The Hunt for Black October

The Swedish Navy is desperately trying to find a Russian submarine prowling off the coast of Stockholm. What’s Vladimir Putin up to?

BY Erik Brattberg , Katarina Tracz OCTOBER 20, 2014

What first sounded like something straight out of a Tom Clancy novel is turning out to be Moscow’s first serious test of Western resolve since the invasion of Crimea earlier this year. While details are patchy and the situation is still unfolding, three separate credible eyewitness accounts and a photo showing a dark structure descending into the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea seem to confirm the presence of a foreign submarine or mini-sub some 30 miles from Stockholm. If so, this would be a major escalation of tensions in the Baltic Sea region. Continue reading


Op-Ed: The POST “Post Cold War” Era in Europe

English: Map showing the maximum territorial e...

English: Map showing the maximum territorial extent of countries under the direct influence of the Soviet Union — between the Cuban Revolution/21st Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union/Sino-Soviet split. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April 24, 2014 | Dr. Jeffrey D. McCausland

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine reflects neither strategic wisdom nor military strength. In fact, it reflects just the opposite. Putin invested over $50 billion and significant personal capital in the Sochi Olympics and the upcoming G8 Summit. That has now been squandered. It was clearly humiliating for Putin to watch as the Ukrainian president he had strongly supported, if not hand-picked, was forced to flee Kiev. This was particularly true, given that President Yanukovych fled in response to a popular uprising driven by opposition to his efforts to establish closer Ukrainian relations with Russia at the expense of closer ties to Europe.

      Putin assuaged this humiliation with a military invasion of Crimea on March 1. On March 20, the Russian Parliament overwhelmingly approved a treaty presented by Putin to formally annex the Black Sea peninsula. At this juncture, it seems impossible to envision Moscow backing down, withdrawing its forces, and returning Crimea to Ukrainian control. President Obama, as well as Western European leaders, have acknowledged this reality. The so-called “post-Cold War era” has now come to a close, and the West must now confront a new European security environment. What is the nature of the new threat? What is the general outline of a new strategy for the United States and its NATO allies?
      It is important to realize that the longer-term threat posed by this new era does not herald a return to the Cold War. That “twilight struggle” had an ideological underpinning. It pitted Marxist-Leninist ideology against democracy and market economies. When Nikita Khrushchev made his famous threat, “We will bury you!” in 1956, he was not necessarily predicting imminent war so much as a belief that history was on the side of Communism. He believed that it was Communism, with its focus on a command oriented economy rather than the Soviet military, that would ultimately triumph. Continue reading

Ukraine quits CIS, sets visa regime with Russia, wants Crimea as ‘demilitarized zone’

Published time: March 19, 2014 17:55
Edited time: March 21, 2014 10:15

Members of a "Maidan" self-defense unit stand guard in front of a Ukrainian parliament building in Kiev March 17, 2014. (Reuters / Alex Kuzmin)

Members of a “Maidan” self-defense unit stand guard in front of a Ukrainian parliament building in Kiev March 17, 2014. (Reuters / Alex Kuzmin)

The interim government in Kiev says Ukraine will leave the commonwealth of post-Soviet states and force Russians to apply for entry visas, and plans to ask the United Nations to make Crimea a demilitarized zone.

The raft of measures – a response to Russia’s incorporation of Crimea into its territory following Sunday’s referendum – was announced by National Security and Defense Council chief Andrey Parubiy during a press briefing in Kiev.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was founded to maintain economic and security links between former Soviet republics when they became independent states in 1991. It initially included the 12 non-Baltic countries, though Georgia quit after the Ossetian conflict in 2008.

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Relearning War

A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission o...

A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, May 30, 2006. The B-2, from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., is part of a continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

June 3, 2012 | Dr. Stephen J. Blank

Today, the United States stands at a strategic crossroads. As troops leave Afghanistan and U.S. policy reorients itself toward emphasizing the Asia-Pacific region, the visible signs of being at an inflection point multiply. Yet, there are some glaring absences in U.S. strategic thinking that could again lead us awry, as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, if they are not attended to soon. In pivoting or rebalancing to Asia, the United States has announced a new concept of operations called air-sea battle. Whatever its merits or demerits might be, it cannot fairly be called a strategy, given its absence of a real political dimension that governs the conduct of operations. Moreover, it appears to be premised on the belief that future conflict will be more or less conventional, featuring high-tech, long-range aerial and maritime strike platforms directed against the enemy. Second, despite the turn toward jointness in the last two decades, this operational concept appears to exclude consideration of the necessity of the ground forces to accomplish strategic objectives. This is another reason why the concept cannot be called a strategy; it leaves out the one force that can effectively enforce a strategic conclusion to any future war.

Can we expect our enemies to be so obliging as to allow us to fight the kind of war that we prefer? Such thinking fails to account for the dramatic expansion, over the last generation, of the tools of war and their easy acquisition by any manner of adversary. These new “tools of war” include: asymmetric war, up to and including the threat of nuclear use as, for example, stipulated in Russian doctrine; the massive development of information war, not just cyber-strikes, but the whole issue of exploiting communications media to frame the narrative of contemporary war; “lawfare,” where international law is exploited on behalf of one or more belligerents in any conflict, etc. While war remains a contest of wills as described by Clausewitz, it also remains a chameleon able to assume many forms and manifestations where, as we have seen, the U.S., for all its advantages, still finds strategic success elusive.

If we are to grasp the challenge of the moment, we

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The Caspian’s Naval Arms Race


Satellite image of the Caspian Sea

A rise in the naval buildup of powers on the Caspian Sea highlights the deepening of unresolved regional tensions.

By John CK Daly for ISN Security Watch

Why has Russia built a new stealth equipped artillery ship, the Mahachkala, as Kazakhstan prepares to launch the Kazakhstan missile boat, its first domestically built warship, from its Zenit shipyard in Uralsk?

Because both nations are concerned about the security of their burgeoning Caspian energy assets, with Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan also developing Caspian flotillas. While the global media focuses on rising US-Chinese naval tensions in the western Pacific, in isolated Central Asia a maritime arms race has been triggered by the resources of the Caspian, a cultural and political fault line where Christian Europe intersects the Muslim world. The sea, previously peacefully divided between the USSR and Iran, now has new players.

The 143,244 square-mile Caspian is the world’s largest enclosed body of water and is an endorheic sea: rivers only flow into it, with no egress to the open ocean.

North Caspian Sea

What assets are the five nations scrambling to protect? Reserves, offshore production fields, undersea pipelines and tankers. In 2009 the US Energy Information Administration estimated that the Caspian could contain up to 250 billion barrels of recoverable oil along with an additional 200 billion barrels of potential reserves and 9.2 trillion cubic meters of recoverable natural gas.

Before 1991 the Soviet Union and Iran divided the inland sea amongst themselves. Under the 1921 Soviet-Iranian Treaty of Friendship, each had an “exclusive fishing rights in its coastal waters up to a limit of 10 nautical miles,” while the 1940 Soviet-Iranian treaty which supplemented the agreement further declared that the “parties hold the Caspian to belong to Iran and to the Soviet Union.” Needless to say, both treaties became invalid with the breakup of the USSR.

Ripples of discontent

Since the December 1991 implosion of the USSR, three new nations arose in the Caspian region and contested the bilateral arrangements: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. ever since, the five nations have wrangled about how equitably to divide the Caspian’s waters and seabed, but little has been achieved. Adding to the confusion, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) did not definitively declare whether the international law of the sea or the law of inland lakes applied to the Caspian, labeling it instead as “a special inner sea.”

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Ethnicity, Economics and Energy – Russia’s relations with Central and Eastern Europe

17 May 2012


Gas pipeline ‘pig trap’

Russia’s energy supplies ensure that Moscow maintains a geopolitical foothold in the European part of the former Soviet space.

By Sonia Rothwell

Yesterday we began charting how Russia seeks to maintain economic and geopolitical leverage across the former Soviet space. Our analysis inevitably reflects that it is now over two decades since the former USSR splintered into its constituent parts. Yet the return of Vladimir Putin to the Russian Presidency nevertheless provides us with insights into how Moscow might attempt to increase leverage in its former sphere of influence over the next 5-10 years. It is currently estimated, for example, that almost 70% of Russia’s export receipts are made up of transfers of natural resources, with the former Soviet space being a major recipient of end-products. A very healthy trade-surplus of more than $500bn provides Putin with opportunities to use Russia’s finances to its flex geopolitical muscle. During his election campaign, Putin pledged to invest approximately $750 million in Russia’s defense sector.

But to what extent do the former Soviet republics look to their old imperial master for security and economic cooperation? To answer this question, today we focus upon three sub-regions of the former Soviet Union – the Baltic States, Ukraine and Moldova. While each of these regions are forging economic and political relations that look beyond Russia, Moscow has the potential to use its energy supplies – and to a lesser extent its ethnic ties – to maintain a strategic foothold in Central and Eastern Europe.

A Changed Eastern Europe

From an economic and geopolitical perspective, the Baltic States have done the most out of all the former republics to distance themselves from their Soviet past. Each state is now a fully-fledged member of the European Union (EU) with Estonia (whose trade and cultural links have traditionally favored Finland) taking a step further away from Moscow after it joined the Eurozone in 2011. Like the Baltic States, Moldova also aspires to closer economic ties with the West in general and Europe in particular. Recently, Moldova’s Prime Minister and President re-affirmed their commitment to membership of the EU. Moldova’s efforts to also join NATO are largely encouraged by Romania and underpinned by linguistic and cultural affiliations between the two countries.

Russia nevertheless maintains a significant strategic foothold within Moldova. Its 14th army is stationed in the self-proclaimed majority Russian state of Trans Dniestra with Moscow also providing financial assistance to the government in Tiraspol. Strategically, it is in Russia’s interests to safeguard Trans-Dniestra’s independence to maintain Moscow’s influence within the region and divert Moldova’s attention away from full EU membership. Nevertheless, Russia maintains strong bilateral trade links with Moldova and there are calls for the country to join Russia’s nascent Customs Union. So in sharp contrast to the Baltic States, Moldova is seemingly pulled in two directions by its near- neighbor Romania and an economically significant Russia.

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Impact of Russia’s WTO Entry on U.S.

Interviewee: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor,

November 10, 2011

clip_image002A deal between Georgia and Russia (RT), helped by Swiss mediation, has opened the way for Russia to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). “The Russians are the largest economy not in the WTO,” and their accession is important both in economic and political terms, says CFR’s Stephen Sestanovich. But for the United States to benefit from Russia’s membership in the WTO, he says, Congress must “graduate” Russia from the terms of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which links trade to human rights practices, mainly emigration policies. Economic considerations make it likely for Congress to take this step, Sestanovich adds, but at the same time many members in Congress would like Jackson-Vanik to be replaced with something else that expresses continued U.S. support for democracy and human rights in Russia.

Russia is all set to enter the WTO. Is this a major development for the world economy? Is it a major development in Russia’s relations with the rest of the world?

The Russians are the largest economy not in the WTO. Their accession is important in economic terms; it also has significant political interest. A few months ago, I would have predicted that it would be quite hard to solve the big remaining obstacle, which was a political one. And that was that Georgia objected to Russian membership because, in brief, Russia is occupying its territory. It wanted arrangements made that would indicate that South Ossetia and Abkhazia–the Georgian provinces that Russia has recognized as autonomous, independent states following the brief Russian-Georgian war in 2008–are still part of Georgia. And the Russians of course, were in no mood to grant this. So, it looked as though it would be very hard to broker a deal.

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