Putin has lost his war in Ukraine and created Toxic Russia.
by Philip INGRAM MBE
No matter what the end state is on the ground in Ukraine in the coming weeks there is one simple fact that cannot be disputed, Putin has lost. So, how can I be certain?
Putin’s objectives for his further invasion of Ukraine (remember he started this in 2014 with the forceable annexation of Crimea and then FSB led, with GRU support, activity to generate the breakaway Donbas Region), were to topple the Ukrainian Government, as it was becoming to EU and NATO focused, and replace it with a more Russian focused and sympathetic government that would fall into line as Lukashenko does in Belarus. His secondary objective was to open a land bridge between Crimea and Russia including the disputed Donbas region, setting the conditions for autonomous Donetsk and Luhansk.
To achieve his objectives, Putin will have wanted a rapid surgical operation into Kyiv to achieve his objective and a then slower mass movement of Russian troops into Ukraine to ensure compliance. He will have expected a rapid reinforcement of the Donbas region, welcomed capitulation by the local people and a rapid progression along Ukraine’s Southern coast. In any final settlement with a new government, he would likely have wanted the disputed regions of Donetsk and Luhansk to be recognised as independent along with any additional captured territory linking them to Crimea.
Looking at the military operation around the invasion so far. Russia has failed to achieve air superiority as Ukrainian Airforce and Air Defences are still operating; gaining air superiority is a precursor to any lightening strike. Rapid special forces and elite military operations to capture key terrain around Kyiv in the first few days of the invasion were repulsed by the Ukrainian defenders. A ground convoy aimed at linking up with the captured key terrain coming from the North on Kyiv became fixed for many kilometres on roads, unable to manoeuvre through Ukrainian resistance and poor Russian logistic support.
Progress has been slow through poor equipment’s availability, poor logistic support, bad planning, poor command and control and massive resistance from the Ukrainian defenders.
To date Russia has failed to capture what would be assessed as any of its key objectives. In essence all of these suggest a complete failure in the planning, execution and therefore command and control of the first stage of the operation. The Ukrainian Government remains active, President Zelenskyy is clearly in charge and is giving global leaders a masterclass in leadership. His approach has been key to uniting the Ukrainian people in a tighter national bond that they have ever had. That bond will be almost impossible to destroy.
Russia has been forced to move to its classic play book actions mirroring what happened in Grozny in 2000, Georgia in 2008 and more recently in support for Assad in Syria. The surrounding of built-up areas and their gradual destruction through indirect fire from aircraft, rockets, missiles, and artillery – this is exactly what is happening in the cities of Kherson, Mariupol, Donbas and more. Given a complete loss of initiative moving into Kyiv and the way urban warfare soaks up experienced troops, the same fate will be the only option for Kyiv should Russian forces be able to encircle it. That still remains in doubt over 2 weeks into the invasion.
Strategically Putin has set the conditions for the EU to come together in a way no one could have predicted. Defence spending and focus in EU countries is going up rapidly and as a block its political and economic reach is likely to expand. The same can be said for NATO, member countries traditionally reluctant to meet the 2% GDP spend on defence are doing so now with some haste and more expenditure to deliver real capability back into their militaries. Some countries who work closely with NATO and in particular Sweden and Finland but have never sought membership are now seeing a swing in public opinion supporting membership.
Putin has galvanised the EU and NATO and set the conditions for both to expand.
Global diplomacy, economics and politics are reined against Russia with sanctions biting deep, international companies and brands are removing any association with Russia to protect their reputation; historic votes in the UN General Assembly condemning Russia’s action have happened and the look of disbelief on world leaders faces, every time Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says anything is palpable. China and India will be concerned at the speed the international community reacted with economic sanctions and be wary of ending up on the wrong side of international feelings.
Putin has galvanised the international community against Russia in a way never seen before. Putin has created Toxic Russia.
Inside Ukraine, pre-invasion, politics was confrontational, the people happily existed together, and the former actor President was tolerated. However, since the invasion, the Ukrainian people have come together as a single entity with a spirit and belief that is electric. President Zelenskyy has galvanised a national spirit focused against Putin in a way no one would have expected, he continues to give a master call in leadership under adverse conditions to other global leaders.
Putin has galvanised the Uranian people against him in a way no one would have expected.
I suspect the Russian people are in a mixed emotional bag at the moment, some angry at the international community and Ukrainians because they believe the disinformation fed to them through state media; some are shocked and don’t know where to turn, some are beginning to hurt and see the real damage Putin has caused Russia on the global stage. It is too early for the impact of what is going on to have a real effect insider Russia and the thinking of the Russian people but more importantly those with access to power, Putin’s closest aids.
It is clear that the Russian military are beginning to hurt on the ground, and Putin’s initiative to start peace talks was a classic effort to create breathing space for elements of his war machine, even though their activities haven’t stopped. However, he is likely looking for his get out options. The most likely before the conflict started would have been rapid seizure of ground and a negotiated pull back to the disputed Donbas region, with Donetsk and Luhansk being recognised as truly independent and the land bridge between Crimea and Russia maintained. However, it is too late for that. Even if President Zelensky agrees to discuss the possibility to stop the slaughter of civilians, even if there is a Minsk type agreement, Russia will never be allowed fully back onto the international stage and global brands will abandon Russia for fear of untold damage to their reputation. NATO would still be expanding, the EU and much of the globe galvanised, Defence capability focused against Russia would be growing.
There is no winning scenario for Putin, even if he could take the whole of Ukraine. The only way for Russia to come back is Putin’s demise. The only question is what cost till then? The sad thing is that a long-drawn-out war, achieving nothing for Russia and delivering untold death and destruction to the people in Ukraine, and increasing Russian casualties, remains on course to be where this invasion is going.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former senior British Military Intelligence officer and NATO Planner. He is available for comment.
What is driving Putin’s thinking on Ukraine?
by Philip Ingram, MBE
Watching the debacle that was the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the huge amounts of equipment abandoned, destroyed, or falling into Taliban hands as the Afghan security forces melted away, with the political ramifications that spread across the US and UK in particular with the mad scramble, and failure to get all of the locals who had helped the coalition out of the country, it is likely President Putin smiled. Russia had its own debacle in Afghanistan, but it left in a more orderly fashion. Vladimir knew the West was a shadow of its previous self.
At the time of the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan the then Vladimir Putin of the KGB was finishing his career as an intelligence officer, destroying files in Dresden in the former East Germany. As the wall came down, he moved to be an advisor on international affairs to the Mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly Sobchak, where, by his own admission, he resigned from the KGB in 1991 not wanting anything to do with the post-Soviet regime’s intelligence machinery, his destination was politics.
However, his foundation, the belief at the core of his soul, was the USSR, and a USSR as a world leading global power. He has never lost that belief and has resented everything that has diluted the reality around it. When it comes to Ukraine, for over 10 years before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin ran a long media campaign aimed at suggesting that Russians and Ukrainian’s were one people but painting them in the eyes of ethnic Russians as “little Russians” and mobilised strong anti-Ukrainian sentiment in the run up to the Annexation. He hasn’t stopped since.
However, what this says is that Putin has a long-term plan, measured in decades not months and his actions into Crimea, support for separatists in the Donbas region, cyber-attacks, possibly assassinations and military deployments to the Ukrainian borders over the years culminating in the current deployment, clearly display his long game approach to achieving his objective; Ukraine being absorbed back to mother Russia.
What is different about this deployment is its scale, not just combat troops but combat support (artillery, engineers) and logistics. It is on a scale not seen before. In addition, it is no accident that Putin is having joint military exercise with Belarus, deploying Naval capability into the Baltic, Atlantic, Mediterranean, having joint exercises with China and Iran in the Indian Ocean, all at the same time. The Russian military has not been tested like this since the old USSR days, something Putin will be proud to have achieved but also concerned about the message at home.
So why doesn’t Putin just invade and take Ukraine immediately?
There are several issues around this simple question, the first is size. Ukraine is the second largest country by land mass in Europe at some 603,628 Sq Km and has a population of approximately 55 million people. That is a huge area to invade and a huge number of people to subjugate; it is not a simple military operation even for a country with the size of military forces Russia has on paper. Even if he had enough land based military capability to take and hold Ukraine, he would very quickly become fixed and be able to concentrate on nothing else.
The second reason is the potential international reaction. Putin does care about the international consequences, especially if it will hit him and his supporters in the pocket too hard. Economic sanctions he can handle, even though the Russian economy is in turmoil, note how he is courting and getting increased Chinese support! Are we seeing or is there already a coalition of the leaders for life?
However, if it came to the point where his personal assets overseas or those of the oligarchs supporting him (keeping him in power) were badly affected then he would be concerned. Politically he needs to keep the oligarchs onside and able to keep their lucrative businesses, otherwise support to keep Putin in power would disappear rapidly from those with the power to remove him.
Remember the attack on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury with Novichok? That was to send a message to some errant oligarchs more than it was to assassinate Skripal. Exactly 14 days before the last Presidential election, Putin wanted a greater percentage of the vote and at least one oligarch could have disrupted that. After a smear of Novichok in Salisbury, there was no dissent.
Of note Russia has just changed its position on Crypto Currencies from banning them to regulating them, could this be a move to allow Putin and Oligarchs to protect some of their assets in decentralised currencies, less easy to subject to asset freezing? Regulation would continue to allow him and his political friends to maintain oversight of their use!
What is clear is that Putin is playing a game of 3D or 4D chess, every time he moves, he sits and watches what the global reaction is. He knows that he controls the timings to an extent. Troops deployed without purpose can become disillusioned, equipment deployed where it can’t be maintained properly becomes unreliable, funding large military deployments is expensive and the court of Russian public opinion, no matter how much it is controlled, will only stay silent for a finite period.
His military exercises with China and Iran in the South China Sea, 240 nautical miles off the coast of Ireland, sending landing ships through the Mediterranean, mobilising elements of all of his Naval Fleets are doing two things – the first is sending a message to the West, “you don’t know what I am up to,” and the second is splitting intelligence and diplomatic efforts. Intelligence assets monitoring a large number of events simultaneously means there is less of a concentration of them to monitor what actually happens when it does at Putin’s time and place of his choosing.
When it comes to land-based deployments and his exercises in Belarus, it gives him the ability to outload and forward deploy the military capability he needs to take action into Ukraine but also place troops on boarders with NATO countries as a deterrent. The rationale is twofold – deterring NATO from physically getting involved and secondly splitting Ukrainian defences by suggesting potential multiple axis of invasion. However, no matter what numbers of troops and pieces of equipment are on paper, when analysing Russian capability, only a finite amount will be the newest, the best trained, the capabilities at proper combat readiness. The rest is there for show.
Diplomatically Putin’s manoeuvres are providing him invaluable insights to western thinking, possible reactions, weak points and options. He will continue to play the political and diplomatic game as long as he has options to manoeuvre in this area and gain and keep from his thinking’s perspective, the high ground. He has offered an olive branch to deescalate knowing the thorns on the branch make it unacceptable to the West who rejected it. However, from Putin’s messaging perspective aimed at his troops and his domestic audience, the West have been the aggressor. This is reinforced by pictures of the US and UK and others sending weapons to Ukraine and talking of military deployments to shore up NATO countries. All of this will be played by Putin as aggression. We just seem paralysed when it comes to confronting Putin in the information sphere, the Grey Zone!
Putin has found two major cracks in the EU, one he knew about, the inability of Ireland to influence the waters off its coast and how this provides a potential weak point on NATOs flank. However, the bigger weakness is Germany and her political stance not to send military support to Ukraine. From a longer-term perspective, Putin will see this as a huge victory proving the EU can and will never be one security entity and it easily manipulated and fractured economically.
What is missing currently are the final triggers and indicators of an invasion. They will likely start up to 2 weeks before troops move further into Ukrainian territory and will possibly involve false flag incidents in one or all of Russia, Belarus and the Donbas region and/or Crimea, followed by at least one in Ukraine itself, targeting the Russian speaking population. The possibility of a Russian target being subject to a false flag attack anywhere in the world, is very real. Around these there will be increasing cyber activity targeting NATO countries and political entities such as the EU. As these start and as they ramp up, we know an invasion is coming in days.
However, putting all the troop numbers and posturing to one side it is likely if Putin gives the green light to further invade Ukraine that it will be limited, probably just capturing Eastern Ukraine and up to parts of the Dinipro River, consolidating the Donbas region and another land bridge to Crimea. He will likely judge the International community would breathe a sigh of relief if he doesn’t attack all of Ukraine, but that is a dangerous assessment for him to make. However, he does have to do something and relatively quickly. Whatever that is his driving factor will be to maintain credibility domestically and internationally.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former colonel in British Military Intelligence and is available for comment
Russia and Ukraine, a path to conflict.
by Philip INGRAM MBE
You don’t deploy over 100,000 troops for months in winter on the borders of another country which you have already annexed elements of in 2014, unless you intend to use them. Troops deployed into areas preparing for potential combat operations can sustain themselves for a certain amount of time and then boredom and lack of access to fixed facilities, becomes an issue. The worst ever type of deployment is an open ended one, the very type all the service personnel from Russia are experiencing as they sit within striking distance of the Ukrainian border.
So, what is likely to happen? That is anyone’s guess at this point, but there are certain factors that come to bear. Putin won’t want the full might of the international community to come to put pressure on his fragile economy, but he must be seen to do something for his domestic audience and for the massive deployment to seem ‘legitimate.’
He has sold the threat of NATO expansionism into Ukraine and Georgia to his domestic audience and whipped up a level of threat that NATO isn’t capable of, even if it were politically coherent.
The last few NATO deployments to the Balkans and Afghanistan have shown the very real difficulties NATO has in generating a sustainable, coherent military approach to operations with very real differences between EU members, the US and UK with the UK aligning itself more often with the US and France participating where it can see potential economic advantage.
However, Russia and Putin in particular, have a collective deep-down belief in NATO expansionism for the sole purpose of threatening Russia. Putin also hankers after the ‘good old days’ of the USSR and would love its re-birth (under his control of course).
Putin loves the ability to grandstand, he loves the feeling of power on the international stage, so will happily participate in any and all international ‘de-escalation,’ conferences and meetings. He has one advantage; he owns the information space like no other leader. He is a master of manipulation, disinformation and obfuscation so our participation will just serve not just to embolden him, but provide a stage for him to set the conditions to ‘prove’ to the Russian people and to others that he has tried everything, but it is the West that are being intransigent and not budging, it is others who are forcing Russia’s hands into having to protect itself.
This is the start, the foundation for action, the first Indicator and Warning ticked, and we must now watch for the language to become more accusative and aggressive. This will be the second indicator and warning of impending action. However, Putin knows that winning the war of words won’t be enough for the West to accept him marching into Ukraine or even part of Ukraine, so more has to happen.
He seems to like the NATO Kosovo scenario of going to protect an element of the local population, but to do that he needs to escalate the crisis to the international community before he can think of going, else he needs to de-escalate his preparations in the eyes of the Russian public. In his eyes it is justifiable to the international community as it is just doing what NATO did in Kosovo, so to achieve this he has things that need to happen.
Alongside increasing domestic and international rhetoric suggesting Western Interference and expansionist aims we will begin to see increasing rhetoric around ethnic Russians being targeted inside Ukraine. He will suggest an increase of Ukrainian state and foreign sponsored actions supressing the Russian speaking populations. This could involve terror type attacks, a public atrocity like a school bus or aircraft being hit in the Donbas region, it will likely involve a massive increase in anti-Russian rhetoric on social media, the only difference being, it will be Russia behind it.
At the same time Russia will likely expand their threats, more support to Assad in Syria, courting of other countries sympathetic to Russia, increased refugee activity on the EUs borders via Belarus and elsewhere. Russian conventional military activity, probing NATO airspace, threatening undersea cables, backing Iranian aggression in the Gulf, encouraging North Korea to ‘test’ more missiles with a sprinkling of cyber-attacks would all be used to distract western defence and split its focus.
The next step close to Putin deciding to attack Ukraine may possibly be terror type attacks by element of the state in Russia but blamed on Ukrainian separatists or sympathisers. This would be the trigger for action into Ukraine and in the run up to this we would likely see an increase in targeted messaging against Ukraine as well as more reports of ‘little green men’ popping up, Russia’s deniable contract mercenaries that played a leading part in the annexation of Crimea and of course blunt messaging accusing the west of interfering and aggression. At the same time, we could see the following:
- Ukraine Cyber attack(s)
- Global Cyber attack(s)
- Russian Black Sea fleet deployed
- Elements of the Russian Med Fleet deployed
- Elements of the Russian Northern and Baltic Fleet Deployed
However, Putin is not daft and will calculate if he gets his messaging frenzy to a point where the world thinks that the whole of Ukraine will be invaded but he only carries out a limited land grab, then he could calculate that there would be an international sigh of relief and he could weather any additional sanctions or measures. His activities with NATO, the EU and the wider international community will be designed to gauge if he could get away with this.
If he does, his limited objectives could be annexing a large part of Eastern Ukraine where the majority Russian Speakers live. He is likely to calculate this as being just under the threshold of a very robust Western intervention as the last thing Putin could afford is a conflict with the West and he knows this, but emotionally he wants all of Ukraine.
Equally, he could easily de-escalate but indicators of that will be domestically focused rhetoric regarding meeting Russia’s objectives and capitulation by the West in some way. We live in interesting times and the robustness of our political leaders will likely be tested to their fullest extent in the coming weeks.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence who has studied Russian tactics from the Geopolitical to Tactical as part of his career. He remains available for comment.
Iran – are we at war?
It may have been a fortuitous accident that the scenario used in many of the NATO HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) practice war scenarios centered around the country of Zagros, a fictitious country but not on the maps used, as they had to be real. Zagros, in reality, was Iran, renamed for anonymity purposes after the Zagros mountains that dominate its Western Border with Iraq. With NATO’s largest military power having unilaterally pulled out of the Iran Nuclear deal, what are the chances of a regional or global conflict? What is going on? Philip Ingram MBE a former senior military planner and intelligence officer looks at the wider issues.
With reports of Iranian missiles being fired directly at Israeli forces in the Golan Heights and Israeli response through air strikes, all less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 deal where Iran agreed a long-term deal, what is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on its nuclear programme with the 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany.
The deal, negotiated under President Obama’s time in the White House came after years of tension over Iran’s reported efforts to use what it referred to as an entirely peaceful nuclear programme, to develop a nuclear weapon. Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
During his election campaign, Trump promised to “tear up the deal on Day One”, it took him another 473 days to fulfill that promise! In October last year, President Trump made a major statement on his Iran Strategy where he outlined how he intended to “confront the Iranian regime’s hostile actions.” He stated that his policy was based on [Iran’s] “continuing aggression in the Middle East and all around the world,” but many think it was because Obama had been involved with it.
There is little doubt that President Trump’s assessment of Iran’s interference is accurate, as Iran is engaged in proxy wars in Syria, supporting Bashar al Assad, in Yemen against Saudi Arabia and globally with its ‘sponsorship’ of Hezbollah and support of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Iran’s tentacles have a global influence and their activities are nefarious. With Trumps action and the Iranian immediate reaction in attacking Israeli forces, we are on the cusp of the long-standing proxy wars turning into an intense actual conflict. HQ ARRC, get your Zagros maps out…
However, what is really going on, do we have a new world order emerging, and can Trump’s tactics work?
This is where I have some real issues with the way things are emerging. President Trump is a bully, he uses deliberately inflammatory language and aggressive tactics to achieve his aim. We saw this with the way he ‘dealt’ with North Korea, referring to Kim Jong Un as ‘Rocket Man”, saying his nuclear button was bigger than the North Korean Leaders, sailing 3 US Carrier Groups to the seas around North Korea and increasing US manoeuvres in South Korea whilst deploying sophisticated anti-missile systems.
Trump genuinely believes his approach has caused Kim Jong Un to have a change of heart and suddenly become a cooperative ‘nice guy’. The reality is Kim Jong Un is wholly reliant on China and Xi Jinping in his meetings with Kim Jong Un will have told him to rein his petulant school boy tactics in, but that was only after the N Korean nuclear and missile technologies had been developed to an advanced stage.
Simple logic indicates that President Trump and the rest of the world, in breathing a sigh of relief that the prospect of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula seems to have receded, are seeing what they want to see and missing the answer to the question, why such a change of heart? My analysis in the article “The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong” goes some way to examine this.
So, emboldened by his perceived success in North Korea, Trump has embarked on the same tactics with a bigger and thornier problem child, Iran. Like the self-centered petulant bully, he is, Trump sees the only way forward as his way and those in his gang have to continuously, on the surface at least, continue to stroke his sycophantic ego, otherwise, he goes into ‘The Apprentice’ mode and fires them.
Iran, Russia, China, North Korea are all countries that have the luxury of not having to think or plan their strategies in Presidential Terms. They can take a 15 or 20 or 25-year view to an issue that the US President has in his 2, 3 or 4-year plan and this immediately sets the conditions for Trump to be ‘played’ and global groupthink to keep the rest of the world sitting there, blinkered. The best way to wind a bully up is play him before you punch him hard!
We can’t look at what is going on without looking at the Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, Syrian relations and where they fit together. The first thing to note about this group is that there are two of the P5, China, and Russia who historically see the other three members of the P5, a key backbone to NATO, as an alliance with potentially aggressive tendencies against them. It makes sense for Russia and China to have an unholy alliance and with a very large common border, a political friendship is a very cost-effective way of ensuring defence.
China is the elder statesman in this relationship, they have what the other want, very long-term political stability, a growing economy, endless people resources, real global political clout and money, money to buy natural resources, weapons, and favour. It also has an inherent mistrust of anything foreign and in particular western and a mistrust of how western influences are influencing Chinese domestic feeling. China also has a quietly developing global reach in particular through Africa and a developing influence elsewhere.
Russia has a stable leadership but constitutionally it requires a little more manipulation than President Xi enjoys in China. Russia has fantastic weapons technologies and access to natural resources as well as a strategic reach into Europe. Its military has been revamped to provide a capable power projection capability under a long established strategic nuclear umbrella. It needs money and technology, both of which China can provide in exchange for weapons technology, nuclear technology and access to natural resources. A marriage made in heaven.
Iran is fascinating. It remains under the control of what is often referred to as a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and has forced an extreme state forced extreme state control of its people and connections with the outside world. It has in effect 3 power blocks all manoeuvring, manipulating and influencing. They are the Religious leadership under Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, also known as the supreme leader with ‘control’ of the military and judiciary, the political leadership under the President of Iran who is Hassan Rouhani, and I deliberately separate out the military and in particular the Quods force, a special forces unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responsible for their extraterritorial operations.
Iran has what both Russia and China need and that is oil. Iran needs the ability of China and Russia to break international sanctions, help with technology and military hardware. Iran also has the ability to project its power globally, but this isn’t on any conventional way but is through the use of its backed terror organisations and in particular Hezbollah who supply, train and assist other global terror networks. The influence that brings can ensure peaceful Chinese expansion through Africa with little interference from terror groups, continued pressure on the West through proxy wars and a plausibly deniable outlet for ‘black’ Russian foreign policy needs.
Syria, Russia’s strategic ally in the Mediterranean providing basing, intelligence reach and unique training facilities is the battleground for Iran’s continuation of its proxy war against the Saudis who back the US-led coalition bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The complexities are never ending! The way the Iranian’s influence is through a network of Quods force overt and covert activities, like the rhizomes of Japanese knotweed invading a garden, spreading out underground, destabilising foundations and surfacing when it needs to or can. It works seamlessly with backed terror organisations and once established is very difficult to remove.
Kim Jong Un has been the petulant gang outsider who has thrown every teddy he has around and smashed all of his toys until his potential as a plausibly deniable outlet for other state-sponsored activity was really seen. His petulance was reined in by Xi Jinping, his potential was seen by Putin and that is why Russia has vastly improved North Koreas internet connectivity. They have also probably provided a testing ground for further Russian nuclear warhead testing and tweaks to missile technology. They provide a regime that because of its threatening stance, can be used in any way to manipulate global thinking. Back to The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong…….
Now we have a better understanding of the players we have to ask what is Trump achieving by withdrawing from the JCPOA? We in the 24 hrs since he has, we have seen direct attacks on Israeli assets by Iran and Israeli retaliation, we have seen ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia and we have seen Germany and France trying to diplomatically distance themselves from the US position and work out if there were any way to placate Iran with the UK trying to find a position between the US and European position but condemning the US position whilst everyone tries to work out how to salvage the billions of dollars’ worth of deals European companies had recently put in place with Iran. We have seen Iran make a clear statement that it will begin to enrich Uranium at a pace and Saudi Arabia say if Iran gets nuclear weapons then they will too.
If Presidents Putin and Xi wanted anything it would be greater western destabilisation thereby giving greater opportunities for Russian and Chinese influence across the globe. President Trump has handed them that on a plate and stuck a knife into the cracks of international cooperation and is wiggling it hard. The tactics of winding the bully up by playing him before punching him hard is working!
What is clear is this isn’t a proxy war anymore and we are standing is a volatile hydrocarbon filled bath whilst international players throw lighted matches at each other. The world has just become a little more unstable and the doomsday clock has probably clicked a second closer to the cry that all in HQ ARRC looked forward to when fighting in Zagros, “ENDEX” – end of exercise, is closer, but here it, is not time to go home as it could be the end of world order as we know it. Let’s hope that that is not the punch and the real reason is the 15, 20 or 25-year view sees the balance of power shifting to the new alliance.
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE
The Russian Bear leading the bald Trump eagle in a game of nuclear Jong
As the globe breathes a sigh of relief over the positive tones regarding a formal end to the Korean War and working towards a de-nuclearised Korean Peninsula, after the meeting between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, the North and South Korean leaders, we will start to see Donald Trump taking the credit for saving the world from a North Korean nuclear Armageddon. However, we have to ask is all as it seems?
It is very easy to see what we want to see, and a de-nuclearised Korean Peninsula is what we want to see in the same way George Bush and Tony Blair wanted to see Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), so they ensured the world saw that threat…….
We all know how Iraq has turned out because we didn’t open our eyes properly. The intelligence game is all about keeping our eyes open and acting as the conscience for decision makers. Sometimes they listen, often they don’t and when they don’t and it all goes wrong, the intelligence agencies get the blame, not the politicians who made the decisions.
As I look at the Korean issue, I want to start with Russia and ask some of the intelligence game questions.
65-year-old Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (Влади́мир Влади́мирович Пу́тин) takes a long and global view of his vision to rebuild mother Russia in the image of the USSR but utilising his version of capitalist principals, not communism.
He has effectively been in power since 1999 when he was first Prime Minister of Russia, becoming President in 2000, engineering a break back to Prime Minister from 2008 – 2012 where his close ally Dmitry Medvedev became President, Putin has now been elected for his second 6-year term of this Presidency. He will be setting the conditions to ensure he can retain power long past this second term even if this means another ‘flip’ with Medvedev.
The ‘So What?’ from this is that Putin can afford to take a long-term view of what he wants to achieve for Russia and can use that longevity to bypass any sticky overseas opposition just by playing the long game. He knows perfectly well that the leaders of the countries that oppose him are in power for relatively short periods of time and have adversarial political systems which he can easily manipulate so that dealing with the Russian bear remains a relatively low priority.
Putin is an old-school Russian, almost genetically disposed to see conspiracy from the West aimed at destroying Russia. He hankers after the days of the cold war where things were easy but loves the power and wealth he has in post-Soviet Russia; he is a Russian nationalist almost to fanatical levels, but that is his role, after all, he is President.
As you would expect his politics have created domestic enemies and friends; the difference between them and western political allies and opposition is that they are on the whole hugely wealthy and in their own spheres, hugely influential. Like all wealthy influential people, they also have ambition. Those such as Roman Abramovich and Arkady Rotenberg keep their ambition in line with Putin’s and are considered as friends. Those such as Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky are sent clear messages to toe the line or are exiled or imprisoned. That messaging, as we have seen, is delivered by Polonium 210 or Novichok.
Putin, whilst he is more than happy to ‘go it alone’ is very conscious that his fortune comes from global business and from his long-term view position and historical mistrust of the USA and other NATO countries, he wants to make political and global business alliances. He knows he can control the EU and USA from anti-Russian excesses; Trumps change of mind regarding additional sanctions against Russia whilst Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the UN, was outlining when they would be implemented is one sign of this. Not quite the eagle has landed and more of the eagle has been warned. Germany signing a gas contract with Russia on the day they issued a statement of condemnation over the Salisbury Novichok attack is another.
Putin sees his route for alliances to be with non-NATO like-minded countries and when their economies are growing, even better. We have been seeing greater cooperation with China and India, we have seen tolerance of Iran and continued massive support for Assad in Syria, but it is China and India I am interested in here.
The South China Seas/Indian Ocean region is seeing the fastest growth of power projection military capabilities of anywhere in the world. India is developing their naval blue water capability, China is doing the same, Japan is responding with constitutional changes and expeditionary capabilities and the disputed Paracel and Spratley Islands are being militarised.
Xi Jinping’s economy continues to grow at almost 7% and he has cemented his political longevity in a way I am sure Putin is envious of. However, with only one-year difference in age, we have two P5 leaders with very long-term political stability and greater economic interaction, in 2015 Russia signed a $400 Bn 30-year natural gas supply agreement with China. They are natural global bedfellows and Russia’s courting of India makes them a natural focus for defence exports as they can pay!
Xi has been seen for a long time as Kim Jong Un’s only ‘ally’ and he is more like a great uncle trying to keep an errant, badly behaved distant nephew in check. However, Dan North from the North Korean Monitoring site 38North.org has identified a company called TransTelekom (ТрансТелеКо́m) has put a fast internet connection into North Korea alongside their older and much slower Chinese supplied connection. TransTelekom is a major Russian telecommunications company that owns one of the world’s largest networks of fibre optic cables. The company is a full subsidiary of Russian national railway operator, Russian Railways who are owned by the Russian Federation. Putin has his fingers in North Korea!
We have seen North Korea blamed for the sophisticated cyber-attack on Sony and the 2017 global WannaCry attack. At the same time, we see North Korea’s nuclear capability go from a warhead of less than 1Kt detonated in 2006 to in 2017 a warhead of an estimated 120-160 Kt exploded. His ballistic missile technology goes from short range to ICBM and failure most times to success most times, over an even shorter period of time. Where is North Korea getting its cyber training and awareness and where is it getting its newfound nuclear and missile know-how and technologies? What has Russia to gain from a relationship with North Korea? These questions have never been successfully answered.
And what of the young dictator, Kim Jong Un the man who starves his people, executes his relatives with anti-aircraft guns if he suspects them of being disloyal or if exiled, executes them in an international airport with VX, a deadly persistent military grade nerve agent? He has new friends who are helping his cyber capability and his missile technology. He has his Chinese ‘great uncle’ who has scolded him for poking Trump bald eagle with his ICBM nuclear stick. He has a need for investment and a pause in his nuclear programme, as his test site has collapsed. He has a long-term view just like Xi and Putin. He has, from his perspective, joined the ‘big boys club’ by getting the US President to come to him and showing the world his conventional and nuclear capabilities. He has given Putin an idea of what using a nerve agent as an assassins’ weapon is like. He has nothing to lose by having talks with Moon and Trump and everything to gain. He has a smug feeling in his belly.
The manoeuvring that is going on between Xi, Putin and Kim Jong Un, whilst it all seems to be separate and not interconnected, is likely to be just that, interconnected. What are Russia and China’s long-term goals and why are they playing with North Korea? There is a wider game at play here and it is probably 3 wider games, the Chinese one of global economic dominance, the Russian one of nationalistic resurgence and the North Korean one of sitting at the top table. The short-sighted view many Western countries will have of what is going on will force them to see what they want to, the cries for Trump to get the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘solving’ the North Korean issue have already started. There is a global alliance here and it may have something to do with the disputed islands in the South China Sea.
We just have to remember some recent historical examples of success and failure. The Chinese economy grows when everyone else’s recedes. Putin annexed Crimea successfully and has a strong foothold in Eastern Ukraine. He has turned Assad’s assumed demise into a winning home run. He has clearly demonstrated the power of маскировка (maskirovka) in influencing elections, referendums and political debates on both sides of the Atlantic. Kim Jong Un has got the President of the USA to come to him. We the West have a less successful record, the debacle of Iraq that resulted in the creation of ISIS and global terror, the failure in Afghanistan allowing the Taliban and ISIS-affiliated groups, to retake many of the areas soldiers blood was spilled to secure initially and Libya with the humanitarian disaster we see with refugees in the Mediterranean.
Who has the long-term vision and who sees what they want? Should we be worried? My view is, hell yes !!……….
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE