Russia: All Is Going According To Plan In Ukraine

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June 25, 2014: In Ukraine the Russian backed Donbas separatists are stalled in their efforts to expel Ukrainian security forces and allow Russia to annex the Donbas. This area contains two Ukrainian provinces (Donetsk and Luhansk) which comprise about nine percent of Ukrainian territory, 13 percent of the population and 15 percent of the GDP. Donbas is about 38 percent ethnic Russian. The two provinces comprise the Donets Basin (or “Donbas”) which was for a long time an economic powerhouse for Russia. But that began to decline in the 1980s and accelerated when the Soviet Union fell (and Ukraine became independent) in 1991. Ukraine wants to hold onto Donbas but needs foreign help to do so.  Ukraine needs diplomatic, economic and military aid and is getting it. The economic aid may be more important as recent opinion polls show that Donbas residents (Ukrainians as well as ethnic Russians) are more concerned with the economy than remaining part of Ukraine. Russian success in Donbas is partly possible because two decades of corrupt and inept Ukrainian politicians have left the economy a mess and living standards lower than the rest of Eastern Europe and even Russia. Most Ukrainians want some economic progress and that means less corruption and more efficient government. Petro Poroshenko, the newly elected Ukrainian president is seen as honest and competent, but it remains to be seen if he can turn around enough corrupt government officials and politicians who currently run the government and economy. Poroshenko was sworn in on June 7 th and Ukrainians expect him to show some results quickly otherwise the economic stagnation will continue and Donbas will be lost more to apathy than Russian aggression.

Ukraine has been fighting to keep Donbas and since April, when Ukrainian troops moved in and clashed with pro-Russian rebels. In ten weeks of fighting nearly 500 troops, police, civilians and rebels have died. The fighting has driven about 40,000 people from their homes. That’s .6 percent of the 6.6 million people in Donbas

Alarmed at the recent surge in Russian aggression against its neighbors (namely in Ukraine), Poland is trying to speed up its long range (2013-2022) military modernization plan. This effort is to cost $43 billion and accelerating some of the purchases means borrowing more money or making cuts in the non-defense parts of the budget. Given the popular fear of Russian aggression, it looks like the money will be found.  Poland was already getting some cooperation from the U.S. on most of these projects and is hoping for more. Given Poland’s long history of Russian oppression (invasions, occupations and double-dealing of all sorts) the U.S. has found Poland eager to confront any Russians moves to the west, especially if Poland’s new membership in NATO works and other NATO members come to the aid of Poland if there is any Russian aggression against Poland. This is an important point because Poland has often been left high and dry by the West in the past when it came to Russian aggression. This was especially the case in 1939 and even most Western leaders agree that Poland deserves better this time around. Poland is depending on it.

The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) report that Russia is offering a large discount on what they pay for Russian natural gas if they will leave NATO. None of the Baltic States sees this as a good deal and consider NATO their only real protection from Russian aggression. Some Baltic States leaders have been openly comparing Putin’s aggression to that of Stalin and Hitler before World War II. Russians get very upset at these comparisons, insisting that they are only seeking to regain territory that is really theirs’ and lost due to foreign conspiracies. At that point Russian logic involves plots by NATO and the United States which strike Westerners as absurd but appeal to a lot of Russians. That’s what makes Russia’s neighbors nervous.

Russian aggression in the Baltic has recently been expressed in other ways. NATO interceptors based in Poland and the Baltic states have been sent up more frequently in June because of numerous (at least half a dozen) incidents of Russian military aircraft making unsafe flights over the Baltic Sea. These Russian warplanes were detected by NATO military radar, but had their transponders turned off and had not filed a flight plan with the air controllers who regulate air traffic over the Baltic. With no flight plan and transponders turned off these warplanes were inviable to flight controllers. This sort of thing risks collision with commercial aircraft and Russia has ignored criticism of this dangerous practice. NATO has responded by sending up interceptors, which do have their transponders on, to escort the Russian aircraft and give air traffic control radars something to identify and track.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine serves no immediate economic purpose and is largely a feel-good exercise for Russians nostalgic for the old Russian Empire. This was lost when the Soviet Union dissolved (because of decades of economic mismanagement under the communists) in 1991. The problem is that the aggression has caused foreign firms to reconsider investing or working in Russia. This is a serious problem because Russia is dependent on foreign firms to keep its oil and gas industry operating. The official Russian position is that Western sanctions are having no effect, but the withdrawal of foreign firms and capital is hurting and Putin’s economic advisors have apparently convinced him that the Ukrainian operation is proving more costly than anyone in the Russian leadership believed possible.

The government has succeeded in reducing drug use in the police and military by undertaking random, but mandatory drug testing. Less than one percent of those tested are found using drugs and most of those lose their jobs. Nationwide about three percent of the population is addicted, mainly to heroin, opium or cocaine. Designer drugs (synthetics) are also growing in popularity. This is a growing problem and is made worse by the fact that Islamic terrorist groups are sometimes involved with smuggling in the drugs from Afghanistan and helping to distribute them. This provides the Islamic terrorists with cash and access to black market weapons and explosives.

In the Caucasus the violence continues to decline. There were 700 terrorism related deaths there in 2012 compared to 529 in 2013. So far this year the decline is continuing with as few as 400 dead in 2014.

June 24, 2014: In Ukraine (Donbas) rebels shot down a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter killing the nine military personnel on board. This was a violation of the cease fire the Donbas rebels agreed to the day before. This is another indication that the Donbas rebels are not united or willing to submit to central leadership, either within Donbas or from Russia. 

In the north (Saint Petersburg) police arrested several members of banned (since 2003) Islamic terrorist group Hizb ut Tahrir.

President Putin asked parliament to rescind a May 1st authorization for Russia to occupy and annex the eastern Ukraine Donbas region. This was seen as a good-will gesture towards Ukraine and the West. NATO intelligence does not see this as Russia giving up on annexing Donbas, but simply seeking to defuse the Western anger and threats of more economic sanctions. NATO nations are continuing to impose sanctions against individual Russian officials and threatening wider sanctions if Russia does not back off on its efforts to take territory from its neighbors. Intel efforts are still detecting Russia supplying weapons and other military equipment to some of the rebel factions. That also spotlights another problem for Russia; the disunity among the Donbas rebels. Russia needs to deal with this before they can muster sufficient force in Donbas to drive out Ukrainian security forces. At that point the annexation process can proceed as it did in Crimea. 

June 23, 2014: In eastern Ukraine (Donbas) the pro-Russian rebels accepted the one week ceasefire Ukraine offered on the 20th. The rebels agreed to hold their fire through June 27th. The rebels had made several attacks on government forces since the 20th, but all were defeated and are losing ground.

June 22, 2014: In Russia the government backed the Ukrainian ceasefire announced on the 20th. This is apparently part of an effort to get the Donbas rebels to agree to the ceasefire as well. Russia sees the ceasefire as an opportunity to reinforce the rebels and put pressure on rebel groups refusing to take orders from Russia. Ukraine sees the ceasefire as an opportunity to help the refugees and continue to restore the economic activity and government services in most of Donbas. The government also believes that many of the rebels are willing to accept an amnesty and stop the violence. Many separatist minded residents of Donbas have realized the Ukraine is willing and able to fight to keep the Russians out and don’t want the region turned into a combat zone. So far the shooting is only taking place in a few urban areas where the rebels are concentrated. But without more active support from Russia, the rebels are isolated and doomed to failure.

June 21, 2014: Russia ordered 65,000 troops in Central Russia on alert and ordered special training exercises. By putting troops in motion it is easier for Russia to move forces into Donbas quickly.

June 20, 2014: The Ukrainian president declared a one week ceasefire in the Donbas, where pro-Russian separatists continue to fight soldiers and police. The initial Russian reaction was to denounce the ceasefire as an aggressive ultimatum.

Recently the web site of the Russian company that makes the MiG-29 fighter posted a document stating that four Syrian MiG-29s had been upgraded in 2011 to the MiG-20SM standard. When this tidbit made the Western news media the document on the Russian web site suddenly had the reference to the four Syrian MiG-29s removed. It’s an open secret that Russia is providing a lot more military aid to Syria than it will publicly admit.

Russian Tu-95 heavy bombers test fired eight new cruise missiles. These were believed to be Kh-102s, which are similar to the U.S. Tomahawk.

June 19, 2014: In Ukraine (near Donetsk in Donbas) a large number of rebels attacked a government held village. Several thousand armed men were involved and the rebels were defeated by the more heavily armed (with artillery and armored vehicles) troops. Seven soldiers died and 30 were wounded but rebel losses were much higher (in the hundreds). Meanwhile NATO reports that Russian troops (a few thousand) are again moving close to the Donbas border.

June 18, 2014: NATO and Ukraine presented video proof that Russia was sending the Donbas rebels armored vehicles. Russia had denied these accusations but the video and satellite photos made it clear that the three T-64 tanks were taken out of a Russian storage site and moved across the border to the rebels in Donetsk, along with lighter armored vehicles and some rocket launchers. The rebels initially said they had obtained the T-64s from a tank storage area in Ukraine, but none are near where these rebels are.

Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine. The Russians are trying to collect $4 billion Ukraine owes for past natural gas deliveries. The European Union is trying to work out an acceptable deal to settle this debt. Ukraine has enough gas in storage to last until December. Russian control of the natural gas supply has always been a major tool in coercing Ukraine to do what Russia wants.

June 15, 2014: In early June four Russian Tu-95 heavy bomber armed with cruise missiles flew down the west coast of Alaska and two of them kept going until they were off the coast of California. This was apparently another training mission. The bombers were on American radar all the way and were escorted some of the way by two F-22s and later two F-15s. This was not a unique incident. Russia continues its decade old program of putting Cold War era heavy bombers back in service and having some of their training flights take them near the west coast of North America. This was what these aircraft did during the Cold War, when the mission was to be in the air, off the North American coast when the order was issued to launch their cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads.

June 14, 2014: In Donbas rebels near the Luhansk airport shot down a Ukrainian Il-76 transport as it landed at about 1 AM. The crash killed nine crew and 40 passengers.

June 13, 2014: In Donbas Ukrainian troops captured or killed the last of the rebels holding out in the port city of Mariupol.

Ukraine reported that three tanks and some other armored vehicles had entered Donbas from Russia. The rebels and Russia denied this.

June 8, 2014: Most European nations support the French decision to fulfill its 2011 contract that sold two French Mistral class amphibious ships, for $1.7 billion, to Russia. This is the largest Russian purchase of Western weapons since World War II. The deal was delayed for a long time because the Russians demanded the transfer of shipbuilding and electronics technology (which was eventually agreed to). Despite the current dispute over Donbas, in which the European Union and NATO support Ukraine, the major exporting nations of Europe believe previous deals should be fulfilled unless the situation escalates to outright war.

June 7, 2014: Petro Poroshenko, the newly installed president of Ukraine promised to preserve Ukraine from Russian aggression and continue developing economic and other ties with Europe, rather than Russia.

The U.S. FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) recently announced the shutdown of one of the largest botnets ever detected. The Gameover Zeus botnet controlled over half a million PCs and the operator of the botnet (Evgeniy Bogachev) was indicted. Bogachev is a Russian citizen living in Russia and despite evidence that he and his crew of Russian and Ukrainian hackers stole over $100 million, it is difficult to get Russia to extradite these guys for trial in the United States. Gameover Zeus has been operating at least since 2011 and specialized in bank fraud (stealing IDs and passwords of users and making fraudulent transfers). Gameover Zeus was also used for extortion by getting into PCs and encrypting the contents and then offering the decryption key only if the owner sends a few hundred dollars in untraceable money to the botnet operators. 

 

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