Published on 28 May 2015
After the defeats of Austria-Hungary against Russia, Italy is seeing her chance to grab disputed territories from them. Even though they are not prepared for a full scale war economically or militarily, the declare war against the Central Powers. So, just one month after the landing at Gallipoli, yet another front is opened in Europe. Meanwhile the Russians are still on the run from August von Mackensen and in Gallipoli the fighting stops to collect the dead.
May 29, 2015
May 27, 2015
Your weekly dose of Cold War nostalgia this week comes by way of Dmitry Rogozin, the eminently quotable Russian deputy PM in charge of the Russian defence industry:
“I’ve always joked about it… so what if they won’t give us visas, put us on sanctions list … tanks don’t need visas,” he told an interviewer on Russian state television last Sunday, according to AFP.
Last year, the former ambassador to NATO and notorious Putin loyalist, was put on a sanctions list of both the U.S. Treasury Department and the European Union, which made Rogozin announce that the Russian defense industry has “many other ways of traveling the world besides tourist visas.”
Additionally, after Romania prevented the deputy prime minister’s plane from entering its airspace in 2014, he announced that “next time I will fly in a Tu-160″ — referencing Russia’s newest strategic bomber. That comment made the Romanian Foreign Ministry issue a statement calling Rogozin’s words “a serious threat.”
Back in 2013, after the commissioning of the first Borei-class SSBN (see: “Putin’s Red October: Russia’s Deadliest New Submarine”), the Russian Cabinet member tweeted: “You bourgeoisie tremble! You are screwed!”
The most recent diatribe comes in the wake of two-week long Western military maneuvers in the Arctic, codenamed “Arctic Challenge” and involving 115 fighter aircraft and 3,600 military personnel from nine countries.
In response to yesterday’s launch of “Arctic Challenge”, the Russian Defense Ministry announced a four-day long military exercise of its own, a “massive surprise inspection” involving 12,000 troops 250 aircraft and 689 units of “various weapons and military equipment” targeting an “imaginary enemy.” The snap maneuvers are taking place in the Ural mountains and Siberia – home to Russia’s central military district.
Dmitry Rogozin’s most recent comment on Russia’s ties with the West was published yesterday on his Twitter account: “It’s not Russia that threatens the West. Its foundations will crash down under the pressure of ISIS and gays.”
May 16, 2015
At The Diplomat, Catharine Putz wonders if there can be a Kazakhstan without President Nursultan Nazarbayev:
In a new report, the International Crisis Group says that Kazakhstan is facing a stress test – its only president since independence turns 75 this summer and Russia’s “actions in Ukraine cast a shadow over Kazakhstan.” To date, the report notes, Kazakhstan’s devotion to continuity has trumped needed democratic reforms. Nursultan Nazarbayev’s recent landslide reelection demonstrates his absolute centrality to political stability in the country and could prove to be “a serious vulnerability.”
The report encourages Kazakhstan to act soon – reconfirming its independence from Russia and lifting the veil on government operations in order to reassure citizens and foreign powers “that the state is not the work of one man or an exclusive ethnic project and that the transition to a post-Nazarbayev era will be smooth.” The report recommends that Kazakhstan continue to pursue a multi-vector foreign policy by engaging equally with Russia and the EU; take a “recognizable role” in pursuing a solution to the Ukraine crisis; give senior officials – other than Nazarbayev – some stage time; practice restraint in issues of language, ethnicity, and nationalism; and broaden economic development beyond Astana.
This is not the first time parallels have been drawn between Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, like all of Central Asia, had a sizeable ethnic Russian population when the Soviet Union dissolved. That population has dwindled; in a country of 17 million a 2009 census determined that ethnic Russians accounted for 23 percent, ethnic Kazakhs more than 60 percent. This is a more modern development, as it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the ethnic Kazakh population bypassed that of ethnic Russians in the region. Now, most ethnic Russians are concentrated along the northern border with Russia.
How do you say “Après moi, le déluge” in Kazakh?
May 15, 2015
Published on 14 May 2015
The 2nd Battle of Ypres is still going but no side can gain a decisive advantage. The main reason on the British side is a lack of artillery ammunition. Even the delivered shells are not working correctly. But even the German supply lines are stretched thin. At the same time German South-West Africa falls to South African troops under Louis Botha.
May 4, 2015
Last month, Strategy Page looked at the Mistral class ships, both the original French Navy ships and the two that have been built for — but not delivered to — the Russian navy:
Russia has not bought foreign warships for a long time, but the Mistral purchase was largely because of an eagerness to acquire Western shipbuilding technology and construction skills. This has already paid off, although not exactly how the Russians had planned. This became evident when a Russian official announced that the first Mistral would be built entirely in France. It had earlier been decided to have Russian shipyards build some sections of the first Mistral. It was quickly discovered that the Russian shipyard was not capable of building to the French specifications or do it according to the French timetable. The Russians expected to learn some valuable lessons from the French and, while embarrassing, this was one very valuable lesson. Russian shipyard officials have had their faces rubbed in the embarrassment of not being able to compete while using their current practices. Russian experts on Western production methods and techniques have long complained of the antiquated and inefficient methods still favored by Russian shipbuilders. Navy leaders have been complaining for decades about the poor quality of work coming out of Russian shipyards. The Mistral purchase was to put this to the test because additional Mistrals were to be built in Russia, with plenty of French supervision and technical assistance. That is also being withheld because of the Ukraine situation.
The Russian Navy has made some changes in the existing Mistral design. This Russian model will be called the Vladivostok Class and carry 30 helicopters (compared to 16 on the French version). The Vladivostoks will be armed with two AK-630 multibarrel 30mm autocannon for anti-missile defense. There will also be two quad-launchers of shoulder fired type anti-aircraft missiles (with a 5 kilometer range and does well against helicopters) and two or more DP-65 55mm grenade launchers for defense against divers.
The Vladivostoks will also be winterized for use in arctic conditions. The hull will be strengthened to deal with ice and the well deck door will completely close. The flight deck will have a deicing system and the ship will be modified to operate for extended periods in arctic conditions. There is also different electronics and this means a different arrangement of radomes and antennae.
In the aircraft handling areas below the deck, there will be more space made for the taller Ka-52K and Ka-29 helicopters. The Ka-52K is a navalized version of the Ka-52. In addition to being equipped with coatings to resist sea water corrosion, the K model will also have a lightweight version of the high-definition Zhuk-AE AESA radar used on jet fighters. This radar currently weighs 275 kg (605 pounds), but the helicopter version will weigh only 80 kg (176 pounds) and enables the Kh-52K to use the Kh-31 anti-ship missile. This weapon has a range of 110 kilometers and travels at high speed (about one kilometer a second). The Kh-52K can also carry the sub-sonic Kh-31 missile, which has a range of 130 kilometers. Both of these missiles weigh about 600 kg (1,300 pounds) each.
The French navy received the first of their own 21,500 ton Mistrals in 2006, with the second one arriving in 2007. Both were ordered in 2001. These two ships replaced two older amphibious landing ships. This gave France a force of four amphibious ships. The two Mistrals are also equipped to serve as command vessels for amphibious operations. The French have been very happy with how the Mistrals have performed.
I believe the French navy actually has three ships of this class in service: Mistral, Tonnerre, and Dixmude.
April 22, 2015
At Strategy Page, Austin Bay talks about the unusual attention paid to a Danish island in the Baltic Sea by Russian military forces:
Denmark’s Bornholm Island apparently troubles Vladimir Putin’s 21st-century Kremlin war planners as much as it vexed their Cold War Soviet-era predecessors.
More on Bornholm’s specifics in a moment, but first let’s cover one more example of Putin Russia’s aggressive wrong doing. According to an open-source Danish security assessment, in mid-June 2014, three months after Putin’s Kremlin attacked and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Russian aircraft carrying live missiles bluffed an attack on Bornholm. Though the report doesn’t provide the exact date, the bomber “probe” occurred during the three-day period the island hosted a touchy-feely “peoples festival.” The festival’s 90,000 participants were unaware they were seeking peaceful solutions on a bulls-eye.
The Bornholm faux-attack reprised Soviet Cold War “tests” of Danish defenses and is but one of a score of serious Russian military probes since 2008 designed to rattle Northern Europe. These Kremlin air and naval probes, backed by harsh rhetoric, have led Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland to reassess their military defenses. “Nordic cooperation” with an emphasis on territorial defense was the first formulation. The Nordics, however, acknowledged ties to Baltic states (and NATO members) Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since the Crimea invasion, Denmark and Norway (NATO members) want to reinvigorate NATO military capabilities. Continued Russian aggression in Ukraine has led a few habitually neutral Swedes to voice an interest in joining NATO.
Back to Bornholm: the island’s location and geology irritated Soviet-era Kremlin strategists. Located in the Baltic Sea east of peninsular Denmark, north of Poland’s coast and to the rear of what was East Germany, Bornholm gave the Free World outpost north of and behind Warsaw Pact lines.
Soviet communications security officers despised the place. Bornholm’s electronic intercept systems, quite literally, bugged them.
As for geology, unlike Jutland’s flat peninsula, Bornholm is rock. In the 1970s, while serving a U.S. Army tour in West Germany, I heard a senior officer describe Bornholm as “sort of a Gibraltar.” His exaggeration had a point. Dig tunnels and Bornholm became a hard target for Soviet conventional weapons.
April 15, 2015
Published on 13 Apr 2015
Nicholas II was the last tsar of Russia and the last ruler of the Romanov dynasty. His reign and his command are considered especially inauspicious today. Everything you need to know about Nicholas II of Russia in portrait.
April 14, 2015
To begin with, any attempt to shift blame for World War I from Germany onto the French-Russian alliance has to deal with Germany’s responsibility for creating that alliance in the first place. If France wanted Alsace and Lorraine back, it was only because it had lost the territories in a war engineered by Germany. Karl Marx, in a moment of rare foresight, predicted that Germany’s decision to annex Alsace and Lorraine would end “by forcing France into the arms of Russia.” Similarly, it was Germany’s decision not to renew its alliance with Russia that led to increasing enmity between Russia and Austria, and to the creation of an anti-German alliance between Russia and France. And the German decision to rebuff British overtures in favor of a naval arms race (not to mention provoking the Agadir Crisis) pushed yet another potential ally into the enemy camp. Germany’s ability to lose friends and alienate people would continue during World War I itself, with such brilliant diplomatic maneuvers as the Zimmerman telegraph, unrestricted submarine warfare, and the decision to let Lenin back into Russia.
But leave all that aside. It’s certainly true that France wanted to get Alsace and Lorraine back from Germany, and that France knew the only hope it had of beating Germany in a war was with Russia as an ally. But this had been true for decades prior to 1914. Had France and Russian really wanted to start a war with the central powers, they had plenty of opportunities. But they didn’t. Clark himself concedes this, noting that “at no point did the French or the Russian strategists involved plan to launch a war of aggression against the central powers.”
What’s more, far from being an instigator, France was disengaged during much of the July Crisis. Attention in France during July 1914 was focused on a particularly lurid murder trial involving the wife of a prominent politician. During the key period of the Austrian ultimatum, both the French president and prime minister were stuck on a boat returning from St. Petersburg. And when leaders did finally arrive in Paris, their moves were not aggressive. The French prime minister cabled Russia on July 30 that it “should not immediately proceed to any measure which might offer Germany a pretext for a total or partial mobilization of her forces” and the French army itself was pulled back six miles from the German frontier.
Josiah Neeley, “Historical Revisionism Update: Yes, Germany (Mostly) Started World War I”, The Federalist, 2014-01-06
March 27, 2015
Published on 26 Mar 2015
The generals at the Western Front are slowly starting to adapt to the modern war. The battle of Neuve-Chappelle will be a blueprint for future operations and further improvements are supposed to finally bring the decisive advantage. In the meantime, after 133 days, the fortress of Przemyśl capitulates – the longest siege of World War 1.
March 26, 2015
When he’s not droning on about domestic politics, Victor Davis Hanson has interesting historical patterns to point out:
Nothing that Vladimir Putin has done in gobbling up territories of the former Soviet Union is new. In fact, he simply apes every tyrant’s time-honored four-step plan of aggression.
From Philip of Macedon to Napoleon, aggressors did not necessarily have a grand timetable for creating an empire. Instead, they went at it ad hoc. They took as much as they could at any given time; then backed away for a bit, if they sensed strong opposition was building — only to go back on the offensive when vigilance waned.
Hitler did not realistically believe in 1936 that he would within five years create an empire from the Atlantic to the Volga. Instead, he started out by moving incrementally — in the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia — testing where he might grab land without a war, always both surprised at the ease of his success and full of contempt for the appeasers who had so empowered him.
So too Putin. Once the Obama administration had reset the mild punishments of the Bush administration for carving out parts of Ossetia, Putin went back on the move. Obama’s reset was a green light for Putin. Who in the real world of serious diplomacy shows up in Geneva with a red plastic toy reset button, complete with a mistranslated Russian label? When Putin soon sized up the Obama administration’s appeasement around the globe — from fake red lines for Syria, to a scramble out of Iraq, to chaos in Libya — he moved into Crimea. And then he waited.
Western sermons followed; outrage grew. Then the Western hysterics predictably passed, as popular attention went back to the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus’s metamorphosis from Disney girl to vamp. After a bit of digestion, Putin was ready for his next Anschluss. He repeated the formula in Ukraine: a persecuted Russian-speaking minority, an anti-Russian illiberal government, civil unrest, denial of a just and much-needed new plebiscite, a need for paramilitaries to help out their brethren, a Russian army standing nearby just in case, a few bombers buzzing the West, and magnanimous promises to leave crumbs for the victims.
March 3, 2015
Published on 2 Mar 2015
World War 1 was a a fight of nationalism and self determination for many countries which did not yet exist then. One of those countries was Poland – its territory split between Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany. In our first of multiple special episodes, Indy tells you everything about Poland and it’s fight for independence.
February 28, 2015
How worried are Russia’s neighbours? Norway reacts to re-opened northern bases that have been shut down since the Cold War
In the Guardian, Julian Borger reports on restructuring in Norway’s defence establishment in reaction to Russian expansionism:
Norway’s defence minister has said her country’s armed forces will be restructured so they can respond faster to what she called increased Russian aggression.
Ine Eriksen Soreide said that Russia had recently re-opened military bases in its far north that had been shut down after the cold war, and that there had also been an increase in flights by Russian warplanes close to Norwegian airspace.
“We have seen in the first couple of months of this year a certain increase compared to the same period last year and … an increased complexity. We see they fly longer, they fly with more different kinds of airplanes and their patterns are different than they used to be,” Soreide told the Guardian during a visit to London.
“They have not breached our territory and that is different from what is happening in the Baltic Sea area. They are breaching territory there all the time and in the Baltic area they have also seen three times as many flights as normal or usual,” she added.
Soreide said Norway was stepping up military cooperation with the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — as a means of reassuring them that they were fully covered by Nato’s collective security umbrella. Furthermore, Norway was “absolutely” ready to expand training of Ukrainian soldiers, she said, predicting that more Nato states would follow the British example of dispatching trainers and non-lethal equipment to support Ukraine.
“On the political level I think it is important to define what we are seeing, that this is aggression — whether you see it as cyber threats or information campaign and conventional warfare, it is aggression what they are doing in Ukraine. And I think it’s important to say this, and that we do not accept this towards Nato countries,” the defence minister said.
Update: Re-worded the headline to reflect the fact that it was Russian bases being re-opened, not Norwegian facilities.
February 27, 2015
Russian military exercises tend to dwarf those of their neighbours, especially in the number of troops involved (and the kind of troops). Ian J. Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis report on the phenomenon:
Exercises are used by defense establishments to test their readiness, deployability, and logistical and combat proficiency. They can be used as demonstrations of force to underscore determination to defend national territory/interests and those of allies and partners. They can also be used to intimidate and to camouflage offensive operations. Regarding the latter, in February 2014 Russia mobilized 150,000 troops under the guise of an anti-terror simulation. Many of the units in this exercise were deployed along Ukraine’s border just as Russia invaded Crimea and then later eastern Ukraine.
While military exercises are not the sole indicator of military readiness and capability, they do reflect seriousness of intent. In this case, a comparison of exercises by NATO and those of Russia reveals a troubling disparity in magnitude. In short, there is a NATO-Russia “exercise gap” that is all the more glaring when one would think it would be easier for a group of nations to orchestrate larger exercises than those conducted by a single nation.
The following chart indicates that since 2013, Russia has conducted at least six military exercises involving 65,000 to 160,000 or more personnel. In contrast, during the same period, NATO’s most significant exercises included STEADFAST JAZZ, a collective defense exercise conducted in Poland and Latvia in November of 2013 involving 6,000 personnel (of which half were headquarters staff) and NOBLE LEDGER, a test of the NATO Response Force (NRF) that brought 6,500 troops to the field. Individual NATO allies have hosted larger multinational exercises in the North Atlantic Area. These include Norway’s COLD RESPONSE involving some 16,000 troops, the United States’ BOLD ALLIGATOR involving 15,000 personnel and Poland’s October 2014 ANAKONDA with 13,250 personnel.
February 25, 2015
A report from the Lithuania Tribune details a change in Lithuanian defence policy:
The State Defence Council, comprising of the Lithuanian president, prime minister, parliament speaker, defence minister and army chief, decided on Tuesday to reintroduce military conscription in Lithuania.
The conscription, which was suspended several years ago as Lithuania opted for the professional army, should be reintroduced in light of the changes in geopolitical situation, President Dalia Grybauskaitė said after the meeting.
“We must reinforce the country’s defence capacities. Under new geopolitical circumstances, the army must be properly prepared for the country’s armed defence even in times of peace. Today’s geopolitical situation requires that we strengthen and speed up the manning of our army. Therefore the State Defence Council has decided that it is necessary to temporarily, for five years, reintroduce compulsory military draft,” President Grybauskaitė said.
Under the proposal, compulsory military service would apply to men between the ages of 19 and 26. The plan is to draft between 3,000 and 3,500 men each year. Exemptions would apply to university students, single fathers, men with health issues or otherwise unsuitable for military service.
In Newsweek, Damien Sharkov reports on the high tempo of Russian “training” missions near the Baltic states:
Increasingly frequent snap military drills being carried out by Russia near its eastern European neighbours could be part of a strategy that will open the door for a Russian offensive on the Baltic states according to defence expert Martin Hurt, deputy director at Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security.
The Lithuanian and Estonian defence ministries have expressed alarm at the increased military activity, and drawn comparisons with moves prior to the Russian invasion of Crimea.
Commenting on Russia’s announcement last week that its armed forces will not cease holding snap military exercises, Hurt, who has previously worked for Estonia’s Ministry of Defence as well as for the armed forces of both Estonia and Sweden, warned against taking this news lightly.
“My take would be that the Russian authorities want to raise the readiness of their forces and also make European nations more relaxed to a new norm where the Russian Armed Force often conduct snap exercises,” Hurt says.
According to him, a relaxed European attitude about increased Russian military activity would be “extremely dangerous” for the democratic governments of Europe and particularly for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“A realistic scenario against the Baltics would be a ‘normal’ Russian snap exercise that without notice turns into a quick assault on one or several of the Baltic states’ capitals. Such an attack would have greater probability of success than the hybrid scenario we saw in Crimea,” Hurt adds.
“A decisive move by Putin assuming that the weak leaders of Europe will not react quickly and ‘avoid escalation’ is a possible scenario,” Hurt adds, highlighting that “the higher readiness NATO forces have, the better it is for the democratic part of Europe.”
February 20, 2015
Published on 19 Feb 2015
After more than six months of war, the first big mutiny breaks out in Singapore. The endless battles in which big powers sacrifice thousands of soldiers are leading to an organised resistance for the first time. Indian troops refuse to board a ship because they don’t want to fight other muslims in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the great offensives at the front in Europe continue.