Russia remains top threat to U.S. homeland, general says

The four-star general who oversees the military command dedicated to defending the U.S. from attack says Russia remains the most “acute challenge to our homeland defense mission,” even as attention turns to China as the biggest emerging threat. “Russian leaders seek to erode our influence, assert their regional dominance, and reclaim their status as a global power through a whole-of-government strategy that includes information opera-tions, deception, economic coercion and the threat of military force,” Air Force General Glen VanHerck, the head of Northern Command, said in written testimony on March 16 to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The continuing military challenges posed by Russia took a back seat during President Donald Trump’s administration, and China continues to be described by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as the “pacing threat” that will determine the capabilities needed by the U.S. But it’s Russia that “continues to conduct frequent military operations in the approaches to North America,” VanHerck said. The U.S. and Canada last year “responded to more Russian military flights off the coast of Alaska than we’ve seen in any year since the end of the Cold War” in the early 1990s. These Russian military operations include multiple flights of heavy bombers, antisubmarine aircraft and intelligence collection platforms near Alaska that show “Russia’s military reach and how they rehearse potential strikes on our homeland,” VanHerck said.

In recent years, Russia has deployed “advanced cyber and counter-space weapons and a new generation of long-range and highly precise land-attack cruise missiles, including hypersonics” that “complicate our ability to detect and defend against an inbound attack from the air, sea and even those originating from Russian soil,” he said.

Russia hopes to field a series of even more advanced weapons “intended to ensure its ability” to attack the U.S., including the “Poseidon transoceanic nuclear torpedo and the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile which — if perfected — could enable strikes from virtually any vector due to its extreme range and endurance,” VanHerck said.

– edited from Bloomberg, March 16, 2021
PeaceMeal, March/April 2021

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100,000 flee ‘worsening oppression’ as Russia tightens grip on Crimea

Russia’s occupation of Crimea has caused about 100,000 people to flee the territory — twice as many as had been thought — according to new figures compiled by a Ukrainian charity. The number of fugitives has jumped in the last two months because of “worsening repression.”From the moment that Russian troops fanned out across Crimea and seized the region from Ukraine in March 2014, those who were unwilling to accept the Kremlin’s rule began to leave. Most settled elsewhere in Ukraine, including the capital, Kiev.

New evidence suggests this exodus was significantly larger than had been thought. About 21,000 people from Crimea are officially registered in Ukraine as “internally displaced,” but many more are known to be undocumented. The total number of fugitives from Crimea was probably between 50,000 and 60,000, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Geneva-based group.

But Tamila Tasheva, the cofounder and coordinator of Crimea SOS, a Ukrainian charity, said the real figure was as high as 100,000. “There are more and more people leaving Crimea as the repression becomes worse,” she said. “Our offices are full of requests and applications for help for people and their children.”

If so, about five percent of Crimea’s entire population has fled, representing an almost unprecedented departure from a region that has not suffered war or natural disaster.

As for why this outflow is taking place, campaigners point to Russia’s escalating campaign against dissent. Arrests and unexplained disappearances have become routine in Crimea. No one is regarded with greater suspicion than the Tatar minority, a 230,000-strong community viewed as the original inhabitants of the territory.

In 1944, the Tatars were deported from Crimea and resettled in Soviet Central Asia. They lived in exile until the 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev allowed them to return. Having suffered so grievously at the hands of the Kremlin, Tatars are presumed to oppose the return of Russian rule.

Alim, a 17-year-old Tatar, is one of the fugitives from Crimea. Along with his family, he left for the safety of Kiev a year ago. “It was uncomfortable being in Crimea. I was afraid to say something wrong,” he explained. “I was studying in a Ukrainian school and they converted it into a Russian school with the Russian language.”

Alim, who did not wish his full name to be disclosed, added, “I was afraid because I had pro- Ukrainian views. The Russian security forces were everywhere. If they hear you saying something wrong then, I don’t know, there could be a bad reaction.”

The evidence suggests that the pace of departures is quickening again. Last November, the Kiev office of Crimea SOS received only 14 requests for help from displaced people. The following month, it recorded no requests at all. But in April this year, by contrast, 183 people contacted the charity to ask for assistance. Another 97 did so in May.

“There is an atmosphere of fear in Crimea. That’s why citizens feel forced to leave," said Ms. Tasheva.

Last year, Russia prevented the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from sending a human rights assessment mission to Crimea. The group gathered evidence elsewhere in Ukraine and interviewed people remotely inside Crimea. They concluded that Russian rule had “dramatically impacted” the “human rights and fundamental freedoms” of all residents of Crimea, particularly those “who were opposed to the annexation.”

Russia, however, points to Ukraine’s own behavior to explain any hardships. Last November, Ukraine’s government cut off Crimea’s electricity, leaving the region in darkness for over two weeks. Russia has since been able to guarantee Crimea’s power supply.

But Ms. Tasheva pointed out that Russia, as the occupying power, has legal responsibility for the welfare of the region’s people. “Of course we might name Ukraine as responsible because they don’t make life easier for the people of Crimea,” she said. “But Russia is ultimately responsible because they are occupying the territory.”

– edited from The Telegraph (U.K.), June 11, 2016
PeaceMeal, July/August 2016

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Putin signs tough anti-protest law

ST. PETERSBURG – Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law on June 8 a bill to hugely increase fines for people who take part in protests that violate public order. He took the action just days ahead of the next rally planned against his 12-year rule. Participants in protests where public order is violated could now face fines of 300,000 rubles ($9,100) — more than the average annual salary — and the organizers of such rallies could be fined up to 1 million rubles. The fine for participants used to be 1,000 rubles ($30).

Putin claimed there was nothing in the new law that was tougher than similar legislation in in a number of European Union countries, including Britain, Germany, France and Spain. He told a meeting of the country’s top judges in his native St. Petersburg that he decided to sign the bill despite objections from his own human rights adviser Mikhail Fedotov, who asked the president to veto it.

Opposition leaders said the Kremlin rushed the law through so that it could be in place before the opposition demonstration planned for the following Tuesday. Putin’s opponents said the bill could radicalize the opposition movement.

– edited from Reuters, June 8, 2012
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2012

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Bloggers breach Russian rocket plant

MOSCOW – Russia’s deputy prime minister vowed in December to punish “sleepy” security officials after bloggers posted dozens of photos of an apparently unguarded, strategic military rocket-motor factory near Moscow. Blogger Lana Sator said she and friends met not a soul, much less any security guards, as they roamed around state rocket-maker Energomash’s plant, snapping pictures on five separate night-time excursions in recent months. She posted almost 100 pictures of decrepit-looking hardware from inside a rusted engine-fuel testing tower, the plant’s control room, and even its roof at:

Russian media cited a senior space agency official, speaking anonymously, who described the breach as a shock of the same scale as German pilot Mathias Rust’s brazen Cessna flight under Soviet radar to land on Red Square in 1987. “It showed a complete inability to protect anything whatsoever,” the official told Izvestia.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the security failure was “unacceptable,” warning in a televised meeting with Vladimir Popovkin, chief of the space agency Roskosmos, that “sleepy cats” who failed to maintain security at strategic defense sites faced punishment. Rogozin, just appointed in December to oversee the Russian defense and space sectors, also criticized Roskosmos for a string of humiliating launch failures that marred the 2011 celebrations of 50 years since Yuri Gagarin’s first human space flight.

On February 1, 2011, a Rokot carrier rocket failed to send a military satellite to the designed orbit. On August 18, a Proton rocket carrying a $265-million communications satellite failed to reach the planned orbit. Only one week later, an unmanned Progress cargo ship crashed due to a rocket malfunction, thereby failing to reach the International Space Station with needed supplies. And what was to be post-Soviet Russia’s debut interplanetary mission to Mars’s moon Phobos, carrying a Chinese micro-satellite, was launched on Noember 9 but also failed to reach the intended orbit.

– edited from Reuters and Xinhua
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2012

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Bush’s Cold War redux

President George W. Bush lit a match re-igniting Cold War tensions in November 2006 with his plan to put missiles into Eastern Europe as part of an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system — ostensibly to defend Europe and the United States against an alleged threat of attack from Iran. The plan is to deploy radar to track incoming missiles in the Czech Republic and 10 silo-based interceptor missiles in Poland.

Russia reacted to the announced plan with alarm. Russian President Vladimir Putin had already been sensitive to Russia’s loss of superpower status and the Bush administration’s military expansionism. He repeatedly warned about “those who would like to build a unipolar world, who would themselves like to rule all of humanity.” Last year he denounced NATO’s 1999 admission of nations from Russia’s former sphere of influence — Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. Two of those nations are the very ones Pres. Bush has now recruited for his ABM outpost. The head of the Russian armed forces’ general staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky, observed, “An ABM area near Europe’s Russian borders is an unfriendly step, to put it mildly.”

The alleged Iranian threat is non-existent. Iran has no inter-continental ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe, much less the United States — which is good, because the U.S. “midcourse” interception ABM system doesn’t work. After 25 years of development and more than $120 billion dissipated, President Reagan’s “Star Wars” fantasy of shooting down a bullet with a bullet amounts to nothing more than a welfare program for the industrial part of the military-industrial complex.

Nevertheless, basing missiles at Russia’s doorstep is a provocative and aggressive action, akin to Russia’s basing missiles in Cuba during the 1960s. Why would Russia not react defensively to our aggression now, as we reacted defensively to theirs then? Although the planned ABM system was characterized by Pres. Bush as benign relative to Russia, leading U.S. strategic analysts have explained that Russian planners must regard the system and its chosen location as a first-strike weapon.

The recent alleged Russian invasion of neighboring Georgia was used by the Bush administration as a pretext to conclude the agreement with Poland to place the ABM missiles there, thus, as Associated Press commentator Desmond Butler observed, “bolstering an argument made repeatedly by Moscow and rejected by Washington: that the true target of the system is Russia.”

The deal with Poland contains a highly unusual concession: a U.S. Patriot missile battery that can shoot down short-range missiles or attacking aircraft is to be moved from Germany to Poland, where it will be operated by a crew of about 100 American military personnel. American troops will join the Polish military, at least temporarily, at the front lines — facing east toward Russia.

NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe was described by former U.S. diplomat and Cold War expert, George Kennan, as “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era, [which] may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the Cold War to East-West relations.” Current efforts to expand NATO even further to Georgia and Ukraine could become extremely hazardous, especially in the aftermath of the August war in South Ossetia between Georgia and Russia. The five-day shooting war brought talk about a “new cold war” into the open.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a speech on Sept. 18, castigated Russia for its alleged invasion of Georgia. The following day, the Russian Foreign Ministry retorted in a statement that Rice had “grossly distorted the events caused by Georgian aggression against South Ossetia.” The statement said Russian military action had been undertaken solely to defend its citizens in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali under attack by Georgia.

The key question — Which side was the first to launch military strikes? — is now receiving increased scrutiny that suggests Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili triggered the bloody war and then told the West bold-faced lies.

Information coming from NATO and OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, now paints a picture different from the one that prevailed during the first days of battle. It was already clear then to officers at NATO headquarters that the Georgians had started the conflict and that their actions were more calculated than either pure self-defense or a response to Russian provocation. Even more clearly, NATO officials believed that by no means could minor preliminary skirmishes that took place be seen as justification for Georgian war preparations.

The details extracted by Western intelligence agencies agree with NATO’s assessments. According to this information, Georgia amassed roughly 12,000 troops on its border with South Ossetia in July, along with a third of their military arsenal. Saakashvili’s plan, apparently, was to cut off South Ossetia from Russia. The detailed examination of the sequence of events is now seen as evidence that Russia did not act offensively, but merely reacted to a blitzkrieg attack by Georgia. There are now calls in Washington DC and Europe for an independent investigation of the matter.

Secretary of State Rice also charged in her speech that Russia is becoming “increasingly authoritarian” and “aggressive” — a highly ironic case of the pot calling the kettle black. She said Russia’s leaders are putting their country “on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.” Russian President Dmitri Medvedev countered the following day that no external circum-stances or outside pressure will change Russia’s strategic goal to modernize its military and raise its defense capability to a proper level, that is, to a level where the United States won’t throw its weight around in their backyard.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo ben-Ami, writing in the Beirut Daily Star, advised: “The U.S. ... must understand that, when excluded and despised, Russia can be a major global spoiler. Ignored and humiliated by the U.S. since the Cold War ended, Russia needs integration into a new global order that respects its interests as a resurgent power, not an anti-Western strategy of confrontation.”

As a country with a huge military machine, we must rein in our imperialist forays and engage our adversaries in cooperation for mutual security, not in provocation that can escalate dangerously.

– edited from Voice of America, Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Der Spiegel,, Washington Post and RIA Novosti
Peacemeal, Sept/October 2008

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