Russia Is Making Tanks Stylish Again

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Tensions between Russia and the West continue to build, as the US announced last Tuesday that they would be moving tanks and heavy artillery to strategic locations across Eastern Europe. The decision comes only weeks after Russia debuted a new fleet of armored vehicles, including the much-hyped T-14 Armata main battle tank (MBT), which represents a major jump in MBT design. Together, these are among several leading indicators that heavy armor may be coming back into style after decades of post-Cold War neglect.

While the US and their allies spent billions on vehicles like the MRAP, which was used in Iraq and Afghanistan, those are the combat equivalent of the armored trucks tasked with maintaining your neighborhood ATM: they have enough armor for everyday protection against small arms and IEDs, but you wouldn’t want to drive one into a slugging match with a tank. Tanks and their armored brethren — collectively referred to as armored fighting vehicles — are designed specifically to go toe-to-toe with other heavily armed and armored vehicles.

The T-14 Armata, Russia’s new cutting-edge tank, was introduced on May 9, at the Victory Parade in Moscow. The Armata is one of the newest and most radical tank designs seen in more than 20 years.

The most drastic change is the introduction of an unmanned turret. The remote-controlled turret allows the gunner to stay protected inside the tank rather than being exposed, as they are in other tanks. It also features a new active protection system, which offers a 360-degree view of the tank’s environment and allows the crew to shoot down both incoming missiles and tank rounds.

And while the tank’s features come as no real shock to industry insiders, Jon Hawkes, of IHS Jane’s, said that Russia’s new armor still puts other nations on notice, and will of course influence plans as other countries begin upgrading their own aging fleets.

“The reveal of Russia’s new vehicle fleets bore no major surprises from the expectations that had been built up over the past two or three years,” Hawkes told VICE News. “The exact configuration and design was not quite as envisaged, but the approximate capabilities and specifications are essentially as we predicted.”

Germany will be among the first European tank makers to take on the Russians — at least on the design front — as they announced their own plans to update their MBT, the Leopard 2, less than three weeks after the Russians debuted the Armata. The Germans will be conducting joint capability studies with France, set to run through 2018, before deciding on a design.

But new tanks aren’t the only ones the Germans want. In April, the German military announced that they will be buying back 100 used Leopard 2s that they’d sold off several years ago and which have been in storage ever since. They plan to modernize the older tanks to get them back in service — a way to build up their forces while they wait for newer, more capable vehicles.

While the timing of Germany’s announcement could be mere coincidence, that’s not the whole story, said Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher for the Arms and Military Expenditure Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). After the Cold War, there was a very significant reduction in the number of heavy armored vehicles. Most countries expected to be participating more in peacekeeping or out-of-area operations, for which lighter vehicles, such as the MRAP, were ideal. But as tensions between Russia and the West have increased, so has the desire for heavy armored vehicles.

“In Europe, with the tension with Russia, there is a very growing fear that to tackle that you need top-end armored vehicles, and you see the Germans reacting to that with their Leopard 2 tanks by buying back from the industry what they sold a number of years ago and preparing for new tanks and buying new heavy infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers,” Wezeman told VICE News. “You can’t go in there with a light armored vehicle, light helicopters. You need big things, heavy things, well-protected things.”

The US, Wezeman added, will not be left out. “Heavy armored vehicles, tanks, a successor to the M1, and certainly new infantry fighting vehicles are things we need to invest in, because what we have is just not good enough for potentially fighting against an enemy that is very heavily armed or at least is very strong and capable at tank weapons,” he said.

And yet, the US doesn’t currently have a new MBT planned; the upgraded M1A3 model of the Abrams tank, originally slated to be combat-ready by 2017, has been pushed back, with research and development now set to start sometime in the 2020s. Instead, the Army has been working for years to develop something to replace the M2 Bradley, which has been in service since the early ’80s. Plans for the new vehicle — the current incarnation is called the Future Fighting Vehicle (FFV) — come two years after the cancellation of the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program, the last bid for a new IFV.

Meanwhile, a government spokesman, speaking to VICE News on background, was quick to say that these developments did not point to a resurgence in armor — as armor had never died in the US. Unlike the European countries, the US has always maintained its armored vehicle fleet. “In the US, there has been a much longer idea of keeping those heavy armored forces,” Wezeman told VICE News. “The US hasn’t forgotten what happened in the Gulf War and in 1990, ’91, when they were the ones who bore the brunt of the combat fighting, and they haven’t forgotten what happened in 2003 in Iraq or Afghanistan, for which you needed heavy equipment.”

Though only the FFV is currently in development — $28 million contracts have been awarded to BAE Systems, the makers of the Bradley, as well as General Dynamics Land Systems to develop design concepts — there are three more potential vehicles in the pipeline, including an air-transportable light tank.

While the sudden uptick in orders for armored vehicles appears to represent a resurgence of interest in a sector of the defense industry that has long laid dormant, the industry itself doesn’t seem to consider it much news at all. The firms behind some of the biggest armor projects — Germany’s Kraus-Maffei Wegmann, Russia’s UralVagonZavod, and the US’s General Dynamics Land Systems — couldn’t be reached for comment. BAE Systems declined to comment, telling VICE News that they couldn’t speculate on the future of the US military’s armor program, or what it means for the industry.

Indeed, NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, swore up and down that this is not the start of another arms race. It’s simply time for everyone to update their military vehicles to keep pace with the changing threats, he told reporters on Wednesday. And apparently that just happens to magically coincide with the debut of brand new Russian tank.

And though the Western firms seem to want to keep mum, China’s tank manufacturer, Norinco, has been unable to keep quiet about their own advancements. The Chinese firm appeared eager to join the fray when, following Russia’s exhibition in May, they began trolling Russia’s military on social media. The firm turned to WeChat, China’s social networking app, to hype the VT-4, their own new — yet rather conventional — tank.

“The T-14’s transmission is not well-developed, as we saw through a malfunction taking place during a rehearsal before the May 9 parade,” Norinco said in a Chinese-language post on its official WeChat account. “The VT-4 has never encountered such problems so far. Our tanks also have world-class fire-control systems, which the Russians are still trying to catch up with.”

Though the US has long been talking about a strategic direction more in line with rapidly deployable and strategically mobile forces not dissimilar from the MRAPs used in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hawkes told VICE News that the new developments seem more suited to the environment of Eastern Europe. Surely, between tensions increasing in Europe and a growing Chinese military, it’s getting harder to tell for certain if the industry and government are merely responding to Putin’s bluster and Russia’s shiny new toys, or if there’s a legitimate concern that a high-intensity, full-spectrum war is going to be back on the table after a multi-decade pause.

John McCain: The Russia-Ukraine cease-fire is a fiction

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John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Last weekend, I traveled with Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to eastern Ukraine to meet with the courageous men and women fighting there for their country’s freedom and future. I arrived on a solemn day as Ukrainian volunteers grieved the loss of two young comrades killed by Russian artillery the day before. They had lost another comrade a few days before that, and four more the previous week. Their message to me was clear: The cease-fire with Russia is fiction, and U.S. assistance is vital to deterring further Russian aggression.

Along the front lines, separatist forces backed by Russia violate the cease-fire every day with heavy artillery barrages and tank attacks. Gunbattles are a daily routine, and communities at the front bear the brunt of constant sniper fire and nightly skirmishes.

Yet while these low-level cease-fire violations have occurred regularly since the Minsk agreement was signed in February, Ukrainian battalion commanders said the number of Grad rocket strikes and incidents of intense artillery shelling are increasing. Their reports suggest that the separatists have moved their heavy weapons and equipment back to the front lines hoping to escalate the situation. So far, Ukrainian armed forces supported by volunteer battalions have been able to hold their ground, and they have done so largely without the support of Ukrainian artillery and tanks that have been pulled back from the front as stipulated by the Minsk agreement. How long can we expect these brave Ukrainians to abide by an agreement that Russia has clearly ignored?

It is time that the United States and our European allies recognize the failure of the Minsk agreement and respond with more than empty rhetoric. Ukraine’s leaders describe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy as a game of “Pac-Man” — taking bite after bite out of Ukraine in small enough portions that it does not trigger a large-scale international response. But at this point it should be clear to all that Putin does not want a diplomatic solution to the conflict. He wants to dominate Ukraine, along with Russia’s other neighbors.

No one in the West wants a return to the Cold War. But we must recognize that we are confronting a Russian ruler who seeks exactly that. It is time for U.S. strategy to adjust to the reality of a revanchist Russia with a modernized military that is willing to use force not as a last resort, but as a primary tool to achieve its neo-imperial objectives. We must do more to deter Russia by increasing the military costs of its aggression, starting with the immediate provision of the defensive weapons and other assistance the Ukrainians desperately need.

President Obama has wrongly argued that providing Ukraine with the assistance and equipment it needs to defend itself would only provoke Russia. Putin needed no provocation to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea. Rather, it is the weakness of the collective U.S. and European response that provokes the very aggression we seek to avoid. Of course, there is no military solution in Ukraine, but there is a clear military dimension to achieving a political solution. If Ukrainians are given the assistance they need and the military cost is raised for the Russian forces that have invaded their country, Putin will be forced to determine how long he can sustain a war he tells his people is not happening.

I urge anyone who sees Ukraine’s fight against a more advanced Russian military as hopeless to travel to meet those fighting and dying to protect their homeland. These men and women have not backed down, and they will continue to fight for their country with or without the U.S. support they need and deserve.

During my trip, the Ukrainians never asked for the United States to send troops to do their fighting. Ukrainians only hope that the United States will once again open the arsenal of democracy that has allowed free people to defend themselves so many times before.

How we respond to Putin’s brazen aggression will have repercussions far beyond Ukraine. We face the reality of a challenge that many assumed was resigned to the history books: a strong, militarily capable state that is hostile to our interests and our values and seeks to overturn the rules-based international order that American leaders of both parties have sought to maintain since World War II. Among the core principles of that order is the conviction that might does not make right, that the strong should not be allowed to dominate the weak and that wars of aggression should be relegated to the bloody past.

Around the world, friend and foe alike are watching to see whether the United States will once again summon its power and influence to defend the international system that has kept the peace for decades. We must not fail this test.

Ukraine: World War II Fiasco Leads to Public Relations Disaster and Thorny Questions for Kiev and Foreign Diaspora

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For Kiev, winning the public relations war against Vladimir Putin would seem to be a no-brainer. For a year now, the Kremlin has conducted a thinly-disguised war of aggression in eastern Ukraine resulting in the deaths of thousands. Yet Kiev seems intent on squandering any international public support it might have had amidst a bizarre crackdown on free speech and censorship of controversial historical debates. Through its crackdown, Ukraine has actually played into Putin’s propaganda war and facilitated Russia’s PR efforts.

At issue is Ukraine’s contentious World War II past, some of which isn’t particularly flattering. With the support of Nazi Germany, militias affiliated with the extremist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) allegedly committed a pogrom in the western city of Lviv. Writing in the London Independent, journalist Patrick Cockburn notes that while “Ukrainian politicians and historians have denied complicity… surviving Jewish victims, other witnesses and contemporary photographs prove that Ukrainian militiamen and mobs of supporters carried out the pogrom, though the Germans oversaw it and committed many of the murders.”

One scholar, John Paul Himka, has concluded that the pogrom was mostly conducted by the OUN under German supervision. According to Himka, the OUN sought to demonstrate to the Nazis “that it shared their anti-Jewish perspectives and that it was worthy to be entrusted with the formation of a Ukrainian state.” While the OUN also fought the Soviets and strived for an independent Ukraine, many leaders were influenced and trained by Nazi Germany. Indeed, the OUN could be characterized as a far right terrorist group which hoped to consolidate an ethnically homogenous Ukraine and a totalitarian, one party state.

Wartime Controversy

“The truth is that the official policy of the OUN was openly anti-Semitic, including approval for Nazi-style Jewish extermination,” writes Eduard Dolinksy of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee. Dolinksy adds that it was only at the end of the war, when it became clear that Germany would be defeated, that the Ukrainian right changed its position. The OUN in fact played an important role in pogroms which spread across Western Ukraine in the summer of 1941, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews. After the Nazis dissolved the militias, many members linked up with the Ukrainian police and helped carry out the Holocaust throughout Western Ukraine.

Then, for good measure, the OUN assumed control over the Ukrainian Insurgent Army or UPA in 1943. A paramilitary outfit, the UPA initially leaned toward Germany but later turned against both the Nazis and the Soviets. The Times of Israel notes “according to some historical accounts the group murdered thousands of Jews in the 1940s” [other historians, as well as supporters of the UPA, dispute this, claiming there were many Jews who themselves served in the ranks of the organization]. A recent article by Reuters claims the UPA shuttled victims into labor camps where they were subsequently executed. Furthermore, it is claimed the UPA was also guilty of conducting ethnic cleansing of Poles in 1943-44. The massacres in Eastern Galicia, which formed part of an overall UPA strategy aimed at creating a homogenous Ukrainian state, resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people.

Criminalizing Dissent

Amidst escalating war in the east, Ukraine desperately needs allies and popular foreign support. Given the desperate stakes, one would think that Kiev would come to terms with some of the unsavory aspects of its World War II past. Yet strangely, political elites are running hard in the opposite direction in an effort to coddle the extremist right. At issue is a highly controversial law recently signed by President Petro Poroshenko which honors the OUN and UPA.

Under the new law, it would be a crime to question the likes of the UPA. Specifically, legislation stipulates that Ukrainians and even foreigners who “publicly insult” the memory of wartime partisans “will be held to account in accordance with Ukrainian law.” The bill does not specify the penalty for questioning Ukraine’s wartime past, nor does the state explain which body will enforce the legislation. On the other hand, it is possible that any private individual could bring a case to court.

Though certainly distressing, Kiev’s approval of the retrograde law comes as little surprise. Former President Viktor Yushchenko, in fact, honored Ukrainian nationalists at a memorial in Babi Yar, where the most horrific massacre of Jews took place throughout the Holocaust. Not stopping there, Yushchenko then bestowed the highest government honor on none other than Stepan Bandera, a leader of the OUN.

Rehabilitating Extremist Right

Perhaps, Yushchenko’s efforts helped to rehabilitate Bandera and others in the minds of many. As recently as 2013, radical nationalists were visibly active during Ukraine’s Maidan revolution. Indeed, rightists brandished a host of OUN and UPA flags on Maidan square while belting out partisan wartime songs [for a fuller discussion of such curious rightist symbolism, see my earlier article here]. If anything, the UPA’s popularity has soared ominously since the Maidan.

Even more disturbingly, a number of OUN-UPA apologists currently hold important government positions in Kiev, and Poroshenko has done nothing to confront the radical right. In fact, the President has gone out of his way to follow in the footsteps of his reactionary predecessor Yushchenko by once again laying a wreath in honor of the OUN at Babi Yar. In addition, Poroshenko has labeled the UPA as “defenders of the fatherland” and established an official holiday in honor of the partisans.

Needless to say, Putin and Russian media have made a lot of hay out of Kiev’s backward politics and the emergence of so-called fascist hardliners. But while the new laws have raised a predictable response from Russia, the legislation has also reportedly led to hackles in Poland. Szczepan Siekierka, a leader of a civic organization dedicated to the memory of Poles killed by Ukrainian nationalists, is particularly concerned. Speaking with the Christian Science Monitor, Siekierka remarked “it’s hard to see reconciliation and forgiveness when the Ukrainians treat the UPA criminals and Bandera like national heroes. Accepting one extremism now will lead to the acceptance of other extremisms in future.”

Kiev Draws International Fire

Predictably, Kiev’s new legislation has drawn international fire from a variety of quarters. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has protested the new legislation, noting “as Ukraine advances on the difficult road to full democracy, we strongly urge the nation’s government to refrain from any measure that preempts or censors discussion or politicizes the study of history.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has echoed such sentiments, noting that “broadly and vaguely defined language that restricts individuals from expressing views on past events and people, could easily lead to suppression of political, provocative and critical speech, especially in the media.”

Perhaps, the new legislation could even harm Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union. Dolinsky writes “modern Ukrainians need to realize and comprehend this difficult and tragic history in order to become a truly European nation. Such laws as that recently signed by President Poroshenko can only harm the Ukrainian people.” For their part, some scholars have expressed grave dismay over developments in Kiev. Recently, a group of forty historians from western universities even signed an open letter of protest.

Still others worry about the chilling effect upon scholarship. Writing in the History News Network, academic experts declare that “the danger is that a prohibition on ‘insulting’ the ‘fighters’ or questioning the legitimacy of their ‘struggle’ is tantamount to a ban on critical research. The law does not specify what constitutes ‘insulting’, raising the question as to what scholars of modern Ukrainian history are allowed to write and say, and what they are not.”

The Search For Ukrainian Identity

Controversy swirling around the historic role of the OUN and UPA highlights Ukrainian soul searching and the quest for a modern national identity. Though Ukraine has its right wing agitators and even mainstream apologists, the country has by and large practiced tolerance and inclusiveness since gaining independence in 1991. Unfortunately however, backward legislation may serve to obscure such history. According to the Christian Science Monitor, recent political controversy demonstrates that “the debate over Ukrainian fascist history isn’t simply a he-said-she-said between Moscow and Kiev, but a deeper problem of how to square Ukraine’s sometimes sordid past with its efforts to find a modern identity.”

While the recent World War II flak poses thorny questions for many in Ukraine proper, the imbroglio may prompt some soul searching within the wider foreign Diaspora, too. In the wider metropolitan New York area, the Ukrainian community numbers more than 100,000 people. In Manhattan’s East Village, sometimes known as “Little Ukraine,” locals expressed opposition to Russian influence while holding fundraisers in support of Maidan protest. Though the East Village has become gentrified in recent years, the neighborhood still sports landmarks such as the Association of Ukrainian-Americans; the Ukrainian National Home; the Veselka restaurant; a Ukrainian Church, and the local Ukrainian Museum.

In the wake of Maidan protests in Kiev, Ukrainian-Americans took to the Brooklyn Bridge in support of demonstrations back home and even sang the national anthem on the subway. Indeed, EuroMaidan encouraged the growth of civic pride and patriotism, with many brandishing Ukrainian flags and embracing native folklore, crafts, music and food. The Kremlin’s subsequent annexation of Crimea united Ukrainian-Americans like never before in opposition to Russian aggression. Along Second Avenue in the East Village, local residents set up an improved shrine honoring the EuroMaidan movement with signs attacking Washington for not standing shoulder to shoulder with Kiev.

Tackling Difficult Questions

Uniting the Ukrainian-American community against external threats is one thing, but looking inward and trying to define the new soul of a nation is quite another. Perhaps, as Kiev’s political class increasingly moves to coddle extremist constituencies, the foreign Ukrainian community will undertake serious reflection. Hopefully, the wider Diaspora will not only condemn right wing politics and legislation but also build upon and expand modern concepts of Ukrainian identity. Rather than appease World War II apologists, Ukraine should recognize the historic role of Jews in the country. Today, many are sorely under-informed about such contributions and may not even be aware of such literary giants as Shalom Aleichem, for example.

In New York meanwhile, the expat community seems to follow familiar scripts. At the Ukrainian Museum, which supported the EuroMaidan movement by displaying patriotic posters in windows, curators have by and large played it safe by pushing rather narrow definitions of Ukrainian identity. Rather than tackle the tangled history of Ukrainian-Jewish relations, for example, the museum tends to concentrate on folk art and themes such as historic Ukrainian resistance to Russian expansionism. At the height of the EuroMaidan movement, one exhibit displayed — apparently without irony — a photo of a colorful “Cossack” protester on the Maidan [needless to say, many Jews of Ukrainian ancestry may have fearful associations of such Cossack history]. On their way out, patrons may purchase kitschy folkloric items in the museum gift shop.

Just a few blocks south of the East Village lies the Lower East Side, a neighborhood which absorbed waves of Jewish immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Many of the immigrants hailed from Czarist Russia, prior to modern Ukrainian independence. Later, many of the Jewish arrivals moved out of the Lower East Side and assimilated into the wider culture. Arguably, however, many of the immigrants’ descendants could be considered just as Ukrainian as more recent arrivals in the East Village. To be sure, memory or associations of Ukraine may seem quite distant and abstract to the great grandchildren of Lower East Side migrants. On the other hand, it is not unheard of for Americans of Italian or Irish descent, for example, to express sympathetic ethnic ties to the mother country. Maybe it is time for Ukraine to take a hard look in the mirror and ask itself why Jewish descendants are not clamoring for the same.

Nikolas Kozloff is a New York-based writer who conducted a research trip to Ukraine last year.

The Evolution of Anti-Americanism in Russia

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The Levada Center, an independent Moscow-based polling group, has tracked Russian attitudes towards the United States since the early 1990s, with the occasional gaps in the first few years. There have been four bursts of antipathy toward the U.S. during this period: 1998, 2003, 2008, and 2014-2015. Predictably, each of these episodes correlated with the two countries’ disagreements over conflicts in Kosovo, Iraq, Georgia, and Ukraine. Each time, anti-American sentiment grew radically in the course of one or two months, and each time (with the exception of the latest crisis) relations between the two countries normalized just as quickly. These dynamics are easily explained by the propaganda on Russian television: when anti-American rhetoric came into full force, the number of those expressing antipathy toward the U.S. in opinion polls surged; when the rhetoric became less intense, so did negative feelings about America. However, understanding why Russian public opinion of the U.S. is so easily influenced by propaganda requires a deeper analysis of these fluctuations.


While it’s hard to believe today, in the early 1990s a majority of Russians viewed the U.S. not only as the sole remaining superpower, but as an unequivocal role model and their main point of reference in foreign policy. Surveys conducted in 1990-1991 show that Russians were much more interested in the U.S. (39%) than they were in Japan (27%) or Germany (17%). When asked which Western nation Russia should make a top priority for good relations, an overwhelming 74% opted for the U.S.—twice as many as those who chose Germany, for example. America was seen as wealthiest and most developed Western country.

During this brief period, the U.S. was perceived not just as a point of reference but as Russia’s most reliable partner, one that could be counted on for support. 37% of survey participants named the U.S. as the first country they would expect to step in and help in a crisis, compared to 9% who felt that way about Germany. 44% of respondents were confident that the U.S. would provide assistance if necessary—only 18% said they did not expect such assistance, with the remainder saying they could not answer the question or did not seek assistance. America was seen primarily as a friendly country (51%) or an ally (16%), with only 1-2% perceiving it as hostile to Russia.

In 1992, Russian citizens saw cooperation with the U.S. as an even greater priority than cooperation with the neighboring Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – 38% vs. 25%. In light of those numbers, an American-centric policy on the part of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and then-Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev made a lot of sense. However, by the end of 1993 Russia’s priorities had changed and only 35% of people said they looked toward the U.S., while 45% wanted to focus on the CIS. The deepening economic crisis made it clear that for Russia, the level of development seen in the U.S. was out of reach for the foreseeable future. Enchantment gave way to disappointment: the Russian public had sour grapes about an American standard of living that they could not hope to achieve.

Today it seems obvious how futile it was to hope that Russia, as the loser of the Cold War out of sync with Western economic and political standards, would be welcomed into the international community with open arms. Certain things, like the lengthy talks on WTO accession or the reluctance of the U.S. to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, must have seemed particularly frustrating (albeit for the elite rather than for the general public). Integration, negotiations, and trust-building were unavoidably lengthy and painful processes. But back then nobody wanted to wait, and so hope quickly gave way to disillusionment and indignation. The roots of anti-Americanism stretch back to this problem, and to the traumatic experience of a rapid transition that the majority of the population could not understand: Russia went from being a superpower to being a junior partner that is constantly playing catch-up and has a lot to learn before it can be treated as an equal.


Polls conducted over the next few years show that overall, Russian attitudes towards the U.S. began to change. The U.S. bombing of Iraq in 1993 was the first major challenge to pro-American sentiment. Public opinion was split: a third of survey respondents were in favor of U.S. actions, but half were opposed, including 26% who “strongly condemned” the strikes. It is difficult to say which sentiment was stronger: opposition to the war, or resentment that major decisions in the world were now being made without taking Russia’s opinion into account.

Nevertheless, in 1995-1996 most Russians interpreted U.S. actions towards their country as benevolent. Only 7% viewed the U.S. as an enemy, compared to the current 62%. By that time Washington was no longer an “ally,” but it still came in sixth on the list of “enemies” listed by those polled—after the mafia, corrupt bureaucrats, Chechens, and others. Today the U.S. is number one on that list. In 1997, half of the Russian population believed that Russia and the West were foreign policy adversaries, while only 30% saw them as allies. At the same time, only a third perceived the U.S. as a threat to world security—something that soon changed dramatically.

The events of 1998-1999 were critical for Russian attitudes toward the U.S. This period marked a series of events that strained bilateral relations: the U.S. military operation in Iraq, the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia, the start of the Second Chechen War and the West’s subsequent criticism of Russia, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and the first eastward expansion of NATO since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The framework with which many Russians interpreted later international conflicts with the U.S. appears to have emerged at this time. Half or more of the respondents believed that U.S. actions in each conflict were motivated exclusively by a desire to establish control over the territory in question rather than to ensure compliance with international law or punish those who violated it. The same proportion of survey participants attributed the Kosovo, Iraq, and later conflicts to U.S. interests. Russians’ perception of NATO interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as of events in Libya and Syria, follow the same pattern.

There were significant consequences, too, of the outburst of enthusiasm among large segments of the public and the elite about the actions of Russian servicemen in Kosovo (though journalists who covered the conflict did not consider these actions to have tangibly benefited the Serbs). Russia’s deployment of troops to Pristina Airport sparked great optimism back home—the appeal to patriotic sentiment through the use of foreign policy as a way to bolster the government’s legitimacy thereafter became the signature tactic of Russia’s next administration.

The 1999 announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and NATO’s expansion also reinforced the Russian public’s certainty that America was acting maliciously. Surveys showed that 55% of the population believed the U.S. position on the ABM Treaty to be against Russia’s interests. Almost the same percentage (50%) felt that Russia should respond to NATO expansion by increasing its security and defense capacities (23% wanted to develop cooperation and 13% saw no need to react). Around the same time, the U.S. first took its place at the number one spot on Russians’ list of countries that “pose a risk to Russia’s security”: 23% held this opinion in 1998, and 35% in 1999.

75% of Russians agreed with the statement that “the U.S. is taking advantage of Russia’s troubles to turn it into a second-class country,” and 60% were confident that the U.S. wanted Russia to break into several parts, but only 8-9% considered a military conflict between the U.S. and Russia to be a serious possibility. By the time Vladimir Putin became president in the early 2000, the perception of the U.S. in Russia was already close to what it is now, even without the aid of daily television propaganda that we attribute it to.

One more development that the Russian government responded to in 1999 was Western criticism of Russia’s actions in Chechnya. For the first time, the Kremlin openly accused the West of supporting terrorists. It also revived the propaganda technique of blaming the West for Russia’s misfortunes.


This approach was effective. In 2008, half the population believed the main cause of the war with Georgia was the U.S.’s desire to “extend its influence to Russia’s neighbors”; another 32% blamed Georgia, and only 5% considered Russia responsible. This demonstrates another common reaction to the collapse of the Soviet Union: an unwillingness to respect the agency of former Soviet republics and a refusal to acknowledge that some of them might choose to follow a Western model rather than a Russian one. This pattern can be observed in the situation with Georgia, with NATO accession, and mostly recently with Ukraine.

Before turning to the most recent chapter in U.S.-Russian relations, it’s important to say a few words about the several unsuccessful “reset” periods. There was a chance to alter the situation after the September 11th attacks, which changed the minds of many of Russians. The Russian public then saw cooperation between Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush as a sign that Russia was regaining its foreign policy influence, and considered the “joint fight against international terrorism” the main factor bringing the two countries closer (51% of respondents in 2002). At the same time, Russians were already fairly set in their perception of the U.S. as a global hegemon. According to respondents to this survey, the main factors driving the two countries apart were “the arrogance of Americans towards other people” (38%), “the desire of top U.S. officials to expand their influence” (36%), and “U.S. unwillingness to take the interests of other countries into account” (32%).

The final rift in relations can be pegged to 2003-2004, a period that corresponds with America’s invasion of Iraq, a series of “color revolutions” that the Russian elite interpreted as a conspiracy against Russia (interestingly, only a fifth of the general public held this view), and a second phase of eastward NATO expansion. Since that period, polls show a trend of increasing Russian isolation from the U.S. and NATO, against a backdrop of talk of Russia’s “special path.” In 2002, half the population was in favor of cooperating with NATO and a quarter was opposed; a decade later the breakdown reversed. In the mid-2000s, the U.S. and NATO rose to the top of the list of “Russia’s enemies” and the U.S. was listed among those states “most hostile towards Russia.”


Several factors have contributed to today’s record anti-Americanism (81% of respondents expressed a negative attitude toward the U.S. in January 2015). Above all, ever since demonstrations in favor of EU integration (the so-called Euromaidan) began in Ukraine in November 2013, Russian television channels have been perfecting a propaganda model that implies the protests are part of a U.S. conspiracy against Russia. Half of survey respondents believe that the main driving force of the protests in Kyiv was “the influence of the West, which is trying to draw Ukraine into its political orbit.” This opinion has become increasingly popular, growing from 41% of respondents in December 2013 to 54% in December 2014. A majority of Russians (56%) think that the conflict in east Ukraine continues because it is “advantageous for the government of the United States and other Western countries,” not because Russia is taking part in it (6%).

With the memory of the Orange Revolution still fresh, the Kremlin most likely sought to portray Euromaidan as an American project in order to discredit public protest sentiment as quickly as possible, since Russian and Ukrainian surveys conducted at the rallies showed it to be similar in origin to the Moscow-based protest movement of 2011-2012. Russian authorities did not want a successful spin-off of the civil protest to emerge on Russian soil. And so as events unfolded, the Russian media amplified the idea that the demonstrations were the product of American sponsorship.

But it would be an oversimplification to say that the resulting attitudes in Russia were the product of propaganda alone. About 30% of Russians nationwide have access to alternative sources of information. In Moscow and other major cities this figure is twice as high (approximately 60%), and yet Putin’s Ukraine policies are only slightly less popular in urban areas than they are nationwide. Alternative information exists, but most Russians refuse to take it into consideration. This sentiment is most fully articulated in responses to the question of whether there are Russian troops in Ukraine: 37% are confident that there are none, while another 38% say that “even if there are Russian troops, Russia’s best option in view of current international conditions is to deny such facts.”

The annexation of Crimea, the inability of the West and the U.S. to do anything about it, and a sanctions war, gave a majority of Russians the sense for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that their country was a superpower (70% of respondents feel this way, compared to just 47% in 2011). This represents a certain retribution for their defeat in the Cold War, and compensation for Russia’s inability to catch up with the U.S. in living standards. Participants of a special focus group used phrases such as “they’re paying attention to us again,” “we bared our teeth,” and “they will have to reckon with us.” Government approval ratings demonstrate that all of this brings people a great deal of satisfaction. One respondent said that “while previously Putin could only talk about Russia’s greatness, now his actions have proven it” – not only to [Russians], but also to the U.S.

To summarize, Russian anti-Americanism is rooted in the demise of groundless, unrealistic hopes in the 1990s—specifically, the hope that the new Russia would be unconditionally accepted into the core of the world’s leading states despite failing to meet Western political and economic standards. The realization that Russia would not quickly reach American living standards also played a role. Finally, U.S. military actions in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, were interpreted as “hostile” actions toward Russia and contributed to a downward slide in public opinion.

At the same time, throughout the 1990s anti-Americanism was largely situational, and U.S. policy was considered to be aggressive, but not targeted at Russia specifically. The events of 1998-1999 and 2003-2004 prompted most Russians to view U.S. actions as a threat to their own security, and then to support a policy of isolationism. The Russian government had noticed back in the late 1990s that challenging the U.S. had a positive effect on approval ratings, so by the mid-2000s the Kremlin made anti-Americanism a key component of its propaganda campaign. In recent years, the standoff with the U.S. has been one of the main tools in the Russian authorities’ efforts to maintain their own legitimacy in conditions of economic crisis.

Taking the long view on Russia

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President Barack Obama has frequently encouraged his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to take advantage of various “off-ramps” (exit strategies) to end the crisis in Ukraine and defuse mounting tensions with the United States and the West.

So far, Putin has driven past all of them and shows no sign of changing course. A recent Pew poll provides at least a partial explanation: Putin has a considerable domestic political wind at his back.

Even though there is growing concern among the Russian people about the state of the economy, 88% of those surveyed nevertheless trust Putin’s leadership.

Putin may well be driving Russia into the wilderness but so far the Russian people are enjoying the ride. The current dynamic reminds them of the halcyon days of the Soviet Union.

With no obvious end in sight, Europe, the United States and Russia are left with a series of reciprocal moves that do not necessarily represent an escalation but certainly deepen the chasm between East and West.

The European Union recently renewed sanctions against Russia for another six months as part of a Western strategy to increase the costs to Putin to a degree that it changes his calculus.

At least for now, Putin’s domestic political gain outweighs the international pain.

Sceptical response

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter, on a visit to Estonia, announced additional support for Nato’s rapid reaction force.

While the prepositioning of equipment and increased exercises communicate the alliance’s preparedness to defend its allies, the same Pew poll suggested that there is a discernible sentiment across “Old Europe”, notably in Germany, against a military response, even if Russia attacks a Nato ally.

One key factor in that scepticism is Germany’s preoccupation with keeping the European Union intact and the eurozone afloat.
In fact, if the EU fails to reach a revised financial agreement with Athens in time to meet a scheduled repayment to the International Monetary Fund on 30 June and Greece defaults, it may be forced out of the eurozone.

If that happens, the fallout could weaken either the existing European consensus on sanctions against Russia or their effectiveness, since Athens might increase its economic reliance on Moscow to help with its economic recovery.
Either way, Putin gains.

Challenging the system

Putin for his part pledged to strengthen Russia’s nuclear forces, the only genuine strategic card that Russia has left. And it plays well with the home crowd.

Nato is also committed to helping Ukraine improve its ability to defend itself, a process that will be likely to take a decade or more.

Recognising that stability will take years to achieve under the best of circumstances, as there is a growing understanding that the crisis is larger than Ukraine.

Until now, Europe has been guided by a sensible policy of isolating Russia over Ukraine while leaving all doors open for political, economic and military co-operation if and when Russia stops its destabilisation strategy against Kiev.

For example, Russia still has an ambassador at Nato and all the structures for defence co-operation remain in place, if dormant.

But Putin is challenging how the international system works, the degree to which international norms will be enforced and what regional prerogatives his country should have. Russian policy under Putin is far more about counterbalancing than co-operating.

Thus, the new Nato with 28 member states finds itself wrestling with an old question: what to make of Russia and what are the implications for transatlantic security.

Long road

To the extent Ukraine is not a temporary diversion but a manifestation of a more permanent challenge to Western interests and values, it raises the question of whether the current Russian revisionism is a reflection of its leader or the system that produced him.

If the leader is driving the system, the existing antagonism could last as long as a decade. If the system is driving the leader, then it requires a fundamental rethinking of the strategy that has guided European and American policy since the end of the Cold War.

That’s not a question that needs to be answered now. Putin and Russia are currently one and the same.

But just to put that in perspective, presidential campaigning is under way in America. If the next president serves two terms, he or she will still be dealing with Putin in his or her eighth year in office.

If there is another attempt at a reset with Russia down the road, it will be the president after next who makes that attempt.

The computer geek debunking the Kremlin’s account of the MH17 crash

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Sipping a can of beer and devouring French fries in a Brussels hotel room, Eliot Higgins doesn’t look like the type to get involved in armed conflicts. The Englishman has a baby face, slumped shoulders and a soft Midlands accent. But over the past three years, the 36-year-old former administrator and obsessive gamer has spent hundreds of hours scouring the internet to find out the truth about faraway wars – from the use of chemical weapons in Syria to Russian troops invading Ukraine – all from the comfort of his sofa.

Using social media posts and YouTube videos like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, he and his eight volunteers, collectively known as Bellingcat, have been able to fill in holes about what happened on various battlefields across the globe. These self-taught open-source intelligence analysts can geolocate a Facebook video of a missile launch by matching the landscape to a different image on Google Earth, or use Instagram posts to track armoured vehicles as they trek across rugged terrain.

Western intelligence officials have praised Higgins’s efforts (he was in Brussels to share his work with Nato) but his hobby has also made him some powerful enemies. In 2013, the Leicester native used YouTube videos to expose the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. A year later, Isis attacked his website after he posted the possible location of where a militant beheaded the American reporter James Foley.

Now, Higgins has become an enemy of the Russian state. Armies of Russian bots troll him relentlessly on social media, and Kremlin-controlled media outlets frequently denounce him. “We must be causing the Russian media to pull their hair out,” Higgins says, “considering the amount of attention they’re paying to us.”

What has mainly provoked the Kremlin’s ire is Bellingcat’s work on MH17, the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 shot down over eastern Ukraine last summer, killing all 298 people on board. Russian officials were quick to blame the flight’s destruction on Ukrainian forces. But over the past year, Higgins and his cohorts have been systematically debunking Moscow’s version of events.

With the European Union reviewing its sanctions against Russia ahead of the 17 July anniversary of the crash, Higgins is about to release a new report, “The Other Faces of MH17”, in the hope of further discrediting Moscow’s claims. “Because the Russians are lying about so much stuff, there’s so much to debunk,” he says. “If they weren’t … I probably would have got bored quickly.”

The lies, Bellingcat says, started with a press conference last summer in which the Kremlin claimed a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet shot down the passenger plane. Russia’s Defence Ministry presented radar data appearing to show another aircraft in the vicinity of MH17, and the Russian Union of Engineers said wreckage indicated the plane was destroyed by heat-seeking air-to-air missiles.

A man claiming to be a Spanish air traffic controller in Kiev even gave interviews to the Russian media, saying two Ukrainian fighter jets had followed the Malaysian plane. Then a satellite image appeared, apparently showing an aircraft firing on the airliner. Gradually, however, each piece of this “evidence” was proved to be fraudulent. The Spanish Embassy said there was no Spanish air traffic controller at either of Kiev’s airports. Experts dismissed the radar blip as falling debris from MH17. One of the Russian designers of the Su-25 stated publicly that the aircraft could not fire at a target flying at the passenger jet’s altitude, and that only a surface-to-air missile could cause the plane to break apart as it did. Finally, Bellingcat exposed that satellite photo as a crude composite of Google images, with the Malaysian Airlines logo not even correctly placed on the aircraft.

For Higgins, the only credible theory of what happened is Kiev’s version of events – that a Russian-supplied, Russian-operated Buk missile launcher shot down MH17. It was one of those launchers, spotted by the Associated Press in rebel-held territory near the crash site, that originally piqued his interest.

Ukraine’s military says the launcher was part of a complex anti-aircraft defence system Russia has been building in eastern Ukraine since last summer. “In June, three Buks arrived, situated near Donetsk, in Torez and to the north of Novoazovsk,” says Oleg Zakharchuk, deputy chief of Ukraine’s air force. “[Our planes have] a radar warning receiver system, and our pilots on patrol were exposed to the radar’s activity from time to time. The pilot could see in his cockpit that he was within the area of a Buk’s activity. That was exactly the area the Boeing went down.”

Never without a plan B, Russia switched to an alternate theory – MH17 was hit by a Buk missile but it was launched from Ukrainian territory and fired by troops loyal to Kiev. Once again, the Kremlin offered satellite images to back it up. But Bellingcat purchased its own satellite images, again indicating the Russian ones had been digitally altered. Russia’s Ministry of Defence did not respond to telephone or email requests from Newsweek for comment on Bellingcat’s findings. “The Russian propaganda technique is to flood the web with huge amounts of misinformation in an effort to undermine genuine facts,” says Vitaliy Naida, a senior official at Ukraine’s state security service. “The aim is to constantly raise new questions and make absolute truth seem unattainable.”

Higgins says he has experienced the Kremlin’s strategy firsthand. In recent months, Russian state media outlets have hounded him for interviews and called him a coward for refusing to talk. Some of his critics say that he is a CIA agent. Others believe that he helped to overthrow the pro-Kremlin government in Kiev during the ‘Euromaidan’ revolution.

Higgins maintains his group is independent. “We have a software engineer at Microsoft, a law student, even someone who was in the Stasi [East German secret police] 25 years ago,” says Higgins. “We have people from Finland, Poland, Holland, Germany and the US.”

One reason for the Kremlin’s unwelcome attention is that Higgins is no longer content to simply debunk Russia’s claims. For months, Bellingcat has been geolocating social media posts to trace the movements of the Buk missile launcher seen by the Associated Press. The trail led from rebel-held eastern Ukraine back to its base in Russia, so the researchers scoured the social media profiles of Russian soldiers from the unit they believe crewed the launcher. “We’ve collected over a hundred social media profiles of soldiers to reconstruct the unit,” Higgins says, “establishing who’s who and who was in the convoy that transported the MH17 Buk towards the border with Russia.”

For the first time, Higgins and his team say they are going to put names and faces behind the tragedy. They have handed the information over to a team of investigators from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, who are leading a criminal inquiry into the crash.

Investigators say it is still too early to comment on the Bellingcat report, but did not rule out the possibility that it could contribute to witness subpoenas, extradition requests and prosecutions. “We’re familiar with the report,” says Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Netherlands’ Public Prosecution Service, “but we need to establish for ourselves the cause of the crash in a way that we will have enough evidence to go to court, to point to suspects and see whether it’s possible to trace and to prosecute them.”

Back in his hotel room, Higgins is emphatic that no one needs to take his word for it, that the evidence against the Kremlin speaks for itself. “There’s so much debate about what Russia is actually doing, but we can say, ‘Look: Here’s the evidence. Here are the photos. Here are the videos. This is what Russia is up to’.”

Russians Are Loyal to Russian State, Not Putin

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When trying to get some perspective on elections by classifying them according to general principles, it becomes obvious that narrowly defined “political technologies” provide little insight and are of no interest to anyone but the few who work in that field.

Some might claim that Party X won the elections and “opened a new political era and achieved a technological breakthrough” by using Twitter to raise voter turnout, calling for a referendum on this or that subject, opening a community liaison office or disseminating propaganda in WhatsApp.

But a second group would say “No, Party Y in a neighboring country did all of the same things but lost the elections. Party X won because it successfully rode the wave of voter sentiment opposing immigration or supporting feminism and liberal values,” and so on. A third group might argue that Party X won because it had a strong leader who was able to rally voter support during the campaign.

All of these arguments are worthless when it comes to understanding reality. They have meaning only for those in political marketing who earn their living from election campaigns. One sells voter databases for direct mailings, another takes money for writing ads and a third reaches the masses by coaching the candidate.

What difference does it make if a candidate appeals to voters through Twitter, Facebook, television or printed fliers? The goal is the same: convincing people to vote for the right candidate.

The main question is not the eternal and artificial conflict of “the medium vs. the message.” After all, one cannot exist without the other. Nor is it the “message” or “narrative” that a party or candidate delivers. In any political conflict — and elections are always conflicts — there is one main question, and victory inevitably goes to whichever side can best articulate it.

That question is sometimes directed at voters and might concern political traditions or touch on the most vulnerable aspect of the political system itself. The main thing is that it sets the ground rules for the political “war” — and it is always the rules that determine the winning side.

That main issue in the November 2014 midterm elections in the United States was: “Do you want to send a message to the president?” Because voters always want to voice their displeasure, the political party holding the White House has won midterm elections only three times in U.S. history — just once in the three midterms under former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the most popular Democratic leader of all time, once under former U.S. President Bill Clinton and once under former U.S. President George W. Bush — and that following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

What point is there to even discussing the methods and ideology of the conservative Tea Party movement if the Republicans were destined to win the 2014 midterms anyway, no matter how hard the Democrats tried?

The question to voters during the last French elections for the General Council of departments was: “Are you as fed up as the rest of us with the socialism of President Francois Hollande?” The overwhelmingly positive response to that question determined the winners in that election.

In fact, two more right-wing parties besides those of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen managed to benefit from that question and win strong results, simply by applying the correct political formula in that situation.

In Turkey, the main issue in the parliamentary elections was: “Are you willing to give everything to Turkish President Recep Erdogan?” Of course, the inevitable answer was: “No, we are ready to give a great deal, but not everything.” As a result, Erdogan was able to win the most votes, but not enough to achieve his primary goal of transforming the country into a presidential republic and concentrating all power in his own hands.

The main question in Britain was: “Is it possible to manipulate a traditionalist political system during a period of stability and with a political agenda that citizens find uninteresting?” The answer: Yes, if you focus exclusively on the weak points of the system and use key indicators to highlight them, you’ve as good as won.

British Prime Minister David Cameron got the whole country in an uproar with a proposed referendum on the European Union, but it was only a cover for a campaign by his Conservative Party to target “wavering” districts to counter a self-satisfied, “national” campaign by the Labour Party.

The question before Russian voters is both simple and obvious: “Do you have faith in the state or not?” Every election in Russia invariably reverts to a referendum measuring voters’ faith in the authorities as well as their loyalty to the ruling regime and willingness to place the interests of the state far above their own. Such an agenda naturally eclipses all issues related to the candidates’ personalities, party platforms and political messages.

That is the perennial core issue in Russian elections. It will play the central role in parliamentary elections in 2016, presidential elections in 2018 and so on, ad infinitum. It is this ritual expression of faith in the Russian state — and definitely not the authorities’ various manipulations of the electoral system and the vote count — that ensures victory for the ruling party and sky-high ratings for President Vladimir Putin.

The main issue is really the fact that the basic question before Russian voters changed from “Which path of development do you choose?” in the wild 1990s, to the subsequent “Do you place the Russian state above all else?” It is not the president’s unique skills and personal qualities, as the loyalists argue, or widespread electoral fraud, as the opposition argues.

The whole point of political technologies and strategies is to find the optimal formulation of the basic question to put before voters. Or, if that issue or question is already set in stone — as with midterm elections in the United States — to focus on “damage control” and to fight for minor victories on “gray” or politically marginal issues. The Russian opposition does not demonstrate this ability. It focuses on technology instead. Its members fail to understand that the people continue to vote for Putin because they see elections as a referendum on their loyalty to the state — regardless of whether the opposition runs an Internet campaign, in the “most free and unrestricted venue,” or appealed to people’s deep dissatisfaction with government corruption and the condition of health care.

It is that issue of loyalty to the state as such, this so-called “Russian conservatism” that remains the core idea enabling the ruling authorities and their party — whatever its name at the given moment — to consistently achieve victory in national elections.

Kremlin Opens New Phase in Its War Against Ukraine

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Moscow is growing impatient with Ukraine’s unwillingness to legalize the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” and rewrite Ukraine’s constitution to their and Moscow’s satisfaction. The Minsk Two armistice, imposed on Ukraine on February 12, envisages that political process to be completed by December of this year (2015).

That, however, is conditional on a complete, durable and verified ceasefire in the field. And, since Ukraine is unwilling to sacrifice its sovereignty under the political terms of the armistice, Russia’s proxies continue hostilities in the field with variable intensity levels. Moscow aims thereby to coerce Kyiv into implementing the political terms of the armistice. But in breaching the ceasefire on a daily basis, Moscow and its proxies are demonstrably not meeting the precondition (see above) to the political process they want to impose on Ukraine.

The Kremlin is taking a number of steps with the aim of breaking or circumventing this political deadlock. Moscow also seems to be in the process of reviewing its political objectives in a more ambitious vein toward Ukraine.

Addressing the participants in the recent St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, President Vladimir Putin laid out a two-fold proprietary claim to Ukraine on Russia’s behalf. The second of these claims is new in this form: a claim to Ukraine’s future. “Ultimately, one way or another, Russia and Ukraine are fated to share their future together” (applause in the hall). Although Ukraine has a right to choose, Putin went on, “we are linked by common technical, energy, transportation infrastructures. This is already a matter for Russia, it is a matter of our interests,” he warned (Interfax, June 20).

Putin’s other proprietary claim derives not from a vision of the future but a pseudo-historical one. He told the same international forum that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people, one ethnicity, with its [sic] own specificity, its [sic] own characteristics. We are also linked by the ability to speak with each other in one [sic] language.”

In the traditional reference terms of Russian nationalism, which Putin has adopted, subsuming the Ukrainian identity to the Russian one implies rejecting the basis for Ukrainian national statehood; portraying it as unnatural and temporary, ultimately fated for amalgamation with the Russian state, as Putin already implied in this year’s telephone conversation with Russia’s populace (see EDM, April 23, 24).

Seen in this light, Moscow’s activating or suspending the Novorossiya project (which targets eight Ukrainian provinces), or shifting from support of the outright secession of Donetsk-Luhansk to “shoving” them back into Ukraine, on constitutional terms that would cripple Ukraine, appear as tactical moves. The Kremlin’s ultimate target, whether for reabsorbing or for disabling, is Ukraine as such—while biting off territorial chunks along the way, depending on circumstances (Debaltseve in February was the most recent case).

In his St. Petersburg remarks, Putin addressed four immediate demands to Ukraine: 1) change the constitution to de-centralize the country’s administrative-territorial system; 2) adopt and begin applying a special status for Donetsk-Luhansk (the current proposal would incapacitate the state); 3) validate local elections to be held in Donetsk-Luhansk (to legitimize and legalize the “people’s republics”); and 4) start financing social expenditures and reconstruction in those territories.

Ukraine is supposed to implement these demands through direct negotiations with Donetsk and Luhansk; i.e., to their satisfaction (if dissatisfied, they and Moscow would undoubtedly claim that Ukraine has refused to deliver). These are indeed political stipulations of the Minsk armistice. However, their implementation is sequenced to follow after a durable and verified ceasefire would have taken hold (see above). Putin is now reversing that sequence.

Moreover, Putin hinted that Russia would continue arming Donetsk-Luhansk forces, until Ukraine complies with those political demands: “In regional conflicts everywhere, the belligerents always find weapons somewhere. This is also the case in eastern Ukraine. But, if the situation is resolved politically, weapons would not be necessary. What is necessary is goodwill and entering into a direct dialogue [by Kyiv with Donetsk-Luhansk].”

Similarly, Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, has publicly hinted that Moscow would continue facilitating the cross-border flow of Russian fighters into Ukraine, until Kyiv concedes on political issues: “There are no terrorist groups in Donetsk and Luhansk. Everything can be resolved without civil war, by complying with the Minsk agreement. But it is not being complied with. Russian Federation citizens go to fight in Donbas. We are not calling or rewarding people [to do this]. But it is impossible to prevent this. Emotions are at work, men go there to join up… Ukraine does not want to negotiate with the representatives of those armed groups [opolchenie]. But it must do so. And we cannot close that border. What, do you want us to impose a blockade there ?” (Kommersant, June 22).

Thus, Moscow is opening a new phase in its war against Ukraine. Military intimidation is more overt, the threat to continue underwriting proxy warfare more brazen. The Kremlin wants to change the Minsk armistice unilaterally by reversing the sequence of implementing its provisions. That document imposes political concessions on Ukraine, conditional on Russia stopping the hostilities. Since Ukraine resists, Russia is now pressuring Kyiv to deliver those concessions unconditionally.

Some officials at the European Commission in Brussels are asking Ukraine to meet Moscow’s demand: namely, start complying with the political terms of the Minsk armistice, no longer expecting Russia to comply with the military terms first (Ukrayinska Pravda, June 24, 25). Undoubtedly, Moscow had counted on this effect with those members of this Commission.

Canada does not have right weapons to help Ukraine, Defence Minister reveals

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Hinting at how close Canada has come to providing lethal aid to Ukraine in its war against Russian-backed separatists, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said Thursday that he recently ordered a military inventory to determine what weapons Canada could send to the Ukrainian army, if it chose to do so.

The answer that came back was: not much.

Until now, the official reason Canada has hesitated to arm Kiev has been concern that such a move could inflame the conflict in the east of the country. Mr. Kenney revealed that another hurdle is the Canadian military doesn’t have appropriate weapons to give.

“We do not have surplus military kit sitting around in our storehouses that we can ship over to Ukraine. I actually had our military do an inventory of possible equipment, just to prepare for all eventualities. The conclusion is we just don’t have useful, operable equipment that we could send,” Mr. Kenney said, speaking after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the military alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

A Ministry of Defence official said the inventory of weapons “either scheduled for divestment – or currently in use but scheduled to be divested in the near future” was carried out in February and March of this year, shortly after Mr. Kenney took office. The inventory was also ordered around the same time the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress launched a large-scale lobbying effort, arguing the West’s reluctance to provide weapons to Ukraine “fuels Russia’s escalation.”

Mr. Kenney said Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak used Thursday’s meeting to make the same point, again asking the alliance to provide his country with weapons.

Part of the problem is that the Ukrainian military still uses Soviet weapons systems, meaning that most armaments Canada could send would not be interoperable with the guns and equipment the Ukrainians use. Mr. Kenney said that if Canada did decide to help arm Ukraine, it would involve purchasing weapons that fit the Ukrainian systems.

“It would essentially be us through one of our partnership funds, helping to procure equipment for them,” he said. “But our decision at this point has been not to do so.”

So far Canada, like most NATO countries, has proffered only non-lethal aid, such as uniforms and night-vision goggles. Canada is also providing satellite imagery to Ukrainian forces fighting the Kremlin-backed insurgency in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

This summer, 200 Canadian military trainers will arrive at a base in the far west of Ukraine, where they will help prepare new conscripts for the urban warfare being fought in the east of the country.

Despite the overt support for the government in Kiev, Mr. Kenney said Canada didn’t want to act alone in providing armaments to the Ukrainian military.

“The Prime Minister has said that all options are on the table. Our position is essentially the same as the United Kingdom. We continue to review the possibility of providing lethal defensive equipment, but Canada will not act alone in this respect. We believe prudence would require that other major allies participate in that.”

The biggest barrier remains a fear shared by many within NATO that supplying the Ukrainian military with weapons would spur Russia to increase its own involvement in eastern Ukraine.

“Obviously, even though we are very forward-leaning in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, we and our allies do not want to escalate the conflict,” Mr. Kenney said.

So far, Lithuania is the only NATO member that has acknowledged supplying arms to Ukraine. Mr. Kenney said he met Thursday with Lithuania’s Defence Minister to discuss the move, which he described as “pretty small-scale stuff. They’re providing machine guns, essentially.”

Olena Prystayko, the head of the Ukrainian Think Tanks liaison office in Brussels, which lobbies the European Union, as well as individual governments, to help Ukraine, said several other governments had indicated a willingness to provide weapons to Ukraine if they saw evidence Moscow and its proxies were trying to capture more territory.

The red line for several governments, she said, was the strategic port city of Mariupol, which is currently under the control of Ukrainian forces, about 20 kilometres from the separatist front lines. Mariupol is seen as key because its fall would make it far easier for the pro-Kremlin armies to connect with Russian forces stationed in Crimea, which Moscow seized and annexed from Ukraine following a controversial referendum there last year.

“If Mariupol is taken by Russia, it would completely change the whole situation,” Ms. Prystayko said. “One of the reasons Mariupol has not been taken by the Russians is that they have been informed that not only sanctions would follow.”

On Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that a February ceasefire deal that has brought relative calm to eastern Ukraine was under threat and there was “a risk of a return to heavy fighting.”

“Russia continues to support the separatists with training, weapons and soldiers. And it has large numbers of forces stationed on its border with Ukraine,” Mr. Stoltenberg told a press conference. He said he still hoped the ceasefire, known as the Minsk agreements, could be salvaged, adding that “without the Minsk agreements I am really afraid that the situation can deteriorate even more.”

At least two Ukrainian soldiers and three civilians have died this week amid escalating fighting along the front line between central government forces and the armies of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk “people’s republics.” Both sides accuse the other of violating the Minsk ceasefire on a near-daily basis.

More than 6,000 people have died in the year-old conflict. Russia has consistently denied that it has provided direct support to the separatist armies, claiming that video and satellite evidence of its involvement has been falsified by Western intelligence services.

The Kremlin says the conflict in the east is a popular reaction to the rise of a “fascist” government in Kiev. Moscow also alleges that a 2014 revolution that overthrew the elected government of Viktor Yanukovych was backed by Western governments.

Mr. Kenney flies from Brussels to Kiev on Friday, where he will meet with both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. While in Kiev, Mr. Kenney said he will announce a “bundle of relatively small projects” aimed at improving the country’s governance.

He will also travel to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to meet with 40 Canadian personnel who are deployed there now, preparing the ground for the larger continent of trainers this summer.

Mr. Kenney said that, even after a year of fighting, the Ukrainian army still badly needed the kind of training the Canadian military can provide.

“Quite frankly, what we are hearing from the Brits and the Americans who are a little bit ahead of us in the training operation is just how unprepared and – I’ll put it politely – modestly trained the Ukrainian troops seem to be. There is a lot of very basic military tactics that they’ve never been taught. The conscripts have gone through very basic training and have little or no knowledge of the techniques of modern warfare.”

The Russian Embassy in Ottawa has described Canada’s move to help train the Ukrainian military “deplorable.”