Category: Russia (Page 1 of 3)

U.S. should fight against Russian incursions, not work with them

The Trump administration and the alt-right generally has been pushing for making good with Russia. The argument seems hinged as much on unfounded fears of Russia as on possible benefits that could come out of it (which are few).

Recently we saw two examples of this: one with Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20, another with revelations about Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with a Russian lawyer, which Trump Jr said was about Russian adoptions.

At the G20, Trump had a meeting with Putin that stretched for over two hours. The Trump administration said Trump raised the issue of Russia’s hacking and dissemination of emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the meeting, as one would expect the U.S. president to do, but they were vague as to whether Trump accepted Putin’s denial of such hacking, as Russia’s foreign officials said he did, and as he himself has done in public multiple times, including the day before the meeting.

Still, Trump doesn’t want to be perceived as having done little or nothing, so he tweeted that he “discussed forming” some kind of “impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..” (No word on whether Baron Trump will be appointed as the first chief of the unit, since he’s “so good with computers.”)

Besides the fact that a “Cyber Security unit” is an extremely vague term that sounds more like a useless facade with less power than the UN Human Rights Council and the fact that, according to his tweet (even taking it at face value), they merely “discussed” it, and the fact that Trump’s statements are notoriously unreliable anyway, the whole idea that the U.S. should set something up with Russia to protect itself against hacks by Russia is delusional.

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The Bear in the neighbourhood: Comments from experts on Russia policy

Is Russia an existential threat to the West? Is it just another geopolitical adversary? The answer to this question can determine Western action and Western goals. If we consider the Second World War definition of the West, which is limited to Western Europe and North America, policy prescription will be radically different than when one compares an ever expanding NATO and EU. This is important, and has been a major factor in punditry’s analysis of US President Donald Trump’s meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Hamburg G20, at a time of extreme global turmoil.

What we know so far is that there has been external interference in the US presidential election, by cyber attacks, originating from Russian mainland. That’s the US joint Intel assessment. Although the assessment claims that the cyber attack was ordered by Vladimir Putin, no public evidence was forwarded to corroborate that claim, and it is all classified. Nor is there any evidence of any active collusion between Russian intelligence and Trump campaign, yet, nor any clear indication of whether Russian interference decisively tilted the vote count.

Reporting continues to attempt to flesh out details, as investigations continue. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported last week that a Republican operative, Peter Smith, who claimed to have had communications with former Trump official advisor Michael Flynn, was actively seeking Clinton emails from hackers. Matt Tait, a cybersecurity professional who was a source for the Journal‘s reporting, wrote that he was contacted by Smith, who represented himself as working with the Trump campaign, to verify emails he said he had received on the dark web.

Whatever else turns out, Russia is still a geopolitical adversary of the United States and Europe. It is imperative for countries to have a clear coherent grand strategy and one based on a clear understanding of the issues. In light of that, we asked three International Relations experts, two from US, one from UK, on how should the West deal with Russia.

Here’s what they said.

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These past two weeks of Trump scandals were entirely predictable

The Republicans played with fire, and now they’re gonna get burnt

The past two weeks have brought developments in the ongoing saga of America’s executive office dysfunction that have shattered even previous high water marks of unbridled incompetence, corruption, and abuse of power. On May 9, Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on transparent pretexts. A couple of days later, Trump admitted his pretexts were false. Later he made a threat to Comey, who is invited to testify before Congress, about having supposed “tapes” of his conversations, and the White House still won’t say if it is recording conversations, even as it faces a subpoena from Congressional investigators. Now, in the past few hours, it has come to light that Comey produced a memo stating Trump had told him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn.

If Trump’s attempts to derail the Russia investigation weren’t enough, Trump met with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov literally the next day after firing Comey. Apparently without the White House’s permission, the Russian government photographer shared photos of the two men yukking it up in front of Trump with the Russian media that would go viral around the world—even as Trump didn’t allow any American photographers to capture images of the meeting. Didn’t Trump already learn from Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions the perils of meeting with Kislyak?

But the optics disaster was only foreshadowing what the public would soon find out happened during the meeting.

On May 16, it was reported by the Washington Post that “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador.” The information revealed was reportedly enough to let Russia figure out the source of intelligence shared by an ally (a very strong ally that Trump made much of claiming to support). Trump’s irresponsible mouth puts Israeli spies in ISIS-controlled territory at risk. It may threaten U.S. intelligence-sharing with Israel.

The saddest thing is, this was all completely predictable.

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My latest post at National Interest

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You’re sick of hearing about what should be done in Syria, aren’t you? So am I.

Here, read what we should do.

The madness of calling for a No Fly Zone in Syria

The Labour MPs in Britain and assorted bleeding heart Twitter liberals called again for a No Fly Zone in Syria. One might have wondered that this insanity is over, but no…like a Phoenix it comes up every time there’s a bombing raid in Aleppo.

Unfortunately, Labour’s plan had zero specifics on how the NFZ would be achieved. Nothing on how to do it. Nothing about security dilemma or escalatory spiral. Nothing on why should we do it anyway, other than to “save Syrians”. Or what British interest would it achieve. Nothing about if a Western plane gets shot down, should we counter escalate, or climb down.

Here’s a simple war gaming simulation for all the Twitter bleeding hearts. Let’s go on to impose a NFZ in Syria. We try and knock out C4ISR. The Syrians delegate their anti-air ops to the Rus. The Russians come with fighter escorts, or worse, the Russians shoot down a Western jet. The Russians then say it was rebels or ISIS that shot it down. Should the West escalate? Climb down? If they climb down, what about perception and resolve? What if there is asymmetric escalation? Proxies attacking Western interests in other places? What about mission creep? If you haven’t done these aforementioned threat assessments and are calling for NFZ or intervention, you’re insane. Leave it to the pros. If you still want to take risk of escalation with Russia over Syria where there’s no long term geo-strategic interest, you’re an idiot. 

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My review of Bobo Lo’s “Russia and the New World Disorder”

51eha8qwd-l-_sx331_bo1204203200_My review of Bobo Lo’s “Russia and the New World Disorder” is out online, for Political Studies Review journal.

Lo’s book is timely contribution to the literature as the World is trying to understand and predict Russian behaviour. Although, I wan’t quite satisfied with it.

Here’s the link to my reviewfor citations.

And, here’s the PDF to download.

Bombs + Dollars’ analysis of the House Intel report on Snowden

Edward Snowden was a portrayed as a frustrated worker who clashed with colleagues, failed workplace training, and exaggerated his credentials in a report by the United States House of Representative Intelligence Committee. Most damningly, it alleges that he has passed on classified information to the Russian government. In the words of Bombs + Dollars editor Sumantra Maitra, “This is rough.”

The House Intel Committee began investigating in 2014 in order to analyze the damage Snowden’s leaks did to U.S. national security and how to minimize the risk of it happening again. It is worth noting that the Intel Committee has their own point of view. The 4 page report available to the public is but a small summary of the classified 36-page report, with information selected to best make their case. The committee’s investigation avoided interviewing individuals who may be witnesses as a possible trial of Snowden and in some cases interviewed second- or third-hand sources who had reviewed reports of interviews with Snowden’s colleagues, rather than the colleagues themselves. Nonetheless, much of the information is in-line with what has been reported in journalistic and non-governmental sources about Snowden, though some of the House’s claims are worded in a sensationalistic manner.

First, the report states that Snowden caused “tremendous damage to national security.” The information he revealed that Glenn Greenwald and other journalists published about U.S. intelligence programs both domestic and abroad is, of course, available to anyone with an Internet connection. That is a necessary consequence of a journalistic expose, and journalists can only control the degree to which they minimize the most damaging information, but it is sometimes justified for public knowledge.

Yet a large amount of the information published had nothing to do with spying on American citizens–or even foreign citizens. The U.S. tapped the phones of foreign leaders, for example, and conducted espionage on its rivals during diplomatic and trade negotiations, it was reported, based on Snowden’s leaks. “[T]he vast majority of the documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests,” the report says. Snowden has already admitted that he didn’t even read all the documents he leaked.

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Trump ally Gingrich says maybe U.S. shouldn’t even defend NATO allies that hit military spending target

Former Republican Speaker of the House and shortlist finalist for Donald Trump’s VP selection Newt Gingrich said on CBS News this week that NATO allies “ought to worry about our [U.S.] commitment.”

This came after Trump said he would consider only defending a NATO ally from Russian incursion “if they fulfill their obligations to us.” Trump has often accused American allies of not paying their fair share. In many cases, he has used made-up numbers to make his argument. For example, he said of South Korea, “They don’t pay us.”

In this case, Trump didn’t set out specifics about NATO, but many NATO countries have come under criticism for spending well below the target of 2% of GDP on defense. Only five of the 28 members meet the goal. Those countries are the U.S., Greece, the UK, Estonia and (since 2015) Poland.

Asked specifically about whether the U.S. would defend Estonia, which borders Russia, from an attack, Gingrich said,

“Estonia is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. The Russians aren’t gonna necessarily come across the border militarily. The Russians are gonna do what they did in Ukraine. I’m not sure I would risk a nuclear war over some place which is the suburbs of St. Petersburg. I think we have to think about what does this stuff mean.”

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Weekly Reading List: So, I got published in War on the Rocks and Nottspolitics

Big week, as I mentioned before, with a couple of major publications coming, other than my regular columns.

To start with, the biggest one till date, my essay on War on the Rocks, where I write a Neo-Realist critique of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s latest revisionist history lesson. And was then called a Neo-Con for some reason, in the comments. But that’s another issue.

The second big one was my guest post at the official blog of the University of Nottingham, Dept of Politics and IR, where I talk about a foreign policy course for Philippines and how it should balance between China and US.

Other than that, here are my weekly columns.

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The future of nuclear security post-Obama: A report on the final Nuclear Security Summit

Absence of Iran and Russia & the Czech complacence.

Approaching the end of his presidential term, Barack Obama convened leaders from over 50 countries for the final Nuclear Security Summit. The March 31-April 1 Washington gathering marks the end of a high-level diplomatic process with roots stretching back to the 2009 Obama´s Prague Summit speech.  In light of contemporary narratives of terrorists´ willingness to hijack unguarded nuclear materials, or target nuclear sites, a wide participation of all vital players became a sine qua non of securing vulnerable substances. The absence of representatives from Russia and Iran casts doubts on the undertaking´s future success.

As a part of his 2009 Prague speech, President Obama articulated his concerns regarding nuclear proliferation and insufficient security of hitherto acquired materials. His address initiated a series of summits aimed at safeguarding existing nuclear supply, including the minimisation of the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), participation in international organisations, and prevention and detection of illegal trafficking of materials indispensable for the weapon-creation. Recent stagnation and lack of improvement coupled with the 2016 non-participation of key actors in the endeavour not only highlight the flawed architecture of the process, but also contributed to the loss of momentum and might render the previous achievements futile.

Together administering the vast majority of the total global stock, involvement of Russia is an essence for any significant political breakthrough to be achieved. Its absence has been officially blamed on “shortage of mutual cooperation on agenda”; even though the rationale seems to lie in Russia’s desire to demonstrate the deadlock inevitably resulting from the failure to recognize the country´s rejuvenated position in the world.

Regardless of the genuine reason for Russia’s decision to boycott the summit, it will undoubtedly have repercussions capable of stalling, if not outright undermining the progress. Recent comeback of Russia to the leaders’ club and the use of other than hard-power instruments to manipulate system for own benefit manifests the position the country has asserted, as much as its ability to influence and steer the course of events. Similar empty chair crises had in the past served to teach a lesson of no bright prospects of advancement without the absentee.  While the U.S. administration speaks of the missed opportunity for Russia and slipping further into isolation, Obama must be well aware that chances for considerable change in nuclear security domain wane as his term slowly draws to the close, and Russia´s assistance would have enhanced future outlooks.

As Obama declared preceding the gathering, “…we’ll remain vigilant to ensure that Iran fulfils its commitments.” Not inviting Iran to the summit puts the fervor of commitment to the test.

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