In Syria, even the sudden arrival of Iranian mercenaries to reinforce Syrian forces in the northwest is not enough to start the final battle of the civil war; to take back Idlib province from the rebels. Turkey had insisted on no Iranian involvement but was eventually overruled by Russia and Iran. Syria preferred to keep the Iranian mercenaries out of this but were dependent on Iran for so much military and economic support that whatever Iran wanted, Syria complied. The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey met on the 7th in Iran to decide what their common strategy would be in Syria, At that point, Syrian troops had already assembled in the northwest and Syrian commanders carried out some preliminary attacks. Russian aerial reconnaissance confirmed what the Syrian troops reported; the rebels were preparing to resist and a lot more of the pro-rebel civilians in Idlib were being armed or were building fortifications. Iranian officers agreed with the Syrians that victory via a quick offensive was not going to work, even with maximum Russian air support (including cruise missiles launched from ships and aircraft). Idlib would have to be taken the hard way, with numerous small battles to take individual villages and towns. That would keep Syrian/Iranian casualties down, which was essential since there were not enough experienced troops for a lot of these battles being fought at the same time.
The results of the September 7th discussions were that the attack would go forward but in coordination with the Turks who faced a very real refugee problem as the only place the rebels and their civilian supporters could flee to was Turkey. Russia said it would deal with American threats to intervene (if Syria used chemical weapons again). The Russians were not going to fight the Americans. Not just because the Americans appeared to be a formidable threat but also because the Israelis might get involved and Russia does not want to destroy its ties with Israel over this. Meanwhile, Russian warplanes have been hitting targets in Idlib with increasing frequency over the last few days. In effect, the offensive has already begun, as a slow roll rather than a major assault.
Discussions continue on how Russia, Iran and Turkey will operate in Syria once the civil war is officially over. That will happen even before Idlib is back under Syrian government control. Because there are over 50,000 armed rebels in Idlib and fewer than 100,000 Syrian troops and Iranian mercenaries available for Idlib operations. Morale is not high among the attackers, especially the Syrian troops. Syria is negotiating peace deals with Kurds (who control the northeast), Druze (who occupy much of the Israeli-Jordan border) and Sunni groups (tribal leaders and local leaders who have not been hostile). Syria wants to attract a lot of foreign aid for reconstruction but that is complicated by Iranian plans to establish a permanent military presence and continue threatening Israel. Several members of the Assad clan are facing war crimes charges and Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan want to send back several million Sunni Arab refugees (which the Assads do not want). The war will not end quickly or in a tidy fashion.
Russia and the U.S. are still arguing over the chemical weapons issue in Syria. The UN agrees with the Americans that Syria has used chemical weapons against rebels and Syrians admit that they are ready to use chlorine gas against rebels. Russia still insists that the rebels are preparing to use chemical weapons despite available evidence indicating that the Syrian forces are more likely to use chemical weapons. The Americans threaten swift retribution if Syria uses chemical weapons again.
Russia is backing away from Iran in general because Iran is becoming more of a liability than an asset. Working closely with Iran in Syria was mainly about the 2015 treaty that lifted most sanctions on Iran and enabled Russia to do a lot more business in Iran. That did not work out as the corruption inside Iran delayed a lot of the expected new business and the Arab oil states pointed out that anyone who was really close to Iran would be getting a lot less business from the Arab states in general and the Arab oil states (which controlled more oil than Iran) in particular. Then the Americans pulled out of the 2015 treaty earlier this year and are restoring many of the sanctions. European nations are finding that the U.S. revival of sanctions makes it impossible for many European firms to do business in Iran. Then there is the continued Iranian threats to attack Israel, especially from newly established bases in Syria. Israel has made it clear it will not allow those bases to remain and has warned Russia to stand aside when Israeli airstrikes hit the Iranians in Syria. Now Russia, the Americans and Israel have agreed to cooperate in getting Iran out of Syria. Turkey and Iraq would also prefer this. Until recently there were few press releases or other official announcements about this but you can see the plan unfolding as Iran finds itself abandoned in Syria and under growing attack. Russia has long-term interests in the Middle East and opportunities in Syria because of deals already made with the Assad government. Russia has been on good terms with Israel for a long time and sees that as more important than anything Iran has to offer.
Russia has been consistent in its support for Israel when it comes to Syria and a long-term peace deal. Despite that Israel has concluded that Russian pressure will not persuade Iran to back off on their efforts to increase Iranian controlled military forces in Syria and then launch attacks on Israel. But Russia will cooperate with Israel and has an open channel with Iranian military leaders. This means the Russians can explain, in terms the Iranians might better understand and accept, what their military position is versus Israel. That explains the recent Iranian withdrawal of its mercenary and special operations forces from the Israeli border. As a practical matter, this means Iran withdrew the easily identifiable troops and resolved to work on new techniques to better disguise its forces so they can get near the Israeli border. Iran takes advantage of the fact that Russian aircraft handle most of the aerial and electronic reconnaissance for the pro-government forces. The Russians can show what their high-res and multispectral photos of Iranian troops revealed and add what their electronic eavesdropping picked. All the Russians will say about the Israelis is that the Israelis are even better at this stuff. How much better the Russians won’t say. In part that’s because they are not sure and Russia does not want to anger Israel, which has been on good terms with Russia far longer than Iran.
September 10, 2018: Poland admitted that it had dismissed hundreds of Foreign Ministry personnel over the last two years for security reasons. Actually, the main reason for suspicion was either close contacts with Russians (for older personnel who were hired before the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991), or had graduated from the Diplomatic School in Moscow, where Russia trained its own diplomats as some students from East Europe (especially before 1991). Poland has had a lot of problems with Russian espionage efforts and Polish Foreign Ministry personnel were often the source of leaks or deliberate espionage.
September 9, 2018: In northwest Syria, Iranian mercenaries are being moved up to join the many Syrian troops already there. Syria had offered to carry out the attack on Idlib without the help of Iranian mercenaries (often led by Iranian officers) in order to placate Turkey. Russia was also in favor of leaving the Iranian mercenaries out of it because Russian Military Police (many of them Chechen Moslems) have had problems with Iranian mercenaries as the Russians supervised surrender deals that had rebels and civilians being allowed safe passage to Idlib rather than live under Syrian rule again.
Turkey has ordered more troops to the Idlib border and moved thousands of Turkish backed Syrian FSA rebels to the eastern border of Idlib, to keep Syrians from trying to flee to Turkey via the Turkish controlled areas east of Idlib. The Turks tried to get Syria and Iran to try negotiating with the rebels in Idlib but was unsuccessful. Even Russia sided with Syria on the need for an attack on Idlib to eliminate the Islamic terrorist threat there (most of the Idlib rebels belong to Islamic terrorist groups). Turkey plans to use its FSA allies to help deal with the aftermath of the coming Idlib battle and by making life easier for the civilians there, discourage them from trying to get across the Turkish border.
More Protests Back Home
Russia is facing more widespread (nationwide) protests than ever before and the cause is not corruption or the revival of police state rule but something as mundane as pensions. After three years of warning, Russia is increasing the age at which Russians qualify for an old age pension. The financial problems with low oil prices and sanctions were compounded for years by the government determination to continue high spending on security and retirement benefits. Each of these are major expenses and consume two-thirds of the government budget. While Russia can afford to cut defense spending (at the cost of lost jobs in Russian defense industries), pensions are another matter. Russia allows women to retire at 55 and men at 60. A low birth rate since the end of the Cold War in 1991 means fewer new workers to replace those retiring. The low birth rate also means the population is getting older and a higher percentage of Russian adults are living on a pension that the government knew it would not be able to afford much longer. So now retirement ages have been increased five years (to 60 and 65) and that triggered larger and more widespread demonstrations than ever before. Some large crowds shouted; “down with Putin” or “down with the Czar.” The protesters contained men and women of all ages and the police were reluctant to be as forceful as usual in trying to halt movement or shut down the protests.
The current mess began back in 2012 when Vladimir Putin, who has been in power since 2000 (as president, prime minister and now president again) was seeking to deal with several years of declining popularity. Yet despite that, his approval ratings remained quite high (as in 80 percent) until quite recently. This is mainly because one of the first things Putin did when he came to power in 1999 was to fix the pensions for elderly Russians so they could survive. This made a positive impression on the majority of Russians. That plus Putin’s PR skills enabled him to maintain high personal approval. Yet more and more Russians were upset about the continued corruption and sluggish economic performance. This was especially true with the youngest Russians (those born after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991). Meanwhile, the drop in oil income after 2013 forced Putin to try something drastic and he decided to employ an ancient trick; blame all the problems on evil foreigners. It worked, even though in 2012 opposition was growing among the urban middle class and many rural groups were turning hostile as well. The government had tried taking more action against corruption and more repression of public protests. But what seemed to work best was more propaganda against "foreign threats" (like the NATO anti-missile system and eastern neighbors joining NATO for protection from Russian aggression). In the end, it was all about money. Those higher pensions that got Putin’s political career going proved unsustainable and messing with the age of retirement turned out to be more politically dangerous than anything else.
September 8, 2018: Russia resumed its airstrikes in northwest Syria (Idlib province). Actually, the Russians had never completely stopped airstrikes against Idlib targets because some Islamic terrorists (mainly al Qaeda affiliated ones like HTS ) in Idlib regularly try to attack the nearby (Latakia province) Russian Hmeimim (or “Khmeimim”) airbase. There were several damaging attacks in 2017 but so far this year the rebels have made many attempts but none got through. The Hmeimim airbase was built by Russia in 2015 near the port city of Latakia, which is 85 kilometers north of Tartus and 50 kilometers from the Turkish border. Part of the Tartus port has become a long-term foreign base for Russia, along with Hmeimim. Russia does not consider these “defensive airstrikes” part of preparations for retaking Idlib but if those airstrikes are increased and Syrian troops are nearby it is offensive because the Syrians or Iranian mercenaries will advance.
September 7, 2018: The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey met in Iran to decide what their common strategy will be in Syria and Syrian troops assemble in the northwest to retake Idlib province from the last major force of rebels left in Syria. Turkey asked for a truce in Idlib so that Turkey could try and negotiate a peaceful surrender. Russia and Iran rejected that at first but the final agreement was all about everyone coordinating their efforts in Syria and that means Turkey has an opportunity to negotiate and carry out as many deals with Idlib rebels as it can manage. Turkey intends to indefinitely maintain a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border and this would include Idlib province. This would give Turkey the opportunity to offer somewhere for former rebels can live that is in Syria but not subject to retribution by Syrian or Iranian troops or secret police.
In eastern Syria, near the American base at Tanf, a company of U.S. Marines conducted a live fire training exercise involving an aerial assault. This was done for the benefit of Syria and Russia, who have indicated they might deal with the Tanf base (which is near the Iran and Jordan borders). The United States has already attacked Iranian mercenaries and Syrian troops who got inside the 35 kilometer “security zone” the United States has established around the Tanf base. The only way a ground assault could work would be if the attackers had air support and only Russia has modern warplanes in Syria that have a chance of dealing with American fighters and air defenses in general. Yesterday Russia said its aircraft might enter the 35 kilometer (from the base) zone in pursuit of Islamic terrorists. The U.S. responded that American forces could take care of any intrusion and Russian aircraft should stay out.
September 5, 2018: Britain identified two Russian GRU (military intelligence) agents and described how the two used Novichok nerve gas to carry out a March 2018 assassination attempt in Britain. The Americans were already convinced the Russians were responsible and in August imposed the first round of new sanctions on Russia for its use of nerve gas in Britain. The details of this incident have been confirmed and today were revealed and described. Months ago British investigators identified the Russians who were involved with the use of nerve gas to try and murder Sergei Skripal on March 4th. Skripal was a former Soviet intelligence officer, who worked for Britain as a double agent. He was found unconscious on March 4th, with his adult daughter, on a park bench near a British pub they had visited. The two were hospitalized and survived what turned out to be an assassination attempt using a form of nerve gas (novichok) developed in Russia and, as far as anyone knows, not possessed by anyone but Russia. Three of the police officers who responded to the call about the unconscious people on the park bench also fell ill, one of them seriously. Everyone recovered and provided information on what happened. Four months later the container (a small perfume bottle) the Russian assassin carried the liquid novichok in was found. This was because a local couple had found the discarded novichok bottle nine days after the March attack and kept it. The assassins had tossed the bottle away in a park as they left the area to catch their flight back to Russia. Eventually, the couple opened the bottle and both ended up in the hospital, where the woman died. When her companion regained consciousness he provided information leading to the novichok container and further analysis of it. Worldwide, four different labs analyzed the samples and all agreed it was novichok, a chemical weapon never manufactured outside Russia. In response to the March incident, Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats suspected of being intelligence agents and Russia responded by expelling 23 British diplomats. More nations said they would expel Russian diplomats and after the June confirmation that it was Russian novichok, the U.S. ordered a series of additional sanctions on Russia into effect. These could be limited if Russia admitted it used novichok and provided assurances it would never do so again (with any banned weapons). Russia has said it will do neither and denied any involvement. This assassination effort was nothing new for Russia. Skripal was still working for British intelligence when he was arrested in Russia at the end of 2004 and prosecuted for espionage. He was sent to prison in 2006 but got out in 2010 when Russia agreed to use him as one of the three imprisoned spies to get back several Russian illegals who were caught in the United States. Russia was reluctant to part with Skripal, who had apparently done enormous damage to Russian overseas spying efforts. But they wanted their imprisoned agents in the U.S. back. This was not the first time Russia had gone after people like Skripal in Britain. This sort of thing has happened elsewhere in Europe before and after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia insists that it does not do this and have been saying that since the Soviets started hunting down and killing “traitors” overseas back in the 1930s. Russia denied they were involved in the Skripal incident.
September 4, 2018: Russia has moved 26 warships to the Syrian coast, apparently in support of the Syrian offensive against Idlib, the last rebel held province. The naval force includes submarines, destroyers, frigates, smaller warships and several support ships. This is the largest number of warships Russia has ever deployed to the Syrian coast and this is officially an effort to deter the U.S. Navy from attacking the Syrian forces (which the U.S. said it would do if the Syrians used chemical weapons in Idlib). Russia has also moved more warplanes to Syria and has some heavy bombers ready to fly from southern Russia to launch cruise missiles at targets in Idlib.
In northwest Syria (Latakia province) Russian air defenses shot down two UAVs headed for the Russian air base at Hmeimim. At the end of July there was a similar incident. Russian forces shot those down as well and examining the wreckage determined that Islamic terror groups in the area (especially nearby Idlib province) are the main suspects. Russia launched some airstrikes at neighboring Idlib province in response to Islamic terrorists from Idlib attacking Syrian forces in Latakia. The airstrikes today were the first in 21 days as the Russians had been holding off on more air attacks in Idlib until they could convince Turkey to halt it opposition to a military solution in Idlib.
September 3, 2018: The United States warned Russia, Syria and Iran not to attack Idlib province. This warning was mainly meant for Syria and its use of chemical weapons. Russia is mainly there to provide air support for the Syrians' attack. Russia is also trying to intimidate the Americans. France also protested the offensive and also threatened to retaliate militarily. In the last two years, the U.S. has twice bombed Syrian forces in retaliation for Syrians using chemical weapons and threatens to do so again if the Syrians use chemical weapons in Idlib. Syria apparently plans to do so in order to reduce casualties among their own troops.
September 2, 2018: Ukraine declared that it had the military means to defeat Russian efforts to take control of the Sea of Azov. It was pointed out that Ukraine has a large supply of modern anti-ship missiles and naval mines and could deploy them to quickly cripple any Russian naval forces in the area. This dispute went critical back in April 2018 when Russia declared the Sea Of Azov, reached from the Black Sea via the 4.5 kilometer wide Kerch Strait, under Russian control. The Crimean Peninsula, when it was part of Ukraine, was separated from Russia by the Kerch Strait. Maximum depth of the strait is 18 meters (59 feet) and there had long been talk of building a bridge between Crimea and the Kerch Peninsula (now and always part of Russia). Once Russia seized Crimea in 2014 proposals that a bridge be built actually turned into the construction of that bridge. The Kerch Bridge opened in March 2018 (at least the highway part, the sturdier railroad section is still under construction). With that Russia declared the Sea of Azov under Russian control and no foreign ship could enter without Russian permission. So far the Russians have seized over a hundred ships trying to reach the Ukrainian ports of Berdiansk and Mariupol that are on the shore of the Sea of Azov. Russia is putting these two ports out of business. The EU and U.S. protested the Russian blockade but have not done anything to get that changed, like sending American warships to conduct a FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in the Sea of Azov.
September 1, 2018: Off the Syrian coast 26 Russian Navy ships (most of them warships the rest support) and 30 aircraft held training exercises. This included heavy bombers and long-range surveillance aircraft flying in from Russian bases to participate.
August 31, 2018: In eastern Ukraine, military officials estimate that the rebels have lost about 70 dead a month this year in the low-level Donbas fighting. Rebel wounded number more than a hundred a month. The Ukrainians search the Russian Internet for death notices and also rely on aerial reconnaissance and monitoring rebel radio traffic (which is largely Russian). The Ukrainians are quite good at electronic warfare, especially when it comes to dealing with new Russian equipment. Sometimes the Ukrainians beat the Russians at their own game of electronic wizardry.
August 28, 2018: Russia, Turkey and Syria agreed on a plan to attack and destroy the Islamic terrorist groups in Idlib province, particularly HTS/al Nusra. Idlib is the last Islamic terrorist stronghold and is in the northwest, on the Turkish border. Idlib is currently controlled by various rebel groups. Over half of Idlib is controlled by the HTS (Hayat Tahrir al Sham) coalition. This is the main al Qaeda organization which evolved from al Nusra by absorbing (willingly or otherwise) many other like-minded groups over the years. About a third of the province is controlled by several other Islamic terrorist groups. Last week the largest six of these factions merged to form the NLF (National Liberation Front). This merger was arranged by Ahrar al Sham, a longtime rival of HTS. About ten percent of the province is controlled by Turkey (in the north along the hundred kilometer long border with Turkey) and Assad forces (several towns and villages in the southeast).
August 27, 2018: In eastern Ukraine (Donbas) a bomb left in a café killed Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of Donetsk, one of the two provinces the rebels partially occupy. Zakharchenko was the most prominent Ukrainian rebel leader in Donbas and he will probably be replaced by someone more willing to do whatever the Russians order them to do. For two years now Russia has been killing uncooperative rebel leaders and replacing them with Russians. They are also replacing many of the departed (for Russia or Ukraine) civilians with Russians enticed (with free home and monthly payments) to settle in Donbas for a while. Meanwhile, the fighting is low level and not moving the front lines much at all.
August 26, 2018: Russia announced it has signed the contract to buy fifteen of its Su-57 stealth fighter, with the first ones arriving in 2019 and those that follow will probably be somewhat different as developers continue to refine the Su-57 design. This is a change from the June announcement that production of the Su-57 was going to happen and the contract for 12 of them was ready to sign. In early July it became obvious that this contract would not be signed, given that the factory that was to do the work was not hiring the workers or ordering the Su-57 components. When pressed, defense ministry officials admitted that mass production of the Su-57 was not going to happen as planned. That’s a common phrase for defense projects that are facing termination or long-term delays. In this case, it is not an outright cancellation but another chance to make Su-57 work well enough to attract export customers. In February India withdrew from the Su-57 joint development and manufacturing agreement because the Indians concluded (accurately) that there was no there-there. That agreement committed India to eventually contribute over $8 billion to developing and building Su-57s. India said they might still purchase the Su-57 once it is ready for sale and might even rejoin joint development efforts. But for now India is writing off nearly $300 million it has already invested but is no longer obligated to spend over $8 billion to develop and manufacture an aircraft they have lost confidence in. That loss of confidence was confirmed about the same time when two Su-57 stealth fighters sent to Syria conducted two days of testing their sensors and countermeasures over Syria and returned to Russia by the end of February. The reality was that all the Su-57s could do was land and take off. There were no sensors and countermeasures to test.
The Su-57 design was flawed and fixes were not available. This project was way behind schedule while the Chinese already have one stealth fighter in service and others about to be. The American F-35 is getting good reviews and Russia is getting a close-up view because Israel recently put its first F-35 squadron into service. That included flights into Lebanon and Syria. The American F-22 stealth fighter had been operating over Syria for years and Russia got a good idea of what they were up against and why the Su-57 was no match for the two American stealth aircraft and that Russia did not have the resources (technical and financial) to make the Su-57 competitive. But that is a subject that is not discussed out loud in Russia.
August 25, 2018: Russia is trying to work out a way to get paid for military equipment sold to India. Because of new American sanctions India has not been able to pay Russia since April. Like most international trade, most goods are paid for in dollars. India and Russia are certain they will work something out. In the meantime, these sanctions have made it more difficult for Russia to sell India new weapons systems. From 2007 to 2015 Russia was the largest customer for Russian weapons exports. Now India is just paying Russia for previous sales (spare parts, upgrades and the line). India has made no new weapons purchases from Russia since 2012 and is unlikely to change that in the near future. There was some interest in buying the Russian S-400 air defense system, but this would have been a five billion dollar purchase and with the banking sanctions and bad experiences with the reliability and effectiveness of Russian tech, India has been looking elsewhere (mainly Israel and the West.) In effect, Russia has lost its largest weapons customer.
August 22, 2018: Russia revealed that their air force had launched about 39,000 sorties against enemy (rebels and Islamic terrorists) forces in Syria since September 2015. Some 121,000 targets were hit, killing 86,000 hostile personnel. The last major effort by Russian warplanes in Syria will soon take place in the northwestern province of Idlib.
August 21, 2018: CAR (Central African Republic) and Russia have signed a military cooperation agreement. Russia described the agreement as a “framework” for improving defense ties. CAR officers will be allowed to attend Russian military institutes. Russia has a training cadre in the CAR, comprised of military and civilian contractors. Some of the Russian civilians are believed to be mercenaries working for the Russian Wagner mercenary organization.
August 19, 2018: An American official confirmed that the United States, Israel and Russia agreed that Iran must not be allowed to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. Apparently, the Syrian government agrees with this as there have been some recent clashes between Assad forces and Iranian mercenaries.
August 15, 2018: In Syria Russian military police are expanding the number of outposts on Golan Heights from four to eight. The Russian military police are there to keep rebels and Iranian forces out of the areas so the UN can resume outpost and patrol duty to the satisfaction of the of the Israelis. Syria is offering amnesty to most local rebels but the Russians are not interfering with Syrian police arresting or raiding the homes of locals suspected of still being rebels.
The United States imposed sanctions on three shipping companies (in China, Singapore and Russia) for taking part in smuggling oil and other items to North Korea. A recent UN audit found that North Korea was maintaining many illegal joint ventures with China (215) and Russia (30). Not all these joint ventures are with companies as some are with individuals.
August 11, 2018: Russia offered to replace the training programs the United States recently denied to Pakistani officers in American military schools (alongside American and other foreign officers). Russia will replace the American training with equivalent Russian training. This is a major loss for Pakistan as their officers gained more useful instruction and more useful contacts (with American and other foreign officers) at the American senior schools.
Pakistan already has a number of defense relationships with Russia. For example, in 2015 India and Pakistan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and became full members in 2017. India and Pakistan recently sent troops to Russia to take part in SCO joint training exercises. This is the first time Indian and Pakistani troops have jointly participated in counter-terrorism training. These SCO joint training exercises take place every two years. SCO is a regional security forum founded in Shanghai in 2001 by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and China. The main purpose of the SCO was originally fighting Islamic terrorism. Russia, however, hoped to build the SCO into a counterbalance against NATO. That has not happened as no one has joined since India and Pakistan did. SCO members conduct joint military exercises, mostly for show. They also share intel on terrorists, which is often useful. Iran, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Turkey were all favorably disposed towards joining the SCO. These nations were allowed to send observers to meetings.
SCO is now dominated by China, whose growing economic and military power have made it the dominant nation in most of Eurasia. Russia resents this but there is little they can do about their subordinate position other than make the best of it. Russia chose to renew the Cold War with the West and that has not turned out well, with sanctions and lower oil prices crippling the economy and making Russia more dependent on, and subservient to, China. Unlike the Soviet Union, China has put more emphasis on economic cooperation because greater Chinese economic power means that China is replacing Russia as the principal investor and trading partner throughout the region. Russia does not like to dwell on this, because it means China is expanding its economic and political power. This is particularly true in Pakistan and throughout Central Asia. On paper, China is now the dominant military power in Eurasia, a fact that Russia likes to downplay. Many Russians fear that the aggression China is demonstrating towards India and everyone bordering the South China Sea will eventually be turned towards Russia. As the old saying goes; “hold your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Russia has no choice as long as they see themselves at war with “Western aggression.”