Quotulatiousness

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

Filed under: Europe,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:18

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

Muscle-flexing – Russia’s military exercises

Filed under: Europe,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

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.

NATO and Russian military exercises

February 25, 2015

How worried are Russia’s neighbours? Lithuania just re-introduced conscription

Filed under: Europe,Military — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

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

The Singapore Mutiny I THE GREAT WAR Week 30

Filed under: Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:01

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.

February 13, 2015

Stopping Russia – Hindenburg’s Final Offensive? I THE GREAT WAR Week 29

Filed under: Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:45

Published on 12 Feb 2015

This week, well over 1 million soldiers are on the advance everywhere in Europe. General Hindenburgs tries to beat the Russians once and for all at the Masurian Lakes. Austria-Hungary is fighting the Russians with German support in the Carpathian mountains and on the Western Front the Champagne offensive is still going.

Feeling nostalgic for Cold War-era Soviet propaganda? Don’t worry … it’s back!

Filed under: Europe,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Strategy Page on the disturbing resurrection of Soviet style “news”:

Westerners in Russia, especially those who speak and read Russian, report that state controlled Russian media has seemingly reverted to stories and attitudes right out of the Cold War. It is, in short, unreal but actually happening. Russian media is full of stories of NATO aggression against Russia and anything that is going wrong in Russia is blamed on a NATO conspiracy to destroy Russia. The Russian aggression in Ukraine is described as largely a fable created by a NATO conspiracy to take over the Ukrainian government and institute a terror campaign against the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine, especially eastern Ukraine. There, the Russian media described ethnic Russians leading a rebellion against this NATO puppet government running Ukraine and NATO soldiers pretending to be Ukrainians doing most of the fighting. No captured NATO agents are presented which Russian media describes as proof of how clever and dangerous this NATO aggression is.

The reality is that Russian soldiers are regularly captured (dead and alive) and presented on Ukrainian TV but this is ignored and dismissed by Russian media as more insidious NATO propaganda. Those Russians familiar with their own history who point out the current government propaganda in Russia is similar to what went on in 1939 and 1941 are condemned as traitors. But it is a fact that in 1939 the communist Soviet Union signed a peace treaty with Nazi government of Germany and overnight Germany went from threat to valued ally according to Soviet media. That switched again in mid-1941 when Germany broke the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union. But during the time the treaty was in force Russian invaded Poland, the Baltic States and Finland. Russia was defeated in Finland and only got control of some territory just across the border. But eastern Poland was seized (as part of the 1939 treaty, with Germany taking most of Poland) as were the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania)

February 6, 2015

“Green men” finally triumph over the “Cyborgs”

Filed under: Europe,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Unfortunately, the “green men” are almost certainly Russian special forces troops, while the “cyborgs” were a rag-tag bunch of Ukrainian defenders of what remained of Donetsk’s modern airport terminal:

Late last week pro-Kremlin separatist militias — aided and very likely led by “green men” — defeated the last band of Ukrainian “Cyborgs” defending Donetsk’s airport. Two years ago the airport was touted as one of Eastern Europe’s most modern air hubs. Today it is, like many neighborhoods in the Donetsk region and villages along the Russia-Ukraine border, a miserable ruin.

For Ukrainians, Donetsk’s airport had become a national symbol. Media compared its stubborn Ukrainian defense to the legendary World War II Battle of Stalingrad, which pitted Red Army defenders against invading Nazis. In Ukraine’s narrative, the Ukrainians were defending Soviet forces, the Kremlin’s “green men” and their proxy militias the invaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, is an adept propagandist. In Putin’s insistent rendition, the Kremlin’s militias are Stalingrad’s glorious Russian soldiers reborn. Ukrainian defenders he scorns as “fascists.”

[…]

“The green men”: They wear green uniforms, without insignia, and masks. They pack sophisticated weaponry and gear. I associate their media nickname with, obviously, alien invaders, and invaders they are. They led the Russian invasion of Crimea; they appear, furtively, in Eastern Ukraine. They are Russian Army special operations troops. They advise the separatists. They seize key terrain. Credible sources have them participating in tactical combat.

The 1994 Budapest Accord leaves no doubt they are invaders. Putin wants the 1994 Budapest Accord to disappear down the global memory hole. Ukraine signed the Accord and gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for territorial security assurances by Russia. The U.S. (Clinton Administration) and Great Britain guaranteed the deal. If the U.S. had not guaranteed the Accord, I doubt Kiev would have signed it. In late February 2014 Putin shredded the Accord and invaded Crimea. Denuclearized, Ukraine’s resistance was futile.

But here’s the mistake Washington and London would like you to ignore: The U.S. (Obama administration) and Great Britain failed to support Ukraine.

January 30, 2015

All Or Nothing – Winter Offensive In The Carpathians I THE GREAT WAR Week 27

Filed under: Britain,History,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 29 Jan 2015

Konrad von Hötzendorf has to prevent the Russian army from entering the Hungarian plains. So, he starts a huge offensive in the Carpathian Mountains — in mid winter. He also wants to demonstrate his power to Italy and Romania who are considering entering the war for the Entente. Meanwhile, in the Northern Sea the first Battle of Dogger Bank takes place which leads to the sinking of the German ship SMS Blücher.

January 26, 2015

Tsar Vladimir I is making “dangerous history”

Filed under: Middle East,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Austin Bay looks at the risky but rewarding path of aggression and propaganda undertaken by Vladimir Putin:

Russian president Vladimir Putin made dangerous history in 2014. His invasion of Crimea and subsequent annexation of the peninsula shredded the diplomatic agreements stabilizing post-Cold War Eastern Europe.

Then Putin ignited a low-level war in Eastern Ukraine. Despite a September 2014 ceasefire agreement, Putin’s overt covert war-making continues in Eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin has concluded that Western leaders, European and American, are weak and indecisive.

Putin, unfortunately, knows how to use specific tactics in operations designed to achieve his strategic goals.

Military analysts typically recognize three levels of conflict: the tactical, the operational and the strategic. The categories are general, and distinctions often arguable. Firing an infantry weapon, however, is a basic tactical action. Assassinating Austrian royalty with a revolver is a tactical action, but one that in 1914 had strategic effect (global war). U. S. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign (1862-63) consisted of several Union military operations around Vicksburg (many unsuccessful). The campaign’s concluding operation, besieging Vicksburg, was an operational victory that gave the Union a strategic military and economic advantage: control of the Mississippi.

Putin’s Kremlin uses propaganda operations to blur its responsibility for tactical attacks in Ukraine. International propaganda frustrates Western media scrutiny of Russia’s calculated tactical combat action. Local propaganda targets Eastern Ukraine. Earlier this month, Ukrainian journalist Roman Cheremsky told Radio Free Europe that despite suffering criminal bullying by pro-Russian fighters, Kremlin “disinformation” is convincing Eastern Ukraine’s Russian speakers that Ukrainian forces are “bloodthirsty thugs.”

[…]

Oil’s price plunge, however, has also slammed Putin, threatening the genius with political and economic problems that, if prices remain low, could erode his personal political power. Energy revenue declines do far more damage to Putin than the economic sanctions Western governments have imposed.

So what’s a brilliant, innovative, thoroughly unscrupulous and utterly amoral strategist to do?

According to the AP, this week (Jan. 20), Iran and Russia signed “an agreement to expand military cooperation.” Iran and Russia are old antagonists, but given current circumstances vis a vis the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Tehran and Moscow may be following an old Machiavellian adage: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The deal includes counter-terror cooperation, military training and “enabling each country’s navy to use the other’s ports more frequently.”

For years Iran has sought Russian air defense weapons, presumably to thwart a U.S. strike on its nuclear facilities. However, the agreement’s naval port clause attracts my interest. About a third of the globe’s exported oil moves on tankers through the Persian Gulf’s Indian Ocean outlet, the Strait of Hormuz. To spike oil prices, Iran often threatens to close Hormuz. If Iran actually tried to shut the Strait, Western nations have assured Gulf Arab oil producers that they will respond militarily.

January 20, 2015

Recap: The First Six Months I THE GREAT WAR

Filed under: Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 19 Jan 2015

World War 1 broke out in summer 1914, a little over 100 years ago. Our channel is following the historic events week by week. For everyone who recently joined this channel: this recap is specially for you! Catch up with the last six months, hence the first six months of the war. Between the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Battle of the Marne and the Christmas Truce, hundreds of thousands of soldiers had to die. This is modern war.

January 9, 2015

In Dire Straits – Russia on Austro-Hungary’s Doorstep I THE GREAT WAR Week 24

Filed under: Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 8 Jan 2015

The Austro-Hungarian army resembles a better militia after six months into the war. After defeats against Serbia and Russia and still under siege in Galicia, the forces are in dire straits. Many casualties, especially among the officers, mean that an effective warfare is impossible. And all this while the Russians are close to entering the Hungarian plains. On another front, the Russians are winning the battle of Sarikamish which ends in a disaster for the Ottoman Empire. On the Western Front, each side still tries to gain a decisive advantage.

January 2, 2015

The Ottoman Disaster – The Battle of Sarikamish I THE GREAT WAR Week 23

Filed under: Europe,History,Middle East,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 1 Jan 2015

The Champagne offensive is still going on the Western Front without any side gaining a decisive advantage. In the Caucasus, Enver Pasha is showing how far he’s willing to go to achieve his goals. Against his military advisors’ recommendations, he decides to send more and more troops to Sarikamish. Without supplies and with temperatures constantly below -20 degrees, thousands of them freeze to death before even reaching the frontline. When the Russians finally encircle the Ottoman Troops, defeat is inevitable.

December 26, 2014

The First Battle of Champagne – Dying In Caucasus Snow I THE GREAT WAR Week 22

Filed under: Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:02

Published on 25 Dec 2014

Right before Christmas the allied powers begin the Champagne offensive, which will last several months. In the snow and the mud, and under horrible living conditions not only the soldiers suffer. The images of a war fought with honour and glory are finally over as even the white flag is used for ambushes. Far away in the mountains of the Caucasian, Russia and the Ottoman Empire are fighting a grim battle, too, in which many soldiers die during interminable marches in the snow wearing summer uniforms.

December 18, 2014

The Tsar’s new clothes

Filed under: Europe,Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

At Samizdata, Johnathan Pearce suspects that the folks at NATO headquarters are not getting as much sleep these days as they used to:

… it appears that the image of Putin as this ruthless, chess-playing genius wrongfooting silly old Cameron, Merkel, and the chap with the funny moonface from France is not quite standing up to scrutiny. Here’s a report by Bloomberg:

    “The foundations on which Vladimir Putin built his 15 years in charge of Russia are giving way. The meltdown of the ruble, which has plunged 18 percent against the dollar in the last two days alone, is endangering the mantra of stability around which Putin has based his rule. While his approval rating is near an all-time high on the back of his stance over Ukraine, the currency crisis risks eroding it and undermining his authority, Moscow-based analysts said.

    In a surprise move today, the Russian central bank raised interest rates by the most in 16 years, taking its benchmark to 17 percent. That failed to halt the rout in the ruble, which has plummeted to about 70 rubles a dollar from 34 as oil prices dived by almost half to below $60 a barrel. Russia relies on the energy industry for as much as a quarter of economic output, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Dec. 9 report.

Now might also be a good time to remind ourselves of the “curse of natural resources”.

It would be worth wondering what are the odds that Putin can last a lot longer in power. That said, a sobering thought is that when regimes are in deep trouble, they can do desperate, crazy things, as Argentina did in 1982 by invading the Falklands. If I were a planner for NATO right now, I’d be having a nervous Christmas and New Year ahead of me.

November 15, 2014

The very late adoption of some Jewish surnames

Filed under: Europe,History,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Kathy Shaidle linked to this post at Business Insider from back in January:

Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance). For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government, and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas. Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair.

Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation. For example, if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sara bat rivka), and they had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), the child would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe. If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Sora.

Jews distrusted the authorities and resisted the new requirement. Although they were forced to take last names, at first they were used only for official purposes. Among themselves, they kept their traditional names. Over time, Jews accepted the new last names, which were essential as Jews sought to advance within the broader society and as the shtetles were transformed or Jews left them for big cities.

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