Outgoing NATO Commander Calls the Alliance “A Linchpin for Peace”

0814aleppo01
What is left of Aleppo, Syria’s most war-torn city.

by Stephen Lendman

US-dominated NATO is an imperial tool, a global killing machine, maintained for offense, not defense.

Its members and partners comprise nearly one-third of world nations. Exponential expansion is planned, Washington wanting NATO’s footprint spread globally on every continent, wanting it used as an instrument for world conquest and domination.

Since its 78-day rape of Yugoslavia in 1999, US-controlled NATO ravaged and destroyed one country after another.

In his Washington Post op-ed, outgoing Alliance Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Philip Breedlove twisted reality, calling “the utility of the alliance…self-evident,” adding:

It’s “arguably the most critical linchpin supporting stability on the continent…(T)he United States absolutely needs…a NATO that is strong, resilient and united.”

Fact: It’s a US-dominated instrument for endless wars of aggression.

Fact: It’s the greatest threat to world peace.

Fact: When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, its existence was no longer justified.

Fact: Instead of disbanding, it expanded without justification. Stop NATO’s Rick Rozoff said from the mid-1990s to 2005, it “evolved from a regional alliance based in Western Europe to a global force (for) undoing the entire post-World War II order of which the UN was the cornerstone.”

It evolved into an instrument for advancing America’s imperium, a force for endless wars, not peace.

It had nothing to do with helping “rebuild the continent from the ravages of WW II.” Post-war Europe faced no threat from devastated Soviet Russia, needing many years to rebuild its war-shattered country.

After pledging no NATO eastward expansion post-1991, 10 former Warsaw Pact countries were added along with two other nations formed from the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Breedlove twisted truth calling them liberated, transformed into “thriving democracies.” He claimed NATO is critical to confront “an arc of instability and aggression threatening our interests and our allies stretching from the Arctic, through Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and across North Africa.”

US-dominated NATO bears full responsibility. Its rage for war threatens world peace. The Alliance never was nor will it ever be “the centerpiece to peace and stability in Europe…an institution indispensable in today’s dangerous world.”

It’s a global menace, an instrument for war, instability and chaos, a killing machine threatening humanity’s survival.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

posted by Steve Lendman @ 9:44 AM

US-Backed Terrorists Shell Aleppo Hospital

US-Backed Terrorists Shell Aleppo Hospital

by Stephen Lendman

All terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are US-backed, armed, funded, trained and directed to commit atrocities and other war crimes. Civilians are willfully targeted.

All attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, infrastructure and other nonmilitary targets are carried out by US-supported terrorists, Pentagon warplanes, Israel or other coalition partners.

Government forces and Russian aircraft have nothing to do with attacking nonmilitary targets. Accusations otherwise are fabricated.

Unexplained is the obvious. Why would they kill civilians they’re waging war on terrorism to protect? Why would they damage or destroy non-military sites, achieving no strategic objective?

On Tuesday, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated terrorist groups “fired 65 rocket shells” on Aleppo residential areas, killing at least 16, injuring 68 others.

Aleppo’s Health Directorate said most victims were civilian women and children. Al-Dhabeet Hospital was attacked, killing three women, injuring 17 other women and children, causing “extensive material damage.”

SANA said “terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra and terrorist groups affiliated to it fired scores of rocket shells at the neighborhoods of al-Midan, al-Furqan, Nile Street, al-Mukambo, al-Khalidiye, Jami’et al-Zahra’a, al-Ameriye, al-Ramousa, al-Masharqa, al-Muhafaza, al-Meridian, al-Serian, al-Sabeel, and al-Jamiliye in Aleppo city.”

Syria’s military said it’s responding with “appropriate measures.” Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said government “patience is running out and if (terrorists) don’t stop targeting civilians in the coming hours…they will pay a high price.”

Washington and its rogue partners are using the attack to call for ceasefire in Aleppo province – so terrorists they support get time to regroup for more intensive attacks.

As this is written, Sergey Lavrov said he hopes it will be announced “in the coming hours” – another futile attempt to halt Washington’s rage for war and regime change.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

posted by Steve Lendman @ 9:31 AM

Live from Damascus: The Syrian Election Results

By Ken Stone
Global Research, April 18, 2016
21st Century Wire
Region: Middle East & North Africa
Theme: Media Disinformation, US NATO War Agenda
In-depth Report: SYRIA: NATO’S NEXT WAR?

160px-Logo_of_the_Baath_Party“Syria’s ruling Ba’ath Party and its allies have won the majority of the votes in the recent parliamentary elections in the country, official results show.

The Syrian electoral commission announced late Saturday that the National Unity coalition, comprising the ruling party and its allies, had won 200 of the 250 seats at the People’s Assembly (Majlis al-Sha’ab).” ~ Press TV

Tuesday’s Syrian election was a vote of confidence by the Syrian people in their government. 5,085,444 voters cast their ballots out of a possible 8,834,994 eligible voters.

The overall participation rate of 58% (virtually identical to Canada’s last federal election) exceeded the government’s expectations in most places but was low in others.

For example, it was over 80% in Homs but only 52% in Tartous. What might explain the uneven results is the history of the war. People who suffered the most from the war, for example in Homs, were probably more grateful for their liberation and more motivated to exercise their political rights than people in Tartous who saw no fighting at all (though they lost thousands upon thousands of sons and grandsons in the war).

Also significant was the fact that over 140,000 refugees returned across the Lebanese border in just one day in order to vote.

hall-vote Damascus

And the polling hours in Damascus, which suffered a lot from the fighting, had to be extended until 11 pm to accommodate all the voters.

There were even polling stations set up by the government in recently liberated Palmyra and Al-Qaryaten, though those polls were largely symbolic because the inhabitants of those towns have not yet been able to return to their homes due to widespread destruction, prior to liberation by the Syrian Arab Army.

The voter participation rate is key to this election, more important than the individual candidates who were elected.

Here’s why: you need to understand elections in a constitutionally-created state, in which one party dominates, in terms of a strike vote in a trade union.

It demonstrates continuing confidence in the leadership at a turning point in the struggle. A union would not be satisfied with a strike vote of 58%, going into a strike. And probably the Syrian government would have wished for a higher rate going into the negotiations at Geneva. But it knew from the start that holding the elections under the conditions of war and occupation was a gamble, because there are a lot of eligible voters living outside of Syria right now, living in places besieged by the terrorists, and who have died but not yet been accounted for.

Taking into account these factors, the participation rate would probably have been much higher.

Among our solidarity delegation, we have been pleased that the Syrian authorities did not try to inflate the figures to make the election results appear better than they actually were:

It reinforces our contention that the Syrian government is a credible force in the serious negotiations ahead.

As mentioned, the turning point for Syria is the current round of negotiations taking place right now in Geneva to find a lasting political solution to the crisis.

Today, the Syrian delegation took their seats with a mandate from the Syrian people, whereas the opposition delegation of head-choppers cobbled together at the last minute by the USA and Saudi Arabia have no mandate at all from the unfortunate Syrians who suffer under military occupation in “rebel-held” areas.

No elections were held there. Western governments, such as the USA, have dismissed the Syrian election out of hand, though the participation rate in the last US election was only 48%.

But that’s not to say there weren’t any interesting candidates elected. The sister of a Syrian soldier, Noor Al-Shogri, stood for election as an independent in parliament. Her brother, Yahya Al-Shoghri, was filmed as he was being executed by ISIS terrorists in 2014 in Raqqa. (If you can stomach the summary execution in cold blood of a prisoner of war, you will find the video brazenly posted by the terrorists on Youtube.)

The barbarians demanded that he say, as his dying words, “Long live the caliphate!” He famously refused and declared instead that “It will be erased!”

His last words then became a rallying cry in the national resistance against the foreign aggression. Noor Al-Shogri easily won her seat.

I met an independent candidate in the Old City of Damascus, Nora Arissian, a small Armenian woman with flaming red hair. She came up to me in the Greek Melkite Patriarch’s procession to the polling station and thanked me for Canada taking in 25000 Syrian refugees and then she pointedly added, “We want them all eventually to come home!”

She too won her seat.

The election results were delayed by a couple of days because the Syrian election commission was unsatisfied with the preparedness of eight polling stations in partially-occupied Aleppo. As I understand it, the elections in Aleppo had to be continued on the day following election day.

Some people have asked what is the role of Palestinian refugees in this election. The answer is that Palestinians, ethnically-cleansed in 1948 and after, do not vote in Syrian elections.

The political and social status of Palestinians in Syria is the highest of any Arab country but the Syrian government doesn’t grant them citizenship or let them vote because it doesn’t want to dilute their right under international law, reaffirmed by numerous resolutions of the United Nations, to return to their homes and farms in Palestine.

The fact that the Syrian government has been so adamant about this principle, is one of the main causes of the foreign aggression against the country (and in support of the State of Israel.) So the Syrian government pays a heavy price for its strong support of the Palestinian people.

In turn, the vast majority of Palestinian refugees in Syria strongly support their government, even though many have been made refugees a second time by the invasion into their neighbourhoods of the terrorist mercenaries from over 80 countries.

For example, a fierce struggle is taking place in Yarmouk right now just a few kilometres from where I write, among Isis, Al Nusra, and other terrorist gangs, over control of this former Palestinian neighbourhood/camp, which used to hold a quarter of a million people but is now a devastated ghost town with only a few thousand souls.

ISIS-Yarmouk

It bears repeating that these parliamentary elections were defiantly called by the Syrian government as “an exercise in national sovereignty.”

The point was to show the world, especially those western and Gulf states, who have waged the five-year long war of aggression against Syria, that Syrians are united in the belief that Syrians, and only Syrians, will decide the fate of Syria.

It appears that the gamble paid off.

Ken Stone is a veteran anti-war and peace activist.
The original source of this article is 21st Century Wire
Copyright © Ken Stone, 21st Century Wire, 2016

Posted by Ainhoa Aristizabal — Unruly Hearts editor

SYRIA – MATERIAL EVIDENCE

SYRIA_CIVILWAR

Syria

The civil war in Syria is a conflict that the country cannot solve since 2011. A conflict that nearly caused a military intervention of the world community. Who “benefits” from this war? What is happening in Syria now? The events in Syria are another episode of the Arab Spring; but here it has turned the cities into ruins with a horrific number of victims and divided the society different, opposing groups. By visiting the exhibition, where each photo is a frozen reality of human misery, we can learn to understand and even experience the horror of the civil war in Syria.

SYRIA, A “NEW” LIBYA WITH VERY LITTLE TIME LEFT?

22libya-full-bleed-videoSixteenByNine3000                   Fotograph courtesy of the New York Times

 

There could be no more apt image to describe Libyan politics today than the prime minister himself, the beleaguered Mr Ali Zeidan, being kidnapped on Tuesday morning by a militia notionally allied to his own government. When he was released several hours later, he noted, with marvellous understatement, that “there are many things that need dealing with”. Indeed there are.

For one thing, Mr Zeidan’s was not the first abduction of the week. That came courtesy of American special forces, who strolled into Tripoli on Saturday to pick up Abu Anas al-Liby, a senior member of al‑Qaeda wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Uganda. The Americans then made life immeasurably harder for the Libyan government by insisting that it had known about the raid. The predictable result was uproar.

But it’s no surprise that the US felt the need to step in. Libyan forces were neither able to prevent the 2011 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, nor arrest anyone afterwards. If the US had simply put in an extradition request, the prospect of al-Liby being picked up or ever facing trial would have been vanishingly small.

In truth, the prime minister’s kidnapping and the US raid are both no more than symptoms of something that has been obvious for over a year: Libya’s post-Gaddafi state lacks the firepower to impose its will on an increasingly lawless country. The Italian consulate in Benghazi was attacked in January, the French embassy in April, the EU ambassador’s convoy in August, and Russia’s embassy last week. And those are just the foreign targets.

This is about much more than terrorist violence. The state in Libya, which Colonel Gaddafi eviscerated for his own despotic ends, is now being consumed by the same rebel groups that brought it into life back in 2011. Performing the most basic tasks of administration, such as making arrests or monitoring borders, can require a negotiation between the government and whichever militias happen to have accumulated enough guns in that particular area. It’s not just that the enfeebled police and army won’t take them on for fear of losing. It’s also that the state has decided to outsource these functions to its tormentors. Both the prime minister’s kidnapping and the attack in Benghazi were perpetrated by groups that have worked with the government and its ministries.

Why are militias challenging the government in the first place? There’s no simple answer, because there is a dizzying variety of groups with guns. Some are Islamist, others secular and nationalist. Some are formed around particular cities or provinces. Others formed in a jumbled way during the 2011 uprising, and claim a sort of Jacobin revolutionary legitimacy against what they see as a government tainted by corrupt, pro-Western stooges.

In March, a coalition of militias, with the typically self-important title of the Supreme Security Council, laid siege to the ministries of justice and foreign affairs for two weeks, insisting that parliament sign a wide-ranging law that would ban Gaddafi-era officials from serving in government. Remarkably, parliament capitulated. It had essentially been coerced into legislating at the barrel of a gun. The speaker of parliament himself was forced to resign.

Outside of Tripoli, the problem is no better. For the past two months, Libyan oil exports have plummeted to a fifth of their Gaddafi-era peak, after guards at eastern oil facilities and ports went on strike. Part of that dispute was a demand that eastern Libya, which chafes at Tripoli’s domination, be given more autonomy.

Wars, once won, tend to be forgotten. This was the fate of Afghanistan in the years after 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. But Libya’s problems will not stay within its borders. Adding to all of these domestic concerns is the massive flow of arms across Libya’s long, porous borders. Libyan weapons, looted from Gaddafi’s armouries, have been smuggled across the region, turning up in places as diverse as Mali, the Sinai, Gaza and Syria. According to one estimate, around 3,000 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles – capable of bringing down civilian airliners – remain missing.

The dilemma is clear: Libya’s government is too weak to fix these problems itself, but unilateral American or European steps – or assistance that is too public – risks tainting the government further in the eyes of Islamists and nationalists. A careful balance has to be struck. This government’s authority has been eroding for over a year, and it has now suffered the most grievous blow yet. Unless Mr Zeidan shows he can check the power of militias, he risks a continued slide into irrelevance.

The Attack on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya

The American mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked twice on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Below, the events that evening that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans according to the latest information available.
 
The American mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked twice on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Below, the events that evening that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans according to the latest information available.
Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m. Benghazi time

Militants, firing guns and rocket-propelled grenades, attack the main compound, moving on multiple entrances at once. The main entrance is protected by three armed and four unarmed Libyan guards. No more than seven Americans are in the compound, including three civilians and four who have guns. Mr. Stevens is alone in the main building, according to guards interviewed later. The militants enter the compound, backed by truck-mounted artillery.

Libya Envoy’s Killing Was a Terrorist Attack, the White House Says

WASHINGTON — The White House is now calling the assault on the American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, a “terrorist attack.”

“It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday. “Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials.”

Until now, White House officials have not used that language in describing the assault. But with the election less than two months away and President Obama’s record on national security a campaign issue, they have come under criticism from Republican lawmakers who say the administration is playing down a threat for which it was unprepared.

Mr. Carney offered the new assessment in response to a question about remarks by Matthew G. Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, who told a Congressional committee Wednesday that J. Christopher Stevens, the United States ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans had died “in the course of a terrorist attack.”

Asked if the president drew a connection between the Libyan attack, which occurred on Sept. 11, and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 11 years before, Mr. Carney said, “The attack occurred on Sept 11, 2012, so we use the same calendar at the White House as you do.”

In a highly charged political atmosphere, the mere use of the term “terrorist” is loaded, not least, as one administration official acknowledged privately, because the phrase conjures up an image of America under attack, something the White House wants to avoid.

Beyond that, different government agencies have different definitions for what defines terrorism, said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism expert at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.

The classic definition, Mr. Fishman said, “is an attack by a nonstate group on noncombatants with the intent to intimidate people.” He said that another reason the administration was shying from using that term is because “they really didn’t know who did it.”

And the president, campaigning in Florida on Thursday, did not use the word terrorism when asked about the attacks.

Mr. Carney maintained on Thursday that Obama administration officials still were not calling the attack preplanned.

“According to the best information we have now, we believe it was an opportunistic attack on our mission in Benghazi,” he said. “It appears that some well-armed militants seized on that attack as the events unfolded that evening. We do not have any specific intelligence that there was significant advance planning or coordination for this attack.”Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said earlier in the week that there had been no intelligence warnings that an attack was imminent.

Mrs. Clinton said that F.B.I. investigators had arrived in Tripoli and that the United States, with the Libyan authorities, would find those responsible. She did not discuss any potential ties to Al Qaeda, but blamed extremists opposed to the democratic changes in places like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt for the violence and protests around the region generally.

Mrs. Clinton announced the creation of a panel to investigate the attack. The panel, called an Accountability Review Board, will be led by Thomas R. Pickering, a veteran diplomat and former under secretary of state. The board is authorized by a 1986 law intended to strengthen security at United States diplomatic missions.

“We are concerned first and foremost with our own people and facilities,” Mrs. Clinton said in an appearance at the State Department with the Indonesian foreign minister. “But we are concerned about the internal security in these countries, because ultimately, that puts at risk the men, women and children of these societies on a daily ongoing basis if actions are not taken to try to restore security and civil order.”

US Spy Chief Irresponsibly Hypes a Major Terrorist Attack on US Soil Ahead – By Stephen Lendman

 

 

US Spy Chief Irresponsibly Hypes a Major Terrorist Attack on US Soil Ahead
by Stephen Lendman
9/11 and subsequent attacks on US soil were state-sponsored false flags. Any new ones ahead will be no different. Big Lies repeated ad nauseam claiming otherwise reflect willful deception.
Alleged FBI foiled attacks were phony – innocent victims wrongfully arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned on false charges, Muslims at home and abroad persecuted, vilified and slaughtered by US imperial viciousness.
America’s only enemies are ones it creates. Appearing on CBS’ 60 Minutes last Sunday, CIA director John Brennan lied to millions of viewers, predicting an “inevitabl(e)” ISIS terrorist attack on US soil.
He failed to explain ISIS is a US creation. Why would its fighters attack their paymaster? They owe their existence to US and other foreign support. Without it they’d fade to oblivion.
“I’m expecting (ISIS) to try and put in place the operatives, the materiel, whatever else they need to do, or to incite people, to carry out these attacks, clearly. So I believe their attempts are inevitable,” Brenna ranted, adding:
They’re “trying to provoke a clash between the West and the Muslim world.” Claims about US policy aiming to “take over” Middle East countries are “the furthest thing from the truth.”
It’s hard believing he could boldly lie with a straight face, harder believing anyone buys his deception, hardest not realizing longstanding US imperial policy threatens world peace – raping one independent country after another, stealing their resources, massacring their people.
It’s not at all hard understanding why CBS would air outrageous Big Lies, a longstanding US media scoundrel tradition, part of the corporate media lying machine, supporting what demands denunciation.
Reject official, media-supported, explanations of all reported attacks on US soil at all times with no exceptions – used to hype fear, crack down on fundamental freedoms, justify outlandish military spending to wage endless naked aggression for falsified reasons.
Virtually always, alleged attackers are convenient patsies – notably 9/11 ones, the framed Boston bombers and wrongfully accused San Bernadino husband and wife, in all cases Muslims, falsely blamed for crimes they didn’t commit – the public none the wiser, believing the media-hyped Big Lies they’re fed.
The next time media scoundrels headline an alleged terrorist attack on US soil, know you’re being duped again. 
Reject falsified claims. Don’t fall for government propaganda – Big Lies furthering Washington’s imperial agenda, waging war on humanity at home and abroad, the highest of high crimes.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 
Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs. 

Obama Ignores Russian Terror Victims, Killed by ISIS

By Robert Parry
Global Research, December 05, 2015
Consortium News 2 December 2015
Region: Middle East & North Africa, Russia and FSU, USA
Theme: US NATO War Agenda

President Obama has displayed a stunning lack of sympathy for the Russian civilians killed in an ISIS plane bombing in Egypt and for two Russian military men slain as victims of U.S. weapons systems in Syria, putting insults toward President Putin ahead of human decency, writes Robert Parry.

Normally, when a country is hit by an act of terrorism, there is universal sympathy even if the country has engaged in actions that may have made it a target of the terrorists. After 9/11, for instance, any discussion of whether U.S. violent meddling in the Middle East may have precipitated the attack was ruled out of the public debate.

Similarly, the 7/7 attacks against London’s Underground in 2005 were not excused because the United Kingdom had joined in President George W. Bush’s aggressive war in Iraq. The same with the more recent terror strikes in Paris. No respectable politician or pundit gloated about the French getting what they deserved for their long history of imperialism in the Muslim world.

President Barack Obama uncomfortably accepting the Nobel Peace Prize from Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. (White House photo)

obama-nobel-12-10-09-300x199

Apparently, the political imperative to display disdain for Russian President Vladimir Putin trumps any normal sense of humanity. Both Obama on Tuesday and Friedman on Wednesday treated those Russian deaths at the hands of the Islamic State or other jihadists as Putin’s comeuppance for intervening against terrorist/jihadist gains in Syria.

At a news conference in Paris, Obama expressed his lack of sympathy as part of a bizarre comment in which he faulted Putin for somehow not turning around the Syrian conflict during the past month – when Obama and his allies have been floundering in their “war” against the Islamic State and its parent, Al Qaeda, for years, if not decades.

“The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn’t changed significantly,” Obama said. “

In the interim, Russia has lost a commercial passenger jet. You’ve seen another jet shot down. There have been losses in terms of Russian personnel. And I think Mr. Putin understands that, with Afghanistan fresh in the memory, for him to simply get bogged down in a inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict is not the outcome that he’s looking for.”

In examining that one paragraph, a “fair-minded” reporter could find a great deal to dispute. Indeed, the comments suggest that President Obama has crossed some line into either believing his own propaganda or thinking that everyone who listens to him is an idiot and will believe whatever he says.

But what was perhaps most disturbing was Obama’s graceless manner of discussing the tragedy of the Sinai bombing, followed by his seeming pleasure over Turkey shooting down a Russian SU-24 last week, leading to the killing of two Russian military men, one the pilot who was targeted while parachuting to the ground and the other a marine after his search-and-rescue helicopter was downed by a TOW missile.

Even more troubling, the key weapon systems used – the Turkish F-16 fighter jet and the TOW missile – were U.S.-manufactured and apparently U.S. supplied, in the case of the TOW missile either directly or indirectly to Sunni jihadists deemed “moderate” by the Obama administration.

The Ever-Smug Friedman

Columnist Friedman was equally unfeeling about the Russian deaths. In a column entitled “Putin’s Great Syrian Adventure,” Friedman offered a mocking assessment of Russia’s intervention against Sunni jihadists and terrorists seeking to take control of Syria.

While ridiculing anyone who praised Putin’s initiative or who just thought the Russian president was “crazy like a fox,” Friedman wrote: “Some of us thought he was just crazy.

Well, two months later, let’s do the math: So far, Putin’s Syrian adventure has resulted in a Russian civilian airliner carrying 224 people being blown up, apparently by pro-ISIS militants in Sinai. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish territory. And then Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots as he parachuted to earth and one of the Russian marines sent to rescue him.

Ha-ha, very funny! And, by the way, it has not been established that the Russian SU-24 did stray into Turkish air space but if it did, according to the Turkish account, it passed over a sliver of Turkish territory for all of 17 seconds.

The evidence is quite clear that the SU-24 was ambushed in a reckless act by Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has been collaborating with Syrian and foreign jihadists for the past four years to overthrow Syria’s secular government. And the murder of the pilot after he bailed out of the plane is not some reason to smirk; it is a war crime.

Even uglier is the lack of any sympathy or outrage over the terrorist bombing that killed 224 innocent people, mostly tourists, aboard a Russian charter flight in Egypt. If the victims had been American and a similar callous reaction had come from President Putin and a columnist for a major Russian newspaper, one can only imagine the outrage. However, in Official Washington, any recognition of a common humanity with Russians makes you a “Moscow stooge.”

The other wacky part of both Obama’s comments and Friedman’s echoes of the same themes is this quick assessment that the Russian intervention in support of the Syrian government has been some abject failure – as if the U.S.-led coalition has been doing so wonderfully.

First, as a “fair-minded” reporter, I would say that it appears the Russian-backed Syrian offensive has at least stopped the advances of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its jihadist allies, including Ahrar al-Sham (which technically separates itself from Al Qaeda and thus qualifies for U.S.-supplied weaponry even though it fights side-by-side with Nusra in the Saudi-backed Army of Conquest).

The Afghan Memories

Obama’s reference to Afghanistan was also startling. He was suggesting that Putin should have learned a lesson from Moscow’s intervention in the 1980s in support of a secular, pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, which came under attack by CIA-organized-and-armed Islamic jihadists known then as mujahedeen.

Wielding sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and benefiting from $1 billion a year in Saudi-U.S.-supplied weapons, the Afghan fundamentalist mujahedeen and their allies, including Saudi Osama bin Laden, eventually drove Soviet troops out in 1989 and – several years later behind the Taliban – completed the reversion of Afghanistan back to the Seventh Century. Women in Kabul went from dressing any way they liked in public, including wearing mini-skirts, to being covered in chadors and kept at home.

Obama’s bringing up Afghanistan in the Syrian context and Putin’s supposed one-month Syrian failure was ironic in another way. After Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of bin Laden and has been bogged down in a quagmire there for 14 years, including nearly seven years under Obama.

So, Obama may not be on the firmest ground when he suggests that Putin recall Moscow’s experience in Afghanistan a few decades ago. After all, Obama has many more recent memories.

Further, what is different about Putin’s Syrian strategy – compared with Obama’s – is that the Russians are targeting all the terrorists and jihadists, not just the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh). While U.S. propaganda tries to present the non-ISIS jihadists as “moderates” (somehow pretending that Al Qaeda is no longer a terrorist organization), there is, in reality, very little distinction between ISIS and the alliance of Nusra/Ahrar al-Sham.

And, as for Official Washington’s new “group think” about the Syrian government’s lack of progress in the war, there is the discordant news that the last of rebel forces have agreed to abandon the central city of Homs, which had been dubbed the “capital of the revolution.” The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that “thousands of insurgents will leave the last opposition-held neighborhood in” Homs, with the withdrawal beginning next week.

Al-Jazeera added the additional fact that the remaining 4,000 insurgents are “from al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army.” In other words, the “moderate” Free Syrian Army was operating in collusion with Al Qaeda’s affiliate and its major jihadist partner.

While it’s hard to get reliable up-to-date information from inside Syria, one intelligence source familiar with the military situation told me that the Syrian government offensive, backed by Iranian troops and Russian air power, had been surprisingly successful in putting the jihadists, including ISIS and Nusra, on the defensive, with additional gains around the key city of Aleppo.

The Belated Oil Bombings

Also, in the past week, Putin shamed Obama into joining in a bombing operation to destroy hundreds of trucks carrying ISIS oil to Turkey. Why that valuable business was allowed to continue during the U.S.-led war on ISIS since summer 2014 has not been adequately explained. It apparently was being protected by Turkish President Erdogan.

Another irony of Obama’s (and Friedman’s) critical assessment of Putin’s one-month military campaign came in Obama’s recounting of his meeting during the Paris climate summit with Erdogan. Obama said he was still appealing to Erdogan to close the Turkish-Syrian border although radical jihadists have been crossing it since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

“With respect to Turkey, I have had repeated conversations with President Erdogan about the need to close the border between Turkey and Syria,” Obama said. “We’ve seen some serious progress on that front, but there are still some gaps. In particular, there’s about 98 kilometers that are still used as a transit point for foreign fighters, ISIL shipping out fuel for sale that helps finance their terrorist activities.”

In other words, all these years into the conflict – and about 1½ years since Obama specifically targeted ISIS – Turkey has not closed its borders to prevent ISIS from reinforcing itself with foreign fighters and trafficking in illicit oil sales to fund its terror operations. One might suspect that Erdogan has no intention of really stopping the Sunni jihadists from ravaging Syria.

Erdogan still seems set on violent “regime change” in Syria after allowing his intelligence services to provide extensive help to ISIS, Al Qaeda’s Nusra and other extremists. The Russians claim that politically well-connected Turkish businessmen also have been profiting off the ISIS oil sales.

But Obama’s acknowledgement that he has not even been able to get NATO “ally” Turkey to seal its border and that ISIS still remains a potent fighting force makes a mockery of his mocking Putin for not “significantly” changing the situation on the ground in Syria in one month.

Obama also slid into propaganda speak when he blamed Assad for all the deaths that have occurred during the Syrian conflict. “I consider somebody who kills hundreds of thousands of his own people illegitimate,” Obama said.

But again Obama is applying double standards. For instance, he would not blame President George W. Bush for the hundreds of thousands (possibly more than a million) dead Iraqis, yet Bush was arguably more responsible for those deaths by launching an unprovoked invasion of Iraq than Assad was in battling a jihadist-led insurgency.

Plus, the death toll of Syrians, estimated to exceed a quarter million, includes many soldiers and police as well as armed jihadists. That does not excuse Assad or his regime for excessively heavy-handed tactics that have inflicted civilian casualties, but Obama and his predecessor both have plenty of innocent blood on their hands, too.

After watching Obama’s news conference, one perhaps can hope that he is just speaking out of multiple sides of his mouth as he is wont to do. Maybe, he’s playing his usual game of “above-the-table/below-the-table,” praising Erdogan above the table while chastising him below the table and disparaging Putin in public while cooperating with the Russian president in private.

Or maybe President Obama has simply lost touch with reality – and with common human decency.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon andbarnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34.

The trilogy includesAmerica’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.
The original source of this article is Consortium News
Copyright © Robert Parry, Consortium News, 2015

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MILITARY TIMES – Russia has big ambitions, growing capabilities

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Russia has big ambitions,
growing capabilities
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Early on the morning of Sept. 30, a Russian three-star general approached the American embassy in Baghdad, walked past a wall of well-armed Marines, to deliver face-to-face a diplomatic demarche to the United States. His statement was blunt: The Russia military would begin air strikes in neighboring Syria within the hour — and the American military should clear the area immediately.

It was a bout of brinksmanship between two nuclear-armed giants that the world has not seen in decades, and it has revived Cold War levels of suspicion, antagonism and gamesmanship.

With the launch of airstrikes in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin instigated a proxy war with the U.S., putting those nation’s powerful militaries in support of opposing sides of the multipolar conflict. And it’s a huge gamble for Moscow, experts say. “This is really quite difficult for them. It’s logistically complex. The Russians don’t have much in the way of long-range power projection capability,” said Mark Galeotti, a Russian security expert at New York University.

Moscow’s military campaign in Syria is relying on supply lines that require air corridors through both Iranian and Iraqi air space. The only alternatives are naval supply lines running from Crimea, requiring a passage of up to 10 days round-trip. How long that can be sustained is unclear.

That and other questions about Russian military capabilities and objectives are taking center stage as Putin shows a relentless willingness to use military force in a heavy-handed foreign policy aimed at restoring his nation’s stature as a world power. In that quest, he has raised the specter of resurgent Russian military might — from Ukraine to the Baltics, from Syria to the broader Middle East.

Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture has sparked a sweeping review among U.S. defense strategists of America’s military policies and contingency plans in the event of a conflict with the former Soviet state. Indeed, the Pentagon’s senior leaders are asking questions that have been set aside for more than 20 years:

How much are the Russians truly capable of?
Where precisely might a conflict with Russia occur?
What would a war with Russia look like today?

Make no mistake: Experts agree that the U.S. military’s globe-spanning force would clobber the Russian military in any toe-to-toe conventional fight. But modern wars are not toe-to-toe conventional fights; geography, politics and terrain inevitably give one side an advantage.

Today, the U.S. spends nearly 10 times more than Russia on national defense. The U.S. operates 10 aircraft carriers; Russia has just one. And the U.S. military maintains a broad technological edge and a vastly superior ability to project power around the world.

Russia remains weak, according to many traditional criteria. But it is now developing some key technologies, new fighting tactics and a brazen geopolitical strategy that is aggressively undermining America’s 25-year claim to being the only truly global superpower. The result: Russia is unexpectedly re-emerging as America’s chief military rival.

As U.S. officials watch that unfold, they are “clearly motivated by concerns that at least locally, Russia has the potential to generate superior forces,” said David Ochmanek, a former Pentagon official who is now a defense analyst at the RAND Corp. And looming over the entire U.S.-Russian relationship are their nuclear arsenals. Russia has preserved, even modernized, its own “triad” with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, a large fleet of long-range strike aircraft and increasingly sophisticated nuclear-armed submarines.

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“The Russian defense industry is being rebuilt from ruins,” said Vadim Kozyulin, a military expert at the Moscow-based PIR Center, a think tank. “The military balance can only be ensured by Russia’s nuclear might, which isn’t as expensive to maintain as many people think.”

But while Russia’s conventional forces are less impressive than its nuclear forces, there are specific conventional areas where the Russians excel — among them aircraft, air defenses, submarines, and electronic warfare.

The Soviet-era weapons design bureaus remain prominent internationally. Russia’s aerospace industry, for example, has benefited greatly from international exports to non-Western nations, which go to Russia to buy effective fighter jets that are cheaper than their Western variants. China today spends more on defense annually than Russia, but still imports platforms and advanced weaponry from Russia.

Attempting a side-by-side comparisons of the U.S. and Russian militaries is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, many experts say; the Russians have distinctly different strategic goals, and their military structure reflects that. Russia views itself as a land-based power, exerting influence in a sphere expanding outward from its Eurasian heartland into Eastern Europe, Central Asia and possibly the Middle East and Pacific rim. It is well suited for relying on a particular set of capabilities known as “anti-access and area denial.”

“The United States and Russia are going for different things,” Galeotti said. “What the Russians are looking for is not to take on and compete on equal terms with us. It’s denial.” For example, he said, “one can look at the U.S. Navy as massively superior to the Russian navy. Most of them are legacy Soviet ships. But in a way, that doesn’t matter, because Russia does not plan to send its forces all across the world’s oceans.”

That’s reflected in the fact that Russia maintains a lone aircraft carrier while the U.S. Navy’s 10-carrier fleet operates on a continuing global deployment cycle. Instead of carriers designed for offensive power projection at sea, the Russians are investing in an expanding fleet of submarines that can supplement their nuclear force and, conventionally, threaten an enemy surface fleet in nearby waters such as the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea or the Mediterranean Sea.

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Its airspace also is heavily fortified. The quality of Russia’s stealth aircraft is far weaker than those of the U.S., but Russia has cutting-edge anti-stealth systems, and also has invested heavily in robust surface-to-air missile systems and arrayed its forces domestically to protect its border regions. “The static airpower picture would favor the Russians because they have a lot of capability in terms of air defense and a variety of tactical and cruise and ballistic missiles,” said Paul Schwartz, a Russian military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Russia’s electronic warfare capability is also daunting to Pentagon military planners; left unclear is the extent to which Russia could jam the radars and signals intelligence that forms the foundation of the U.S.’s advanced air power. Any attempt by the U.S. and its allies to infiltrate Russian air space “would not necessarily be easy,” Schwartz said. “It would be a contested environment. But over time I think we would be able to degrade it. The problem is, with a nuclear power, you try to avoid a full-scale fighting.”

Meanwhile, the Russian army, still predominantly a conscripted force, is being transitioned to an American-style professional force. In effect, Russia has two armies: About two thirds of the roughly 800,000-man force remains filled with unmotivated and poorly trained draftees, but about one third is not — and those are the units outfitted with top-notch gear, including the Armata T-14 Main Battle Tanks.

In sum, the Russian military is not the equal of the U.S. military. But the gap has narrowed in recent years.

Forward Operating Base Syria

Russia’s swift creation of a forward operating base in Syria has stunned many U.S. officials. In just a few weeks, its military erected a potentially permanent base at Latakia, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. They’ve deployed dozens of combat aircraft, fortified the installation with tanks and assembled housing for hundreds of troops.

The Russians recently announced plans for a naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean this fall, but did not specify exactly when ships would deploy to the region. The exercise will feature the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, as well as several smaller escort vessels and large amphibious assault and landing ships, Russia’s TASS news agency reported. Some military officials question whether the exercise is a cover for shipping more troops and gear to the Syrian coast.
Smoke rises over Talbiseh, a city in western Syria’s

Smoke rises over Talbiseh, a city in western Syria’s Homs province, on Sept. 30, marking Russian first airstrikes in the region.
(Photo: Homs Media Centre via AP)

The new forward operating base will give Russia the capability to fly combat air sorties, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance missions and drones across the Middle East. That could include Iraq, the leadership of which has invited the Russians to assist in the fight against the Islamic State in that country.

The base will help secure Russia’s longtime naval support facility at the Syrian port of Tarus, a key to the Russian military’s ability to maintain and project power into the Mediterranean. Russia reportedly is expanding its footprint at the Tarus facility.

More broadly, Moscow is signaling a long-term interest in extending its umbrella of anti-access area denial capabilities into the Middle East. The Russians reportedly are shipping some of their most advanced surface-to-air missile systems into Latakia, raising concerns inside the Pentagon because that move runs counter to Russia’s claims of limiting the focus of its military activities to Syrian rebel groups like the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Russia has deployed a number of Su-30 fighters to Syria,

Russia has deployed a number of Su-30 fighters to Syria, aircraft that are capable of striking ground targets as well as those in the air.
(Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP)

“We see some very sophisticated air defenses going into those airfields, we see some very sophisticated air-to-air aircraft going into these airfields,” Gen. Phillip Breedlove, chief of the U.S. European Command and also the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, said Sept. 28. “I have not seen ISIL flying any airplanes that require SA-15s or SA-22s [Russian missiles]. I have not seen ISIL flying any airplanes that require sophisticated air-to-air capabilities. These very sophisticated air defense capabilities are not about ISIL … they’re about something else.”

In effect, the Russians could challenge the air superiority maintained — even taken for granted — by the U.S. over large swaths the Middle East for more than 20 years. A crucial factor in this equation is Russia’s alliance with Iran, another key Syrian ally. Russia depends on Iranian airspace for its flight corridors into Syria, and reportedly is prepared to support Iranian ground troops aligned with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Experts inside Russia believe the incursion into Syria, along with Putin’s aggressive speech at the United Nations on Sept. 28, signal his long-term interest in becoming a key player in the region.

“It became clear that Russia is going to exercise a more ambitious policy in the Middle East. The Russian President made it clear that the western model of democracy and its way of dealing with conflicts in the region is not working,” said Yury Barmin, a Moscow-based Russian expert on Mideast politics and Russian foreign policy. However, Barmin said, “it is doubtful that Russia has the capacity to emerge as a leading power in [the Middle East] in the near future because its presence in the region is limited if you compare it to that of the United States.”

Yet some see Putin’s maneuvers in Syria as some broader geopolitical gambit that aims to secure a deal on Ukraine. Russia currently occupies parts of Ukraine, but the U.S. still considers Moscow’s March 2014 invasion illegal and its control there illegitimate. “It’s much more about the U.S. than it is about Syria and Assad,” Galeotti said. “Let’s be honest, if Washington indicated that some deal could be struck where they tacitly accept the Russians’ position in Crimea and parts of Donbas, they are not going to fight a war for Assad.”

In Ukraine, a new brand of ‘hybrid warfare’

The conflict in Ukraine and the American training mission there is giving the Pentagon fresh insight on an enemy they might fight elsewhere in the not-too-distant future. But critics say America’s timid response to Russian aggression — both in Crimea and the the Donetsk and Luhansk regions — has done little to deter Moscow. In Ukraine Russia has revealed a new brand of “hybrid warfare,” one that mixes non-state proxy fighters, heavy armor and artillery, drones, electronic warfare and aggressive information operations to achieve battlefield victories.
Ukrainian servicemen patrol near the chemical plant

Ukrainian servicemen patrol near the chemical plant in Avdeevka, a town just north of the city of Donetsk, on June 20. Ukrainian troops face threats from insurgents and conventionally trained forces.
(Photo: Aleskey Chernyshev/AFP)

“It is good for us to be aware how they fight,” said Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, in an interview with Military Times on Sept. 10. “We have not fought wars the way they do in kind of an urban, mixed urban and nonurban setting with UAVs, with electronic jamming.”

Farkas is stepping down from her post at the end of October, after five years at the Defense Department. It’s unclear who will take her place as the Pentagon’s key policy maker for Russia-related issues.

For the small cadre of U.S. military professionals who’ve been working alongside Ukrainian government forces, the fight against Russian-backed rebels is a major change from their recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’ve got a ton of experience in low-intensity warfare, counterinsurgency warfare, whereas a bulk of the Ukraine experience is facing a 21st-century, near-peer adversary,” said Army Lt. Col. Michael Kloepper, commander of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, which recently began its third rotation into Ukraine to train that nation’s military forces.

The Army deployments are part of a broader U.S. military effort to reassure NATO allies rattled by Russia’s actions. Yet the Obama administration has been reluctant to provide more robust support, determined, it seems, to avoid the potential for a proxy war with the Russians.
Since its annexation of Crimea in early 2014, Russia

Since its annexation of Crimea in early 2014, Russia has steadily expanded its military presence in the region. In response, the U.S. and its NATO allies are working to build, train and equip Ukrainian forces.
(Photo: John Bretschneider/Staff)

Russian has lined thousands of troops and large tank and artillery units along its Ukrainian border. Those Russian troops routinely shell the border towns and make incursions into Ukraine to fight alongside the rebels in the contested areas. So far, the administration has pledged only “nonlethal aid” for training and gear such as Humvees, small drones and radar.

Washington has placed economic sanctions on Russia, sent U.S. troops to help train Ukrainian forces and has ramped up military exercises across Eastern Europe. But it has not yet provided any offensive weaponry and ammunition, and it has not threatened military action against Russia. Since March 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine, the U.S. has contributed $244 million in nonlethal security assistance and training. For comparison, that amount would pay for about three weeks of operations in Iraq and Syria.

Ukrainian officials in Kiev have made repeated pleas for more. “We need anti-tank Javelin systems, intelligence and combat drones, … fighter jets, helicopters, electronic and signal intelligence systems, radars and sound intelligence systems” to counter Russian military equipment used by Moscow-backed separatists on the eastern front, said Colonel General Victor Muzhenko, the Ukrainian military’s top officer. They’ve also asked for anti-aircraft guns and more equipment to neutralize enemy snipers, he told Military Times.
Ukrainian troops man an anti-aircraft weapon at a checkpoint

Ukrainian troops man an anti-aircraft weapon at a checkpoint outside the town of Amvrosiivka, close to the Russian border. Kiev says it’s desperate for more weaponry, but so far Washington has shown willingness to provide only nonlethal equipment.
(Photo: Vadim Ghirda/AP)

There are between 30,000 and 35,000 Russian-backed fighters in Eastern Ukraine, about 9,000 of whom are coming solely from the Russian front, Muzhenko estimates. They’re using sophisticated electronic warfare systems to jam the Ukrainians’ communications, radar, GPS and early warning-detection equipment, said Ihor Dolhov, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister for European integration.

It’s a unique battlespace, and the Americans who have provided training to Ukrainian forces are eager to collect intelligence about the Russians’ new mode of combat. “It has been interesting to hear what they have learned,” Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, told Defense News, a sister publication of Military Times. “No Americans have been under Russian artillery or rocket fire or been on the receiving end of significant Russian electronic warfare, the jamming and collecting, for example, not at tactical levels.”

The future of the Ukraine conflict is unclear. In late September, all sides agreed to withdraw tanks and heavy artillery from Ukraine’s eastern front. A ceasefire in eastern Ukraine also appears to be holding, although each side remains wary, and local parliamentary elections set to take place Oct. 25 may be upended by pro-Russian separatists, who aim to hold their own elections.

For now, Obama shows no signs of conceding to Russian control the regions Ukraine has controlled for decades. “We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated,” Obama told the U.N. General Assembly in a major speech on Sept. 28. “That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners imposed on Russia. It’s not a desire to return to the Cold War.”

Predicting the next flashpoint

For more than a year, the U.S. and its European allies have been reassessing the military balance along NATO’s eastern border, which is lined with former Soviet satellite states. The result has been Operation Atlantic Resolve, an expanded rotational presence of U.S troops in NATO’s easternmost countries like Poland, the Baltics, Romania and Bulgaria.

Putin and his military have menaced the Baltic countries, who are among the newest and weakest NATO partners. Russia has repeatedly sent military aircraft into Baltic airspace, patrolled submarines in the Baltic Sea and allegedly mounted cyber-attacks. And Russian officials have voiced support for Russian-speaking minorities, raising the specter of future agitation.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Muzzy, an observer-controller

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Muzzy, an observer-controller from Company A, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, works with an Estonian soldier during a training exercise in Germany. Some see NATO’s newest members, like Estonia, as particularly vulnerable to Russia aggression.
(Photo: Sgt. Christina Dion/Army)

The aggression in the Baltics, especially Estonia, which has a large Russian-speaking minority, has been more ambiguous than Moscow’s overt operations in Ukraine and Syria. The argument goes that Putin would employ a type of hybrid warfare perfected in Ukraine to rally ethnic Russian populations in the Baltic states to rise up in support with special operations forces — the so-called “little green men.”

That has sparked concern in the West that Putin’s ultimate goal is to break NATO with force, if intimidation fails. NATO is struggling to figure out how to respond, with member nations holding differing perspectives on when Russian behavior crosses a red line. It’s about “working out at what point a military response is the correct response,” said Nick de Larrinaga, a London-based analyst for IHS Jane’s Defense and Security Group. “Hybrid warfare casts doubts about when there should be a military response, or whether this is a civilian issue that should be taken care of by local law enforcement,” he said.
Russia claims to have some 750 tanks in its western

Russia claims to have some 750 tanks in its western military region, though its unclear how much of that equipment is legitimately combat-ready.
(Photo: Andrey Kronberg/AFP/Getty Images)

Another option for Russia, of course, is to shift to a conventional fight. A review of the military balance in the immediate Baltic theater would seem to give Russia an initial advantage in an aerial campaign against NATO, if Moscow’s political objective was to push NATO out of the Baltics.

According to a recent report by international think tank Chatham House, Russia’s military strength in its Western Military District stands at 65,000 ground troops, 850 pieces of artillery, 750 tanks, and 320 combat aircraft. Other estimates are much higher, but in general there is a high degree of uncertainty about how much of those forces exist only on paper, and how many are truly prepared for combat.

Another aspect of the Russian military that gets overhyped is its Baltic Fleet, the smallest of Russia’s main fleets and truly a shadow of its former self. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the coastal infrastructure that stretched from Kalingrad to Leningrad was lost to the newly independent Baltic states.

Today, the fleet is split between Kalingrad and St. Petersburg, making it difficult to support a larger fleet. The Baltic Fleet’s assets today include only two small Kilo-class diesel powered submarines, one of which is used mostly for training, along with a handful of Sovremenny-class destroyers, a frigate, four corvettes, and a smattering of support ships.

For a conventional operation, Russia also could bring assets from its Northern Fleet, which frequently patrols the North Atlantic, into the Baltic theater to support a larger action.

That threat could become a powerful one if Russia’s true goal in the Baltics is to force NATO into showing that it won’t honor Article V, the key element of the alliance treaty that holds an attack on one member nation will be met with a swift and unified response from all member nations.

Defense News’ Russia correspondent, Matthew Bodner, contributed to this report from Moscow.

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