NATO and the United States Signal A Rejection of Russia’s Security Demands

Comments made separately by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier on Friday make it appear likely the United States and the alliance will reject Russia’s demands that NATO expansion be halted. The two men stated that Russia will hold no influence on what nations NATO may consider for membership, effectively slamming the door on one of Vladimir Putin’s strongest for easing tensions with Ukraine. They each also warned of a “forceful” response to future Soviet military intervention in Ukraine. Blinken and Stoltenberg spoke following a virtual meeting of NATO foreign ministers. This was the first in what will be a series of meetings over the next week intended to bring an end to the Russian military buildup on the Ukraine border, as well as Moscow’s increasingly forceful rhetoric.

The risk of a new armed conflict breaking out could grow exponentially if Putin’s demands for security guarantees are officially rejected by the US and NATO next week. Of course, many analysts, diplomats and military officers in the West are of the opinion that Putin is aware his demands will be rejected, and he will have a justification for military action down the line. This has likely been the Russian play since a number of details on its demands were made public. On the surface, it might seem to some parties that Russia is willing to negotiate in good faith. Yet the heart of its security concerns and subsequent demands to NATO is made up of points Moscow is aware that neither Brussels nor Washington can accept.

On Monday, US and Russian diplomats will open discussions in Geneva that are expected to center on Ukraine. Discussions between NATO and Russian officials in Brussels will follow, as will more in-depth talks in Geneva. NATO and the US have stated they’re open to discussing arms-control and other related topics.

As for what’s currently happening in Kazakhstan, we’ll discuss that tomorrow, along with the connection between events there, including the intervention by the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, and Ukraine.

Russia-Ukraine Tensions Renewed

Surreptitiously, tensions between Russia and Ukraine has been rising in recent weeks. While the rest of the world’s attention has been transfixed elsewhere, Kiev and Moscow appear to be gravitating towards another standoff at the very least. Or, perhaps the beginning of a new phase of the War in Donbass which is now threatening to reignite after an extended period of dormancy.

Last month, senior Ukrainian military leaders publicly expressed concern that Russia’s moves in Donbass were a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to NATO. Last week four Ukrainian troops were killed by artillery strikes fired by Russian forces. Then, earlier this week, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Ukraine, Ruslan Khomchak warned that a steady buildup of Russian forces is taking place in close proximity to the border.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has suddenly become chatty on the topic of eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to his German and French counterparts on Tuesday and discussed the escalating tensions with Ukraine. Putin views it as Kiev’s refusal to honor ceasefire guidelines agreed to last July. Yesterday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov expressed concern about the tense situation in that area and expressed concerns that Kiev might be looking to restart the conflict. “We express concern over the growing tension and express concern that one way or another the Ukrainian side could take provocative actions that would lead to war. We really don’t want to see that.”

Russia’s words reinforce a growing feeling that the Moscow is probing the resolve of the West, perhaps in preparation for a move in the near future. For the first time in years, Vladimir Putin and his government are facing substantial domestic issues. Upcoming legislative elections later this year and the Alexey Navalny situation continue to influence the Kremlin’s thinking. Rekindling the conflict in eastern Ukraine and causing an escalation that ultimately leads to Russian gains would go a long way towards placating nationalist voters and ensuring a wide victory at the polls in September.

There are also a host of other factors to be considered. However, at the moment anxiety is rising over the eastern Ukraine as the prospect of renewed fighting there has sudden become very real once again.

Bloody Clash In the Himalayas

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Indian and Chinese troops battled on Monday night in the same disputed border area these two nations fought a war over in 1962. Soldiers from the two ascendant, nuclear-armed Asian powers met brandishing rocks, and sticks. When the dust settled 20 Indian soldiers were dead, and according to Chinese state media 43 Chinese troops had died. It was the first fatal clash along the Line of Actual Control since 1975 and came after weeks of smaller incidents between Indian and Chinese forces at the border area. There is no independent confirmation on what brought about the skirmish but predictably Beijing is blaming India, and vice versa.

Following talks between Indian and Chinese general officers last week there was a feeling that the situation along the border was under control and could be managed until a diplomatic solution was found. Obviously, this is no longer the case. This clash was too large, and bloody to just sweep under the carpet and move forward. Lives were lost on both sides and even more significant to Beijing and New Delhi, national pride has been wounded. The fact that both Indian and Chinese leaders are nationalists will be a major factor in what comes next. Nationalism has been fueling Indian and Chinese policy moves at home and abroad to varying extents for some time.

This latest escalation has caught much of the world by surprise, myself included. The rest of the week’s posts will be dedicated to updates of the Himalayan crisis, and if time allows, a more in-depth analysis of what the near future could have in store.

Crisis In Kashmir

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Tensions between India and Pakistan are at their highest level in decades after India launched airstrikes against a militant group’s training camps in Pakistani territory. These strikes were in retaliation for the terrorist attack on 14 February that killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops in Pulwama. The militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack, and it was JeM’s camps that the Indian Air Force targeted and struck. Violence in the Kashmir region increased following the 14 February attack, with militant groups on both sides making cross-border raids.

Tuesday’s air strike was the first time Indian aircraft have violated the Line of Control (LoC) since 1971. The attack was made by 12 Indian Air Force Mirage 2000s. Multiple suspected JeM camps were hit with 1000kg bombs. The Mirages were escorted by Su-30MKI Flanker-H fighters. There was no engagement between Indian and Pakistani fighters.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani F-16s violated Indian air space and struck targets in close proximity to Indian Army positions.  Pakistan claims it shot down two Indian MiG-21s that responded to the airspace violation, while India is claiming it shot down a Pakistani F-16. Apparently one Indian pilot is in the custody of the Pakistani authorities or armed forces. The fate of the second pilot is unknown.

The responses to the events of the last two days from Islamabad and New Delhi and been measured, and urge restraint. Whether or not these words become action remains to be seen. Predictably, the rest of the world is also urging restraint. Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers as well as bitter rivals. The fact that both nations have nuclear weapons adds a new dimension to the current crisis.

There will be regular updates on the crisis in Kashmir in the coming hours, and if anything major should develop it will be reported.

Are Western Navies Facing a Readiness Crisis?

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High-profile accidents involving warships from First-World nations since 2016 suggest the existence of a readiness crisis in Western navies. The ramming and sinking of the Norwegian frigate KNM Helge Ingstad by a commercial oil tanker earlier this month only highlights the fact that there is an issue. Maritime operations are dangerous, even in the best of times. Accidents happen, and sailors inevitably lose their lives. Yet the number of incidents that have taken place in the past twenty-four months suggest a deeper problem.

The readiness issue  has been smoldering for decades in most Western navies. In many cases it goes back to the end of the Cold War in 1991 when the dissolution of the Soviet Union consequently removed the predominant naval threat facing the navies of the West. Thus began a period of force downsizing, and budgetary restrictions. The Global War on Terror relieved some of these pressures temporarily. However, since Islamic terrorist groups, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq failed to mount a legitimate maritime threat, the navies of the United States and her allies have played secondary roles through the duration of the GWOT.

In truth, Western navies continue to move about aimlessly with no clear picture of what their goals need to be, or how to reach them. The main purpose of a navy is to fight and win a war at sea. Sadly, this is the mission that a frighteningly large number of Western navies appear ill-equipped to take on.

Since today is Thanksgiving, my intention was to keep this post limited to 300 words. This topic deserves more attention though. I’m going to come back to it a few times between now and Christmas and delve deeper into the naval readiness issue.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Thanksgiving.