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

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Isis Propaganda War on the Front Line of Cyberspace

  • By Jarno Limnell  September 15, 2014 09:26 BST

When the White House finally invoked the word “war” on 12 September to describe the new US-led campaign against Isis in Iraq and Syria, the already ominous parallels between 1914 and 2014 grew more resonant still, with the 21st-century wrinkle of cyber conflict adding a particularly destabilizing factor to today’s situation.

Pockmarked by crises – Boko Haram, Gaza, Ukraine and MH17, Ebola, Isis – the unquiet summer just concluded seemed all along to be leading up to something.

In 1914 it took about six weeks after the June assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand for war to erupt between Germany and Austria, the Dual Alliance, and Britain, France, and Russia.

In 2014, similarly, it was only weeks after Isis militants drove hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from their homes in Mosul and Tikrit, and isolated the minority Yasidis on Mount Sinjar, that President Obama announced “we will degrade and ultimately destroy” Isis.[1] (The Isis beheading videos, starting with James Foley’s execution posted on the Internet on 19 August, were a political accelerant.)

The danger of another World War I, a violent continent-wide contest for territory and regional influence that leaves mass casualties and redraws maps, is low. Isis will not soon steam into New York Harbor, guns blazing. But, beyond the narrow and classically kinetic “war on Isis” newly defined by the Obama administration, there is a fierce below-radar war in cyberspace for economic and political influence, involving numerous players.

Isis flag

The black flag has become heavily associated with the Isis group(Getty)

With terrible brilliance, Isis, for one, both commits cyber crime and floats cyber propaganda. It boasts both a “backroom” criminal operation, which raises funds, and a front-of-house “daylight” operation devoted to image building.

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Time for a Counterattack on the Kremlin

English: THE KREMLIN, MOSCOW. President Vladim...

English: THE KREMLIN, MOSCOW. President Vladimir Putin with Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev. Русский: МОСКВА, КРЕМЛЬ. Встреча с директором Федеральной службы безопасности Николаем Патрушевым. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

September 12, 2014

It’s my pleasure to offer an insightful guest post from Johan Wiktorin, former Swedish Military Intelligence and a Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences. Follow him on Twitter: @forsvarsakerhet

In Ukraine, the cease-fire is on the ropes with daily reports of artillery-fire and shootings. It is established that the Russian Armed Forces is one of the warring factions. A couple of weeks ago, the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, acknowledged on television that Sweden had verified, supposedly by its own intelligence services, that Russian artillery was firing into Ukraine.

There are other proofs as well. In a long blogpost at Bellingcat a few days ago, journalist Iggy Ostanin showed convincingly that the individual Buk SAM-system that shot down MH17 in July has returned to Russia and resumed its place in the 53th Brigade of the Russian PVO (Air Defense Forces). Continue reading

Russia Is Testing NATO’s Resolve in Eastern Europe

Russian President Vladimir Putin is feeling around for the gaps that have emerged in NATO’s defenses, and it may take more than military spending to patch them up

A few years ago, when NATO strategists would stop to consider a possible threat from Russia, their chief concern was the possibility, however slight, that the Russian state would implode, lose control of its nuclear arsenal and allow a few warheads to fall into the wrong hands. That at least was the worry Ivo Daalder expressed in the fall of 2010, when he paid a visit to Moscow as the U.S. ambassador to NATO. But on the whole, he says he just wasn’t very concerned about Russia at the time. The alliance was too busy with that year’s troop surge in Afghanistan and with newfangled threats like cyber warfare.

“As a security concern Russia wasn’t really on the agenda in 2010,” he tells TIME by phone on Friday from Chicago. “The focus with Russia was really on cooperation.” 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

Russia: Digging Themselves in Deeper

Why Big Oil is doubling down on Putin’s Russia.

BY Keith Johnson APRIL 22, 2014

Russia may have become an international outcast in the wake of its annexation of Crimea and continued destabilization of eastern Ukraine. But for one group of powerful multinationals, Russia these days is less pariah than promised land.

Big Western oil companies from BP to Shell have not just stayed the course in Russia in recent months — many have essentially doubled down on oil and gas investments there and built even closer ties with Russian energy firms. Taken together, the deals could send billions of dollars flowing into the Russian economy just when Barack Obama’s administration is trying to hammer it hard enough to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to reverse his annexation of Crimea and stop menacing eastern Ukraine.

“We’ve made clear that we’d be prepared to target certain sectors of the Russian economy if we see a significant escalation, including direct Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine,” White House spokesperson Laura Lucas Magnuson has said. Continue reading

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

17 May 2012

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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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