the way in which Erdogan is configuring his regional power, he has aroused the envy and hostility of the Egyptian-Saudi-led bloc of Arab states. Erdogan appeals to their traditional power base – more conservative Sunni-communities – while the quickly expanding Shi’a population of Iraq, and its leadership, also finds Erdogan’s bellicosity concerning.

A key unspoken promise to his more nationalistic voter base is a restoration of the Ottoman Empire.

Undoubtedly, there is some justification for his ambitions, especially given Turkey’s natural resources, strategic location, effective army, and well-earned reputation as a people with a historically strong martial nature. In addition, as other observers have noted, the Central Asian peoples are generally Sunni Muslim, and various dialects of the Turkish language are spoken all the way to the Chinese border giving Turkey a special place in that region as well. President Erdogan can entertain thoughts of resurrecting not only a neo-Ottoman Empire that would hold sway over all the Arab Sunnis, but one that would wield a strong influence over the Central Asian nations as well.

The Erdogan message, to achieve inroads into both Arab and Turkic worlds, can best be encapsulated as a doctrine of Sunni Islamification and Turkification.

The problem is, these doctrines are not directly achievable. For many years Turkey has been described as a secular democracy. However, like many Middle Eastern nations, it presents the trappings of a democracy but not the spirit.

Image Alevi
[The symbol of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which is an ally for Turkish autocratic Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was drawn at the door of an Alevi family and a red cross was marked on it in Bahçelievler district of İstanbul province. “Get out, heathen” and “Islam” was written at the door.]
Turkey’s long and well documented history of persecuting non-Sunni Muslims, non-Oghuz ethnicities, and non-Turkish minorities, is prima facie evidence of this. Even if, admittedly, there have been brief periods of more progressive attitudes, there is little evidence that Turkey is presently in such a period. Instead, Erdogan’s Turkey appears to be at war against even the very suggestion of a progressive Turkey.

The war against the Turkish Kurds, who refuse Turkification and assimilation into the Turkish population, and the refusal of the non-Sunni Alevis and Alawis to convert to Turkish Sunnism, are both major obstacles to constructing the face Turkey wishes to present to the world. Despite years of war, temporary truces, and a military program of wreaking havoc upon Kurdish villages, the Kurdish problem remains as volatile as ever.

Turkey’s problem with the Kurds is not one that can be easily contained and isolated in the far-flung mountainous regions either. It has quickly spread across Turkey, and the international community is growing increasingly aware of the situation. This is largely thanks to the U.S.-allied militia groups, which constitute a majority of Syrian and Turkish Kurds fighting against Islamists.

Erdogan is doubling down.

His demand that all the peoples of Turkey identify themselves as Turks first has driven the Kurds into a deeply seated militant stance, spawning more virulent forms of Kurdish aspirations, as represented by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.

The “Islamic” part of Erdogan’s basic program has been widely rejected by religious and ethnic minorities living within the Turkish borders. This includes the seldom spoken of Alevis. While the Alevis pose no direct military or tactical threat to Erdogan’s rule (many Alevi communities even abjure hunting and fishing, both national pastimes in the machismo culture of Turkey), these communities pose a threat to Erdogan’s ambitions, including his drive to create a monolithic national culture. This has led to a political counterinsurgency by these disaffected communities.

Alevis – Alawis : Easily Confused, Never The Same

The Alevis must not be confused with the Alawis of Turkey. The two sects, while similar in name, are distinct.

The Alawis of Turkey live generally in the old Hatay province, a province handed over to the Turks by the French colonial masters of Syria prior to World War II. It was part of a vain effort to induce the Turks to join the anti-Nazi bloc. Alawis are an Arab people living primarily along the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Despising the Alawi minority has a long history among some of Syria’s Sunni majority. Indeed a critical aspect of the murderous unrest in Syria since the 1980s has been the attempts of Sunni conservatives to overthrow the Alawi dominated Assad regime. Although some Syrian Alawi affirm that they are Muslims, they resist, by any means, the Turkification and Sunnification of their communities in Turkey.

The Alawis and Alevis have some similarities derived from certain aspects of Shi’ism. Both the Alawi and Alevi are syncretic religions that incorporate the doctrines and religious rites of Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism. The monotheistic faith of Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the pre-Islamic Persian empires until the 6th century CE, and it is one of the world’s oldest still-active religions, even thriving in the Kurdish enclaves of Turkey and Iraq.

Regardless, the Alawis and Alevis are dissimilar in fundamental respects.

Compared to these somewhat well-defined religions, the Alevis are very difficult to define. Some assert that the Alevis are, fundamentally, Muslims, who have rejected the primary five pillars of Islam, while others insist that they are anything but Muslim. Most of the Kurdish Alevis deny they are Muslim at all.

In addition, the commonly associated practices of Sunni Muslims are not largely adhered to by the Alevis, such as going on the Hajj to Mecca or fasting during Ramadan. As a group they venerate Imam Husayn ibn Ali Hussein (commonly referred to as Imam Hussein), the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and they do not generally accept the Qu’ran as the final word. As they commonly assert, “we follow many paths.”

The Alevis do not utilise mosques, as the Muslims do, as their houses of worship. Instead, they use “a house of gathering”, called a Cemevi. The Turkish government generally describes these locations as social and cultural centers rather than places of worship, and as such, the government does not grant them the same privileges as Islamic centers of worship.

In fact, the general attitude of the Turkish government toward the Alevis is to view them as more of a cult than an organized religion, or to pretend they do not exist. As Stephen Kinser wrote in his book Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds:

As part of their blind refusal to recognize that their country is made up of communities of coherent identities, the Turkish leaders have for decades to deny the Alevi reality. This has pushed the Alevi steadily away from the political mainstream and toward leftist movements. It has also led the Sunnis to attack them, sometimes with terrible violence.

[W]e do not believe we are going to paradise after we die. For us, paradise is the life we are living now. For us, Heaven and Hell are here on Earth.

-Hayir Dede, Alevi religious leader

The Alevi Issue

The basic issue is that the Alevis tend to subscribe to secular principles and align themselves with anti-Islamist attitudes and the political movements thereof. This puts them on a collision course with President Erdogan’s concept of Turkey.

The Erdogan policy of extreme measures to create a monolithic Turkish population has resulted in the Alevis solidifying and moving from a state of a cultural entity to one of religious and ethnic identity. The Turkish measures to filtrate the “Aleviness” out are eerily similar to that which the Turkish state has foisted upon the Kurdish minorities inside Turkey. These measures include forcing the study of Islamist doctrine into the educational systems, religious inhibitions, legal inequities, and the exclusion from government employment. These oppressive regime measures reinforce the existing social discrimination that has been unsuccessful, and mostly counter-productive. Instead, they have sharpened the Alawi sense of ethnic identity.

Unlike the Kurds, the Alevis have not resorted to violent organized resistance, lacking mountains in which to seek refuge. The Alevi communities are scattered throughout Central and Southern Turkey, and are mostly surrounded by Anatolian Turks, who traditionally despise their Alevi neighbors.

The Sunni Turks have often equated the Alevis with sexual license, citing their more liberal attitude toward women’s dress and mixed dancing. Erdogan manipulates this Sunni enmity to increase pressure on the Alevis to conform to the Islamization process. One aspect of this has been the refusal of Islamized security forces to protect the Alevis when under attack by Sunni mobs.

Image Alevis 5
[Street fighters in Okmeydani, a neighborhood in Istanbul with a large Alevi population. This 2014 unrest followed the funeral of Berkin Elvan, a 14 year old killed during the Gezi park protests. (Barbaros Kayan)]
However, in more recent times Alevis have increasingly moved to the larger cities where they have congregated in certain districts allowing the typically Middle-Eastern dense urban terrain to provide the sanctuary their former rural homes could not. There have been several eruptions of Alevi discontent in both Istanbul and Ankara, arising from brutal police measures to contain Alevi protests. While the amorphous quality of the Alevi community, with many separate branches and belief systems, makes unity of the Alevis more difficult, the lack of a unified leadership makes it harder for the Turkish security apparatus to root out the latent Alevi resistance.

This stands in contrast with how the Turkish security apparatus was able to efficiently strike against the Gülen movement and its organising leadership in 2012.

The Gülen movement is largely inspired by the religious teachings of Fethullah Gülen, and is a transnational Islamic social movement which professes to support universal access to education, civil society, and peace. Gülen himself has, since 1999, lived in self-imposed exile in the United States. This, after Gülen had a falling out with his previous political ally, then political outcast and Muslim Brotherhood affiliate— Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It is the Gülen social movement that the Turkish government accuses of having orchestrated the attempted coup d’etat on July 15th, 2016 against the Erdogan government. The attempted coup was carried out by a faction within the armed forces and security apparatus, apparently aimed at restoring a more secular government, under military protectorship. On the cusp of rebel success, Erdogan supporters poured into the streets, intimidating the soldiers involved, and the leaders of the coup lost heart. In the aftermath, thousands of military personnel and police were jailed and many government officials, intellectuals, educators and members of the judicial branch accused of being members of the Gülen movement lost their jobs or worse.

The purge of suspected sympathizers of the Gülen movement continues, which has the appearance of simply being a convenient way to eliminate opponents of the Erdogan regime.

Thus, Erdogan faces two primary hurdles to his policies internally. The Kurds continue to resist his Turkification, and the Alevis increasingly resist his Islamization.

It is true, of course, that neither the Turkish Kurds, nor the Alevi, can expect any international support. The European nations are all too happy to keep trade with Turkey open while keeping the Turks out. The unspoken reason for the inability of Turkey to gain acceptance into the European Union is the reluctance of some EU states to contend with the free movement of Muslim Turks across their borders.

Yet, Turkey’s treatment of minorities such as the Alevis and Kurds also remains an issue, which the European states use as a reason to keep Turkey out of the European Union.

The historical record of Turkey’s treatment of minorities is a sad and tragic one. Following World War I, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Greeks were expelled from their towns and cities along the Aegean where they had lived since the time of Homer. At the same time, Armenians, residents of Turkey before the Turks arrived from Central Asia, were driven, in the most horrendous manner, from their ancestral home in Eastern Turkey. Armenians identify this as the Armenian genocide.

It was not a centrally directed genocide as was Hitler’s, but perhaps that is more egregious. It might be even more horrific, in that it was a reflection of the hatred of the Sunni Muslim Turk population toward minority Christians. The long history of Turkish animosity toward their non-Islamic or non-Turkish minorities absolves Erdogan from inventing the current tenuous environment for Turkish minorities. He has simply harnessed the deep-seated animus toward minorities, which he has deftly manipulated for his own political reasons.

Skin Deep Changes

From my own observations in my travels, and discussions with academics and officials in Turkey, Kemal Ataturk’s “secularization” of Turkey was mostly superficial among the elite and cosmopolitan peoples along the Aegean coast. It did not penetrate into the hinterlands of Anatolia. The Islamization crusade of Erdogan has resonated among the deeply conservative Sunni Muslim peoples of inner Turkey and did not constitute a spectacular shift in attitude.

Even under the secularization reforms of Ataturk, there was never a separation of Church and state, and the state maintains a very lucrative and coercive ministry which dispenses state funds to over 70,000 Sunni mosques, excluding non-Sunni houses of worship, such as the Alevi Cemevi. Through these mosques, and salaries paid to the Imams that preach within, the Turkish government manages a network of state propaganda and reinforces the Islamization and Turkification program of Erdogan.

At present Turkey holds a strong hand with an apparently strong economy, the most effective military in the Middle East, and strong leadership. Politically it has mended fences with Russia and now has a working relationship with its historical rival, Iran. Taking all the apparent factors into consideration, Turkey seems to be in a strong position to exercise leadership over the entire Middle East. Many would also say that Turkey is intent on realizing a long-held desire to control northern Syria and put the pro-PKK Syrian Kurds under Turkish control.

The fly in the ointment of all these aspirations remains the unsettled disposition of the Kurdish desire for independence, or at least autonomy, and the coalescing identity of a large Alevi minority that rejects Erdogan’s drive to Islamify Turkey.

It is ironic and baffling that President Erdogan would choose to make enemies of a community that basically just wants to be left alone to practice their non-violent and apolitical faith, as typified in this popular belief among Alevis:

Our ka’aba is the human being.
If you kill a person, you destroy a temple of God.
Where you will find God is in the human heart.
We have no holy book – we follow nature.
The trees, the animals, the water, even the rocks have souls.
Nature is holy – nature is holy!

Unfortunately, throughout much of the Middle East, Islam has evolved into a political ideology which often has no tolerance for “others”. In the fashion of extreme ideologies everywhere, this tends to fissure and breed extremists, such as the Islamic State. As the literal versions of Sharia law are increasingly imposed on people, a coalition of minorities, traditionally keeping a distance from one another, is forced together.

In Turkey, a nascent bond of mutual sympathy for the Kurdish PKK, among Alevis and Arab Alevis, has arisen. As President Erdogan heats the pressure cooker seeking to meld some 47 ethnic groups into a Turkish and Sunni Islamic oneness, the evidence so far suggests the opposite effect is likely.

The collision course of militant Islamism to pacific Alevism is amply illuminated by Hayir Dede, a highly-regarded Alevi religious leader, who explains, ”we do not believe we are going to paradise after we die. For us, paradise is the life we are living now. For us, Heaven and Hell are here on Earth.”

Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine, Lima Charlie News

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.

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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OPINION | Iran perpetuates terror – why not legally recognize that?

Image Iran perpetuates terror - why not legally recognize that? Lima Charlie News
Iran perpetuates terror - why not legally recognize that? [Lima Charlie News]

The case for designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian Intelligence Ministry as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Lima Charlie World is publishing the following opinion article in its entirety. At times, Lima Charlie 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.

Back in 1987, a veteran commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Mohsen Rafiqdoust, threatened the United States. “The US knows that both the TNT (explosives) and the ideology, which in one blast sent to hell 400 [American] officers, NCOs and soldiers of the Marine Headquarters, had been provided by Iran.”

On October 23, 1983, in an IRGC-sponsored terrorist attack, a truck loaded with 18,000 pounds of explosives drove through the barriers at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 U.S. servicemen and gravely wounding many more.

Former Iranian regime’s Minister of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), Ali Fallahian admitted in 2017 that his organization sends agents to America often posing as journalists. In August 2018, the FBI arrested two MOIS agents for capture and kill operations targeting Iranian resistance members in the United States.

Both the IRGC and the MOIS are already designated Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) by the U.S. Government. However, there are compelling reasons why the IRGC and the MOIS should also be designated as Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the Department of State.

The IRGC acts as the Iranian regime’s Praetorian Guard and has two main duties in ensuring the fundamentalist theocracy’s survival: crushing internal dissent and exporting terrorism and violence abroad.

Both the IRGC and its extraterritorial Qods (Jerusalem) Force carry out terrorist operations in various countries around the globe. The IRGC has numerous facilities inside Iran to train terrorists as part of the regime’s strategy to step up its meddling abroad.

There was a sharp surge in Tehran-sponsored terror plots in Europe in 2018, which targeted American citizens as well as Iranian opposition members. Several senior MOIS officials were caught in Europe plotting terror, assassinations, and bombings.

The IRGC and MOIS meet the criteria to be designated as FTO under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189). There are three criteria for FTO designation. The group has to be a “foreign” organization that “engages in terrorism or terrorist activity or retains the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism,” which “threatens the U.S. nationals of the national security of the United States.” As of today, IRGC and MOIS meet all the three requirements by far, making their FTO designation long overdue.

These designations are not only warranted, but they also would contribute significantly to the fight against terrorism and would send a strong signal to Tehran that the days of getting away with murder are over.

Terrorism has been a very profitable tool in the hands of Tehran’s rulers for the past four decades, enabling the regime to extract concessions from its western interlocutors, and hold as hostage the foreign policy of western nations.

Inaction regarding the IRGC and MOIS has further enabled the regime to set up missile factories in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq in order to broaden its regional sphere of influence.

It is time to push back against such malign behavior.

FTO designation of the IRGC and MOIS would make it illegal for a U.S. person to provide “material support or resources” to these entities including service, expert advice or assistance. The designation would also make members and representatives of IRGC and MOIS inadmissible to and removable from the United States.

IRGC affiliates now control a dizzying array of commercial enterprises, including large mines, primary industries (including downstream oil and gas), foreign commerce, banks, insurance, power industries, postal networks, roads, railroads, airliners, and shipping.

Tehran has been sending its MOIS and IRGC agents to the United States over the past decades under different covers.

Iran’s regime has also benefited from the services and “expert advice and assistance” given, at times without realising it, by both the U.S. Government and private citizens, both of which have at times carried the water for the Iranian regime. This is largely thanks to decades of the policy of appeasement by previous U.S. administrations.

This can and must come to an end. The FTO designation of the MOIS and IRGC could act as the first step in that direction.

[Update April 6, 2019: As of publication, the Wall Street Journal has reported that the Trump administration may designate IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization this Monday – Editors]


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

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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Imagine a Global Space Community … The Space Foundation Can

Image Imagine a Global Space Community ... The Space Foundation Can [Lima Charlie News][Graphic by Anthony A. LoPresti]
Imagine a Global Space Community ... The Space Foundation Can [Lima Charlie News][Graphic by Anthony A. LoPresti]

Lima Charlie World is attending the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium in Colorado to discover how the world’s space agencies, military communities and tech companies are working together to tackle the Final Frontier.

We started Lima Charlie News with a mission to foster dialogue among military veterans from nations around the world. Over time this dialogue has expanded to include intelligence professionals and foreign policy experts as well. We’ve covered stories from around the globe about national security, foreign policy, geopolitics, cyber, tech, and our environment. Yet always, space – the Final Frontier – has captivated us all.

It’s no small coincidence that several of us here at Lima Charlie World are huge Star Trek fans. We carry an optimistic, idealistic, some would say naive view of mankind collaborating in the peaceful exploration of space, rather than in the conflict of space.

And so, it is with starry eyes that we report on the annual Space Symposium.

The Space Symposium is an annual conference for all things space – rockets, satellites, and other space exploration tools are unveiled to the public. Speakers this year, as every year, are a Who’s Who in the space, military and academic communities.

Of course there is a heavy presence of U.S. space and military establishment (which includes NASA, the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command / Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT), DoD and DOS, the new DoD Space Development Agency (SDA) and the re-established National Space Council). Of course there are major aerospace/defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Ball Aerospace, Boeing, and Booz Allen Hamilton.

But there is also a smorgasbord of representatives from space agencies and aerospace companies from around the world.

IMage Lockheed Martin at the 34th Space Symposium in 2018 (Photo: Don Martinez, Lima Charlie News
[Lockheed Martin at the 34th Space Symposium in 2018 (Photo: Don Martinez, Lima Charlie News)].
Representatives from numerous space-faring countries have attended, or are attending this year’s event, including the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Italy, UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Israel, Poland, China, Russia, and many more. In addition, some of the biggest names in private space tech, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are involved.

The Space Symposium is made possible through the efforts of the Space Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 1983 that is based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Space Foundation seeks to “inspire, educate, connect, and advocate on behalf of the global space community.” This year will mark the 35th time the event has brought together leaders in the industry.

In addition to education and awareness, the Space Foundation sponsors various awards for achievement and innovation. These include the Space Achievement Award, the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award, and the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award.

The Foundation’s highest honor, with nominations from the space industry worldwide, is named after retired U.S. Air Force General James E. Hill. The award recognizes “outstanding individuals who have distinguished themselves through lifetime contributions to the welfare or betterment of humankind through the exploration, development and use of space, or the use of space technology, information, themes or resources in academic, cultural, industrial or other pursuits of broad benefit to humanity.” Last year’s recipient was American aerospace engineer Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.

IMage Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Heather Wilson and USAF Gen. David L. Goldfein at the 34th Space Symposium in 2018.
[Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Heather Wilson and USAF Gen. David L. Goldfein at the 34th Space Symposium in 2018 (Photo: Don Martinez)]

The dramatic orbiting of the first Sputnik by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957 was like a spark that ignited and speeded the process of developing the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space on a continuing and larger scale.

– Eilene Galloway, Aerospace Pioneer / NASA Advisory Committee

Dogs, Monkeys and a Race to Space

On October 4, 1957, the USSR launched the world’s first artificial satellite, the 184 pound Sputnik-1.

The Soviet Union would soon follow just 32 days later with the successful launch of Sputnik 2, a 500 kg, four meter high spacecraft that carried as its passenger a small female dog that, before her “training” had lived as a stray on the cold streets of Moscow. She would become known worldwide as Laika (Лайка), a Russian word for for several breeds of dogs. Yet, she had actually been called by Soviet scientists and mission specialists several names and nicknames, among them Kudryavka (Russian for Little Curly), Zhuchka (Little Bug), and Limonchik (Little Lemon). Laika would be among the first animals in space, and the first to orbit the Earth.

Since 1951, the Soviets had launched 12 dogs into sub-orbital space on ballistic flights aboard the Soviet R-1 series rockets in preparation for this orbital mission. The first sub-orbital astronauts, two dogs named Dezik and Tsygan (“Gypsy”), had been successfully launched and retrieved six years before Laika’s Sputnik 2 launch.  They were followed by a second launch one month later, but the dogs Dezik and Lisa did not survive.

By the third launch, one of the dogs chosen, Smelaya (“Bold”), was more the wiser. She ran away the day before the launch. With the crew worried that wolves living nearby would eat her, she returned a day later and the test flight resumed successfully. A fourth and fifth launch would follow, with one success and one failure. Just before the sixth flight on September 15, 1951, one of the two dogs, Bobik, escaped and a replacement was found near the local canteen. She was given the name ZIB, the Russian acronym for “Substitute for Missing Dog Bobik.” Both dogs reached 100 kilometers and returned successfully.

Other dogs associated with this series of flights included Albina (“Whitey”), Dymka (“Smoky”), Modnista (“Fashionable”), and Kozyavka (“Gnat”).

Image A 1960 USSR space propaganda poster by the artist K. Ivanov, featuring Strelka and Belka. The text reads, “The way is open to man!”
[A 1960 USSR space propaganda poster by the artist K. Ivanov, featuring Strelka and Belka. The text reads, “The way is open to man!”]
The U.S., meanwhile, had been quietly launching monkeys, chimps and mice into sub-orbital space aboard V-2 rockets as early as 1948. On June 11, 1948, a V-2 Blossom rocket from White Sands, New Mexico carried a rhesus monkey named Albert I. A year later, Albert II would reach an altitude of 83 miles before dying on impact. On December 12, 1949, the last V-2 test carried Albert IV, a rhesus monkey, successfully. That is, except for Albert IV’s death upon impact.

Throughout 1951 and 1952, the U.S. would successfully launch a monkey named Yorick and 11 mice in an Aerobee missile, followed by two Philippine monkeys, Patricia and Mike, which were the first primates to reach a high altitude of 36 miles. Patricia and Mike would be recovered safely by parachute.

Laika’s 1957 Sputnik 2 flight was hailed by Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviets as a “space spectacular” mission that proved Soviet superiority in space. Immediately after the November 3, 1957 launch a fascination with Laika and her journey captivated millions worldwide, including Sputnik watchers in America.

It was widely reported by the Soviets that the mission was a success; Soviet scientists continued to receive telemetry signals of Laika’s physiological reactions, reporting that she was alive and well days after launch. Yet, by November 6, 1957, the Associated Press reported, “The Soviet satellite appeared to be tumbling end over end. This caused renewed speculation about the fate of Laika, the little Russian dog harnessed inside.” It added, “Soviet scientists indicated several days ago that eccentric movements of the satellite might in time cost the dog’s life.” By November 8, 1957, the NY Times ran the headline, “Condition of Dog Is Now In Doubt,” reporting that Soviet scientists had “suddenly broke off their regular reports on the condition of the dog.”

By November 11, Moscow issued a statement that Sputnik 2’s radio transmitters had ceased to function and that all medical and biological observations had been completed. By the next day Radio Moscow confirmed that Laika had died.

The Soviets would maintain that Laika did eventually die after a full six days when her oxygen ran out. It was also claimed that Laika had been euthanized prior to oxygen depletion. In fact, Laika had died only a few hours after launch due to extreme heat. This had been hinted at years later during a 1993 interview with Lieutenant General Oleg Gazenko, one of the leading scientists behind the Soviet animals in space program. It was later verified in 2002 by Sputnik 2 scientist Dimitri Malashenkov.

Sputnik 2 would continue to orbit the earth for 162 days, carrying the body of Laika, making 2,570 orbits, before visibly burning up on April 14, 1958.

[Postcard of Laika by artist E. Gundobin; the first three Sputniks are in the background]

The gesture thrown out by Khrushchev was not a gesture of defiance by one country of the East to one of the West. It was a challenge by the Communist world to the Free World.

-Paul-Henri Spaak, Second Secretary-General of NATO, speech before NATO, Oct. 30, 1957

The profound effects of the Sputnik 2 flight would fuel great fear and apprehension among America and her allies amid an ever heating up Cold War.

On November 3, 1957, the AP reported, “In announcing the launching of the first earth satellite ever put in a globe-circling orbit under man’s controls, the Soviet Union claimed a victory over the United States.”  The article also reported that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, at an October 9th new conference, said of the military significance of Russia’s first satellite: “That does not raise my apprehension, not one iota.”

Despite Eisenhower’s assurances, paranoia continued. On November 5, 1957, the NY Times reported, “Scientists in many lands speculated yesterday that a Soviet rocket might already be en route to strike the moon with a hydrogen bomb in the midst of its eclipse Thursday.”

On November 6, 1957, Nikita Khrushchev, in a 15,000 word address before a special session of the Supreme Soviet, called for a top level conference of capitalist and communist countries that could prevent war and end the Cold War. He called for the establishment of peaceful competition, and urged the West to join Russia’s space efforts in a “commonwealth of sputniks.” According to the NY Times, however, Khrushchev, who was joined by Mao Tse-tung at the event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, “chided” the U.S. “for its slowness in putting an earth satellite into space.” Reportedly Khrushchev also “scoffed” at Americans “who said the United States never intended to race the Soviet Union into the skies with Earth satellites.”

Other American newspapers would also echo the impression with headlines such as “Khrushchev Ridicules Space Efforts Of U.S.” (which included a story that the “Reds” were developing “light speed rockets”), and “U.S. Taunted By Khrushchev Over Missiles.” The Associated Press reported, “Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Tse-tung made a double-barreled attack today on the United States, gibing at its lag on launching Sputniks and accusing it of plotting trouble all over the world.”

Image NY Times Sputnik 2 NOV 4 1957
[NY Times, November 4, 1957 (“Dog in Second Satellite Alive; May Be Recovered; Soviet Hints; White House Is Calm Over Feat”)(“Confidence In U.S. Is Held Impaired: Diplomats Think Satellites Weaken Neutrals’ Will to Resist Soviet Pressure”)(Courtesy NY Times Archives)]

Amid President Eisenhower’s downplaying of the success of the Soviet space program, just days after Sputnik 2’s launch the President was presented with a 29 page report titled, “Deterrence & Survival in the Nuclear Age” (known as the Gaither Report). The report briefed him on the Soviet threat and its accelerating nuclear and ICBM development. It concluded that by 1959, “the USSR [would] be able to launch an attack with ICBMs carrying megaton warheads, against which SAC (Strategic Air Command) will be almost completely vulnerable under present programs.”

The Gaither Report suggested measures to “strengthen and defend the Free World.” This looming threat and the urgency to match and exceed Russia’s ballistic missile and satellite achievements was soon felt across America. On November 13, 1957, in an open letter to President Eisenhower, John S. Hayes, president of the Washington Post Broadcast Division asked the President to name the first U.S. space satellite “The Freedom Sphere.” This was immediately backed by four members of Congress.

Also in November, 1957, Congressional hearings, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) had begun to investigate and assess America’s resources for achieving superiority over the Soviets. According to Legislative Reference Service national defense analyst Eilene Galloway, “The hearings were conducted in an emergency atmosphere of deep concern with the status of U.S. national defense.” The hearings would continue into January 1958, recording 2,476 pages “of the facts essential for understanding the total situation as a basis for planning the future.”

Galloway’s final report outlined four potential options: (1) establish a new government agency; (2) assign the program to the Atomic Energy Commission; (3) establish the 43-year-old National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) as the controlling agency; or (4) assign the space program to the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.

One month later America’s space program would suffer a severe setback when, in December 1957, its first artificial satellite, Vanguard, exploded on the launch pad.

On April 2, 1958, in a special note sent to Congress, President Eisenhower called for a civilian space agency based on NACA. Twelve days later both the U.S. Senate and the House introduced versions of the NASA bill, H. R. 12575, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, with hearings beginning the next day.

On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA). NASA would officially begin operations on October 1, 1958, 61 years ago.

The Congress hereby declares that it is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.

– National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, Declaration of Policy and Purpose, Sec. 102(a)

Space Treaties, Space Force, and a Federation of Planets Countries

Today, there are over 70 countries with space agencies. These space agencies operate on a national and international level, often seeking cooperation with like-minded space agencies, governmental bodies, international organizations, private companies, universities, or research institutes. They often organize into regional organizations, or enter into cooperation agreements, treaties, implementing agreements, or memorandums of understanding (MOUs).

Amid the backdrop of the Space Race and the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, the United Nations emerged as the primary forum for the negotiation and crafting of the overall legal framework for cooperation in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space. This would include outlining such issues as the obligation to render assistance to astronauts, the identification of objects launched into space, both on a national basis and at the UN, and the assurance that the Moon would remain a part of the “common heritage of mankind.”

Shortly after the launch of Sputnik, on December 13, 1958, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) was created as a small expert unit within the UN Secretariat in New York to assist the newly formed ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). It was established by UN resolution 1472 (XIV). The mission of COPUOS: “to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programmes in this field to be undertaken under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space.”

In September, 1960, in a speech before the UN’s General Assembly, President Eisenhower said:

“[W]ill outer space be preserved for peaceful use and developed for the benefit of all mankind? Or will it become another focus for the arms race–and thus an area of dangerous and sterile competition? The choice is urgent. And it is ours to make.”

Eisenhower continued:

“The nations of the world have recently united in declaring the continent of Antarctica ‘off limits’ to military preparations. We could extend this principle to an even more important sphere. National vested interests have not yet been developed in space or in celestial bodies. Barriers to agreement are now lower than they will ever be again. The opportunity may be fleeting. Before many years have passed, the point of no return may have passed.

Let us remind ourselves that we had a chance in 1946 to ensure that atomic energy be devoted exclusively to peaceful purposes. That chance was missed when the Soviet Union turned down the comprehensive plan submitted by the United States for placing atomic energy under international control. We must not lose the chance we still have to control the future of outer space.”

Eisenhower proposed four basic terms of agreement:

“1. We agree that celestial bodies are not subject to national appropriation by any claims of sovereignty.
2. We agree that the nations of the world shall not engage in warlike activities on these bodies.
3. We agree, subject to appropriate verification, that no nation will put into orbit or station in outer space weapons of mass destruction. All launchings of space craft should be verified in advance by the United Nations.
4. We press forward with a program of international cooperation for constructive peaceful uses of outer space under the United Nations. Better weather forecasting, improved world-wide communications, and more effective exploration not only of outer space but of our own earth-these are but a few of the benefits of such cooperation.”

According to President Eisenhower, “Agreement on these proposals would enable future generations to find peaceful and scientific progress, not another fearful dimension to the arms race, as they explore the universe. But armaments must also be controlled here on earth, if civilization is to be assured of survival. These efforts must extend both to conventional and non-conventional armaments.”

It would take six years of subsequent sessions of the General Assembly, considering declarations and resolutions, to address these issues before U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Minister for Foreign Affairs A. A. Gromyko would begin to agree, in 1966, upon the space treaty’s basic principals.

The Outer Space Treaty (Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies) entered into force in October 1967. The treaty provides the basic framework on international space law, including the following principles:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

The Outer Space Treaty was soon followed by the Rescue Agreement (1968)(Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space), the Liability Convention (1972)(Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects), and the Moon Treaty (1979)(Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies).

As of February 2019, 108 countries are parties to the Space Treaty, while another 23 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification.

President Johnson would state that Article IV of the Space Treaty, the prohibition on placing nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit, on celestial bodies, or “station them in outer space in any other manner,” would be “the most important arms control development since the 1963 treaty banning nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in space and under water.”

On Friday, December 9, 1966, the NY Times ran the headline:

President Greets Accord As a Major Step to Peace

Image graphic UN Space Treaties COPUOS

What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?

-President Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983, Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) speech

Since the Outer Space Treaty was ratified, it has been tested.

Questions arose about the prohibitions on weapons in space during the height of the US-USSR arms race. In the late 1950s, prior to the treaty’s ratification, the U.S. Air Force even considered detonating an atomic bomb on the Moon. Ostensibly for scientific research, the idea was generally considered as a display of U.S. superiority to the Soviet Union and the rest of the world. After a top secret study, code named Project A119, the idea was scrapped. A mission to the Moon via the Apollo program was considered much more persuasive, and much less antagonistic. A young graduate student named Carl Sagan had assisted with the study.

Among both the U.S. and Russian designs for anti-satellite weaponry, the Soviet’s 1970s space program included a 23-millimeter automatic “Space Cannon.” Mounted on the Salyut space station, such conventional weapons, however, don’t violate the treaty. With President Ronald Reagan’s announcement in 1983 of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), dubbed the “Star Wars” defense system by Senator Ted Kennedy, the issue was once again raised. Various ideas that were considered for SDI included directed energy weapons (DEWs), such as a particle beam weapon, lasers, and plasma weapons. Also considered was a hypervelocity railgun and nuclear shaped charges.

Image SDI
[President Reagan points as he addresses the nation on television March 23, 1983, from Washington in support of his proposed defense budget. At left is a picture of Soviet Migs in western Cuba (AP Photo: Dennis Cook)]
More recently, the use of ASATs (anti-satellite weapons) have come into question, along with the legality of President Donald Trump’s proposed 6th branch of the U.S. military, the U.S. Space Force and the possible military use of the Moon.

In March 2018, when President Trump announced the creation of the Space Force during a speech at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, he stated, “My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a warfighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea.” A version of the president’s policy was first included in the 2019 NDAA, which created a “U.S. Space Command” when signed into law in August 2018. With President Trump’s signature of “Space Policy Directive 4” (SPD-4) on February 19, 2019, all uniformed and civilian personnel currently supporting space operations will funnel into the Space Force.

On March 26, 2019, at a meeting of the National Space Council, Vice President Mike Pence declared that American astronauts will walk on the moon again before the end of 2024 “by any means necessary.” Pence raised concerns about China and Russia, saying “We’re in a space race today, just as we were in the 1960s, and the stakes are even higher.”

“Under the President’s leadership, NASA will lead the way back to the moon,” Vice President Pence said, “starting with the construction of a Lunar Orbital Platform — the Gateway — which will provide a scientific outpost, supply center, and eventually a fuel depot, and will give our nation a strategic presence in the lunar domain.” Pence added, “From this orbiting platform, and with our international and commercial partners, American astronauts will return to the moon to explore its surface and learn how to harness its resources to launch expeditions to Mars.”

Since Vice President Pence made that announcement, on January 3, 2019, China’s space agency CNSA landed the Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover on the far side (the “dark side”) of the Moon. By the end of 2019, China is expected to land its Chang’e-5 mission on the Moon and return regolith samples to Earth. China aims to launch a third space station into Earth’s orbit by 2022, to establish a manned lunar base before 2030, and to use that lunar base as a jumping off point for future trips to Mars.

While the Outer Space Treaty prohibits the use of “nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction” in space, the treaty also states:

“The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on celestial bodies shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration of the Moon or other celestial bodies shall also not be prohibited.” (Art. 4, Para. 2).

On November 25, 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 (sometimes referred to as the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015). The SPACE Act explicitly allows U.S. citizens to “engage in the commercial exploration and exploitation of ‘space resources’ [including … water and minerals],” opening the door for U.S. companies to explore, extract, and recover space resources – otherwise known as “space mining.” Some scholars have argued that this recognition of the ownership of space resources violates the Outer Space Treaty.

Interestingly, the Moon Treaty has been considered a failure as it has not been ratified by the United States, most of the members of the European Space Agency, Russia or China. Currently only 18 countries are parties to the treaty. The Moon Treaty seeks to increase the obligations and prohibitions set forth in the Outer Space Treaty, by among other things, ensuring that the Moon must be used for the benefit of all mankind. For example, Article 3 states:

1.  The moon shall be used by all States Parties exclusively for peaceful purposes.
2.  Any threat or use of force or any other hostile act or threat of hostile act on the moon is prohibited. It is likewise prohibited to use the moon in order to commit any such act or to engage in any such threat in relation to the earth, the moon, spacecraft, the personnel of spacecraft or man-made space objects.
3.  States Parties shall not place in orbit around or other trajectory to or around the moon objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction or place or use such weapons on or in the moon.
4.  The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on the moon shall be forbidden …

Article 4, dealing with scientific exploration, states, “The exploration and use of the moon shall be the province of all mankind and shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development.” In conjunction with Article 4, Article 11 states, in part:

1.  The moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind …
2.  The moon is not subject to national appropriation by any claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.
3.  Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person …

The two biggest competitors to U.S. space dominance, Russia and China, have demonstrated surprising capabilities in recent years. In 2015, Russia reorganized its space forces under a distinct entity, Aerospace Forces. In the same year, China established the Strategic Support Force, which is responsible for space and cyber missions. China’s rise in the space domain came amid much fanfare when a successful 2007 anti-satellite missile test threw debris into orbit around Earth, endangering numerous other satellites. Subsequent tests, which produced no collateral debris, have attracted far less attention but have demonstrated Beijing’s increased capability in space.

Russia, meanwhile, has also entered a presumably grey area with its RS-28 Sarmat nuclear ICBM. While the U.S. State Department has recently condemned the development of the missile system as a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, it did not allege a violation of the Outer Space Treaty. If considered a “Bombs in Orbit” weapon system, some believe the RS-28 Sarmat, may violate the Space Treaty.

Since 2015, the U.S., China and Russia have launched 15, 11 and 10 military-class payloads into orbit respectively. The European Space Agency (ESA), which charter stipulates that it should pursue space programs for “peaceful purposes” only, has launched only one, according to the FAA and Union of Concerned Scientists.

Todd Harrison, the Director of Aerospace Security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who authored a Space Threat Assessment report published by CSIS last year, told Lima Charlie News that missiles are not the only threat to U.S. assets in orbit.

“[W]hat is actually more difficult to deal with is non-kinetic threats to space systems.” Lasers, jammers and spoofers can confuse and render useless both civil and military space systems. Moreover, these systems are “relatively inexpensive to produce and deploy in large numbers” and thus being widely proliferated. Russian systems are in use in Ukraine and Syria, with suspected proliferation in North Korea as well.

At last year’s Space Symposium, Lima Charlie News’ Don Martinez spoke with one of the leaders of the “Russian delegation,” cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who is also the Executive Director of Piloted Space Flights at ROSCOSMOS. Krikalev, who was first selected as a cosmonaut in 1985, and who has been awarded, among other honors Hero of Russia and Hero of the Soviet Union, ranks third for the amount of time spent in space: a total of 803 days, 9 hours, and 38 minutes.

Martinez asked Krikalev how mankind can leave politics aside and establish peace in space.

“It’s a challenging environment so in order to be efficient to work together we need to work in peace and in cooperation,” Krikalev said. “The Russian community is already working together for many years on the International Space Station project discussing ways how [we can fly] beyond Earth’s orbit. We should do this cooperatively because it’s the most efficient way to do it.”

Martinez asked, “And you have hope that we’ll get there?” To which Krikalev replied with a smile, “Well yeah, that’s why we’re working.”

This year’s Space Symposium comes on the heels of closed-door meetings between 25 spacefaring nations to determine just how militarized space will be. If successful, the meetings, which will end on March 28th, will result in a legally binding international treaty to define the rules guiding both space-based and anti-space weaponry.

The key point of contention in the talks is the U.S. displeasure at China and Russia’s development of anti-satellite capabilities, such as jammers and ground-to-space missiles.

“In the past, we have assumed that space is mostly a benign environment,” Brig. Gen. Tim Lawson, Deputy Commanding General for operations of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, said in the “Army Space Today” panel at last year’s symposium.

“That is no longer true. Future conflicts with a near-peer competitor will likely extend into the space domain. The first shots in a future conflict could be in space, done through jamming and spoofing, anti-satellite weapons and cyber attacks,” Lawson continued.

This year’s Space Symposium will feature discussions on the future of space as it pertains to sustainable space exploration, artificial intelligence and data, the impact of social media, the law of space, women, war and weaponry, and the commercial sector. The conference will also honor the legacy of high achieving figures in space whilst drawing on the global perspectives of diverse speakers who are undoubtedly shaping history on their quests into space. Among many other notable participants, Senior Army Aviator and astronaut LTC Anne C. McClain will be speaking at the Symposium. Dr. Kathryn C. Thornton, former astronaut and Vice Chairman of the Space Foundation Board of Directors, will also be at the conference.

Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.
-Carl Sagan

Everyone’s in Space!

Image Lima Charlie Space Foundation Space Symposium
[Graphic: Lima Charlie World (NASA photo of astronaut Mike Hopkins during Dec. 24, 2013 spacewalk)]
In addition to the over 70 countries with space agencies, regional intergovernmental agencies have also been formed. These include the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (European GNSS), and the Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO). Additional regional organizations have also been proposed or are now a reality.

The first Pan-Arab Space Agency, the Arab Group for Space Collaboration, is now underway, as of just two weeks ago. An African Space Agency (AfriSpace), with Egypt as its host country (draft statute), has also been proposed, along with a South American Space Agency (SASA).

Numerous specialized organizations have also been created. The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), and the International Committee on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (ICG) are just some. Intersputnik is an organization in which 26 member nations, mostly former Eastern bloc (FSU) nations, collaborate in the development and common use of communications satellites.

Some governments or national space agencies enter into Framework Agreements for specific bilateral space projects, with Implementing Agreements (or Implementing Arrangements) to provide for specific mission details. An example is the International Space Station (ISS) Intergovernmental Agreement. The ISS cooperation is governed by a three-tier legal framework:

(a) the 1998 Intergovernmental Agreement on Space Station Cooperation (ISS/IGA) signed by the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, and participating Member States of ESA; (b) the 1998 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between NASA and ESA, Roscosmos and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), as well as NASA and the government of Japan; and
(c) various “Implementing Arrangements” between NASA and another space agency, when the need arises.

Expected to operate until 2030, the first component of the ISS was launched into orbit in 1998, its first long-term residents arrived in November 2000, and it has been inhabited continuously since that date. As of March 14, 2019, 236 people from 18 countries had visited the space station, many of them multiple times.

Organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF) also foster cooperation where space agencies, governmental bodies, international organizations, private companies, universities, and research institutes from over 40 countries and regions take part in an annual conference.

Even when I see countries pushing apart internationally and in other areas, in space we will continue to cooperate.
-Dr. Alice Bunn, International Director, UK Space Agency

The U.S. Space Symposium is also an example of a forum for cooperation (via the U.S. Space Foundation) that can bring together countries and leaders in the space industry.

At this year’s 35th annual Space Symposium, leaders of government space agencies from around the world will speak, such as Dr. Mohamed Nasser Al Ahbabi, the Director General of the UAE Space Agency, and Dr. Grzegorz Brona, President of the Polish Space Agency.

Dr. Erna Sri Adiningsih, Prime Secretary of Indonesia’s space agency, the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (or Lembaga Penerbangan Dan Antariksa Nasional)(LAPAN), will also speak, along with Dr. Thomas Djamaluddin, Chairman of LAPAN. Indonesia is one of about two dozen countries that have also codified a national space policy. (See list with links to laws and regulations submitted to UNOOSA and list with links by the European Centre for Space Law [ECSL]). The Indonesian Space Act (ISA, 2013), a 60 page document that begins with the pronouncement, “BY THE BLESSINGS OF ALMIGHTY GOD,” aims to achieve self-sufficiency and competitiveness for Indonesia in space activities. It also aims to capitalize on Indonesia’s geographic advantage (a vast equatorial territory situated between two continents and two oceans), “for the advancement of civilization and the prosperity of the people of Indonesia and for all human kind in general.” Indonesia’s space activities include meteorology, navigation, communication,  exploration, remote sensing, commercial use, along with military applications that include command, control, computer intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Along with Indonesia, SpaceWatch recently published a report about Southeast Asia’s emerging space programs, estimating that ASEAN’s space industry, as of 2018, is valued at U.S.$360 billion and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 5.6 percent, and reach a value of U.S.$558 billion by 2026. According to the report (citing Euroconsult), in 2012, Vietnam was the largest spender (U.S.$93 million), followed by Laos (U.S.$87 million), Indonesia (U.S.$38 million), Thailand (U.S.$20 million), and Malaysia (U.S.$18 million). Except for Singapore, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Brunei, all have yet to establish a dedicated space agency or space program, with most collaborating with other countries or companies for satellite access.

Notably, the report states that the ASEAN space programs overall “are motivated largely by socio-economic requirements and a desire to nurture self-reliance in the area of security. They are interested less in prestigious projects such as sending missions to outer space, and more in enhancing economic development using better technologies, as well as, for some of them, competing in commercial markets for providing space services.”

Representing Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is astronaut Dr. Koichi Wakata, who, as of this writing, accumulated 347 days 8 hours 33 minutes in space spanning four missions, setting a record in Japanese human space flight history for the longest stay in space. Dr. Wakata also become the first Japanese ISS Commander, in 2014. Wakata will be joined by Dr. Hiroshi Yamakawa, President of JAXA, and Takayuki Imoto, Project Manager, Epsilon Rocket Project Team, JAXA.

This Friday, Japan’s space agency JAXA successfully dropped an explosive on an asteroid for the first time. JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft released a basketball-sized copper ball to form a crater in the asteroid, in order to make way for the collection of samples beneath the asteroid’s surface. The mission was particularly dangerous because the Hayabusa2 had to move quickly out of the way of the debris from the impact. The asteroid, “162173 Ryugu” (Dragon Palace) is named after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale. Ryugu, which measures approximately 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) in diameter, orbits the sun every 16 months and is about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth.

Dr. Sang-Ryool Lee, Vice President of Korea’s Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) will be speaking as well. In December 2016, KARI signed a lunar exploration technical cooperation agreement with NASA in connection with Korea’s Lunar Exploration Program. A lunar obiter known as “Pathfinder” will be equipped with five payloads developed in Korea, and one payload to be developed by NASA.

Vibrant space programs have also emerged out of the Middle East, North Africa (MENA).

Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Chairman of the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) will also be speaking at the Space Symposium. UAESA, which was established in 2014, entered into an agreement with Bahrain’s National Space Science Agency last year to train a “Bahrain Space Team” tasked with developing satellite technology, design, construction, testing, launching, operations, and control, and carrying out environmental studies.

In an interview with The National, Al Falasi stated that UAE space programs and initiatives include the UAE Astronaut Program, the Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope Probe project, and a project known as “Mars Scientific City”.

Image [Graphic of the United Arab Emirates plan to make a human colony on the red planet by the 2117. (Bjarke Ingels)]
[Graphic of the United Arab Emirates plan to establish a human colony on the red planet by 2117. (Bjarke Ingels)]
In 2008, the UAE had initially proposed the establishment of a Pan-Arab Space Agency, which stalled for years, until it was rejuvenated just weeks ago. On March 19th, 11 Arab nations signed the charter of the Arab Group for Space Collaboration at the 2019 Global Space Congress in Abu Dhabi, which had been organized by UAESA.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai announced, “Today … we attended the signing of a charter to establish the first Arab body for space cooperation, bringing together 11 Arab states. Its first project will be a satellite that Arab scientists will jointly develop in the UAE. This satellite will be called ‘813’, which is the year in which the House of Wisdom in Baghdad reached the height of its reputation during the reign of Al-Ma’mun. The House of Wisdom brought together scientists, translated books of knowledge and became a place where the region’s scientific community flourished.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid vowed in 2017 to send four Emirati astronauts to the ISS by 2022. Current members of the Arab Group for Space Collaboration include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Dr. Francisco Mendieta, from Mexico, is another speaker on the roster. He serves as the Director General of the Mexican Space Agency, which signed a collaboration agreement with the Hellenic Space Agency in early 2019. Christodoulos Protopapas, the President of the Hellenic Space Agency of Greece, will also be speaking at the Symposium. The two space agencies have agreed to exchange scientists, plan joint events and seminars, and collaborate at national and international space conferences.

Anthony Murfett, Deputy Head, will be speaking on behalf of the Australian Space Agency. The ASA launched a new brand in December 2018, one that “is a result of consultation with members of Australian Indigenous communities and Indigenous astronomy experts.” According to ASA, “Indigenous Australians are our first scientists and astronomers, and their knowledge and contributions to Australian science are reflected through the new Australian Space Agency brand.” As a result, the ASA brand consists of a night sky view, including “eight Aboriginal constellations and star maps.”

The Australian Civil Space Strategy just this April released its 2019-2028 outline of Australia’s plan to “transform and grow” its space industry over 10 years, identifying four Strategic Space Pillars.

IMage Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019 – 2028
[Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019 – 2028]
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA)(or Agence Spatiale Canadienne [ASC]), is represented at the Space Symposium by its President, Sylvain Laporte. Canada embarked on a new space strategy in March, 2019, committing to a $1.4b investment over the next 3 decades. In addition to investment in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Canada is moving to be a key partner in NASA’s Lunar Gateway program – hopefully joining the U.S. in future moon exploration.

From Italy, the Special Commissioner of the Italian Space Agency, Piero Benvenuti will be speaking as well as Donato Amoroso, CEO of Thales Alenia Space, an aerospace manufacturer that focuses on satellites. Thales Alenia Space has recently made news for incorporating 3D printing into the production of its satellites. On March 21, the Italian Space Agency launched a rocket carrying a new PRISMA Earth-observation satellite that is designed to collect information for environmental monitoring, management of natural resources, pollution and crop health.

Dr. David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, for the European Space Agency (ESA), will be speaking, along with Dr. Johann-Dietrich Wörner, the Director General of the ESA, tasked with coordinating the manifold space programs across Europe. This means managing Europe’s relations with outside space agencies, most frequently NASA. In February, Wörner brought Israel’s Aeronautics Industry into partnership with Europe for future moon exploration and colonization.

The Portuguese just founded a space agency (FCT) in March, 2019, with Dr. Chiara Manfletti taking over as President. Portugal’s ambitions are laid out in the ‘Portugal Space 2030’ plan, and includes intentions to turn the Azores into an international “space port.”

The Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), France’s space agency, is represented by Dr. Jean-Yves Le Gall, its President. CNES is partnering with yet another country, India, which is working with the French to mount their first manned space mission, and to develop space surveillance technology for maritime security.

The Netherlands, represented by Nico J. van Putten, Deputy Director, Netherlands Space Office (NSO), is the technical heart of the broader European Space agency. The European Space Research and Technology Centre, based in the Netherlands, is the principle R&D center for Europe’s space technology, and employs over 2,500 engineers.

Dr. Marc Serres, Chief Executive Officer for the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA), will also be speaking. The LSA is currently negotiating with Russia on an agreement to cooperate in the mining of space minerals. The LSA already has space mining agreements with Japan, Portugal, and the UAE.

The United Kingdom is in the process of disentangling its space program, the UK Space Agency (UKSA), from the broader European space program, and will be represented at the Space Symposium by Dr. Graham Turnock, Chief Executive Officer, and Dr. Alice Bunn, International Director. UKSA was formed in 2010 to replace the British National Space Centre (BNSC). The UK is focused on competing in the design and production of low cost and reusable telecommunications satellites.

Dr. Bunn, Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, is also vice chair of the Council of the European Space Agency, and sits on the Board of Directors at the Space Foundation. Dr. Bunn recently delivered a TEDx Talk, “How diplomacy in space can inspire cooperation on Earth,” citing how, for example, international collaboration of satellite navigation systems and communication technologies can aid in addressing global environment issues, such as climate change, environmental security, and emergency response systems worldwide. Dr. Bunn states that space operations are “loosely marshaled” mainly by UN procedures which “tend to be voluntary in nature … tend to take many, many years of international negotiation, and I’m afraid, because of that they are often quite out of pace with technological development.”

“[E]ven when I see countries pushing apart internationally and in other areas, in space we will continue to cooperate … I am extremely hopeful that we will continue to cooperate.”

Dr. Bunn cites the International Space Station (ISS) as a prime example, “a marvel of international cooperation.”  103 countries have been involved in that program. “We have been living and working side by side in space for 18 years.” Bunn notes that NASA’s head recently cited it as “the most powerful example of international cooperation in the history of mankind.” Dr. Bunn looks ahead to the next step, a space station that orbits the moon.

“Space really forces you to take a big perspective. It forces you to look beyond cultural and political barriers.”

Unfortunately, there are no scheduled speakers this year from ROSCOSMOS, India’s ISRO or China’s CNSA. At the Space Foundation’s 33rd Space Symposium 30 countries attended, including China and Russia. At the 34th Space Symposium, more than 9,000 people from more than 40 countries including a delegation from Russia.

In 2018, Sputnik News reported about the Space Symposium with the headline, “Cosmonautics Demonstrates How US, Russia Should Work Together – Roscosmos”. Another report stated, “The Space Symposium comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the United States. ” It quoted Anton Zhiganov,  Executive Director for Business Development and Commercialization at ROSCOSMOS, “the cooperation between countries is fruitful because there will never be a single leader in space.”

“Despite the deterioration of relations between Moscow and Washington, space cooperation continues to flourish. In September, Roscosmos and NASA reached an agreement to build a gateway to future deep space missions in lunar orbit. The gateway’s segment that Russia intends to build will serve as an exit for cosmonauts going on spacewalks.”

Despite China’s public push for peace in space, recent satellite imagery has revealed the existence of secret anti-satellite weapons bases in territories like Tibet and Xinjiang. China has also been harboring electromagnetic pulse weapons testing facilities. These secret facilities are just part of a larger picture of China’s CNSA placing special emphasis on military space programs, testing its first anti-satellite weapon in 2005, and even threatening the U.S. military with special “trump card” space weapons in 2014.

Pierre Delsaux, a Deputy Director General at the European Commission, told Lima Charlie News at last year’s Space Symposium:

“We are at the Space Symposium because we want to explain that Europe is very important in space. For instance, during the last hurricane season in the U.S.,  the U.S. used images coming from Copernicus (the EU imaging satellite) to rescue people in Florida. The U.S. State Department thanked the EU for its contribution to helping saving lives in the U.S.”

Cooperation among the world’s space agencies is critical to both science and security. It is also critical to safety and the environment.

Image Pierre Delsaux, a Deputy Director General at the European Commission
[Pierre Delsaux, a Deputy Director General at the European Commission, at the 34th Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, Colorado (Photo: Don Martinez)]
Clear skies with a chance of satellite debris.
-Dr. Ryan Stone, as played by Sondra Bullock, in the film Gravity

Space Junk and ASATs

Waves of debris from a shattered satellite, destroyed by a Russian ASAT (anti-satellite weapon), race past George Clooney and Sondra Bullock traveling at thousands of miles per hour, devastating the fictitious space shuttle Explorer and the International Space Station. “Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission,” George Clooney’s character Matt Kowalski had prophesied.

Despite taking some significant liberties with reality, the 2013 blockbuster film Gravity struck a chord with civilians worldwide. Military, space and academic experts had voiced concern about space junk and ASAT threats for years.

Space debris, or space pollution, has been a critical issue for some time now, particularly for its potential damage to existing satellites and orbital space stations. NASA reported in 2013 that more than 500,000 pieces of “space junk” tracked traveling at speeds up to 17,500 mph orbit the Earth. This doesn’t include many millions of pieces of debris that are so small they can’t be tracked. A 2015 GAO report indicated that the Air Force Joint Space Operations Center provided 671,727 collision warnings during 2014. This comes out to more than one warning per day for every satellite in orbit.

According to NASA, even tiny paint flecks can damage a spacecraft when traveling at these velocities, which has in fact resulted in damage to space shuttle windows. NASA has its own Orbital Debris Program tasked with studying and attempting to control space debris.

Weeks ago, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India had successfully launched an ASAT (Mission Shakti), making India the fourth country capable of destroying an enemy satellite, after the U.S., Russia and China. Reportedly, the U.S. military is monitoring over 250 pieces of space debris resulting from the test, sparking similar concerns from China’s 2007 ASAT test which left a large debris cloud in orbit. G. Satheesh Reddy, the chief of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization told Reuters, “That’s why we did it at lower altitude, it will vanish in no time.”

At a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on NASA’s proposed budget on March 27, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was asked about the problem of space debris by U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo. “Is it getting worse? How are we going to address that?” Palazzo added, “do we have any type of law in place that prevents other countries from detonating or exploding or polluting our space?”

“Yes, space debris is getting worse not better,” Bridenstine replied. “It’s important to note that NASA is a part of what’s called the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee [IADC] … they have assessed … that every 5 to 9 years we are going to have a collision in orbit similar to the Iridium-Cosmos collision that occurred back in 2009 … in other words every five to nine years we’re going to have a collision that results in thousands of pieces of orbital debris that is trackable, which means there’s thousands of more pieces that are not trackable at this point.”

Formed in 1993, in addition to NASA, the IADC consists of 13 member space agencies that include China’s CNSA, Russia’s ROSCOSMOS, Ukraine’s SSAU, and India’s ISRO. The Iridium-Cosmos collision occurred on February 10, 2009, when an inactive Russian communications satellite (designated Cosmos 2251) collided with an active commercial communications satellite operated by U.S.-based Iridium Satellite LLC. The collision produced almost 2,000 pieces of debris, measuring at least ten centimeters (4 inches) in diameter, along with many thousands more smaller pieces of debris.

Bridenstine warned, “[d]ebris ends up being there for a long time. If we wreck space, we’re not getting it back.”  He added, “it’s also important to note that creating debris fields intentionally is wrong. That’s an important point. Because some people like to test anti-satellite capabilities intentionally and create orbital debris fields that we today are still dealing with, and those same countries come to us for space situational awareness because of the debris field that they themselves created.” Bridenstine added, “the entire world needs to step up and say ‘if you’re going to do this you’re going to pay a consequence’ and right now that consequence is not being paid.”

At this year’s Space Symposium, representing Poland’s space agency, Polska Agencja Kosmiczna (POLSA), is its President Grzegorz Brona, who is also co-founder of Creotech Instruments S.A., one of the largest Polish companies operating in the space sector. This February, Poland joined the Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) Consortium, which was established by the European Commission in 2015 to track space debris. EUSST began with five EU Member States (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK), adding Poland, and soon Portugal and Romania’s ROSA space agency.

At last year’s Space Symposium, Lima Charlie News interviewed Jason Held, CEO of Saber Astronautics, who built a technology called DragEN (Deployable for Recovery through Atmospheric Gravity ENtry), an electrodynamic tether designed to drag satellites back to Earth, where they would combust upon re-entry.

Held warned, “We expect the number of small satellites to triple in the next ten years so management of space debris is critical. This is both a problem of controlling the debris itself as well as giving mission operators the tools to respond to debris fields in the first place.”

Held, a U.S. Army veteran and leader of an Army Space Support Team (ARSST) for USSTRATCOM (formerly Space Command), told Lima Charlie World this month that the DragEN is currently in use by university projects with a flight scheduled next year in Australia by CUAVA (the ARC Training Centre for CubeSats, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and their Applications). CubeSats, a new class of small, low cost satellites that utilize UAVs (or nanosatellites), have “disrupted” the international satellite market. Over 1000 CubeSats have been launched as of January 2019.

Held said that previously DragEN was part of NASA Flight Opportunities, “which we used to validate rollout stability and deceleration of the device. Next step is to make it retractable and to research mechanisms to increase the lorenz force (which is the mechanism to deorbit).”

Held also developed “PIGI” (Predictive Interactive Groundstation Interface), a unique Mission Control software, “which uses some really good visuals so operators can manage large numbers of space objects with minimal training uptime.”

Saber Astronautics has also developed tools that will assist tracking (that ties into PIGI), “but that’s not released yet.”

Image Jason Held Saber Astronautics
[Jason Held, CEO Saber Astronautics, demonstrates P.I.G.I., at the 34th Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo: Don Martinez)]

Military Veterans & Space

Military veterans are often key figures in space programs worldwide. In the U.S. alone, 219 of the 330 current and former astronauts have previously served with the armed forces. The current Director General of the UAE’s Space Agency is also a veteran of the UAE Armed Forces.

At last year’s Space Symposium, Lima Charlie interviewed dozens of military veterans that had transitioned into space programs or the space industry. Don Martinez asked each for any advice on how best to enter the space field.

Lt. Col. Mark M. Moody served as engineer officer with the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard. He is now a lead NASA engineer for testing rocket propulsion. He recommended internships available to veteran students saying that there is a “one-stop shopping initiative [called OSSI] which offers college students intern opportunities at NASA.”

Image Lieutenant Colonel Mark M. Moody
[Lieutenant Colonel Mark M. Moody, Lead, Rocket Propulsion Test Program Office, NASA, at the 34th Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, Colorado (Photo: Don Martinez)]
Jay Heberle, a former operations specialist in the U.S. Navy, recommended that veterans in the space industry be prepared for rapidly evolving technologies, affirming that space is “an ever-changing great business.”

Patrick Parnell served with the U.S. Army and Air Force as an Intel and Special Weapons officer, and he is now Vice President of Sales at Epoch Concepts. He noted that the “core values of mission and character and integrity” that veterans gain during their service is important to the space industry. “Stay plugged in tight with your military brethren,” he said, in order to transition those values stateside.

Jim Gillespie, a 32-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, mentioned that Canadian service members can actually register with a couple of agencies to get into the space field. “We actually have a preference for hiring veterans,” Gillespie said.

Duane Carey, an astronaut and retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force commented that working in space enables people to see “the big picture” and take a different perspective on what militaries are fighting about in the first place.

Scott “Scooter” Altman, a retired U.S. Navy captain, told Lima Charlie that “space is a great way to establish peace relations and understanding” given his experience working with veterans from the armed forces of other nations.

Lima Charlie will have multiple reporters on the ground recording and reporting on the many conversations, panels, and exhibits at this year’s Space Symposium. Stay tuned to Lima Charlie World for the latest from the 35th Space Symposium.

Anthony A. LoPresti, LIMA CHARLIE NEWS

[Don Martinez and Diego Lynch contributed to this article]

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The Philippines, U.S., China make for a tough week at the International Criminal Court

Image The Philippines, U.S., China make for a tough week at the International Criminal Court [Lima Charlie News]
The Philippines, U.S., China make for a tough week at the International Criminal Court [Lima Charlie News]

The International Criminal Court is having a tough week. With the Philippines leaving the body, the U.S. threatening to deny visas and sanction investigators, and an unlikely prosecution of China’s activities in the South China Sea, the organization has a lot on its plate. However, the ICC is likely just an afterthought on a long list of problems currently facing the Philippines.

The Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC), became effective on March 17. The Philippines is the second country to withdraw from the 124 member organization, after Burundi left in 2017. It had initially ratified the statute on Aug. 30, 2011, and entered it into force on Nov. 1, 2011.

The ICC’s mandate is to help put an end to impunity for the most serious crimes that are of concern to the international community. Since the ICC began functioning in July 2002, 44 individuals have been indicted for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

In the Philippines, the ICC’s main focus has been the analysis and investigation of crimes committed since July 1, 2016, in the context of the “war on drugs” launched by the Philippine government. It has been alleged that thousands have been killed in extrajudicial killings due to their alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade in the course of police anti-drug operations. The ICC had been investigating whether President Rodrigo Duterte and other high ranking officials committed mass murder and crimes against humanity during the high profile drug crackdown. An inquiry had begun after a Filipino lawyer that represented two men who said they had been assassins for Duterte filed a complaint.

[Rodrigo Duterte (Right) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) inspecting Chinese troops during a state visit.]
While Duterte’s government had announced it was withdrawing from the ICC a year ago, pursuant to court rules, the withdrawal could not take effect for at least 12 months. An injunction seeking to stay the move was rejected by the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Undeterred, the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement that the ICC would continue to have jurisdiction over possible crimes committed during the period the Philippines was a member. The ICC tweeted, “Our independent & impartial preliminary examination into the situation in The Philippines continues”.

Duterte has threatened to arrest Bensouda if she enters the Philippines.

Bensouda, who worked as a trial attorney before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, became chief prosecutor of the ICC in 2012. Since then, in addition to the Philippines, she has initiated investigations of alleged crimes committed in the Colombian civil war, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Myanmar’s repression of the Rohingya, Ukrainian crackdowns during the Maidan protests, and the UK’s occupation of Iraq.

In November 2017, Bensouda had advised the ICC to also seek charges for alleged human rights abuses committed during the War in Afghanistan by the U.S., the Taliban, and the Afghan National Security Forces. Then U.S. Ambassador John Bolton maintained that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the U.S., which did not ratify the Rome Statute.

Just last week, in another blow to the ICC, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that members of the ICC investigating alleged war crimes committed during the Afghanistan war will now be denied entry to the United States. Pompeo added in a statement that, “These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent.” Pompeo also warned, “These visa restrictions will not be the end of our efforts. We are prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions if the ICC does not change its course.”

In his remarks to the press Secretary Pompeo added:

“Since 1998, the United States has declined to join the ICC because of its broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers and the threat it poses to American national sovereignty. We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation. We feared that the court could eventually pursue politically motivated prosecutions of Americans, and our fears were warranted.”

Pompeo stated that the U.S. “supports international hybrid legal mechanisms when they operate effectively and are consistent with our national interest”, but “the ICC is attacking America’s rule of law. It’s not too late for the court to change course and we urge that it do so immediately.”

Image [U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Yuri Gripas / Reuters]
[U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Yuri Gripas / Reuters)]
Last week, just two days before the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC took effect on March 17, two former Philippine officials and a group of fishermen filed an ICC complaint against Chinese President Xi Jinping alleging crimes against humanity over environmental damage in the South China Sea. They claim that China’s actions have deprived thousands of fishermen of their livelihood and destroyed the environment.

The officials charged that Xi and other Chinese officials committed crimes “which involve massive, near-permanent, and devastating environmental damage across nations.” These include turning seven disputed reefs into islands causing extensive environmental damage and blocking thousands of Filipino fishermen from their fishing grounds.

Former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, who filed the complaint with former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, said at a press conference, “I think if I were China I would take this seriously because this is not our first encounter with them. It’s our second encounter and we are very serious about winning this encounter as well.”

Both former officials assert, “while China is not a party to the Rome Statute, the Court can take jurisdiction over Chinese nationals, who commit ICC crimes in the territory of the Philippines, during the time when the Philippines was a State Party to the Rome Statute.”

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, however, that the complaint “may be a futile exercise” as both China and the Philippines are not members of the ICC.

In addition to assertions that the ICC doesn’t cover environmental damage, Panelo appeared to over stress certain technicalities in support of the government’s position. “[T]he ICC has never acquired jurisdiction over us given that the Rome Statute never took effect as the requirement of publication in a newspaper of general circulation or in the Official Gazette was not complied with, which publication is a requirement in our jurisdiction before the said Rome Statute or any law for that matter becomes effective and enforceable.”

However, despite the government’s position, a 2016 policy paper issued by the Office of the Prosecutor, citing article 93(10) of the Rome Statute, has stated that the ICC “will also seek to cooperate and provide assistance to States, upon request, with respect to conduct which constitutes a serious crime under national law, such as the illegal exploitation of natural resources, arms trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism, financial crimes, land grabbing or the destruction of the environment.”

Yet while politics plays itself out in Manila, the average Filipino appears to be relatively unaware or unconcerned with either the recent departure of the Philippines from the ICC or the complaint filed over China. And with good reason.

Fuel prices climbed to .96 USD/liter in February 2019, approaching the highs experienced in late 2018. This has had a ripple effect across the Philippine economy. High inflation rates and additional excise taxes, part of a second phase of controversial tax reform package, threaten to further raise fuel prices as well as prices for basic goods. This will likely affect employment. Compounding this, a recent poll found that 16 per cent of highly educated Filipinos will likely depart the country for overseas jobs. The Philippine government’s shift from income to consumption taxes will impact the poor as they do not qualify for some of the income tax exemptions.

Manila has also been hit by its worst water shortage in years, with rolling water outages for about half of the Philippine capital’s approximately 12 million people during which water supplies are stopped from four to 20 hours per day. This shortage is a result of a lack of rain and some infrastructure issues. This has had a significant effect on the population and has required several public hospitals to use supplemental supplies from water tankers, and some hospitals have limited admissions of patients. The disruption could last until July, when monsoon rains typically hit and help to replenish the regional reservoirs – one of which is at a two-decade low.

Security has also suffered a major setback. There has been a resurgence of activities by Islamic State (IS) affiliated terrorist groups operating in the Southern Philippines. The primary groups are the Maute group, Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Ansar Khalifa Philippines – all of which pledged allegiance to the Syrian IS and its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, in 2014.

Two suicide bombing incidents, one at a security checkpoint in Lamitan, Basilan, on July 31, 2018, and another at a church on the island of Jolo on January 27, 2019, have illustrated a disturbing trend. In addition to the adoption of suicide tactics, the Lamitan bombing involved a foreign terrorist with ties to Abu Sayyaf, part of an the influx of foreign fighters. Suicide tactics are relatively new as Filipino terrorist groups have, by and large, avoided it due to their belief that they are warriors, preferring to engage in combat. The effectiveness of these two attacks has clearly shown how efficient suicide tactics can be, and, with the influx of foreign fighters fleeing the conflict in Syria, there may be more “suicide volunteers” available. This strategy would allow the various local terrorist elements to retain their trained fighters while recruiting suicide volunteers from the foreign ranks.

Image [Aftermath of the suicide attack on the Cathedral on the island of Jolo, the Philippines, on January 27, 2019. (Credit: Armed Forces of the Philippines)]
[Aftermath of the suicide attack on the Cathedral on the island of Jolo, the Philippines, on January 27, 2019. (Credit: Armed Forces of the Philippines)]
These two acts of violence have also demonstrated the ability of IS to join with other militant movements and fan the flames of local conflicts by striking a high profile target like a cathedral, the premier church in a Catholic diocese. Over the years, fighters from Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia fought with IS forces in Iraq and Syria, and they have begun returning to their homelands, strengthening IS’s reach and tactical power into the local extremist groups in Southeast Asia.

Successful large-scale attacks, especially if they expand their operations to the main island of Luzon, might attract the attention of the Islamic State and increase their investment in the Philippines. This could, in turn, cause foreign fighters to migrate to the Philippines, increasing the strength of local terrorist groups in the country. This would result in a serious heightening of the security situation in the developing country, and it would advertise this location as fertile ground for radical Islamic fundamentalist expansion.

In the midst of these crises, President Duterte appears to be preoccupied. Duterte has publicly lamented that the origin of the name “Philippines” lies with European colonizers, and he has expressed support for a new name stemming from the indigenous Malay culture. Unfortunately, the new name Duterte has suggested, “Maharlika,” is problematic itself. While its exact meaning is disputed (interpretations range from “man of ability” to “big phallus”), it is actually derived from Sanskrit, not the Malay language. Many have conjectured that perhaps Duterte’s proposal is not a genuine one, but rather a shock tactic used to distract from the Philippine’s bigger problems. As Deirdre de la Cruz, a Filipina historian at the University of Michigan, said, “Honestly, most Filipinos have a lot more to worry about than being haunted by the ghost of King Philip.”

Thomas Pecora, John Sjoholm and Anthony A. LoPresti, LIMA CHARLIE NEWS

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

Thomas Pecora is a former CIA Senior Security Officer who retired after 24 years of service protecting Agency personnel. He managed large security programs and operations in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and in the war zones. He has over 29 years of experience in crisis management, personnel/physical security, and counter-terrorism. As Director of Pecora Consulting Services, he provides security vulnerability and threat assessments, as well as personal safety and crime prevention/avoidance skills training.

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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Is Russia Failing in Ukraine? A Diminishing Threat

Image Is Russia Failing in Ukraine? A Diminishing Threat [Lima Charlie News]
Is Russia Failing in Ukraine? A Diminishing Threat [Lima Charlie News]

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues, with the threat of a potentially greater conflict emerging, critical factors have emerged that severely mitigate Russia’s ambitions. Along with shifting military capacities, and a shifting reliance on Russian gas, Ukraine has a blossoming relationship with its newest partner – China.

In February 2014, Russian troops began their attack on Ukraine. This attack left most of Eastern Ukraine in the hands of ‘separatists’ and Russian soldiers. The conflict ostensibly created independent separatist states in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. A sham referendum on the return of Crimea to Russia was then promoted. As Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the annexation of Crimea, further threats were advanced towards Ukraine through a sponsored military conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Each day the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission reports of battles between Ukrainian and Russian-sponsored troops in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Between 2014 and 2018, this military conflict continued in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,000 people have been killed and thousands displaced.

On November 25, 2018, Russian ships attacked and boarded three Ukrainian vessels in the Crimean port of Azov near the Black Sea. A freighter was placed to block the port, under the claim that Ukraine had violated Russian waters. As these conflicts continue, the underlying treaties and protocols which had been agreed upon to regulate relations between Russia and Ukraine have been violated by Russia at almost every opportunity.

Yet, despite these apparent threats, and the threat of a potentially greater conflict between Russia and Ukraine, critical factors have emerged that mitigate Russia’s aims. Chiefly among them are Ukraine’s increased ability to defend itself against Russia militarily, Russia’s decreased military capacity, a diminishing reliance on Russian gas, and most of all, Ukraine’s blossoming relationship with its newest partner – China.

Image [A Ukrainian soldier loads a tank with shells near Donetsk. (Photo: Alexei Chernyshev / Reuters]
[A Ukrainian soldier loads a tank with shells near Donetsk. (Photo: Alexei Chernyshev / Reuters]

Background to the Conflict

In 1992, the USSR broke apart into the Russian Federation and a host of former territories once part of the USSR. These formerly allied states were granted or asserted their autonomy and became independent states. Some joined NATO. The former Warsaw Pact nations were no longer in the thrall of Moscow and went their own way. It was only Ukraine which remained a problem.

In April 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev had prepared a treaty recognising the breakup of the USSR into autonomous republics, but was prevented from signing the treaty by the attempted coup against him in August of that year. On August 24, 1991, the coup had failed and Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk, head of the Ukrainian parliament, passed a motion declaring the independence of Ukraine with him as its first leader. A referendum in December 1991 voted Kravchuk in as the first President of an independent Ukraine.

It was at that point that the U.S. became deeply involved in Ukrainian politics. The U.S.’s primary concern was strategic; the control of Ukraine’s nuclear weapons. At that time, Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power in the world. The U.S. demanded that Ukraine immediately remove its nuclear weapons to Russia where they would be destroyed, and demanded that Ukraine immediately sign the SALT 1 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Ukraine’s denuclearization was established with three international treaties. First, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, President Clinton, and Kravchuk signed the Trilateral Accord in Moscow on January 14, 1994, with Ukraine committing to “the elimination of all nuclear weapons, including strategic offensive arms, located in its territory.” The accord was buttressed with paragraphs of American-Russian security guarantees.

The United States and Russia stated that they “would reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe Final Act), to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of the CSCE member states and recognize that border changes can be made only by peaceful and consensual means. They also reaffirmed their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, and that none of their weapons would ever be used in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”[i]

In a private letter to President Clinton, Kravchuk promised that Ukraine would he nuclear free by June 1996. The three parties met again in Budapest with the U.K. on the 5th of December 1994 and signed the NPT; the Budapest Memorandum.

According to the Budapest memorandum, Ukraine would become party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and effectively cede its nuclear arsenal to Russia. Russia, the U.S., and the UK would:

  1. Respect Ukrainian independence, sovereignty and existing borders.
  2. Refrain from threatening or using force against Ukraine.
  3. Refrain from economically pressuring Ukraine.
  4. Seek immediate United Nations Security Council action,”if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used”.
  5. Refrain from using nuclear weapons on Ukraine.
  6. Consult with one another should questions arise regarding these commitments.

The Black Sea Fleet and Russian Gas

The next area of concern was the division of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet.

It has always been a key military concern of the Russian State (from the czars onward) to have access to a warm-water port for its navy. Unfortunately for the Russians, the independence of the Ukrainian state left its key warm-water ports (Sevastopol, Odessa, and Nikolayev) entirely under Ukrainian control. The Russians were keen on maintaining their Black Sea Fleet in the Black Sea and operating the large Soviet naval fleet stationed there.

The Ukrainians entered into discussions with the Russians on the division of the fleet of warships in the Black Sea ports and the leasing of Ukrainian ports to the Russian Navy. This change in the status of the Soviet Navy was conducted within the framework of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) which was being negotiated between NATO and the Warsaw Pact organisations.

NATO, essentially a euphemism for the Pentagon, played an important role in advising the Ukrainians on its Black Sea Fleet issues. It also generated the creation of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which, then and now, plays an important role in the relationship between NATO, the Ukraine and Russia.

In June 1993, then Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement essentially splitting the fleet in half. The agreement quickly fell apart. Ukrainian and Russian military leaders objected to their losses of either ships or ports. In September 1993, and again in April 1994, the Black Sea Fleet agreement was renegotiated.

On 28 May 1997, after nearly five years of controversy, the dispute was finally settled when Prime Ministers Chernomyrdin and Lazarenko signed three intergovernmental agreements. They would divide the fleet’s assets while leasing port facilities in Sevastopol to the Russian Navy. Both nations split the fleet’s ships evenly, while Russia agreed to buy back some of the more modern ships with cash. As a result, Russia ultimately received four-fifths of the Black Sea Fleet’s warships, while Ukraine received about half of the facilities.

The two leaders agreed that Russia would rent three harbours for warships and two airfields for a twenty-year period, for a payment of about $100 million annually. Sevastopol, which had been partly under Russian control, was given to Ukraine.[ii]

Image US President Clinton, Russian President Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Kravchuk after signing the Trilateral Statement in Moscow in January 1994 that became the basis for the Budapest Memorandum.
[US President Clinton, Russian President Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Kravchuk after signing the Trilateral Statement in Moscow in January 1994 that became the basis for the Budapest Memorandum.]
A crisis, however, would soon develop in August 2008.

Several Russian Black Sea Fleet warships dropped anchor off the Georgian coast during and after the August 2008 Russian armed conflict with Georgia over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ukraine, which sided with Georgia and NATO during the conflict, repeatedly said that Russian Black Sea combat ships regularly transported undeclared cargo to the Georgian enclaves and refused to submit customs declarations while crossing Ukrainian territorial waters. The U.S. intervened diplomatically for the Ukrainians to support them in their pressure on the Russians in the Crimea not to use their ships to intervene in the Georgian war. As a result, then Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko announced that Ukraine would not extend the lease of the Sevastopol base beyond 2017 and urged the Russian fleet to start preparations for a withdrawal.

The war in Georgia, which was supported by NATO and the European Union, and the threat by the Ukrainians that Russia would lose its warm-water naval bases in Crimea, provoked Russia to retaliate against both Ukraine and the European Union. Russia threatened to cut off supplies of natural gas to Ukraine and Western Europe. In January 2009, these threats were made real when Russia reduced exports of gas to Europe by 60%. Europeans pressed for some sort of a compromise. The dispute was framed as a commercial dispute over prices and payments, but there were far more strategic concerns involved – the Black Sea Fleet. While the U.S. supported the Ukrainians in their defiance of the Russian threats, Europeans pressed for some sort of a compromise which would let the gas flow to their countries.

The Ukrainians were caught in the middle. Europe was desperate for Ukraine to do whatever it took to assuage the Russian gas threat, while the U.S. and its NATO allies pressed the Ukrainians to follow through on ending the Russian leases which allowed them a presence in the Black Sea. Despite the arguments brought forward in favour of each of these policies, a realistic assessment of the situation was made that there was no substitute at that time for Russian gas, so a compromise would have to be reached with Russia.

After much discussion, a compromise was reached and the Ukrainian and Russian parliaments, on 27 April 2010, ratified a deal to extend the lease on Russian naval bases in Ukraine for 25 years after the then current lease expired in 2017. In return, Ukraine received a 30% discount on Russian natural gas. Europe got its gas restored.

This began an accelerated process in Europe to bring the government of Ukraine under its wing and control which could prevent further confrontations on the transport of gas.

Although Ukraine was not very interested at that time in joining NATO, it was interested in establishing a relationship within the aegis of the European Union. During her periods in office, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had met with representatives of the European Union under the terms of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) which aimed to create a ring of friendly states allied, but not members, of the European Union. She became the voice of Europeans in the Ukrainian leadership.

The U.S. policy was far more confrontational.

The ‘neocons’ who dominated U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine were loath to lose the opportunity of denying Russia the use of naval bases in the Black Sea, especially after the Georgian War. While vaguely sympathetic to the Europeans, their main enemy was seen as Russia, and any diminution of Russian power and influence was a main concern. Their keymain supporters within Ukraine, President Viktor Yuschenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko, had just lost control of Ukraine in the national election of a new President, Viktor Yanukovych who had taken office on the 25th of February 2010. Yanukovych was the President from the Donbas region (mainly Russian-speaking) which the Yuschenko and Tymoshenko governments had largely ignored or opposed during their presidencies. That meant that the ratification of the treaty extending Russian occupation of the naval bases was being considered by the Rada (Parliament) under a political majority controlled by Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions.

The ratification process of the treaty in the Rada took place amid violent protests by the opposition, which called the deal an “act of treason.” Former President Yushchenko criticised the new government for “trading sovereignty for gas.” “What happened in the Supreme Rada is a military usurpation; I am convinced that this is not the end,” he said at a media briefing.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called on citizens to rise against the current leadership. However, despite protests, the Rada ratified the treaty on 27th of April 2010.

image [Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. (Photo: SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP)]
[Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. (Photo: SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP)]
The European Union continued to encourage Ukraine to move closer to EU accession. However, the first thing the EU wanted was to control Ukrainian energy policy so it could protect the European-wide price of gas. In December 2009, the Energy Community Ministerial Council decided on the accession of Moldova and Ukraine to the EU. On December 15, 2010, Ukraine ratified the Energy Community Treaty and became a full Contracting Party of the Energy Community with a legal commitment to adopt EU energy, competition and environmental directives.

In May 2010, President Yanukovych promised to adopt the legislation necessary for creating a free trade zone between Ukraine and the European Union. Further discussions in the next year led to proposals for even closer bonds between the EU and Ukraine. They were broken off, however, when former PM Tymoshenko was arrested and jailed for corruption under politically motivated circumstances by the Yanukovych government. The EU would put the accession of Ukraine on hold until Yanukovych freed Tymoshenko.

Although the EU would agree to accept the accession of Ukraine into the EU, the Rada decided that before ratification there must be a three-way trade agreement which included Russia, to prevent a gas crisis, and ratification of the agreement with the EU was suspended.

This was not only a question of an argument about gas. Yanukovych had refused to sign the EU agreement because his supporters, primarily in the Eastern heartland, were bitterly opposed to its terms as they came with a long list of economic austerity programs. This resulted in considerable backlash within Ukraine at the refusal of the government to sign the agreement, and a repeat of the occupation by protestors of the Maidan Square (now called the Euro-Maidan) resulted.

Ukraine is in a far better place to defend itself against Russia militarily.

The Uprising in the East

A wave of demonstrations and civil unrest began on the night of 21 November 2013, with public protests in Independence Square in Kiev, and demands of closer European integration. These protests expanded, becoming a movement for the resignation of President Yanukovych and his government – a parliamentary coup. There was a great deal of violence in the square, by both the government and the various fascist nationalist parties who made up a substantial part of Yanukovych’s opposition. By 25 January 2014, the protests had been fueled by the perception of “widespread government corruption”, “abuse of power”, and “violation of human rights in Ukraine”.[iii]

As the protests continued, violence intensified, with shootings and beatings on all sides, resulting in about 80 dead and 600 wounded in the clashes at the square.

On February 21, after negotiations between President Yanukovych and representatives of the opposition, aided with mediation by the European Union and Russia, the agreement “About settlement of political crisis in Ukraine” was signed. The agreement provided a return to the constitution of 2004, that is to a parliamentary presidential government, carrying out early elections of the president until the end of 2014. It also provided for the formation of “the government of national trust”. The Rada and the international partners agreed. However, while this seemed generally acceptable as a compromise to the negotiators, the protestors and representatives of the U.S. government insisted on further concessions and the resignation of the President.

At this time, the economic situation in Ukraine was dire. It was running out of money. Ukraine turned first to its erstwhile partners in the EU, requesting 20 billion Euros (US$27 billion) in loans and aid. The EU, however, was only willing to offer 610 million euros (US$ 838 million) in loans, along with harsh conditions on the Ukrainian economy which would have required heavy austerity and changes to the law. On the other hand, Russia offered US$ 15 billion in loans and cheaper gas prices, without the onerous demands for an austerity program.

On the 21st of February 2014, believing that his time was up and that civil war was looming, President Yanukovych abandoned his office, fleeing to Kharkiv and later to Russia. The Rada met the next day to impeach Yanukovych for being unable to perform his duties. A date was set for new elections and, two days later, a warrant was issued for the arrest of the ex-President for the “mass killings of civilians”.[iv]

Image [Protesters gather in front of burning tires during clashes with riot police in Kiev, Ukraine, on Jan. 23, 2014. (Photo: Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters)]
[Protesters gather in front of burning tires during clashes with riot police in Kiev, Ukraine, on Jan. 23, 2014. (Photo: Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters)]
With the ouster of Yanukovych, Russia began supporting the rebelling regions of Donetsk and Luhansk which had supported Yanukovych. Arms, equipment and ‘irregular’ soldiers were sent to fight against the Ukrainian army. In mid-March, NATO revealed satellite photos showing Russia’s covert invasion of Ukraine’s eastern border. An EU emergency meeting added further sanctions on Russia’s oil and banking sectors. In April 2014, Russia supported local rebels which took over city halls and police stations throughout eastern Ukraine.

By July, Russia continued to strengthen its military force on the border. There were 19,000 to 21,000 troops massed, 14 advanced surface-to-air missile units, and 30 artillery batteries. It was clear that Russia could launch an attack into eastern Ukraine at a moment’s notice. Russia had already launched rockets across the border in support of Ukrainian rebels.

In an effort to prevent further violence, the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine was formed, which consisted of representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE. The group was established in June as a way to facilitate dialogue and resolution of the strife across eastern and southern Ukraine. Meetings of the group, along with informal representatives of the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, took place on 31 July, 26 August, 1 September, and 5 September, 2014. The details of the agreement, signed on 5 September, were called the Minsk Protocols. They agreed to twelve major points:[v]

  1. To ensure an immediate bilateral ceasefire.
  2. To ensure the monitoring and verification of the ceasefire by the OSCE.
  3. Decentralisation of power, including through the adoption of the Ukrainian law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts”.
  4. To ensure the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian border and verification by the OSCE with the creation of security zones in the border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
  5. Immediate release of all hostages and illegally detained persons.
  6. A law preventing the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that have taken place in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.
  7. To continue the inclusive national dialogue.
  8. To take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Donbass.
  9. To ensure early local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts”.
  10. To withdraw illegal armed groups and military equipment as well as fighters and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.
  11. To adopt a programme of economic recovery and reconstruction for the Donbass region.
  12. To provide personal security for participants in the consultations.

Despite the signing of the Minsk Protocols, skirmishes continued. Further talks took place in Minsk to try and resolve some of the issues which were continuing the violence. They would then sign a memorandum to the Minsk Protocols. These included:[vi]

  1. To pull heavy weaponry 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) back on each side of the line of contact, creating a 30-kilometre (19 mi) buffer zone
  2. To ban offensive operations
  3. To ban flights by combat aircraft over the security zone
  4. To withdraw all foreign mercenaries from the conflict zone
  5. To set up an OSCE mission to monitor implementation of Minsk Protocol

Despite this, the battles continued. The Minsk Protocols were essentially irrelevant.

In summary, Russia sent troops and equipment to carry on a war against Ukraine using its own troops and surrogates in the Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia annexed Crimea. It has taken effective control of the Azov Sea. It has violated the terms of the Trilateral Accord, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe Final Act, the Budapest Memorandum, the Agreement About Settlement of Political Crisis in Ukraine, and the two Minsk Protocols. Now Russia is beefing up its troop levels and naval vessels in and around Ukraine and is threatening further attacks, despite the ‘sanctions’ against Russia by the US and the EU.

Despite these apparent threats and the condonation of Russia’s behaviour by Europeans desperate for Russian gas, there are several factors mitigating Russia’s success.

Ukraine is in a far better place to defend itself against Russia militarily. It has had growing support from a more openly “neocon” foreign policy direction by the United States. There has also been a formidable decline in Russia’s ability to afford or achieve the modernisation of its military equipment, along with a lack of competent manpower. Among this, there has also been a diminishing reliance (despite Nord Stream 2) by Europe for Russian gas.

Most of all, Ukraine has a growing relationship with its newest partner, China.

Image map Ukraine Russia
[Live conflict map of Ukraine / Russia eastern border as of March 23, 2019 – Courtesy of]

The Russian Reliance on Ukrainian Military Technology

One of the major difficulties of the Russian military stance towards Ukraine has been the fact that the most developed facilities for military production were located in Ukraine. The Russian Army had been starved of new equipment for over twenty years, and much of what it had available was built in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military-industrial complex “is the most advanced and developed branch of the state’s sector of economy.” [Ukraine Intelligence & Security Activities and Operations Handbook, Vol. 1: Strategic Information and Regulations; IBP, Inc., November 29, 2017]. There are about 85 scientific organizations specialized in the development of armaments and military equipment, along with an air and space complex, and research, design and development institutes to design and build modern ships and armaments for the Ukrainian Navy. This includes the ability to design and build heavy cruisers, missile cruisers and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) cruisers. Ukraine’s military industrial complex, in conjunction with numerous scientific research institutes and scientific-industrial corporations, has the capacity to develop and produce substantial small arms, communications and automated control systems, intelligence and radio-electronic warfare equipment, and engineer equipment and materiel.

Perhaps the best example is the company Motor Sich. It has been the sole producer of engines for the MI-8 and MI-24 helicopters. It produced these engines for the Russian helicopter industry and a wide range of other military components. The air firm Antonov is based in Ukraine and is one of the major suppliers of aircraft for the Russian Air Force and for Russian arms exports.

The ability of the Russian industry to fill its own needs is compounded by the fact that it needs Ukrainian parts and subassemblies for its exports and consumption. Losing control of the Eastern Ukraine has jeopardised Moscow’s ability to fulfill multibillion-dollar international contracts without Ukrainian inputs.

Antonov also supplies the engines for the jointly-produced AN-148 planes. Ukraine and Russia had plans to produce 150 planes of this type worth $4.5 billion. Other exporters to Russia include Mykolayiv-based Zorya-Mashproekt, which sells several types of turbines to Russia, including those installed on military ships. Another is Kharkiv-based Haroun, which supplies the control systems for Russian missiles. The volume of Russian imports of major conventional weapons in 2009-2013 was 176 percent higher than for the previous five-year period of 2004-2008.

The Yasumasa plant in Dnipropetrovsk is the only service provider for Satan missiles that Russia uses. The Ukrainians are also the main supplier of spare parts which its armed forces desperately need. Russia is scrambling to supply domestic factories with the technology needed to produce these components inside Russia. However, much of the higher inputs of technology, especially in the electromechanical area, are sourced in France, Germany, Britain and the U.S., now effectively closed off to Russia by sanctions. Despite efforts by Russian troops in the Eastern Ukraine, many of the existing plants were attacked and damaged by the rebels of Donetsk and Lugansk. Additionally, the skill set of the Russian factories has been degraded by the demographic crisis of Russia and an ageing population.

Image An Mi-8 helicopter, whose production in Russia fully depends on Ukrainian Motor Sich's engines. Now a new Chinese-Russian helicopter will be jointly developed, as it becomes clear that Chinese investors will acquire a stake in the Motor Sich company. (Photo by Volodymyr Petrov)
[An Mi-8 helicopter, whose production in Russia fully depends on Ukrainian Motor Sich’s engines. Now a new Chinese-Russian helicopter will be jointly developed, as it becomes clear that Chinese investors will acquire a stake in the Motor Sich company. (Photo by Volodymyr Petrov)]
Russia did not have the capacity to replicate the Ukrainian military-industrial complex inside the Russian borders overnight, despite its bluff and bluster to the contrary.

When the Ukrainian government decreed that it was banning all military sales to Russia, it was a challenge to President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s generals. Where would they get the turbines for their ships, the missiles for their launchers, the transport aircraft for their soldiers, the engines for their helicopters, their spare parts, et al.? The Russian government tallied up the costs of modernizing its aging military forces equipment and concluded that it would total about $800 billion.

Vladimir Putin had campaigned for the presidency by calling for a rejuvenated Russian military. He published an article in Rosicky Gazeta outlining the massive spending he was intending to pursue in building up the armed forces. Unfortunately, Russia didn’t have the money, and arms manufacturers were in no position to use the funds even if they got them, owing to their state of dereliction and the disappearance of skilled workers in the machine-tool industry.

Not only was supply a problem, there were serious problems with quality.

For example, Uralvagonzavod, the country’s only tank manufacturer is a good case. Putin himself bowed to army pressure to place an order for 2,300 tanks to be built over the next 10 years, despite a statement by General Staff head Nikolai Makarov that the military would not be purchasing any tanks in the next five years due to their substandard quality. In an article in RIA Novosti on 15 March 2012, Ground Forces Chief Col. Gen. Alexander Postnikov said that the most advanced weapon systems manufactured for Russia’s ground forces are below NATO, and even Chinese standards, and are expensive: “The weapon models that are manufactured by our industry, including armour, artillery and small arms and light weapons, fail to meet the standards that exist in NATO and even China.” He said that Russia’s most advanced tank, the T-90, was in fact a modification of the Soviet-era T-72 tank [entered production in 1971] but cost 118 million rubles (over $4 million) per unit. “It would be easier for us to buy three Leopards [Germany’s main battle tanks] with this money,” Postnikov said.

Military modernisation was Russia’s key priority, but it was made infinitely more challenging by the loss of Ukrainian facilities, technology and skilled workers and, of course, international sanctions. President Putin has consistently promised more funds for this endeavour, but has been hampered by several key problems, some of which he cannot control.

For years, Russia has been in the midst of a demographic crisis – and it might be getting worse. There was a 5.4% decline in the birth rate between 2017 and 2018. Up until last year, the population has been holding somewhat steady, but the low birth rate, coupled with low immigration, made 2018 the first year there was a population decline in absolute terms.

Global tables of male life expectancy put Russia in about the 160th place, below Bangladesh. Russia has the highest rate of absolute population loss in the world. The Russian population is ageing, and Russia remains in the throes of a catastrophic demographic collapse. The population is expected to fall to 139 million by 2031 and could shrink 34 per cent to 107 million by 2050. Russia is suffering from a mass emigration of its populace, especially among the educated.

According to the State Statistics Service (SSS), approximately 4.5 million people moved out of Russia between 1989 and 2014. The smallest outflow occurred in 2009 when just 32,500 people emigrated, but the numbers began rising again after 2011, and in 2014 once again reached 1995 levels. The situation has gotten significantly worse. “Russian government statistics show a sharp upturn in emigration over the last four years … Almost 123,000 officially departed in 2012, rising to 186,000 in 2013, and accelerating to almost 309,000 in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea and even more in 2015.” [viii]

Image [Servicemen march during Ukraine's Independence Day military parade in central Kiev (Photo: Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters]
[Servicemen march during Ukraine’s Independence Day military parade in central Kiev (Photo: Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters]
It isn’t only the educated and the young who are leaving Russia. Their money is leaving even faster. According to expert estimates, for all the years, about $ 3 trillion has been exported abroad. “The net outflow of private sector capital from Russia in January-February 2019 amounted to $ 18.6 billion, which is 2.1 times more than the figure for the same period last year – $ 8.7 billion”, the Russian Central Bank reports. According to Bloomberg’s estimates, over the past 25 years, about $ 750 billion have been taken out to offshore jurisdictions from Russia. Calculations of the MGIMO professor Valentin Katasonov show that about $ 3 trillion were withdrawn from the country since the collapse of the USSR.[ix]

Bloomberg Economics calculations suggest some $750 billion in Russian assets moved offshore over the last 25 years. The bleeding appears to have slowed, though it’s unclear if this reflects tighter controls and mounting geopolitical risk, or if the flows have simply been getting harder to track.[x]

The cost of the continuing war in Ukraine and the massive bleed of Russian military resources in Syria are also taking a heavy toll on the Russian budget.

The cost of rebuilding Syria will make a heavy dent in Russia’s economic well-being. However, it has committed itself to a wide range of improvements in its military capabilities. This despite Russia’s lack of adequate shipyards, missile factories, available conscript manpower, essential electronic and guidance systems and subsystems blocked by sanctions. The burden of maintaining aged and decrepit equipment and an ever-expanding effort to extend its political reach into the Middle East, Africa and Latin America has increased dramatically.

Much of this is the traditional Russian policy of bluff and bluster but, with the official burial of the INF Treaty, it is engaged in some expansion of its intermediate range missile systems. Some of these efforts towards greater capability appear to be directed against Ukraine as Russia is stepping up its threat level as Ukraine prepares for elections.

Ukraine and Its New Friends

While Ukraine has continued its daily confrontations with the forces of the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions and Russian forces along its littoral Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts, the U.S. passed a $47 million U.S. military-aid package for 2018. The U.S. confirmed in March 2018 that it had delivered to Kyiv 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 37 Javelin launchers, as well as military trainers in their use and deployment. These had already had a marked effect on the deployment of tanks by Russia and the rebels. However, the Russian pressure on Ukraine has not ceased.

In mid-December 2018, Russia moved military convoys north on the Simferopol-Armyansk highway toward the border between Kherson Oblast’ in Ukraine and Crimea. Later that month, Russian submarines of the Black Sea Fleet conducted drills in the Black Sea to practice covert movements while submerged. Russia also shifted fourteen Su-27 and Su-30 fighter jets to Belbek Airbase near Sevastopol. This was, presumably, to begin an assault on the Dnepr River canal which provided fresh water to the Crimea before the Ukrainians blocked it. The Russians built a bridge over the Kerch Strait to bring supplies to Crimea; an unsteady bridge which is not expected to last too long because of the seismic conditions in the Strait, but it is low enough to block many of the commercial vessels shipping goods to and from the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdiansk.

The U.S. and EU have been pushing back against this attempt by Russia to strangle Ukraine economically, by sending vessels and missile cruisers to the area. Yet, Russia hasn’t stopped its continued pressure on Ukraine.

However, there is a new dimension to the power equation with the arrival of a large Chinese presence.

China has increased its involvement in Ukraine, using development assistance through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a rationale for its efforts. China’s main goal is economic benefits for itself and as a foil for the brake on Russian aggression which would threaten the BRI. China is strengthening its position in Eastern Europe to gain an advantage in its relations with Russia, the EU and the U.S.

For China, Ukraine is an important BRI partner. For Ukraine, China is its main Asian economic partner. In 2011, the countries signed a strategic partnership. By January 2015, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Chinese leader Xi Jinping discussed increasing cooperation during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In September 2017, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pawlo Klimkin, paid a visit to China, and then last December, Ma Kai, China’s vice premier, visited Kyiv.

China’s activities in Ukraine are ideal for its BRI mostly because of Ukraine’s transit-state position and its free-trade agreement with the EU. One of the main elements of BRI is establishing new railway connections between China and Europe. In 2016, Ukraine launched a test of a new rail-ferry line transporting goods between the Black and Caspian seas, but using other connections that exclude Russian territory. [xi]

Chinese investment has proved to be much less onerous than the strict rules of the EU and the Bretton Woods agencies which insist on managing “Ukrainian corruption”. China aggressively competes with Ukraine’s Western partners for a strong foothold in this important frontier economy, often with much less restrictions.

Combined with free trade agreements with the EU and Canada (the EU has become Ukraine’s largest bilateral trading partner at 30 billion euros [$35 billion] per year), along with steady U.S. trade, Ukraine remains a highly attractive partner to China and Chinese companies. With Beijing having pledged at least $7 billion for major Ukrainian infrastructure projects, Chinese companies, which often come in under budget and complete large projects ahead of schedule, are now major competitors with Europe for big infrastructure projects.

On the south-eastern Black Sea coast, the China Harbor Engineering company completed a $40 million dredging operation to give bigger ships access to Yuzhny port, while it’s been reported that ports in Odessa, Chornomorsk, and Izmail may also benefit. While Chinese companies tackle Ukrainian infrastructure projects such as coastal highways and roads built to withstand the burden of heavy, grain-laden trucks, others are investing in new grain silos and port elevators to help with transportation logistics. [xii]

China clearly sees Ukraine as a special area of interest, both for its location and for its agricultural productivity.

Along with direct access to the Danube River, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, Ukraine also has 22,000 kilometres of interconnected railway to Europe. With bilateral trade between Ukraine and China now exceeding US$7.6 billion a year, Ukraine also supplies China with the bulk of its corn consumption. A major Chinese agricultural giant, Noble Agri, has two assets in Ukraine, a sunflower seed processing complex in Mariupol, and a grain facility and port terminal in Mykolaiv which boasts a capacity of 2.5 million tons per year and storage capacity of 125,000 tons. Ukraine is the only European country where Noble Agri has a presence, while it competes worldwide with US companies like Cargill, Monsanto, and Bunge.[xiii]

Image [China Harbor Engineering Company vessels at the Yuzhniy Port in Odesa Oblast. Ukraine, Europe and Africa are growing targets of Chinese investment. (Photo courtesy of TIS)]
[China Harbor Engineering Company vessels at the Yuzhniy Port in Odesa Oblast. Ukraine, Europe and Africa are growing targets of Chinese investment.
(Photo courtesy of TIS)]
At the moment there is no open conflict between China and Russia over Ukraine. However, it is clear that China does oppose any expanded military initiatives between Russia and Ukraine, especially those which may close down its ports and rail lines. China has essentially economic interests in Ukraine, interests which will disappear if hostilities break out between the two. China has grown to be a much more formidable military power than Russia. Its military history is one which demonstrates the growth in Chinese power.

The most important conflict between the Russian military and President Putin may have arisen from Putin’s policy towards China.

Putin’s administration has been making every effort to engage with China, by asking for assistance to join with Russia as a consumer of its energy exports, as well as a builder of pipelines, ports and railroads. This includes growing a financial partnership. These efforts have put President Putin in direct conflict with the Russian military, which views China as a strategic enemy.

For decades there has been an intense competition between the two nations in their border regions, which at times has resulted in conflict and disputes over land. After a treaty was completed in November 1997 establishing the border between the two countries, and a 2004 Complementary Agreement returning some territory to China, relations have been strained since then as there is an increasing imbalance between the two sides; militarily, economically and in terms of manpower.

Russia has a very serious problem with China. There are too few Russians in the regions of Khabarovsk and Primorsky Krai to match the Chinese. Russia is being depopulated at a prodigious rate with many of those who lived in Siberia and the Russian East (Dalnevostok) moving West to the cities across the Urals. There are not enough Russians to conduct the business that will need to be done on a project as vast as the extraction of oil, the building of a pipeline and the establishment of roads, ports and infrastructure in that region. Even Russians admit that this work will be performed by Chinese labourers.

Russian companies do not have the manpower, the working capital, or the inclination to perform this infrastructural work. It has not improved with the continuing depopulation of the region. The dependence on Chinese manpower has had an important effect on Russia’s purported tilt towards China.

Russian politicians may think it makes sense to shift focus to co-operation with China, but the Russian military has no such compulsions. Russia’s military has voiced concerns over its naval bases in Sovetskaya Gavan and Bolshoi Kamen not far away. Officials were surprised that President Putin appears more concerned about NATO (6,000 miles away) than about China, a nation with a population of billions that shares a border a quarter of a mile away across the Amur and the Ussuri Rivers. There are concerns that Russia would not be able to prevent a Chinese decision to take back some of its lost lands in the Russian Far East. This issue has been compounded by the current Chinese military and economic expansion in the Arctic and the growth of China’s military exports to the world of products derived from Russian designs, but improved upon by the Chinese.

We are no longer bound by any limitations either on the range of our missiles, nor on their power – let the enemy know about it, too. We need high-precision missiles and we are not going to repeat the mistakes of the Budapest memorandum.

-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

The Ukrainian Response

The most important aspect of the Ukrainian response to the advances by China is in its military-industrial complex negotiations with the Chinese. China is trying to buy or control the vast military capability of Ukraine, which was denied to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

One key area of interest is helicopter manufacturing and Ukraine has the firm, Motor Sich, that is a world leader in building helicopter engines and other components, as well as turbine engines for warships. Ukraine and its Western partners are not willing to allow what many consider a national treasure to become Chinese owned. China, which has been buying components from Motor Sich since the 1990s, would greatly benefit from its trade secrets and key personnel. As long as Russia occupies Crimea and Donbas that business relationship remains blocked.

On the other hand, Ukrainians feel a new door has been opened for them by the U.S. leaving the INF Treaty. In March 2019, President Petro Poroshenko said that Ukraine was no longer bound with some limits regarding missile range and that Ukraine would now seek to develop high-intermediate precision missiles. Ukraine has the technology and the tools for this already.[xiv]

Poroshenko stated, “We are no longer bound by any limitations either on the range of our missiles, nor on their power – let the enemy know about it, too. We need high-precision missiles and we are not going to repeat the mistakes of the Budapest memorandum.”

With the resurgence of Ukraine’s defence industries, the rise of a working relationship between Ukraine and China, and the increasing active participation of the U.S. in supplying Ukraine with increased lethality, there are limitations of Russia’s ability to project hard power against the Ukrainians. Regardless, in no way does this diminish or impede Russia’s cyber efforts, or the use of trolls, hackers and subterfuge to alter the political destiny of Ukraine or its ability to choose its leaders without undue interference. That is a battle which will continue in the near future.

Dr. Gary K. Busch, for Lima Charlie News 

[Edited by Anthony A. LoPresti]

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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


[i] U.S. Department of State Dispatch:Trilateral Statement by the President of the United States, Russia and Ukraine in Moscow on January 14,1994
[ii] Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the NPT, UNDOC S/1994/1399
[iii] “Yanukovych Offers Opposition Leaders Key Posts”, RFE/RL 25 January 2014
[iv] “A warrant out for Viktor Yanukovych’s arrest, says Interior Minister”, Guardian. 24 February 2014
[v] “Minsk Protocol” (Press release) (in Russian). Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 5 September 2014
[vi] “Memorandum of 19 September 2014 outlining the parameters for the implementation of commitments of the Minsk Protocol” (Press release) (in Russian). Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 19 September 2014
[viii] Yelena Mukhametshina, Russia Must Deal With Catastrophic Brain Drain , Moscow Times, October 7, 2016
[ix] Crime Russia, “Capital outflow from Russia doubles since beginning of 2019, exceeds $18 billion” 12/3/19
[xi] Marcin Przychodniak, “China’s Involvement in Ukraine’s Economy Vis-à-vis Russia”, PISM 22/1/18
[xii] Jack Laurenson, Ukraine: “China Flexes Its Investment Muscle”, Diplomat,27/6/18
[xiii] Olena Mykal, “Why China Is Interested in Ukraine”, Kyiv Post, 10/3/16
[xiv] Interfax-Ukraine, “Poroshenko: Ukraine has no plans to repeat mistakes of Budapest memo, country needs high-precision missiles”, March 9, 2019

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 Sanctions and the Rise of Putin G.Busch APR 27 2018Image Lima Charlie News headline Putin's struggle


Strike a deal with which devil? The many faces of the Taliban

Image Strike a deal with which devil? The many faces of the Taliban [Lima Charlie News][Image: Anthony A. LoPresti]
Strike a deal with which devil? The many faces of the Taliban [Lima Charlie News]

18 years later, the U.S. is engaged in negotiations with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan. But what exactly is “the Taliban”? Contrary to popular belief, there is no single “Taliban” and America is now negotiating with a hydra-like creature to an uncertain end. Lima Charlie World’s John Sjoholm examines the history, names, events and intertwined activities that make up what is commonly referred to erroneously as the Taliban.

On March 7th, Taliban fighters engaged and wiped out an entire Afghan National Army (ANA) company of more than 50 soldiers. This was but the latest in a series of major tactical-level attacks by the militant Deobandi-group, all while pursuing a peace deal with the United States.

The Taliban are on the offensive. Not just tactically, but also in the strategic and optical sense.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Taliban have carried out a wide-spanning insurgency campaign that has killed, wounded or captured more than 400 ANA soldiers. This has put immense pressure on the U.S.-supported government in Kabul, which must also deal with an increasingly exasperated Washington D.C. leadership, upon which much of the future of Kabul’s government rests.

The devastating loss of an ANA company on March 7th happened in the northwestern Badghis Province, close to the Afghan western border to Turkmenistan. A large number of Taliban swarmed the ANA central base and its two security outposts near the ruins of the medieval city Marw al-Rudh outside of Bala Murghab. The ANA base called for air support assets to be deployed from a nearby base which houses air assets intended for such purposes. The call for support went unanswered. After a four-hour long battle, the Taliban forces breached the perimeter.

A few days later, on March 9th, yet another incident occurred in the same province. Soldiers at an ANA Forward Operating Base (FOB) spotted a group of men in the distance. With nerves still frayed from the March 7th attack, and fearing the group was a Taliban scouting party preparing for another attack, the Afghan soldiers engaged. Fearing that the FOB would fall at the hands of a numerically superior enemy, which was now returning fire, the base commander called for air support. This time, the central Afghan command answered the call to arms. American air assets sped towards the scene.

However, unknown to the soldiers at the ANA FOB, the group of men in the distance was actually a joint Afghan-American Special Operations team that had been patrolling nearby. There was no Taliban attack. Worse, the Afghan-American Spec Ops team, which thought it was under attack, had also radioed for air support.

An American air-to-ground missile (AGM or ATGM) struck the fireteam outside of the FOB. Of the 17 ANA soldiers engaged in the battle, six were killed. Nine others were badly wounded. On the Afghan-American side, one of the local commandos was reported wounded.

In the days that followed, ANA soldiers in the province began abandoning their posts amidst ongoing Taliban ground offensives. Most of the desertions were from the military Afghan Border Police units operating in the province. Fleeing across the border into Turkmenistan, initial waves of soldiers were able to do so largely undetected. The Turkmenistan Army quickly caught on. At least 100 Afghan soldiers, with some reports indicating more than 150 soldiers, attempted to flee but would face immediate expulsion from Turkmenistan once found.

In the past two weeks the province has suffered the loss of 78 soldiers killed, wounded or captured. Abdul Aziz Beg, head of the Badghis provincial council, stated that his “district is on the verge of collapse” due to the pressure that the Taliban is putting on it. By March 16th, the district had mostly fallen into Taliban control.

Saleh Mohammad Mubarez, the commander of the Afghan local police force in the district, stated to the New York Times that “the situation is very bad” and that “reinforcements have not been enough. The air force must help and launch airstrikes.

During the fighting on March 7th, pilots from the Afghan Air Force (AFA) did attempt to land two Mi-17 helicopters to deploy reinforcement troops. They were forced to abort after coming under intense fire from the Taliban fighters. In recent years, the quickly ageing AFA fleet of Soviet-era helicopters has become increasingly unreliable due to “hard use and poor maintenance”, to the point where pilots will avoid pushing the ageing airframes.

Earler this year, at the World Economy Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated that 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had died since he took office in 2014. This is the highest official number provided by the Afghan government to date. For reference, between 2001 and mid-2016 over 4,000 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers and civilian contractors, and over 62,000 Afghan national security forces were killed. The civilian death toll was reported at 31,000. By August 2016, the combined death toll in relations to the Afghan War stood at 173,000 dead and more than 183,000 seriously wounded.

While these events are taking place on the tactical ground-level, on the strategic level things are significantly different. Over crumpets in Doha, the capital of Qatar, negotiators from the Taliban and the United States are engrossed in negotiations over the future of Afghanistan. But just who are we negotiating with? Who are the Taliban?

It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.
General Robert E. Lee

Afghanistan: A Long History of War

What is today generally referred to as the Taliban has its origin as a faction within the U.S.-supported Afghan Mujaheddin-militia, which fought against the Soviet Union’s ten-year long occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. U.S. support of the Afghan tribal militia movements in their struggle against the Soviet Union did, at the time, serve a necessary strategic purpose, but has since become the very example of unintended consequences, or “blowback” in intelligence community phraseology.

The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, after a conflict that cost $36 to $45 billion and the lives of 14,453 Soviet soldiers, was completed on February 15th, 1989. With its withdrawal, the Soviet Union left its structured and chosen government in Kabul to fend for itself, with only minuscule amounts of covert funding from Moscow. Like Afghanistan today, the Soviet-Kabul government was utterly dependent on foreign money, skills and resources.

The lion’s share of non-Soviet money continued to stream through the coffers of the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Americans, along with the Saudis, relied nearly entirely on the ISI in guiding their funds to the “appropriate” destinations. The politicos in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, quickly took advantage of this opportunity and continued to cement their relationship with warlords and up and coming Islamic scholars.

Almost immediately, Pakistan based and supported Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar set his sights on Kabul. Hekmatyar’s ambitions led to a counter-alliance of other warlords being formed with Soviet-funding. The two primary players within this alliance were Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and the Tajik Ahmad Shah Massoud, also known as the “Lion of Panjshir”. Dostum and Massoud would seek to defend Kabul from Hekmatyar together.

Dostum and Massoud would be joined by Karim Khalili of the Shia-Hazara minority, an Iranian-backed warlord. Dostum provided helicopters and tanks to leapfrog the backcountry Panjshiri fighters into the heart of Kabul. However, by January 1992, the Soviets cut off funding as part of an agreement with the Americans to end their covert war, and by March, President Najibullah, often referred to as Dr. Najib, resigned from office.

Ahmad Shah Massoud (second from left) with mujahideen, Afghanistan during Soviet occupation

The post-Soviet years in Kabul are mostly lost to history and are perhaps the most turbulent ones for Afghanistan. Dostum and his band of loyal men initially joined Massoud in April of 1992, after arresting Najibullah, to battle Hekmatyar. Dostum and his largely Uzbek forces played a key part in preventing Hekmatyar’s total control of Kabul in 1992.

Until this point, the war had been fought in the countryside, leaving Kabul as a shining example of reconstruction and Soviet infrastructure planning. This is still evident in the ugly boxy apartments and government offices in Kabul. Massoud and Hekmatyar are credited with causing most of the destruction in Kabul, using stockpiled US-supplied weapons, during 1992.

By 1994, Dostum joined Hekmatyar against Massoud to prevent the complete destruction of Kabul. Kabul went from being merely a war-torn city in despair to becoming a bedlam of daily street to street fighting. This led to an attempt by some to pit Afghan against Afghan to completely destroy what remained of the capital. Throughout the country, whatever trace there was of a centralised government vanished. Dostum’s men finally fought their way out of Kabul and returned to the North. Dostum created a state within a state issuing his own currency, even having his own airline.

The first thing to recognize not just about Afghanistan but about any poor undeveloped country is that as big as it looks on the map, it’s much bigger when you’re there.
-Robert D. Kaplan

Enter, the Taliban

Amid this chaos, by 1994, a small group consisting of a mixture of former Mujahideen and Afghan refugees with more extreme beliefs emerged from the so-called madrasa, meaning religious schools, which had been created along the Afghan-Pakistani border. These schools were largely created by the Pakistani religious Sunni Deobandi political party Jamiat Ulema-e Islam, meaning Assembly of Islamic Clerics, and the ISI. The financing came primarily from the coffers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, distributed by the ISI.

During the later stages of the Afghan-Soviet War, these schools had educated tens of thousands of refugee children “in a spirit of conservatism and religious rigour” [1]. Many of these children would later come to join emerging local extremist groups. Many of these new groups would embody a new variety of political Islam, a “hybrid” between Salafi-Jihadism and Deobandi Jihadism.

Even more of these children would go on to continue the violent jihad throughout the world as organisers of insurgencies or terror attacks. Many of the thousands of so-called “Afghan Arabs”, foreign volunteer fighters mainly provided by Muslim countries in the fight against the atheist Soviets, after leaving Afghanistan went on to become “capable leaders, religious ideologues and military commanders”. [2]

The primary new and emerging group called themselves the “taliban”. The term Taliban or Talib has its root in the Pashto word tālib, meaning “student”. This first, proto-Taliban group was headed by Mohammad Omar, who would become known to the world as Mullah Omar in the subsequent years. He would recruit heavily from these border madrasa.

Together with a group of like-minded religious teachers from the Pakistani border region madrasa and pupils, the movement began rather humbly; fifty armed young men with twenty rifles, led by some thirty veterans from the Afghan Mujahideen movement. The majority of the young men came from the refugee camps. Initially, the group sought to clear the roads and combat the warlords in the southern parts of Afghanistan.

With a primary focus to combat the rampant corruption that had emerged from the civil war, they were initially welcomed by Afghans weary of warlord rule. They would also focus on the abolishment of the so-called Bacha Bazi. “Bacha Bazi”, in the literal translation meaning “boy play”, is commonly referred to in the West as “dancing boys”. This practice refers to the sexual relations between older men and younger adolescent boys, often involuntarily. Supposedly, Omar became sickened by the abusive raping of children by warlords and turned against their authority.

To accomplish their goals the Taliban initiated a recruitment drive. Recruitment was based around ground level optics that the Taliban could provide law and order in a land that had for so long only known lawlessness and anarchy.

Other, un-Islamic endeavours were also prohibited by the Taliban. This included the production of Afghanistan’s premium export— opium. After over a decade of constant war, Afghanistan’s ecological and agrarian potential was devastated. All but two percent of Afghanistan’s forest cover country-wide had been destroyed. The nation had, during the 1960s, been known for its wild pistachio trees, the roots of which had been exported worldwide for therapeutic uses. Of this, virtually nothing remained. All that did remain, as far as agricultural options were concerned, were the fiercely resilient papaver somniferum plant, more commonly known as the poppy plant. The poppy plant is the primary ingredient in poppy tears, more commonly known as opium. The Taliban would early on enforce a ban on poppy farming via threats, forced eradication, and public punishment of offenders.

Indeed, in July 2000, Omar would go as far as to collaborate with the U.S. over the eradication of poppy seeds and heroin production in Afghanistan. As part of this collaboration, the Taliban would aid and support U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents and United Nations observatory units in tracking and destroying opium fields in what would become the world’s most successful anti-drug campaign to date. By the end of Taliban government rule, opium poppy farming in Afghanistan saw a reported 99 per cent reduction, equaling 75 per cent of the world’s supply of heroin at the time.

It is important to note that while these numbers are in and of themselves verifiable, the intent behind the Taliban’s action is largely not. Dried opium can easily be stored long-term with little to no equipment. Some [3] observers have suggested that the actions of the Taliban were, in part, a case of elaborate [4] market price manipulation[5].

image [An Afghan man harvests opium in a poppy field while US soldiers look on in a village in Golestan district, Farah province, Afghanistan (Caption: The Telegraph; Photo: Reuters)]
[An Afghan man harvests opium in a poppy field while US soldiers look on in a village in Golestan district, Farah province, Afghanistan (Caption: The Telegraph; Photo: Reuters)]
The Taliban would eventually capture positions and provinces without firing a shot using Pakistani and Saudi money. They also carried out a diplomatic offensive by creating the “Peshawar Accord”, a power-sharing agreement between the new invaders and aligned tribal groups in the south. Local tribes would retain control of their areas in exchange for sharing income and security. Through success and religious dogma, the group quickly grew and became a noticeable ground force.

By 1996, the Taliban had entered a devastated Kabul. The strange westernised landscape was an affront to their 7th-century world view. TVs were smashed, cassette tapes gutted and women were forced to cover their faces. This direct conflict with Western NGOs resulted in a well funded PR campaign forever branding the Taliban as the enemy. Journalists were given one day tours to decry the lack of education for women, the wearing of beards and even Friday executions at the Olympic themed Kabul Stadium. The message, however, ignored the fact that US-backed Hekmatyar was far more backward and primitive than the Taliban. Under Taliban rule, Kabul saw the first lull in fighting since the Soviets had left.

With Kabul largely under Taliban control, the city settled into a calm but primitive dystopian centre. This control quickly grew so absolute that, on the eve of September 26, 1996, without firing a single shot, Taliban fighters walked into a secure United Nations compound which was providing a safe haven for former President, Dr. Najib. Once inside, on the personal order of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, they mercilessly beat and tortured Najib in front of UN personnel. Inches from death he was then tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged down Kabul’s streets. Dr. Najib’s brother, Ahmadzai, who had been staying at the UN compound was given much the same treatment, with the kindness of a bullet to the head first.

The Taliban next had to decide what to do with the north, an alien territory for the Pashtun group. The group quickly decided on a draconian campaign of scorched earth. They began airlifting Pakistani and Afghan fighters into Kunduz every 20 minutes while a motorised ground force swept to the west killing and burning villages as they encountered severe resistance.

Dostum, who had fought his way out and abandoned Kabul after he saw the destruction created by Massoud and Hekmatyar, rejoined his old foes against the Taliban. Dostum, Massoud and Karim Khalili created the Northern Alliance in 1996 to combat the encroaching mullahs. Massoud was able to hold out, but Pakistani money bought off Massoud’s number two commander forcing Dostum to flee to Turkey. By 2001 a few of Dostum’s men held out in the mountains while Massoud was getting funds from the Central Intelligence Agency and Iran to hold on.

A Taliban mullah speaks to a crowd in central Kabul in early Oct. 1996 (ROBERT NICKELSBERG)

The bloody, first civil war in Afghanistan raged from 1992 to 1996 and ended with the Taliban declaring Kabul the capital of their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA). The Taliban IEA operated alongside the internationally recognised, albeit failed, Islamic State of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The IEA would become a recognised nation by a select few, yet predictable cadre of nations: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would all publicly recognise it.

Omar’s rule over Afghanistan, in the shape of the IEA, would soon falter as the American military responded to al Qaeda, an ally whose leadership was under Taliban protection, after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier.
-Rudyard Kipling

The Taliban: An Origin Story

The Taliban movement’s ultimate goal, under Mullah Omar, was ambitious and on a strategic level; the creation of an Islamic nation-state. This state, which was supposedly established through the creation of the IEA, was intended to be ruled under established Sharia law. The belief that the IEA was actually governed by Sharia law is one often assumed by adherers of the Taliban cause, or by debaters seeking to appease the dialogue. To this day, one can enter a religious school in, for instance, Amman, the capital of Jordan, and be told that the “Taliban were the perfect Muslims” and that Afghanistan under their rule was the ideal implementation of Sharia. This is, however, a severe false narrative in a multitude of manners.

During the five years that the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, there was no genuine rule of law or an independent judiciary. Instead, the “rule of law” was an ad hoc rudimentary system, that was loosely based on the local Taliban commanders’ often draconian interpretation of Sharia law. As such, for example, the death penalty was extensively used through public executions, seeking to instill fear in observers. Adulterers were stoned to death in public. Thieves had a limb or two (one hand, one foot) severed. While aspects of these penalties are indeed part of the more reactionary interpretations of Sharia law, it was never solidified as a legal system that could reliably pass predictable verdicts, instead relying on impromptu decisions based on tribal dictums and the right of might. Often times, the courts were said to have been in sessions for mere minutes before passing judgment.

Omar’s movement would quickly grow, from the original 50 fighters to 12,000 fighters by the end of its first year. Most had been recruited from the conservative Pakistani-Saudi organised schools in the borderland area. As its numbers grew, the Taliban also began to take in more and more people with their own interpretations of what had to be, and how to accomplish this.

Predictably, the movement began to show signs of fracturing.

As the Taliban gained more and more power, Omar appeared more and more willing to let other, emerging power players take the reins. Soon Omar would become known as a “reclusive, pious and frugal” leader, seldom leaving the safety of his enclave. This description is eerily familiar to that of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the creator of the Islamic State in the Levant (IS, ISIS or ISIL).

In part, Mullah Omar’s decision to take a step back was likely a survival strategy. By awarding rule over provinces and districts to ambitious warriors, he could ensure that they would not coordinate and plot against his rule. A strategy employed by a multitude of rulers in the Roman, Ottoman and British empires, it works reasonably well so long as the majority of governors and military leaders remain loyal to their leader, the winds of war are favourable, and one’s rule is perceived as absolute. Even under reasonably ideal circumstances, the approach has historically shown to be a treacherous one.

By late 2001, neither the winds of war, nor Mullah Omar’s rule, were perceived as favourable. The proverbial wolf, dressed in the cloth of American and NATO forces, was at the Taliban’s door, making it impossible to slow the movement’s fracturing.

There is no rule of law in most of the southern parts of Afghanistan—the bullets rule.
-Antonio Maria Costa, Exec. Dir. UN Office on Drugs and Crime ((UNODC) 2002-2010)

The Many Faces of the Taliban

Mullah Omar’s Taliban would come to be referred to as the “mainstream Taliban”. To this day, while it still represents the majority of the Taliban movement in the tactical and political-strategic spectrum, it does not represent the entirety of the Taliban movement.

What is clear, is that the Taliban is not one unified movement. Nor is it one, as it is often described, homogenous movement of Pashtos. Instead, it is an umbrella term used to describe a series of different individual power players, affiliated groups and even agendas. While the Taliban largely consists of Pashtun, there are also noteworthy numbers of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmens within its proverbial ranks. These are in addition to the reportedly 1,000 non-Afghan fighters originating from outside of Central Asia, from such places as neighbouring China, Chechnya, Tunisia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Levant.

Those that attribute the Taliban epithet do, in the general sense, have commonly held beliefs. First one is, of course, the need for an ever-expanding Islamic state. Second is a wide array of grey, largely undefined, underlining tendencies. These tendencies can range from xenophobia (often found in Afghanistan), to ambitious jingoism, all the way to the somewhat paradoxical anti-imperialist notion. Another key belief that all Taliban factions share is a fear of progressive secular values and democracies thereof.

While it is true that the movement is largely one that originates from the ethnic Pashtun group, since its creation it has morphed out of necessity. In part, this morphing has occurred due to the need to draft from the nearly endless pool of recruits which happen to be foreigners, while also meeting the increase in competition from foreign Jihadist groups.

image [Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who lost an eye due to a shrapnel wound, died in 2013 [Rahmat Gul / AP]
[Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who lost an eye due to a shrapnel wound, died in 2013 [Rahmat Gul / AP]
As the Taliban movement matured it, much like al Qaeda, it became increasingly diverse in the interests and men that operated under its banner. As such, the increasing amount of internal strife began to result in a surge of break-away factions that were either direct competition or indirect competition with the Taliban umbrella group.

One such example, probably among the most high profile, is the Fidai Mahaz splinter group created by the (former-)Taliban commander Najibullah. Born in April of 1979, Najibullah joined the Taliban campaign at age 15, in 1994. As Western forces entered Afghanistan in 2001, Najibullah would become operational chief of insurgent forces inside Kabul. While operational chief, he would serve as sub-commander under the infamous Mullah Dadullah Akhund.

Mullah Dadullah had belonged to the original 50 Taliban and had been a close aide to Omar. Before joining Omar, Mullah Dadullah had participated in the war against the Soviets, during which he reportedly lost his right leg. He would gain infamy for two particular acts. The first was the violent suppression of a minority uprising in the Bamyan province in 2000. The second was the 2001 destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

When Mullah Dadullah died in a British-American Special Operations raid in the Helmand Province in 2007, Najibullah immediately took command of most of Dadullah’s forces.

Yet Najibullah would eventually leave the Taliban movement in protest for what he perceived as the group becoming overly moderate. In early 2012, the Taliban had established a diplomatic office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, to negotiate with the Afghan government. This, Najibullah held, was unacceptable. One does not negotiate with the enemy. As such, he would establish the Sacrifice Front of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, or Fidai Mahaz.

We don’t consider the battle has ended in Afghanistan … The battle has begun and its fires are picking up. These fires will reach the White House, because it is the center of injustice and tyranny.
-Mullah Mohammed Omar

Another example of the complexity of the Taliban movement is its Pakistani chapters. In December 2007, 13 Pakistani Deobandi militia groups would join to form the umbrella group Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) – the Taliban movement of Pakistan. The TTP would be headed by Baitullah Mehsud. Baitullah was the pupil of the infamous Pakistani Mujaheddin Nek Mohammad. Baitullah and Mohammed operated a network of safe havens throughout the Waziristan badlands. This was until June 2004, when Mohammad was killed in the first-ever U.S. drone strike inside South Waziristan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan. Baitullah’s TTP was created as a stand-alone group, without the permission of the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.

It would soon, however, join the fold under the mainstream Taliban-movement banner. By December 2008, the two leaders had put aside their differences. The TTP would join other South-Central Asian groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) under the Taliban umbrella. As part of this, TTP was reshaped into a new entity known as the Shura Ittehadul Mujahideen (SIM), meaning Council of United Mujahedeen.

SIM would last only a handful of months before internal friction caused the group to split into three new entities, one of which was again headed by Baitullah and named TTP. At its peak in 2014, TTP was believed to have a 25,000 strong fighting force.

As a member of the Taliban movement, Baitullah would become one of the most prolific of the leaders of the general movement. The ISI would soon place the 2007 assassination of the former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto at his feet. A September 2007 report from the United Nations attributed almost 80% of suicide bombings in Pakistan to Baitullah. Pakistani officials traced an estimated 90% of suicide and militant attacks within Pakistan throughout the 2007–2009 period to his South Waziristan stronghold. Baitullah’s reign of terror only ended when a U.S. drone strike ended him on August 5th, 2009.

After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future.
– President Barack Obama

Is this a dagger which I see before me?

In April 2013, Mullah Omar died under somewhat questionable circumstances. According to some reports, he was assassinated by Mullah Akhtar Mansour who would succeed him in 2015. Between 2013 and 2015 the mainstream Taliban-movement operated without an elected leader since Omar had refused to name an heir to the proverbial throne. During these years, Mullah Mansour had to settle for the title of political committee chief of the Taliban movement.

As a result of this, many of the inner Taliban leadership would come to separate from the mainstream Taliban-movement, more so as it came under the leadership of Mullah Mansour.

The doubt that Mansour’s leadership met has many causes, some more legitimate and fundamental than others. Part of that doubt comes from the persistent and hard-to-kill rumour that it had been Mansour that shot Omar. This after Mansour, allegedly, having poisoned Omar’s kidney medicine shipments from Dubai for years.

Another is that under Mansour’s leadership opium production yet again bloomed. The Taliban opium harvesting ban was de facto dropped in 2008, as the Taliban needed additional sources of revenue to fuel their insurgency. In the areas under Mansour’s control, the Taliban allegedly increased their involvement in trade logistics. This stands in contrast with the areas that are under the control of other Taliban commanders, such as Mullah Manan, the Taliban commander of the Helmand Province, who continued Omar’s dictum of seeking out and destroying opium harvests and production facilities.

Image Mullah Akhtar Mansour
[Mullah Akhtar Mansour]
Another example of fracture is Mullah Muhammad Rasul, who believed that Mansour had hijacked and corrupted the movement. Mullah Rasul would go on to create the Taliban splinter group known as the “High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate.” It has operated as a form of a mediating group between the various warring factions, including external groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS-KP), also known as Wilayat Khorasan. It has also offered a tacit level of support to the Afghan government, deeming it the lesser of evils.

As Mansour’s role as the Taliban frontman became increasingly fraught with controversy, he staunchly refused the notion of negotiating with Kabul or the U.S. This despite the growing number of Mullah Omar-era Taliban leaders that advocated for negotiations.

Mansour’s rule would come to a sudden end on May 21st, 2016, when an AGM-114 Hellfire missile struck the taxi he was riding in, having been launched by a U.S. military MQ-9 Reaper drone above the N-40 National Highway, near Ahmad Wal. Both Mansour and his accompanying bodyguard died in the explosion. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama subsequently stated that he had hoped Mansour’s death would lead to the Taliban joining peace negotiations.

On May 26th, 2016 Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada was named the successor of Mansour. He had previously served as deputy commander for Mansour. Unlike the controversy surrounding Omar, Mansour had apparently sought to ensure a clear line of succession, naming Akhundzada as his successor in his will.

Akhundzada would also initially reject the notion of peace talks with the West. This attitude appears to have changed by October 2018.

The king who is situated anywhere immediately on the circumference of the conqueror’s territory is termed the enemy. The king who is likewise situated close to the enemy, but separated from the conqueror only by the enemy, is termed the friend (of the conqueror).
-Kautilya, Arthasastra, Book VI, around 4th century BC

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend?

As the infighting and fracturing of the mainstream Taliban-movement raged, other groups began to recruit viable assets from the movement. In effect, the mainstream Taliban-movement was being cannibalised. This came not only from its own elders seeking to create their independent power blocks, but by foreign entities as well. The premier example of this is ISIS-KP, which established itself in Afghanistan in 2015. ISIS-KP quickly became a direct tactical opponent and competitor for recruits with the various Taliban factions.

At first, the Taliban leadership attempted to seek a diplomatic recourse with the IS-leadership. A letter was dispatched to Baghdadi requesting that all recruitments in Afghanistan would halt, and what troops had amassed would be placed under the Taliban banner.

The Taliban would never receive a formal response to their request.

Instead, Taliban fighters would clash with ISIS-KP forces in the Nangarhar Province in June 2015. ISIS-KP had sought to seize territory in the province, territory which was under Taliban control. Within a few months, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) would join under the ISIS-KP banner, to fight the Taliban.

Multiple factions of the Taliban would join to launch an offensive against the Uzbek group in the Zabul Province. The offensive caused heavy casualties on the IMU forces and pushed them back over the Afghan-Uzbek border. This setback would, however, not deter ISIS-KP from continuing its Afghan establishment drive.

By late 2015, ISIS-KP had enough of a presence in the Khorasan Province to establish a stronghold, and it controlled territory in both Helmand and Farah. The group also began to broadcast radio propaganda in Pashto and Dari.

In fact, the battle against ISIS-KP became one subject that the vast majority of the Taliban enclaves could agree on. The long-standing ally of the Taliban, al Qaeda, also found itself keen on joining the fray against ISIS-KP.

Al Qaeda, which is presently under the leadership of the Egyptian Islamic militant Ayman al-Zawahiri, has multiple reasons to fight the Islamic State. In early 2015, Zawahiri swore allegiance to the newly appointed leader of the mainstream Taliban-movement, Mullah Mansour on behalf of himself and all men under his command. This allegiance included those fighting under the al Qaeda regional branches, such as the Horn of Africa affiliate al Shabaab. The Islamic State was, at the time, part of the al Qaeda umbrella organisation under Zawahiri’s leadership. The Islamic State originated as part of the al Qaeda or al Nusra umbrella organisation. It splintered from its parent organisation because its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, considered Zawahiri too moderate.

Image [Photo released by the Afghan Taliban on May 25, 2016 shows, according to the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada posing for a photograph at an undisclosed location.][AFP]
[Photo released May 25, 2016 shows, according to the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada posing for a photograph at an undisclosed location.][AFP]
In addition to those reasons, which are personal affronts to the al Qaeda leadership, there are also more pragmatic matters at hand. While al Qaeda has continued to fight on a tactical level in Afghanistan, it has done so while seeing few new recruits join their ranks. Instead, al Qaeda has seen its ranks diminished, with potential new recruits often joining its direct competitor, ISIS-KP. This reality stands in stark contrast with the mainstream Taliban-movement which has seen its ranks replenished on a fairly regular basis by a wide array of volunteers.

Baghdadi’s Islamic State has been incredibly ambitious, seeking to create its caliphate within the Syrian borders and carrying out terror attacks across the world. By so doing, Baghdadi has managed to attract a new generation of jihadist recruits. These recruits would otherwise have likely joined al Qaeda.

The measure of success for any terror organisation is, in essence, its ability to recruit.

Jointly, the Taliban factions and al Qaeda launched several offensives on the ISIS-KP strongholds. By early 2016, the two had pushed ISIS-KP from the Farah Province and crippled their abilities in the Helmand Province.

The keenness with which the Taliban and al Qaeda opted to combat ISIS-KP would even reach the point where, in August 2018, the Taliban would make a request to the American military in Afghanistan to halt its airstrikes. This, the Taliban spokesperson in Doha argued, would enable the Taliban fighters to crush ISIS-KP. The Americans refused the suggestion, however, and the air strikes against ground targets continued. Despite this, the Taliban continued their offensive on the ISIS-KP fighters, which resulted in massive amounts of ISIS-KP fighters surrendering to the Afghan government to avoid capture by the advancing Taliban forces.

Gains achieved at great cost against our enemy in Afghanistan are reversible.
-James ‘Maddog’ Mattis, former USMC General and Secretary of the U.S. DOD

Negotiations with the Devil on the 25th Parallel

After eighteen years of Western involvement, the Afghan conflict appears no closer to a tactically induced end. Instead, it has turned into a bloody stalemate where the only victory possible appears to be away from the battlefield, at the negotiating table.

On February 25th, in Doha, situated on the 25th parallel, U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with the chief negotiator from the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Baradar had been released from Turkish jail on October 24th, 2018 at the request of the United States just so he could participate in the negotiations. His release had been one of the key requirements provided by the Taliban to enter talks.

Another, equally important requirement, nay demand, by the Taliban was that the central Afghan government in Kabul would be excluded from participating in the talks. The Taliban continue to refuse to acknowledge that government, deeming it illegitimate. The Kabul government has on a number of occasions understandably objected to their exclusion, stating that this act undermines the central government’s legitimacy in the upcoming 2019 national election.

On both counts, Washington was quick to adhere. In fact, Washington went further still. On March 18th, a senior U.S. diplomat informed Hamdullah Mohib, who serves as Ghani’s national security adviser and representative in security-related matters, that Washington would no longer deal with Mohib at all. This after Mohib had, on March 14th, questioned the motive of Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Envoy involved in the negotiation with the Taliban, in agreeing to exclude the Kabul government from the talks.

Now, less than a month in, the negotiations for the future of Afghanistan are in full swing and have begun to take shape. Presently, both parties appear to be equally keen on the withdrawal of all NATO troops from Afghanistan over a three to five year period, which in turn would be finalised with a power-sharing agreement between the U.S.-supported government in Kabul, and the Taliban.

Image [U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. (Photo: Hiroko Masuike / AFP]
[U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. (Photo: Hiroko Masuike / AFP]
In exchange, the Taliban will assure the international community that it will at no point allow whatever parts of Afghanistan that are under their control to again be a launching pad for terror attacks. This grand gesture has caused some interesting discourse over what constitutes and defines a terror attack or terrorist.

If such an agreement comes to terms it would mean that the leader of the Western international community, meaning the U.S., has in-essence legitimised the Taliban, and done so over the dead bodies of a still-fragile Afghan sovereignty and democracy. No doubt, before long, Afghanistan will find itself under the rule of the new, gentler version of the Taliban. Probably through the use of seemingly democratic means.

For the past few years, the Taliban appear to have been preparing for just such an eventuality. Seemingly, the Taliban movement has taken a page out of Hezbollah in Lebanon’s playbook, which al Qaeda in Yemen has also successfully adopted. As such, they have operated a massive campaign to change the perception, the optics of the group. This is not just in rural Afghanistan, but in the world at large. This includes efforts to open new schools, at times even cooperating with U.S. aid organisations to refurbish these schools, throughout their controlled provinces. This also includes providing protection for, and at times even overtly supporting, the building of infrastructures such as roads and power grids.

These are all developments the Taliban would have shunned in the mid-90s, developments that Afghanistan’s present-day central government has struggled to provide to its rural citizens.

Yet, from a history where Afghanistan’s vast poppy fields have supported a massive opium market, China, Russia and the U.S. now vie over lucrative mining rights in the country’s mineral rich expanse.

The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free, and proud, and fighting terror – and America is honored to be their friend.
-U.S. President George W. Bush

No doubt America is willing to be a believer; a believer that the new Taliban, Taliban 2.0, is the real thing. If a pseudo-democratic election of a Taliban government did come to pass, it would be with a certain degree of approval from Washington. Even if this means losing what little is left of America’s core soul. Just as long as America never has to militarily enter the graveyard of empires that is Afghanistan ever again.

In December 2018, it was announced that the already delayed presidential election, which was disrupted by the ongoing battle between the Taliban and the Islamic State, would be pushed again from April 2019 to July or August 2019. In October 2018, parliamentary elections were held after a four-year delay due to electoral fraud and widespread ballot stuffing. Despite technical failures and 170 killed or wounded in bombings and rocket attacks throughout the first day of voting, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) deemed voter turnout in the 2018 October parliamentary elections to be “impressive” at 45 per cent, with women participating at a “historic” fraction of 33 per cent of the voters.

On March 20th, the Ghani administration in Kabul announced that it would yet again postpone the upcoming national election. This time until September 28th. Officially this was again due to technical difficulties. Reality is more likely to be that the Kabul administration is waiting to see just how they must manage what the Doha talks produce.

Henry Kissinger had stated in 2014, “The high probability is if American forces withdraw from Afghanistan and if no alternative international arrangement is made then the historic contests between the regions and the sects will reappear, the Taliban will re-emerge, and a very complicated and maybe chaotic situation will develop.”

Many question whether this is the victory that America and its allies sought, or whether this is just a deal struck with the devil. Many, such as Lima Charlie News’ own Doug Brooks believe that a negotiated peace with the Taliban would simply be a betrayal of the sacrifices made by so many fighting men and women throughout this conflict.

Yet again, politics brings to mind the immortal words of T.S. Eliot:

“… This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but with a whimper.”

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

[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

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

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[1] Kepel, Gilles (2006). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Pages 142-143.
[2] Rashid, Ahmed (2012). Pakistan on the Brink. Pages 127-158.
[3] Martin, Mike (2014). An Intimate War.
[4] McColm, J. (2004). Understanding the Dynamics of International Heroin Markets: Making Better Use of Price Data to Measure the Impact of Drug Control Strategies. Bulletin on Narcotics 56(1-2), pp. 89-103.
[5] UNODC (2005). Summary Findings of Opium Trends in Afghanistan, 2005.

In case you missed it:

Image Lima Charlie News Headline Killing al Baghdadi FEB 10 2019Image Lima Charlie News Headline Vietnam to Iraq MAR 8 2019Image Lima Charlie News Headline Afghanistans NATO Generation Doug Brooks MAR 15 2019Image Lima Charlie News headline General Dostum

The Rwandan Jewel – Peacekeepers, Conflict Minerals and Lots of Foreign Aid

Image The Rwandan Jewel - Peacekeepers, Conflict Minerals and Lots of Foreign Aid [Lima Charlie World]
The Rwandan Jewel - Peacekeepers, Conflict Minerals and Lots of Foreign Aid [Lima Charlie World]

The U.S. and the United Nations have long partnered with Rwanda to support peacekeeping and counterinsurgency operations across Africa, providing expertise, weapons and funding to the Rwandan military. Meanwhile, Rwanda reportedly has provided weapons and support to rebel groups that target U.N. peacekeepers, while benefitting from a massive illicit conflict mineral trade. Lima Charlie World’s Diego Lynch examines this deadly circular policy.

Since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the small central African country has become a magnet for money and weapons. Its military played key roles in the 1st and 2nd Congo Wars and still supports rebels in the mineral-rich Kivu region of its neighbor to the west, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Rwanda’s military prowess is now essential to U.S. and United Nations international peacekeeping and counter-insurgency operations. Lima Charlie World examined the support for a government which, by the account of most international organizations, deliberately benefits from the smuggling of conflict minerals.

Rwanda plays an enormous role in U.N. peacekeeping. Stunningly, Rwanda, a small country of 12 million with about 1% of the African continent’s population, is the third largest troop contributor to the U.N. It is the largest contributor to the U.N. Mission to South Sudan, and the largest troop supplier for the U.N.’s Central African Republic forces. Rwanda was also a major force in the U.N.’s faraway operations in Haiti. The heroism of Rwanda’s soldiers in the U.N. is celebrated in the Rwandan press, often in breathless terms.

This is an astonishing turnaround for a country that suffered what was arguably one of the biggest failures of the U.N., the 1994 genocide, a 100 day period in which an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. For sending its soldiers to participate in international peacekeeping operations in 2012 — “peacekeeping operations” being armies composed of armed multinational soldiers that provide security to guarantee ceasefires — the small central African country received payments from abroad equivalent to 70% of its military budget, according to Nina Wilén, Research Director at the Royal Institute for International Relations in Belgium. Since 2012, Rwanda’s military budget has doubled, and the number of Rwandan troops participating in U.N. peacekeeping has increased by around 40%.

Geographically, the country is right next to the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping operation. Over 15,000 U.N. troops have been deployed to the DRC, ostensibly to fight diverse rebel groups who continue to operate in the eastern part of the country. These rebels finance their operations in large part by smuggling conflict minerals to Rwanda and other neighboring countries. Watchdog groups have repeatedly caught the Rwandan government supplying weapons and military expertise to rebel groups.

Image [Tanzanian special forces in Sake, DRC, training for combat against the M23 Rebels. (MONUSCO / Sylvain Liechti via Wikicommons)]
[Tanzanian special forces in Sake, DRC, training for combat against the M23 Rebels. (MONUSCO / Sylvain Liechti via Wikicommons)]
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From genocide to peacekeeping leader

The ethnic Tutsi genocide, where an estimated 70% of the Tutsi population were slaughtered, and the Rwandan Civil War ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) overthrew the then-Hutu-dominated Rwandan government (Tutsi refugees had earlier founded the RPF in neighboring Uganda to the east). Despite the victory, all was not well across the border with the DRC to the west where erstwhile perpetrators of the genocide had formed militia groups. Rwanda, under current President Paul Kagame, confronted this challenge head on. Rwanda invaded the DRC twice, in the First (1996-97) and Second (1998-2003) Congo Wars. Perpetrating these wars meant trampling U.N.-backed ceasefires.

According to many accounts, the Clinton Administration’s foreign policy establishment was horrified by the failure of the United States to take action in defense of the Tutsi during the genocide. Because of this, President Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Susan Rice, was inclined to give the new Rwandan government a free hand to do what it felt necessary to guarantee its security.

Immediately following Rice’s first trip to the “Great Lakes Region” which encompasses Eastern DRC, Uganda and Rwanda, a member of her staff said: “[Uganda President] Museveni and [Rwandan President] Kagame agree that the basic problem in the Great Lakes is the danger of a resurgence of genocide and they know how to deal with that. The only thing we [the U.S.] have to do is look the other way.” According to other sources, Secretary Rice said this herself.

With the world’s superpower sanguine about Rwandan military actions, Rwanda was able to transition directly from these wars to participating in peacekeeping in 2004, the same year that Rwanda (formally) withdrew its troops from combat operations in DRC, said Jordan Anderson, Risk Analyst for Sub-Saharan Africa at IHR Markit. Anderson told Lima Charlie World, “peacekeeping now provides an alternative form of field experience for Rwandan troops and thus helps perpetuate (and demonstrate) Rwanda’s military capabilities.”

On top of military experience, peacekeeping (essentially armed Rwandans in internationally recognized clothing) relieved pressure from yet another challenge: the nation’s military. Still flush with the excess manpower of the civil war, it needed to be scaled down to a financially sustainable number of soldiers. Note, though, that reducing the size of a military has destabilized many an African country as freshly unemployed soldiers have been known to respond violently to sudden unemployment. (Read Lima Charlie’s coverage of cyclical unrest in the Ivory Coast).

Anderson stated that significant reductions in the number of Rwandan troops participating in peacekeeping “could push some already-discontented officers and soldiers to leave Rwanda and defect to anti-RPF armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but they would still struggle to pose a threat to Rwanda’s internal security.”

Image Congo minerals conflict map

Even with thousands of its soldiers and police deployed with the U.N. every year, thus lightening the nation’s financial load, Rwanda expends great effort on the demobilization of its former soldiers. Through the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, which the U.N. also supports, the Rwandan government has demobilized some 70,000 former soldiers.

The money that flows to the Rwandan government in exchange for assisting peacekeeping is but a fraction of the overall assistance offered from abroad. Rwanda receives in excess of $1 billion annually, a not insubstantial amount for a country with a GDP of less than $9 billion.

“Rwanda’s relationships with the donor countries that provide international assistance (particularly the U.S. and some EU states) are more important than its relationships with the U.N. per se,” said Anderson. “The U.N. is important to the extent that it can influence these donor relationships.”

For example, the initial participation of Rwanda in U.N. peacekeeping operations quickly resulted in an expansion of military assistance from the U.S.

In an April 2006 diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks, Jendayi Frazer (who was the Bush Administration’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs succeeding Rice), stated, “The USG (U.S. government) has been providing logistical and training support for the Rwandan contribution to AMIS (African Mission to Sudan) since initial deployment in August 2004,” describing how U.S. military assistance to Rwanda began in tandem with their U.N. participation. “The U.S. Air Force and U.S.-funded contract airlines have provided transport for all troop deployments, and U.S. contractors have conducted training for over 2,900 RDF (Rwanda Defense Forces) soldiers in preparation for the Darfur deployments; an additional 530 are currently being trained.”

Image [Trucks at the Rwanda/Uganda Border. Uganda impounded Rwandan trucks at this border in November 2018 while transporting minerals worth $750,000. (AmarinAfrica photo via Wikicommons)]
[Trucks at the Rwanda/Uganda Border. Uganda impounded Rwandan trucks at this border in November 2018 while transporting minerals worth $750,000. (AmarinAfrica photo via Wikicommons)]
Thus, gaining this foothold in 2004, U.S. support for Rwandan peacekeeping expanded. The U.S. military’s African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership (APRRP), a program that continues to ease the logistical burden of peacekeeping by utilizing AFRICOM assets, costs $100 million plus annually. Rwanda joined the U.S.’s Africa Contingency Operations Training & Assistance (ACOTA) program in 2006, a program for training African troops. According to the U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda, the majority of the Rwandan Army has received training through this program, which the U.S. continues to fund by tens of millions a year.

However, Rwanda’s claim that it withdrew militarily from the DRC in 2003 was less than met the eye. In 2012, the U.N. issued a report laying bare Rwanda’s covert support for “M23” rebels in the DRC. The M23 rebels (one rebel group among many in the eastern DRC ) consisted of mutinying DRC soldiers who claimed they were displeased with the implementation of a 2009 peace deal. Reuters broke the story, reporting that Rwandan support for the rebels, which were targeting U.N. peacekeepers, included both weapons and military experts. The report stated that Rwanda had effectively “annexed” Congolese territory, which furthered Rwanda’s access to the region’s mineral wealth, including access to conflict minerals.

The U.N. was then obliged to expend blood and treasure against a group that had received the support of the Rwandan military, a military that was already receiving U.N. support.

Image [U.S. soldier examines a weapon before allowing the soldier, and 850 other Rwandan soldiers, to board a U.S. Air Force plane in route to the Central African Republic to aid French and African Union operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)]
[U.S. soldier examines a weapon before allowing the soldier, and 850 other Rwandan soldiers, to board a U.S. Air Force plane in route to the Central African Republic to aid French and African Union operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)]
According to subsequent 2013 investigations by Global Witness, the minerals were smuggled into Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, and then exported as if they had been been mined in those countries. As international outrage mounted, international donors started to cut off aid to Rwanda, and a year later the U.S. government issued sanctions.

“The U.S. decision in 2013 to block its military aid to Rwanda (over these allegations) — that really got the attention of the Rwandan government,” said Anderson. “The M23 experience helped shift the Rwandan government’s security strategies away from relying on such overt meddling in DRC, and towards exerting its influence there through more subtle means.”

However, Dr. Gary Busch, Lima Charlie World contributor and long standing academic observer of Rwandan Affairs, stated that the 2012 international incident had a limited impact on Rwanda.

“The U.S. State Department, Department of African Affairs, was backing (Rwandan President) Kagame against (DRC President) Kabila,” said Dr. Busch, citing the roles of Susan Rice and Jendayi Frazer.

In 2012, Foreign Policy reported that when France’s U.N. ambassador pushed Susan Rice, who was then back in government as President Obama’s U.N. Ambassador, to act on the 2012 U.N. report, she dismissed the concerns.

“[I]t’s eastern Congo. If it were not the M23 killing people, it would be some other armed groups,” Rice said, according to FP.

The FP piece also outlines in detail how Rice and the U.S. delayed publication of the U.N. report and influenced the language of the report to downplay Rwanda’s meddling in the eastern Congo.

In response to international pressure, the Rwandan government implemented reforms, and declared itself free of conflict minerals in 2015. Nonetheless, a boon of artisanal gold production reached $400 million in eastern Congo in 2015, of which 98% was smuggled out of the country. In 2017, a Belgian company set up a gold-trading facility in Rwanda moving 1 ton ($500 million) a month. The company, which had also set up a facility in Uganda, was later found to be trading conflict minerals. Again, the Rwandan government reformed, and declared itself free of conflict minerals in 2019. The most prominent NGOs working on conflict minerals doubt this claim on the part of Rwanda.

Image [MONUSCO patrol a village in North Kivu province. M23 is long gone, but the eastern Congo is still suffused with rebels, who regularly attack peacekeepers and DRC soldiers. 8 peacekeepers were killed on Nov. 15, 2018. (Sylvain Liechti / MONUSCO)]
[MONUSCO patrol a village in North Kivu province. M23 is long gone, but the eastern Congo is still suffused with rebels, who regularly attack peacekeepers and DRC soldiers. 8 peacekeepers were killed on Nov. 15, 2018. (Sylvain Liechti / MONUSCO)]
Frazer, the Bush Administration’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who had succeeded Rice, would eventually work lobbying for the Whitaker Group, which had been contracted by Rwanda’s long-term ally Uganda, and remains close with that organization today. President Trump’s current Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, doesn’t appear to be rocking the boat, but who knows what is happening behind closed doors?

The Jewel of Sub-Saharan Africa?

“I think there are quite important PR advantages domestically (to peacekeeping participation) – [Rwandan] people are proud of their military’s role in peacekeeping,” Nina Wilén told Lima Charlie World. “It is a way to wash off their victim status and become heroes.”

Rwanda has been transformed from the shambles it was in following the genocide. The country has posted growth rates averaging 7-8% between 2005 and 2018, and the poverty rate has fallen precipitously.

Symbolic of this change in Rwanda’s fortunes is the fact that President Kagame, who still leads his country 25 years after the RPF gained power, spent the last year as chair of the African Union (AU). Last September, at the U.N. “Action for Peacekeeping” meeting, directly before he stepped down as chair, Kagame emphasized, “The United Nations and the African Union must collaborate closely, including by ensuring stable funding for African Union-mandated peace support operations.”

The 2018 meeting expressly sought commitment on the part of U.N. members to “enhance” funding for AU peacekeeping. The AU is unable to rely on member states to secure funding, with just 2.3% of its funds coming from African countries. This can result in inconsistency in payments to troops in the field, with some troops going months without pay, and even reliance on bailouts from the E.U.

Shoring up AU finances is a key issue for Rwanda, which is further compensated for contributions to the AU peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Mali, and Central African Republic (CAR).

How have decades of U.S. and U.N. military support transformed Rwanda’s military? Kagame trumpeted Rwanda’s strength while attending the third annual “Hard Punch” military exercise in 2018. Hard Punch was as much a training exercise as it was a showcase for brand new Chinese military hardware.

“Rwanda’s military advantage compared to some of its neighbours – while by no means overwhelming – is driven by the quality and capability of its troops, rather than any numerical or quantitative superiority,” described Anderson.

Building qualitative superiority requires superior weaponry. With the international donor footing a large portion of the Rwandan military’s payroll, logistics and training bills, Rwanda has been importing state of the art Chinese hardware. The weapons on display at Hard Punch were new imports from the Chinese defense company Norinco. China has been a long-time arms exporter to Rwanda, and Rwanda is presently in the process of acquiring the Sky Dragon 50, a brand-new surface-to-air missile system.

Meanwhile, Russian diplomats have been sniffing around, trying to drum up business for Russian arms manufacturers, but have not yet made substantive deals. Russia’s nuclear industry has had better luck, though. The Russians and Rwandans have reached a nuclear technology sharing agreement.

The country’s capital, Kigali, is the jewel among Kagame’s accomplishments. It is peppered with government development projects. A $300 million convention center, an $800 million airport, a 1,200 room 5-Star hotel, luxury apartments, the government sponsored airline RwandAir, new roads, etc., all contribute to an ambitious goal – to transform a small landlocked African country best known for a genocide into a world-class tourist and conference destination.

International observers now question whether Kagame is pushing his luck and that of his countrymen. At question is whether this remade Rwanda will diversify its economic base, offering jobs to everyday Rwandans, and whether growth is sustainable. The economy is characterized by monopolies supported by government contracts, and owned by the country’s ruling party.

According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2017 the government’s debt to GDP ratio rose to 40.2%, a 25% rise since 2012. The IMF is warning that this outsized ratio could spell trouble for Rwanda’s economy in 2023 when the debt starts to mature.

David Hambara, President Kagame’s former economic advisor, has turned into one of the most strident critics of the Rwandan government and frequently sounds the alarm about the economic future of the country.

“Although cheap concessional loans provided by multilateral lenders such as the World Bank still constitute the bulk of public debt, commercial loans have increased sharply,” Hambara described in a Medium post. “As these loans mature, principal and interest payments become an issue. Already, serving debts has become a headache. The government admits that some of the domestic debts ‘have been rolled over due to the cash flow needs.'” Hambara exclaims, “Welcome to Kagame’s Banana Republic.”

Add to this the fact that the current U.S. administration has cut international aid and support for the U.N., is pushing for further cuts, and is trying to cut imports from Rwanda to the U.S. It is clear that Rwanda is in hot water.

If the IMF and Hambara are correct, Rwanda’s debt load will soon place the country under economic strain. Militarily strengthened by decades of U.S. and international support and Chinese arms imports, a country with a history of fencing its neighbors’ natural resources will need to find new revenue streams … unless the blocks of empty luxury condos in the capital actually fill up.

Lima Charlie World reached out to the Permanent Mission of Rwanda in New York for comment on this story, but received no reply.

[Correction / Clarification: (April 2, 2019): The editors acknowledge that Rwandan-Ugandan tensions are high, and that incidents such as the trucks transporting illegal conflict minerals could, at times, be staged intel-ops. Trucks full of minerals have been transported between the countries for years, and the issue has been used for political gain. President Paul Kagame has also accused Uganda of providing support and “logistical facilities” to various individuals and groups to start a rebellion against Rwanda, following accusations of Ugandan attempts to destabilize Rwanda.]


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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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The fate of Afghanistan’s NATO Generation

Image The fate of Afghanistan’s NATO Generation [Lima Charlie World][Photo: Shamsia Hassani]
The fate of Afghanistan’s NATO Generation [Lima Charlie World][Photo: Shamsia Hassani]

OPINION | Almost 18 years ago the U.S. led NATO into Afghanistan. Today the majority of its 35 million people – the NATO Generation – were born or came of age with a significant international military, diplomatic and development presence in their country. This young, dynamic majority faces a bleak future.

Thanks to a wide array of international entities operating hugely successful health and education programs, ranging from NATO to various non-governmental organisations (NGOs), new ideas and norms have penetrated every corner of Afghanistan. Social changes, including vastly enhanced roles for women in education and government, have been welcomed. Many Afghans have mastered English as a second language, while displaying impressive computer and social media capabilities. This interaction of cultures has left an indelible mark on young Afghans.

Yet that influence may soon be reversed. Despite the rapid military eviction of Afghanistan’s fundamentalist government in 2001, the Taliban has never been completely defeated. Their violent quest to return is succeeding; the U.S. coalition is showing fatigue after almost two decades of continuous war.

Lacking alternatives, peace talks are underway that will result in a significant role for the Taliban in the political process, despite their unpopularity. A 2018 Asia Foundation survey found an astonishing 82.4% of Afghans had ‘no sympathy’ for the Taliban. Few in the nation at large want to see them return.

The Taliban also remain muddled when articulating their goals. Although they are unified when demanding the departure of all foreign troops, there are indications they are divided on how much they want to roll back the country’s political and social modernization. Afghans remain in fear of a return of the brutal anti-democratic values employed when the Taliban ruled before 2001.

A 2018 Asia Foundation survey found an astonishing 82.4% of Afghans had ‘no sympathy’ for the Taliban.

A negotiated peace that concedes political power to the Taliban will be a calamity for Afghanistan’s NATO Generation. Despite Taliban threats, these young Afghans enthusiastically vote in elections. Many enjoy Western music, as well as the music of their own glamorous pop stars, most of which are based outside the country. Young boys and girls attend schools in record numbers, and the large and remarkably free media sector is unafraid to criticize the government.

Popular comedians regularly lampoon politicians as well, although they appear reluctant to test the Taliban’s sense of humor. Skateboards, skiing, fashion, movies and other Western influences are ingrained in Afghanistan’s NATO Generation, and not just in the cities. Cell phones are used by an astonishing 80% of the population, allowing ideas and trends to filter throughout the country. Young Afghans have no desire to go back to Taliban times.

Image An Afghan youth practices his parkour skills in the ruins of Darul Aman Palace. (Image by Wakil Kohsar)
[An Afghan youth practices his parkour skills in the ruins of Darul Aman Palace. (Image by Wakil Kohsar)]
Ceaseless war has been the status quo in Afghanistan for decades, and no one wants that to continue either. President Trump has expressed an interest in bringing the conflict, or at least U.S. involvement in the conflict, to an end as soon as possible. Currently, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation is holding talks with Taliban representatives in Doha, while excluding an infuriated Afghan government from the negotiations. Khalilzad is playing with a surprisingly weak hand, since all sides know the United States is keen to withdraw sooner rather than later – and any minute could see a ‘Syrian retreat tweet’ from the White House, abruptly ending U.S. support.

As it is, the Afghan security forces are already carrying the overwhelming burden of the war, and they are taking enormous casualties doing it.

Women’s rights, a free press, and democratic values are all at stake, but self-preservation requires bitter government rivals to unify long enough to make those key demands directly to the Taliban.

During a gathering at the Hudson Institute on the 13th of March 2019, Hamdullah Mohib, the former Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. and current National Security Adviser to President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, gave a succinct Situational Representation (SITREP) of his home country. In brief, Mohib’s point was as follows: Afghanistan is grateful for all the U.S. support and will always remember the thousands of Americans who sacrificed their lives for his country, but if the United States intends to withdraw, at least do so in an orderly manner. In essence, Afghanistan can stand on its own against the Taliban and other terrorist groups in the region, with minimal support from the international community.

Even if the Afghan government is allowed full participation in the negotiations, most of Afghanistan’s NATO Generation are frustrated with the bitterly divided older leadership dominating Afghan politics and pushing very different priorities. President Ghani’s government is calling for a Loya Jirga, a meeting of the national tribal council and its leaders, to try and establish some guidelines for potential negotiations, though it is unclear who will be allowed to participate. Afghanistan’s ruling Government of National Unity, a euphemism for a power-sharing agreement between Presidential candidates fragmented from its inception, and elections slated for this year (if they take place at all) are unlikely to solve anything.

Ambassador Richard Olsen, the former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently emphasized that the Taliban will not take Western negotiators pushing modern governmental power-sharing arrangements as seriously as they would a unified Afghan front. Women’s rights, a free press, and democratic values are all at stake, but self-preservation requires bitter government rivals to unify long enough to make those key demands directly to the Taliban. That is a tall order.

So, what happens to the NATO Generation if the Taliban does gain power, or enough power to start rolling back some of the country’s recent modernization?

We already know this. Afghans make up the second largest group of global refugees. A political role for the hated Taliban will accelerate those numbers. Waves of refugees and immigrants resulting from past U.S. foreign policy decisions in places such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Cuba, have generally done well in the United States. Afghan refugees have been coming to America since the 1970s, and while America has certainly benefited from the exodus, Afghans have been particularly successful immigrants. The great loss of Afghanistan’s skilled, educated and talented people would be devastating for that country’s future.

Image [Afghan women at a rally for Habiba Sarobi, the first female candidate for vice president in Afghanistan’s history, in 2014. (NYTimes/Adam Ferguson)]
[Afghan women at a rally for Habiba Sarobi, the first female candidate for vice president in Afghanistan’s history, in 2014. (NYTimes/Adam Ferguson)]
The tens of thousands of Afghans that have flooded into Europe have been less and less welcomed by increasingly xenophobic governments. With the return of the Taliban, refugee throngs are going to increase significantly, and European countries will be even more concerned about their cultural impact.

Everyone hopes the decades-long conflict can finally be brought to an end, but the likelihood of an agreement that preserves the most valued ideas and culture of the NATO Generation seems remote. Peace would be better than endless conflict, but the cost for a generation of Afghans will be too high.

That bodes poorly for the future of Afghanistan, but the West’s lust for closure is blinding it to the potential collateral damage from a precipitous departure. A poorly managed and abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a disaster not just for the NATO Generation, but for all of Afghanistan, the region and beyond. It would also signify a historic failure of U.S. strategic projection, and a betrayal of literally millions of Americans and others from scores of nations who have served and sacrificed to propel Afghanistan to its current level of freedom and development.

[Title Image: Shamsia Hassani, street artist, doing her work in Kabul. (Photograph by Shamsia Hassani)]

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Doug Brooks is an advocate and specialist on the regulation and constructive utilization of the private sector for international stabilization, peacekeeping, disaster relief and humanitarian missions. In 2001 he founded the International Stability Operations Association (ISOA), the world’s leading private sector association focused on advancing the global role of industry in supporting international efforts in conflict, post conflict, humanitarian rescue and disaster relief environments. Now President Emeritus of ISOA, he serves on the ISOA Advisory Council. He also serves on the Board of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce (AACC), and teaches as Adjunct Faculty at the University of Fiji. He has testified before the U.S. Congress and the South African Parliament, and has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs including the BBC, CBS News, NBC News, Fox News, CNN International, Democracy Now!, NPR, VOA, SABC in South Africa and PBS’s Lehrer News Hour. He has lectured at Georgetown University, West Point, Princeton and the Inter-American Defense College at Ft. McNair among many other academic institutions. Contact Doug Brooks.

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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Women’s Day Warriors – Africa’s queens, rebels and freedom fighters

Image [Women's Day Warriors - Africa's queens, rebels and freedom fighters][Lima Charlie News]
[Women's Day Warriors - Africa's queens, rebels and freedom fighters][Lima Charlie News][Image: Adapted by Anthony A. LoPresti from a poster of Phila Ndwandwe, Angolan Liberation Fighter]

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, Dr. Gary K. Busch spotlights some of Africa’s greatest matriarchs, queens, rebels and freedom fighters, who have been largely scrubbed from history.

The pervasive image of a poor, oppressed and powerless African female belies a long and proud history of African matriarchs, queens, rebels and freedom fighters, women who were immensely powerful in their own societies. Their history has been overlooked, suppressed by colonial powers and demeaned by the men who stole the thrones from these mighty women.

There is a long history of powerful African queens, military leaders and rebels which seldom make it into current history books. The role of women in ruling African nations, fighting against colonial enslavement and supervising the policies of their heirs and offspring as they rose into political primacy is a suppressed and forgotten history. This is a history which deserves to be taught in the schools. In their own societies they are barely acknowledged, but internationally they remain almost wholly forgotten.

Image [Women soldiers of the Kenya Defense Force, Nairobi, October 20, 2011. (Photo: Tony Karumba)]
[Women soldiers of the Kenya Defense Force, Nairobi, October 20, 2011. (Photo: Tony Karumba)]

Women Pharaohs

The royal women of Ancient Egypt wielded immense power, and several took on the role of pharaoh or regent. The Kemetic women (Kemet was the Egyptian name for Egypt) of the 18th dynasty (1550 to 1292 BC) wielded military as well as political power, starting with Ahhotep I, who drove out Egypt’s foreign occupiers.

Another was Hatshepsut, who actually ruled as Pharaoh over all of Egypt (1478 to 1458 BC), and is widely regarded as one of the most successful Pharaohs of all time. Hatshepsut held the throne for over 20 years, building magnificent temples and sending a famous naval expedition to trade with Somalia. She led a successful war campaign in her early years, but she oversaw a largely peaceful era in which Egypt grew in wealth and development. Two other women ruled as pharaohs in their own right: Sobekneferu and Twosret.

Candace The Meroite (Amanirenas)

Candace, latinized from Kandake, was one of the greatest generals of the ancient world. This formidable 1st century BC African queen earned fame as a military tactician and field commander in Ethiopia. Caesar Augustus, the first and most prolifically expansionist of Rome’s Emperors, opted not to test his winning streak risking defeat by a woman that Greek historian Strabo would refer to as “fierce one-eyed queen Candace”. He halted his armies at the borders of Ethiopia and chose not to invade. Ceasar granted an audience to the representatives of Candace at the island of Samos, off contemporary Turkey, and negotiated a peace deal with the Meroites, including a neutral buffer zone. This was the first recorded instance of African diplomats representing a Sub-Saharan Kingdom, travelling to Europe to achieve a diplomatic resolution.

Image Amanitore at Wad ban Naqa
[Amanitore at Wad ban Naqa]


Dihya was a Berber queen in the late 7th century, a religious and military leader who led indigenous resistance to the Muslim-Arab expansion of the Umayyad Dynasty in Northwest Africa. Their armies met near Meskiana in the present-day province of Oum el-Bouaghi, Algeria. She defeated the Umayyad armies so soundly that they fled and retired to Cyrenaica (now Libya) for four or five years before giving up their quest for North African hegemony. This was significant, because these early Muslim armies had scored consistent victories against opponents more famous than Dihya – the Eastern Roman Empire and Sassanid Persian Empire.

Amina, Queen of Zaria (1588-1589)

Amina was queen of Zazzua, a part of Nigeria now known as Zaria, where matrilineal equality allowed women to inherit rule as well as men. Zazzua was one of a number of Hausa city-states which dominated trans-Saharan trade after the collapse of the Songhai Empire to the west. At the age of sixteen, Amina became the heir apparent (Magajiya) to her mother, Bakwa of Turunku, the ruling queen of Zazzua. Although her mother’s reign was known for peace and prosperity, Amina immersed herself in military skills from the warriors. She set off on her first military expedition three months after coming to power and continued fighting until her death. In her thirty-four year reign, she expanded the domain of Zazzua to its largest size ever. Her main focus, however, was not on annexation of neighbouring lands, but on forcing local rulers to accept vassal status, thus permitting traders from all Hausa states safe passage.

Image [The Dahomey Amazons, an all female military unit. (Photo of engraving by Chris Hellier)]
[The Dahomey Amazons, an all female military unit. (Photo of engraving by Chris Hellier)]

Yaa Asantewa

Yaa Asantewa (1840-1921) was the Queen Mother of Ejisu. Her fight against British colonialists is a key story in the history of Ghana. When the British conquered and subjugated Ghana they captured the Asantahene, the paramount king of the Ashanti. When the chiefs met to deliberate on the proper response, they were hesitant to confront the British. Yaa Asantewa was outraged at their weakness. She said, “if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.” For months the Ashanti, led by Yaa Asantewa, fought bravely. Finally, British reinforcements totalling 1,400 soldiers arrived at Kumasi. Yaa Asantewa and other leaders were captured and sent into exile. Yaa Asantewa’s war was the last of the major wars in Africa led by a woman.

Mbande Nzinga

Mbande Nzinga (1583 – 1663) was the sister and advisor of the king of Ngola (now Angola). She became queen when her brother committed suicide after being confronted by Portuguese demands for slave trade concessions in 1624. She appointed women, including her two sisters Kifunji and Mukumbu, to all government offices.

When the Portuguese broke a peace treaty, she led her largely female army against them that inflicted terrible casualties. Eventually her forces conquered nearby kingdoms in an attempt to build a strong enough confederation to drive the Portuguese out of Africa. She accepted a truce, and agreed to a peace treaty in 1635. She continued to rule her people and lived to be 81.

An interesting fact about Nzinga, based on accounts she had fifty to sixty male concubines that she had dress as women. “[S]he dresses these fifty to sixty strong and beautiful young men in female garment … and dresses herself as a man,” wrote Olfert Dapper, of the Dutch West India Company.

Image [Queen Mbande Nzinga][ Unknown artist, hand-colored lithograph, 1830s]
[Queen Mbande Nzinga][ Unknown artist, hand-colored lithograph, 1830s]

Nehanda Mbuya

The ‘Grandmother’ of Zimbabwe led the Shona against Cecil Rhodes and the invading English. Nehanda (1862-1898) was a priestess and became a military leader of her people. She led a number of successful attacks on the English but was eventually captured and executed.

Image [Nehanda Mbuya (center) with soldiers and a British officer.]
[Nehanda Mbuya (center) with soldiers and a British officer.]

Nandi (Nandi kaBhebhe eLangeni)

Nandi (1760-1827) was the warrior mother of Shaka Zulu, the famed leader of the Zulu in South Africa. She protected her son from potential assassination, and trained her son to be the famous warrior that he would become. When Zulu became King, he established an all-female regiment which often fought in the front lines of his army.


She was the warrior queen of the Tlokwa (the once famous 40,000- to 50,000-strong Sotho tribe). In the early 1800s, Queen Mantatisi became the first woman to rule as chieftainess over her people. She fought, successfully, to preserve her tribal lands during the wars between Shaka Zulu and the Tlokwa.

Madam Yoko

Mammy Yoko was a leader of the Mende of Sierra Leone. She ruled the fourteen tribes of the Kpa Mende Confederacy, the largest tribal group in 19th century Sierra Leone, guiding her people through Europe’s scramble for Africa. At that time at least 15% of all the tribes in Sierra Leone were led by women.

Image [Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh, leader of the Dahomey Amazons]
[Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh, leader of the Dahomey Amazons]


She was a leader of the Dahomey Amazons, an all female military unit, under King Gezo. In 1851 she led an army of 6,000 women against the Egba, a rival group, fortress of Abeokuta. In 1892 King Behanzin of Dahomey (now Benin) fought the French colonists over trading rights. His army of 12,000 troops, including 2,000 Amazons trained by Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh fought the French, but neither the kingdom nor the Amazons survived their anti-colonial war.


In the late 19th Century she was the leader of the Luba people of central Africa whose nation stretched along the rainforest from Zaire to northern Zambia. After her brother Kasongo Kalambo was killed in battle she assumed sole control of the empire and the army and ruled for many years.

Image [Queen Ranavalona III, ca. 1890. Beside her on the table is a Bible (Unknown Photographer)]
[Queen Ranavalona III, ca. 1890. Beside her on the table is a Bible (Unknown Photographer)]

Queen Ranavalona I

Of all these powerful women there is one who stands out as the most feared of all, Queen Ranavalona I – The Mad Monarch of Madagascar (1782-1861). In 1828, King Radama died, leaving his queen Ranavalona on the throne. She rapidly broke treaties with both the English and the French, and she banned Christianity. Anyone caught practicing Christianity was subject to spectacular punishment – they were boiled alive, poisoned, thrown off cliffs or simply beheaded if they didn’t give up Christ.

She implemented “Trial by Ordeal” in which the accused drank the poison from the tanguena plant and innocence was established if they survived. The French and the British did what they could to overthrow Ranavalona, but failed. After defeating an invasion army, Ranavalona beheaded the dead Europeans, and decorated her beaches with the heads impaled on pikes. Cognizant of this display, the French and the English sought colonial adventures elsewhere.

There were, of course, many other female leaders and warriors who have not been mentioned here. It is a pity that the contributions of these leading women in African history have been ignored or forgotten. Perhaps, one day, the African history books will include the stories of these women and pay tribute to their important contribution to the development of the continent.

[Main image: Adapted from a poster of Phila Ndwandwe, Angolan Liberation Fighter]

Image [Poster, Phila Ndwandwe, Angolan Liberation Fighter]
[Poster ca. 1985, Phila Ndwandwe, Angolan Liberation Fighter]
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Dr. Gary K. Busch, for Lima Charlie News 

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

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Russia’s energy divides Europe

Image Russia's energy divides Europe [Lima Charlie News]
Russia's energy divides Europe [Lima Charlie News]

OPINION: Fueled by Russian gas imports and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, an energy Cold War threatens to divide Europe.

The European Union’s Energy Union initiative is a beautiful idea. An idea which is being crushed by harsh realpolitik. The controversy surrounding Nord Stream 2 reflects how the import of liquid natural gas (LNG) is dividing the European Union and raising geopolitical tensions between Russia and the U.S. The export of natural gas to Europe is but an instrument in the Metternichian styled toolbox of the strong-arm politics of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump alike.

Nord Stream 2 is considered an intricate part of the EU’s energy expansion plan, which will supposedly ensure a resilient energy union utilising free market principles. The new gas pipeline is being built through the Baltic Sea, from Russia to northern Germany. The first pipeline, Nord Stream, was completed in November 2011 and measures 1,222 kilometres (759 miles) in length, making it the longest sub-sea pipeline in the world. In its present configuration, it has a capacity of 55 billion cubic metres (1.9 trillion cubic feet) of LNG-flowthrough per year.

Image Nord Stream

If successful, Nord Stream 2with its two additional lines, would double that capacity to 110 billion cubic metres (3.9 trillion cubic feet) by the end of 2019. Thus it stands to unravel the European Union’s energy sovereignty in favour of Russia.

We’re supposed to protect you from Russia, but Germany is making pipeline deals with Russia. You tell me if that’s appropriate. Explain that.

-President Donald Trump, July 2018 NATO Summit 

Who will turn on the lights?

The Nord Stream project has been fraught with controversy since its inception. Its opponents represent a wide array of interests and include geostrategic analysts, environmentalists and right-wing governments throughout Eastern Europe.

A primary concern stems from Europe’s increasing dependency on Russian natural gas. Between 2016 and 2017 natural gas imports from Russia to Europe increased by 5 per cent, meaning that 37 per cent of Europe’s natural gas imports came from Russia in 2017. Upon completion of Nord Stream 2 that figure would increase even more, rendering Europe unable to take a viable political or military stand against Russia should the need arise without hampering its own abilities to operate as a functional society.

Image Rytis Daukantas
[Graphic: Rytis Daukantas]

Moscow’s willingness to use its natural gas pipelines as a weapon, be it justifiable or not, came into vivid display in 2006 and 2009, when Russia closed the proverbial tap on natural gas flowing to and through Ukraine. At the time, about 80 per cent of Russian gas exports to the European Union passed through Ukraine. This act, which was reminiscent of the 1973 oil crisis where OPEC sought to penalise the U.S. for siding with Israel during the Yom Kippur conflict, devastated European access to natural gas. Ostensibly, this was done largely in an attempt to force the Ukrainian state-controlled oil and gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy to pay its outstanding bills towards Russian government-owned Gazprom. The act served a secondary purpose.

For years Ukraine sought to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a position deeply troubling for Moscow, which favoured Ukraine joining a Russian-led defence alliance. At the flip of a switch, Moscow showed Kiev just who made the lights come on in Ukraine.

Another geostrategic consideration, albeit less focused on the direct good of the Energy Union, is the consideration that a direct pipeline between Russia and Germany will weaken Ukraine’s position as a transit country. The prospect of weakening Ukraine is concerning in light of the Russian military annexation of Crimea and the ongoing Donbas situation. This would limit Kiev’s ability to sue for acceptable terms with Moscow.

With this in mind, it is no wonder that a U.S.-led coalition has critiqued the pipeline deal. During a July 2018 NATO summit in Brussels, both the Polish delegation and U.S. President Donald Trump expressed concern over Germany’s decision to approve of the pipeline, arguing it would make Germany “totally dependent” on Russian LNG.

Of course, the U.S. intent behind this ominous warning is not altogether altruistic.

Rather, the U.S. wants Germany, and Europe at large, to import its LNG from American suppliers. The U.S. has in recent years become a leading exporter of LNG and considers it a strategic goal to stop Nord Stream 2, allowing effective control the European market. Poland, which recently announced a long-term plan to stop all import of Russian LNG by 2022, has offered itself as a transit country for U.S. LNG to enter Europe. In fact, a stated U.S. goal is to become the world’s largest exporter and Europe’s main supplier of LNG by 2025. To help facilitate this reality, President Trump has directly and indirectly threatened sanctions targeting companies that are involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2.

In addition to this, there are concerns within European countries that while the project would represent a Unionwide change in energy politics, impacting the entire continent’s energy security and sovereignty, the primary beneficiary in the short term is Germany. Germany could, should the political winds change, use its position as a routing point and hub for Russian LGN in much the same fashion as Russia did against Ukraine.

In light of these concerns, the Nord Stream projects have found resistance not just on local political levels, but also on a European Union-administrative level.

Image [German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin (AFP)]
[German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin (AFP)]

In Comrade Schröder We Trust

Today the project is being handled by Swiss consortium Nord Stream AG, with Russian government-owned natural gas giant Gazprom as its majority owner. Minority ownership is divided between energy companies from Germany (Wintershall and Uniper), Austria (OMV), France (Engie) and the Netherlands (Shell). The coalition is led by the former German Chancellor and Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, decidedly pro-Russian and a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Putin became Acting President of the Russian Federation in 1999, Schröder became one of his earliest Western allies. The ease with which the two leaders created a lasting relationship might have come, in part, due to the fact that Putin speaks fluent German after having served as a KGB agent under the guise of a translator while in Dresden, East Germany from 1985 to 1990.

Schröder would come to spearhead what became the Nord Stream project. In 2005, Schröder’s time as Chancellor came to an end. Just days before he was set to leave office, he signed a €1 billion government guarantee with Gazprom in case Gazprom faltered on its obligations. This would not just ensure Gazprom would build the pipeline, even if at the cost of the German government, it caused Gazprom stocks to soar.

Within a few weeks, Schröder was announced as the Chairman of the Shareholders’ Committee of Nord Stream representing Gazprom and, with it, Russian interests towards Europe.

Image [Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder with Russian President Vladimir Putin]
[Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: H. Hollemann)]

This was not the first time that Russia would hire exiting high ranking government officials to expedite its interests. In 2008, Nord Stream AG hired former Finnish prime minister Paavo Lipponen as a consultant to help change Nordic countries’ perception of the pipeline. Lipponen, a long-standing Finnish social democrat who served as prime minister from 1995 to 2003, had been an early supporter of the project. His administration was known as unusually Russia-friendly by Finnish standards. At the time, Lipponen still had an office in the Finnish parliament building but was forced to relinquish his quarters amidst the news that he had taken a job with Gazprom.

A few months later, Russia initiated a military operation against neighbouring Georgia. Lipponen seized the opportunity and terminated his consulting contract with Gazprom. Almost immediately afterwards, in an attempt to recuperate some of his public image, he would pen an article in the Finnish news magazine Tekniikka & Talous criticizing his former employer. In the article, Lipponen warned that Europe was becoming overly dependent on Russian gas, suggesting that nuclear power was a better option.

Schröder, on the other hand, took a different path. A significantly more recognizable personality on the European political stage, Schröder would come to openly advocate pro-Russian dogma. For instance, during the initial days of the Russian incursion into Ukraine, Schröder was one of the few Western European politicians to loudly oppose the imposition of sanctions or European Union condemnation of Russia’s actions.

I see that the United States is interested in a weaker Russia, and the interest of Europe and Germany is that Russia will prosper …

— Gerhard Schröder at the Eurasian Economic Forum in Verona in October 2017

Schröder would become chairman of government-controlled Russian oil giant Rosneft in 2017. At the time Rosneft remained under U.S. sanctions due to the Ukrainian crisis, though Schröder would avoid being added to the sanctions list. This would lead to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin to call for targeted sanctions against Schröder. In a March 2018 interview with German newspaper Bild, Klimkin stated, “Schröder is the most important lobbyist for Putin worldwide.” Klimkin went on to state, “it is important that there are sanctions against those who promote Putin’s projects abroad”. Present German Chancellor, Angela Merkel would also criticize her predecessor.

While Schröder serves on the Rosneft board, he remains the Nord Stream 2 manager on behalf of Gazprom.

Via Media! A compromise

For the past few months, Nord Stream 2 has received increasing resistance from France, Belgium and the U.S., along with the Baltic States. On February 7th, 2019 a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stated that France would support a European Commission proposal which would seek to disrupt the final stages of the project. This move would not just jeopardize the project, it could cause a dramatic head-on collision between France and Germany mere days after signing a new friendship agreement, the so-called Aachen Treaty (formally known as the Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation and Integration).

At the same time, officially unrelated and not at all intending to show the urgency of the matter, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the cancellation of his appearance at the Munich Security Conference, where he was scheduled to give a joint address with Merkel. The intended topic was said to be a united Europe and the need for security. Macron’s relationship with Russia is a complicated one, rooted firmly in realpolitik and subject to developments de jour. While Macron has advocated for an EU initiative to create a military force rivaling NATO, to eliminate reliance upon the U.S. for Europe’s security needs, he has also advocated the creation of a strategic partnership with Russia.

France’s position placed Chancellor Merkel firmly between a rock and a hard place. By endangering  completion of the Nord Stream 2 project, it could be the final nail in Merkel’s political coffin. In recent years, Merkel has suffered from an increasingly weakened position on the domestic political scene. She can no longer afford to be viewed as unable to keep promises made to her constituents. As such, Merkel is desperate to complete the pipeline, as Germany needs to replace the remaining DDR-era nuclear and coal power plants that Merkel committed to phasing out in the coming years.

On February 8th, less than twelve hours after Macron’s announcement, a “compromise” was reached which would make the completion of Nord Stream 2 possible.  As part of the agreement, Germany and France will both sponsor a new European Commission proposal to be approved by the Member States. If it passes, it would mean that the same rules which already apply internally within the EU would apply to imports. Ultimately, this translates to the precondition that Nord Stream 2 cannot be owned or operated by the same company that produces the gas.

Image [German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron sign Treaty of Franco-German Cooperation and Integration, Aachen, Germany, Jan. 22, 2019 (Photo: Ludovic Marin / AFP)]
[German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron sign Treaty of Franco-German Cooperation and Integration, Aachen, Germany, Jan. 22, 2019 (Photo: Ludovic Marin / AFP)]

The European Commission has stated that its Energy Union will put further emphasis on the importance of limiting dependence on Russia as the largest gas exporter. Berlin, in turn, has tried to assuage the situation further by announcing that it is studying the possibilities of constructing two additional terminals on the North Sea coast to receive LNG from the U.S.

While the source of Europe’s natural gas needs will continue to be a controversial issue for the foreseeable future, these measures are necessary to move towards a more sustainable long term energy policy.

What about alternative energy solutions? For some, the solution includes reinvesting in more modern and readily available nuclear fusion solutions. Fracking is another controversial but credible and cheaper alternative to Russian gas. This is a route that only the UK, which is already integrated into the European gas pipeline networks, appears willing to go down for now. In the meantime, the European Union has invested significant resources into the development of viable alternative energy sources, such as fusion and concentrated solar power technologies. However, true results are estimated to take at least another 15 to 30 years.

Regardless of what happens, dependency is never a pretty thing. The current situation holds every potential of creating a devastating weapon for the reigning superpowers to wield over Europe.

John SjoholmLima Charlie News 

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

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