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15 Jan 22. China slams U.S. sanctions on Iran as cooperation agreement launched. China reaffirmed its opposition to unilateral sanctions by the United States against Iran as the Chinese and Iranian foreign ministers announced the launch of a 25-year cooperation agreement aimed at strengthening economic and political ties.
In a meeting on Friday in the city of Wuxi, in Jiangsu province, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also backed efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran.
A summary of the meeting between Wang and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was posted on China’s foreign ministry website on Saturday.
Wang, who is also State Councillor, said the U.S. bore primary responsibility for the ongoing difficulties with Iran, having unilaterally withdrawn from a 2015 nuclear deal between the major powers and Iran.
Under the terms of that deal, in return for the lifting of international sanctions, Iran would limit uranium enrichment activity, making it harder to develop nuclear arms – although Tehran denies having plans for nuclear weapons.
Wang said China would firmly support a resumption on negotiations on a nuclear pact.
But he said China firmly opposes unilateral sanctions against Iran, political manipulation through topics including human rights, and interference in the internal affairs of Iran and other regional countries.
The United States reimposed sanctions that badly damaged Iran’s economy after withdrawing from the nuclear pact in 2018, saying the terms did not do enough to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, ballistic missile program and regional influence.
A year later, Iran began to gradually breach the accord, rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up output.
China and Iran, both subject to U.S. sanctions, signed the 25-year cooperation agreement last March, bringing Iran into China’ Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme intended to stretch from East Asia to Europe.
The project aims to significantly expand China’s economic and political influence, and has raised concerns in the United States and elsewhere.
The foreign ministry summary said the agreement would deepen Sino-Iranian cooperation in areas including energy, infrastructure, agriculture, health care and culture, as well as cyber security and cooperation with other countries.
Iran and the U.S. remain locked in talks over whether a compromise can be found to renew the deal and dispel fears of a wider Middle East War. A source close to negotiations said on Friday that many issues remain unresolved. read more
Wang, who earlier in the week met with several counterparts from Gulf Arab countries concerned about the potential threat from Iran, also said China hopes to set up a dialogue mechanism with Gulf countries to discuss regional security issues. (Source: Reuters)
15 Jan 22. N. Korea tests railway-borne missile in latest launch amid rising tension with U.S.. North Korea tested a railway-borne missile in its firing drills on Friday, state media KCNA said on Saturday, amid a U.S. push for fresh sanctions against the isolated state following its recent series of weapons tests. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) travelled about 430 km (267 miles) to a maximum altitude of 36 km (22 miles) after being launched eastward on the northwest coast of North Korea.
The official KCNA news agency did not specify the missiles’ range, or trajectory, but said a firing drill was held in North Pyongan Province to “check and judge the proficiency in the action procedures of the railway-borne regiment.”
The country tested the rail-based system for the first time last September, saying it was designed as a potential counter-strike to any threatening forces.
Since New Year’s Day, North Korea has launched three ballistic missiles in an unusually fast sequence of weapons tests. The previous two launches involved what state media called “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speeds and manoeuvring after launch.
Hours before the latest test drill, North Korea slammed the United States for pursuing new sanctions in response to its recent missile launches, calling it a “provocation” and warning of a strong reaction. read more
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration imposed its first sanctions against Pyongyang on Wednesday, and called on the U.N. Security Council to blacklist several North Korean individuals and entities.
North Korea has defended the missile tests as its sovereign right to self-defence and accused the United States of intentionally escalating the situation with new sanctions.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not attend the drill. KCNA said the military leadership had ordered the test “at short notice” and the system precisely struck the target set in the east coast with “two tactical guided missiles.”
The system “demonstrated high manoeuvrability and rate of hits,” KCNA said, adding its success led to discussions to “set up proper railway-borne missile operating system across the country.”
North Korea has been steadily developing its weapons systems, raising the stakes for stalled talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
South Korean Chung Eui-yong and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the latest launch during their phone call on Saturday and coordinated responses to the North’s recent missile tests, the State Department said.
Both sides highlighted the importance of maintaining firm combined readiness posture and urged Pyongyang to return to a negotiating table, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.
‘AT SHORT NOTICE’
Cheong Seong-chang, director for North Korean studies at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said the test could be an “instant display of force” to protest against the U.S. sanctions push, noting that it was not planned in advance and unusually took place in the afternoon.
“It’s a message that they would take an ‘eye to eye’ approach if Washington presses for sanctions for testing non-long-range missiles,” Cheong said.
KCNA released photographs showing a missile trailing a column of smoke and flame as it was launched from the top of an olive-green train in a mountainous area, before arrowing down on a small island, sending up a cloud of smoke and debris as it hit.
Despite North Korea’s limited and sometimes unreliable rail network, rail mobile missiles are a relatively cheap and efficient option to improve the survivability of their nuclear forces, making it difficult for enemies to detect and destroy them before being fired, analysts said.
Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University, said North Korea appears to have fired KN-23 SRBMs, which were also test fired in September, when they flew 800 km (497 miles).
First tested in May 2019, the KN-23 resembles Russia’s Iskander-M SRBM visually, and is designed to evade missile defences and conduct a precision strikes, experts said. (Source: Reuters)
14 Jan 22. North Korea missile tests, January 2022: FCDO statement. FCDO spokesperson statement on the DPRK missile tests that took place on 14 January 2022.
An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are deeply concerned that North Korea has again conducted two short-range ballistic missile tests. These tests are a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions and a threat to regional peace and security.”
Alongside our allies and partners, the UK is committed to peace on the Korean Peninsula, upholding the rules-based international system and securing an end to North Korea’s illegal activities.
It is critical that sanctions which target the DPRK’s unlawful weapons development remain in place while its programmes exist.
We urge North Korea to refrain from further provocations, and to return to dialogue with the US. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
14 Jan 22. Ukraine says government websites hit by ‘massive cyber attack.’ Kyiv has yet to assign blame for disruption to at least 70 sites. Ukraine said it was the target of a “massive cyber attack” after about 70 government websites ceased functioning. On Friday morning targets included websites of the ministerial cabinet, the foreign, education, agriculture, emergency, energy, veterans affairs and environment ministries. Also out of service were the websites of the state treasury and the Diia electronic public services platform, where vaccination certificates and electronic passports are stored. “Ukrainians! All your personal data has been uploaded to the public network,” read a message temporarily posted on the foreign ministry’s website. “All data on your computer is being erased and won’t be recoverable. All information about you has become public, fear and expect the worst.” Viktor Zhora, deputy head of Ukraine’s state agency in charge of special communication and information protection, told journalists on Friday that it was “the most powerful attack in four years” with about 70 central and regional government websites taken down. “I want to note that as a result of the attack on the sites, the personal data of Ukrainians have not been distorted in any way, important data has not been leaked, the site’s content has not been damaged, and some sites have been forcibly shut down,” he said. “As soon as we make sure that there are no third parties in the system, there is no malicious code and we will gather all the necessary evidence, the work of these sites will be restored,” Zhora said. The incident follows tense negotiations this week between the US, Nato and western allies and Russia, aimed at deterring Russian president Vladimir Putin from opting for a deeper invasion of Ukraine. Moscow annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014.
Ukrainian officials have recently warned that cyber attacks and other efforts to destabilise the country would be a prelude to further aggression. Authorities, however, have not assigned blame for the Friday onslaught. “As a result of a massive cyber attack, the websites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of other government agencies are temporarily down,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said. “Our specialists are already working on restoring the work of IT systems, and the cyber police opened an investigation.” The message left by hackers, posted in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish, added: “This is for your past, present and future. For Volyn, for the OUN UPA [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists/Ukrainian Insurgent Army], for Halychyna, for Polissya and for historical lands.” Comments at the end of the message referred to Ukrainian insurgent fighters during the second world war and appeared to chastise Ukraine for ethnic clashes and atrocities. Poland and Ukraine accuse each other of committing atrocities during the period in the region, which the countries have jostled over for centuries. The hackers’ post also included defaced images of Ukraine’s national symbols, with a line across the flag, coat of arms and a map of the country. It was not immediately clear if the hackers were Polish or if this was an attempt to incite divisions between Ukraine and Poland, one of Kyiv’s strongest European allies in the face of Russian aggression. Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to Nato, said the US would wait “to see what we find out today”.
She added that proof of a Russian cyber attack “certainly” would be classed as an example of renewed aggression against Ukraine, which could trigger western sanctions against Moscow. “We are monitoring everything that Russia is going to be doing towards Ukraine,” she said. “We are attuned to some of the efforts to destabilise Ukraine from within. We all understand that there’s an array of scenarios that could unfold as it relates to what happens between Russia and Ukraine.” Josep Borrell, Brussels’ top diplomat, said the EU’s political and security committee and cyber units will convene to see how to help Kyiv. “We are going to mobilise all our resources to help Ukraine to tackle this cyber attack. Sadly, we knew it could happen,” Borrell was quoted as saying by Reuters at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brest, western France. “It’s difficult to say [who is behind it]. I can’t blame anybody as I have no proof, but we can imagine.” Ukraine’s SBU state security service said in a statement that “provocative messages were posted on the main page of these sites”. “The content of the sites was not changed, and the leakage of personal data, according to preliminary information, did not occur,” the SBU added. Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s national security chief, late last year told the Financial Times that Ukraine faced “continuous” Russian cyber attacks and other attempts to destabilise the country since Moscow annexed Crimea and orchestrated a proxy separatist war in its eastern regions. “Domestic destabilisation is the immediate objective” of Russia prior to unleashing a potential deeper military incursion, he said, “firstly through cyber warfare, triggering an energy crisis and information warfare”. (Source: FT.com)
13 Jan 22. Russia says Ukraine talks hit ‘dead end’, Poland warns of risk of war.
- Envoy says Russia wants peace but not at any cost
- Ryabkov says experts putting military options to Putin
- Polish minister says Europe closest to war for 30 years
- U.S. ambassador to OSCE says ‘drumbeat of war’ is loud
- Moscow says it has not given up on diplomacy though
Poland’s foreign minister said on Thursday that Europe was at risk of plunging into war as Russia said it was not yet giving up on diplomacy but that military experts were preparing options in case tensions over Ukraine could not be defused.
In Washington, the White House said the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine remained high with some 100,000 Russian troops deployed and the United States would make public within 24 hours intelligence suggesting Russia might seek to invent a pretext to justify one.
“The drumbeat of war is sounding loud, and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill,” Michael Carpenter, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said after talks with Russia in Vienna.
“The threat of military invasion is high,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “There are no dates set for any more talks. We have to consult with allies and partners first.”
Russia said dialogue was continuing but was hitting a dead end as it tried to persuade the West to bar Ukraine from joining NATO and roll back decades of alliance expansion in Europe – demands that the United States has called “non-starters”.
“At this stage it is really disappointing,” Russian Ambassador Alexander Lukashevich told reporters after a meeting of the OSCE, the third leg in a series of East-West talks this week.
He warned of possible “catastrophic consequences” if the two sides could not agree on what Russia has termed security red lines but said Moscow had not given up on diplomacy and would even speed it up.
The Russian comments reflect a pattern of Moscow saying it wants to pursue diplomacy but rejecting calls to reverse its troop build-up near Ukraine and warning of unspecified consequences for Western security if its demands go unheeded.
Earlier, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau told the 57-nation security forum: “It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years.”
While overlooking wars during that period in the former Yugoslavia and parts of the former Soviet Union, his comment highlighted the level of European anxiety over Russia’s build-up of some 100,000 troops within reach of its border with Ukraine.
Russia denies plans to invade Ukraine but its military build-up has forced the United States and its allies to the negotiating table.
Rau reported no breakthrough at the Vienna meeting, which followed Russia-U.S. talks in Geneva on Monday and a Russia-NATO conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
‘DIFFERENCE OF APPROACHES’
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the earlier meetings had shown there was a “dead end or difference of approaches”, and he saw no reason to sit down again in the coming days to re-start the same discussions.
He told RTVI television Russian military specialists were providing options to President Vladimir Putin in case the Ukraine situation worsened but diplomacy must be given a chance.
The Russian rouble fell by more than 2% against the dollar on Ryabkov’s comments, which also prompted a sell-off in government bonds. A trader at a major Russian bank told Reuters the market had partly reacted to a comment from Ryabkov, in reply to a question, that he would neither confirm nor rule out the possibility that Russia might deploy “military infrastructure” in Cuba and Venezuela. read more
Sullivan said U.S intelligence agencies believed Russia may want “the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine.”
Washington would share details “on what we see as this potential laying of a pretext” with the media within 24 hours, he added.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, about the Russian buildup. The Pentagon estimated two-thirds of the Russian forces near Ukraine were “out-of-garrison,” meaning they had deployed from other parts of Russia.
Moscow says it is threatened by NATO’s expansion towards its borders by taking in 14 new members from former communist eastern Europe since the Cold War ended. It wants to draw “red lines” to stop the alliance from admitting Ukraine as a member or basing missiles there.
Washington has rejected those demands but said it is willing to talk about arms control, missile deployments and confidence-building measures to move on from one of the most fraught moments in East-West relations since the Cold War.
Ambassador Lukashevich told the OSCE that unless Moscow received a constructive response, “we will be forced to draw appropriate conclusions and take all necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security.”
He went on: “Russia is a peace-loving country. But we do not need peace at any cost. The need to obtain these legally formalised security guarantees for us is unconditional.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov criticised a sanctions bill unveiled by U.S. Senate Democrats that would target top Russian government and military officials, including Putin, as well as banking institutions, if Russia attacks Ukraine. read more
Peskov said imposing sanctions on Putin would be tantamount to severing relations.
“We view the appearance of such documents and statements extremely negatively against the background of an ongoing series of negotiations, albeit unsuccessful ones,” he said. (Source: Reuters)
13 Jan 22. India, China talks on border standoff end in stalemate. Talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders on easing a 20-month border standoff ended without a breakthrough for the second time in three months, an Indian Defence Ministry official said Thursday. The ministry said in a statement that the two sides had a “frank and in-depth exchange of views” in the meeting on China’s side of the Moldo meeting point on Wednesday and would work to resolve the remaining issues, without specifying them. The previous round of commander-level talks in October also ended in a stalemate, with China accusing India of sticking to “unreasonable and unrealistic demands, adding difficulties to the negotiations.” India and China have stationed tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets along their de facto border, called the Line of Actual Control.
In 2020, 20 Indian troops were killed in a clash with Chinese soldiers involving clubs, stones and fists. China said it lost four soldiers. Indian Army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane on Wednesday described the current situation in eastern Ladakh as “stable and under control” but told reporters in New Delhi that India would continue to deal with China in a “firm and resolute” manner.
Asked about the comment on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in Beijing that China hopes “the certain individual from India can avoid making such unconstructive comments.”
Since February last year, India and China have withdrawn troops from some sites on the northern and southern banks of Pangong Tso, Gogra and Galwan Valley, but continue to maintain extra forces as part of a multitier deployment.
The Line of Actual Control separates Chinese- and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. India and China fought a war over the border in 1962. (Source: Defense News)
13 Jan 22. Russia’s defense industry might not survive an invasion of Ukraine. Russian industry is already struggling with sanctions and export limits. An invasion of Ukraine could be disastrous for them – and, politically, might spell doom for Vladimir Putin’s regime. Russian troops on the Ukrainian borders of both Russia and its pliant ally, Belarus, still hover at the 100,000 mark. This is accompanied by a naval buildup in the Azov Sea where Russian vessels outnumber Ukrainian ships by a ratio of 4 to 1. While the Russian presence is understandably causing heartburn in Ukrainian circles, it’s also causing agita in a surprising place: inside Russia’s defense industry.
The most recent full-scale exhibition of Russian military hardware was at the Nov. 2021 Dubai Air Show, where the subject of whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would decide to have his troops mount an invasion was a popular one among the Russian delegation. This was the largest contingent of Russian defense industry representatives to ever attend this event, with a number of serious players attending in hopes of breaking through in the regional market.
But, uncharacteristically for weapons makers, these defense sector representatives — including executives from component business units and large aerospace holding companies like Rostec — were not anxious to see the effectiveness of their systems demonstrated in a war between Russia and their neighboring former Soviet republic. Nor could they generally see merit to Putin deciding to use military force to further dismember the Ukrainian state.
Instead, Russian defense industrial firms are concerned that a war with Ukraine would create a sanctions regime isolating Moscow’s financial institutions from the world banking system. Such a development would torpedo their recent ambitions of dramatically expanding their market into the Middle East. It would also likely be fatal to Russia’s defense R&D sector, which badly needs investment to grow some of their newest programs, like the Su-75 Checkmate single-engine fighter.
Beyond self-interest, these same industry officials also expressed concern over the negative consequences for the domestic situation in Russia as a whole — to the point of projecting scenarios that could threaten the Putin regime’s survival. Ironically, it was Putin’s concern about how to appear as a decisive strongman and enhance the chances of his survival during a time of economic downturn that led to Moscow’s initial acts of aggression against Ukraine in 2014.
“Putin was able to buttress his reputation as a Russian patriot by taking back Crimea,” said one of the representatives from a large Russian missile firm exhibiting at Dubai. “There have been people pushing for decades for this territory to be returned to Russia, which he was able to do by taking advantage of the chaos and uncertainty within Ukraine at the time.”
“Both occupying Crimea and the subsequent invasions of the Donbas helped enhance Putin’s image with the Russian ‘man on the street’,” said the same missile firm rep. “But in the intervening years these incursions into Ukraine have had progressively negative outcomes.”
Since 2014, the costs to Russia’s defense sector have been mounting. Dozens of Ukrainian factories and research facilities that either produced components or carried out R&D programs for Russia’s defense-industrial complex and space program severed their relations with Moscow after the seizure of Crimea. This has significantly increased Russia’s cost for producing new weapons systems and space hardware. Western sanctions, including a ban on all advanced technology component exports to Russia, further exacerbated the issue.
Russia’s space industry, which was already in a poor financial condition, was dealt a body blow in the process. These sanctions have “seriously slowed the development of Russia’s space program,” according to Pavel Luzin, a Russia-based analyst for the Jamestown Foundation in Washington.
Ukrainian industry representatives — who until 2014 worked hand in hand with Russia’s defense industry and remain tied into that community — told Breaking Defense that the same sanctions are now also adversely impacting the ability of Russian firms to manufacture basic electronics subsystems of most weapons platforms. This has led to delays in producing radar sets, seeker heads, avionics, electronic warfare modules and other key components.
“These disruptions are probably only the beginning,” said one Ukrainian defense firm director. “Shortages of electronic components are causing production bottlenecks around the world for any item you would care to name — from automobiles to washing machines to missile systems. Russia’s problem is that in their case the supply of these components that have US content is not just subject to a delay of five, six or eight months. It is a permanent embargo — and these consequences become far worse if Putin decides to invade Ukraine and a more robust sanctions regime is put into place.”
While the Biden administration has not made public what sanctions are on the table should Russia cross the border, Washington clearly views the economic threat as key tool for dissuading Putin from military actions. A senior administration official, speaking on background Jan. 8, told reporters the US will “impose severe costs on Russia through financial sanctions [and] export controls that target key industries.”
In summary, Russia’s defense enterprises continue to shrink in number; those that are left have constant problems with suppliers. The ability to address issues of attrition of equipment is becomes more challenging by the month. Today Putin can expend the resources and put the wear-and-tear on weapons system to deploy to the Ukrainian border and threaten the West. The question is whether that will still be possible five years from now.
Russia Vs Ukraine
To be clear, there is little doubt that if Putin decides to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, that Russia’s military will steamroll the Ukrainian forces.
The number and type of military hardware that Russia has deployed look like preparations for an overkill, overwhelming combination of military force that could raze large swaths of the former Soviet Republic. Among these are 15 or more medium range Su-34 bomber aircraft that would normally only be employed against a peer competitor like the US. But Russian military publications openly talk about using this platform and other systems to completely flatten Ukraine’s armed forces, which is mostly equipped with weapons at least one generation older than anything in Moscow’s arsenal.
One late December Russian article stated “as for the air defence, the S-300 PT/PS and Buk-M1 complexes that remained in Ukraine are much inferior to modern versions of these systems in service with the Russian troops. Ukrainian electronic warfare systems are also outdated and can become easy prey for Su-34 aircraft and Ka-52 and Mi-28 helicopters. The first strike by Russian troops could be directed at Ukrainian airfields, air defence systems and command posts. Moreover, the air defence of Ukraine is unlikely to hold out longer than a day against the Su-34 fighter-bombers of the Russian Air Force.
“The fact is that the Ukrainian military aviation is not capable of providing adequate resistance to the Russian aircraft, and the entire burden of defence can fall on these imperfect air defence systems. In service with Kiev are obsolete technologies in the form of MiG-29 and Su-27 [aircraft] devoid of modernisation and modern weapons.”
Even a short, full-throated incursion into Ukraine could be devastating for Kyiv. A year after the 2014 invasion of the Donbas region, Marshal of the Polish Senate and the former Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski told the Munich Security Conference that even if hostilities were to cease, the expense of re-building the destruction of these Eastern regions would “turn Ukraine into a failed state.” An invasion on the scale that the current Russian deployments indicate could be several orders of magnitude worse – making Russia a permanent international pariah.
In an act of unprecedented escalation with the potential for devastation on an unimaginable scale, a recent New York Times report, citing US sources, claims Russia has considered deploying tactical nuclear weapons to the border with Ukraine is an option. “As if having Chernobyl on our territory is not enough,” said one retired air force officer here in Kyiv who once served with a Soviet air interceptor unit charged with taking out US nuclear bombers in the event of a conflict.
Political and Economic Woes
Aside from the issues raised by the defense industry representatives, there are real concerns for Moscow should an invasion of Ukraine be okayed.
In the background, Russia’s economic and social ills continue to mount as the world enters the third year of the COVID crisis. Some estimates are that Russia has experienced 800,000 or more deaths since the virus began to spread through the country. Statisticians who have kept track of COVID deaths nation by nation now state Russia’s total has surpassed the United States, in terms of total losses, and that only Peru and Bulgaria have suffered more per-capita deaths.
Even these numbers do not tell the entire story. Russian officialdom is not known for transparency or accurate statistical data that would ever put the state in a bad light. Official state numbers are that some 1,200 people are dying each day from COVID, but Aleksei Raksha, a former government demographer who was pushed out of the Russian statistics agency, states that the real number is probably closer to 4,000.
The Russian population’s distrust of the state apparatus and a refusal to comply with quarantine regulations or vaccine mandates has added to the crisis of confidence in their government. This highlights the weaknesses of the Putin system — where presidential orders are only partially implemented, if at all.
Almost a decade after the revelations in US Embassy cables that up to 60 percent of Putin’s orders were not being followed, Putin himself has recently complained publicly that today only about 20 percent of his decisions are fully implemented, with the rest being ignored or circumvented.
Russia is a nation “beset by economic stagnation alongside high inflation, its labour productivity remains dismally low, and its once-vaunted school system has deteriorated alarmingly. And it is astonishingly corrupt. Not only the bullying central authorities in Moscow but regional state bodies, too, have been systematically criminalizing revenue streams, while giant swaths of territory lack basic public services and local vigilante groups proliferate,” wrote the well-known Russian historian Stephen Kotkin.
“The methods Putin used to fix the corrupt, dysfunctional post-Soviet state have produced yet another corrupt, dysfunctional state,” he concludes. “Personal systems of rule convey immense power on the ruler in select strategic areas—the secret police, control of cash flow—but they are ultimately ineffective and self-defeating.”
For years Putin has played dual roles of being the strong Russian leader who is a national hero on one hand and the rogue or renegade ruler who does not recognize the legitimacy of Western norms in military affairs on the other. In the process he seeks to restore Russia’s “proper place in the world order,” which means (along with the PRC and others) he prevents the United States from being an unchallenged superpower.
This has worked for him thus far by vacillating between making up his own rules in the international community, discarding the rules by which nations have conduced relations in the post-war period, and criticizing the US and other nations for not abiding by these same rules that he himself refuses to recognize the legitimacy of.
This kind of maneuvering builds up multiple contradictions over time — of a type that may eliminate the possibility of continuing to operate in this manner. This crisis with Ukraine may be the test of whether or not the clock has run out on this long-running strategy.
The last addition to this list that Putin needs, said one former fighter designer now acting as a consultant “is a steady parade of body bags coming home from the battlefields in Ukraine. Russian families have lost more than most of those outside of the country can imagine — adding the loss of their sons in a war with Ukraine that has dubious justification could be a tipping point.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
12 Jan 22. China steps up construction along disputed Bhutan border, satellite images show. China has accelerated settlement-building along its disputed border with Bhutan, with more than 200 structures, including two-storey buildings, under construction in six locations, according to satellite image analysis conducted for Reuters. The images and analysis supplied to Reuters by U.S. data analytics firm HawkEye 360, which uses satellites to gather intelligence on ground-level activities, and vetted by two other experts, provide a detailed look into China’s recent construction along its frontier with Bhutan. Construction-related activity in some of the locations along Bhutan’s western border has been under way since early 2020, with China initially building tracks and clearing out areas, based on material provided by satellite imagery firms Capella Space and Planet Labs, said Chris Biggers, the mission applications director at HawkEye 360. Images show the work speeded up in 2021. Smaller structures were erected – possibly to house equipment and supplies – followed by the laying of foundations and then the construction of buildings, Biggers said.
“To me, 2021 was the period for acceleration,” Biggers said.
Two other experts who studied the locations of the new construction and recent satellite images taken by Capella Space said all six settlements appear to be in territory disputed by China and Bhutan – including a contested tract of roughly 110 square kilometres – with little in the way of resources or native population.
“It is Bhutan’s policy not to talk about boundary issues in the public,” Bhutan’s foreign ministry said in response to questions from Reuters. The ministry declined to comment further.
The construction suggests that China is bent on resolving its border claims by giving its ambitions concrete form, said the experts and one Indian defence source.
China’s foreign ministry said the construction is “entirely for the improvement of the working and living conditions of the local people.”
“It is within China’s sovereignty to carry out normal construction activities on its own territory,” the ministry said. The ministry declined to comment further.
The villages also offer Beijing some strategic value, two of the experts say. The new construction is 9 to 27km from the Doklam area at the junction of the borders of India, Bhutan and China, where Indian and Chinese troops were locked in standoff for more than two months in 2017.
The settlements would allow China to better control and monitor far-flung areas, and potentially use them to establish security-focused installations, according to one expert and the Indian defence source.
India’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Bhutan, a country of less than 800,000 people, has been negotiating with Beijing for almost four decades to settle their 477-km border. At issue for Bhutan is not just territorial integrity, but also concerns over the potential security implications for India, which is the Himalayan kingdom’s main ally and economic partner.
The Bhutanese foreign ministry said Bhutan and China had agreed during the latest round of boundary negotiations in April 2021 to speed up the process of resolving their differences. It declined to discuss the details of the plan to do so.
“All issues are discussed between Bhutan and China within the framework of the Boundary Talks,” the ministry said.
“China’s village building across the claimed Bhutan border appears to be designed to force Bhutan to yield to Chinese demands in their border negotiations, now in their 24th round after 37 years,” said Robert Barnett, a professorial research associate at SOAS University of London, who is an expert on Tibet and has studied the China-Bhutan border closely.
The settlements appear part of a plan Beijing made public in 2017 to build more than 600 villages in border areas in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which lies on the Chinese side of the disputed border, said Barnett and M. Taylor Fravel, director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Fravel said the construction indicated China likely wanted to consolidate its control and improve infrastructure in border areas.
The Chinese-controlled TAR was established in 1965, six years after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in the wake of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Some of the villages near the border are built where there has been no previous construction. China’s government gives residents subsidies to settle there, Barnett said.
“All the cross-border villages in the western Bhutan sector are sited in areas where no natural village would be found, since these areas are barely habitable,” he said.
Control over the remote Doklam plateau would potentially give China greater access to the adjoining “Chicken’s Neck” area, a strategic strip of land that connects India to its northeastern region.
India shares an unsettled 3,500-km border with China. Troops from both countries remain deployed near each other in a separate border dispute in the Ladakh region – about 1,100km from Doklam – where they clashed in hand-to-hand combat in 2020.
India has been closely monitoring Chinese construction along its borders, the Indian defence source said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The satellite imagery suggests that neither India nor Bhutan has responded on the ground to China’s construction activities, Biggers said.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute research organisation, added that it would be a challenge for India and Bhutan to counter the Chinese construction.
“Any action taken against these Chinese installations would necessarily put civilian populations at risk,” Ruser said. “It limits the ways in which India and Bhutan are able to combat Chinese encroachment into disputed territories.” (Source: Reuters)
12 Jan 22. RoK and the end of strategic ambiguity in the Taiwan Strait. Despite an increasingly unstable Indo-Pacific and strained intra-Korean dialogue, it is far from certain that South Korea will align itself closer to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Considering the country’s close economic ties to China, coupled with deep historical and political grievances between Japan and South Korea, will South Korea maintain its policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan?
Strained relations on the Korean peninsula
Earlier this week, intra-Korean dialogue strained yet further as North Korea trialled the launch of a second ballistic missile in two weeks. While the rogue state claims that the launch of the initial missile on 5 January was a test of the country’s new hypersonic weapons system, South Korea’s intelligence community downplayed the subtle threats of their northern neighbours.
The most recent launch was a shot across the bow as members of the United Nations Security Council, including the US, Albania, France, Ireland and the UK – additionally supported by Japan – rebuked the country for its purported “hypersonic missile” trial, urging North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons and missile development regime.
Over recent weeks, Australia also joined its international partners in applying further pressure to the rogue state, with the Australia-Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement reaffirming the partnership’s commitment to peace on the Korean peninsula.
“The two leaders condemned North Korea’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, reiterating their commitment to achieving the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, and ballistic missiles of all ranges of North Korea,” the joint statement by the prime ministers of Australia and Japan read.
Beyond North Korea’s posturing, the rogue state has been executing an ongoing grey zone campaign against their southern neighbours. In 2013, it was reported that the North Korean-sponsored Lazarus Group caused an estimated $750m in damage to South Korean infrastructure, disabled ATMs and stole the details of some 20,000 South Korean military personnel.
Facing a destructive and belligerent neighbour to the North whose political, economic and military leadership closely aligns with Beijing, one would assume that South Korea’s natural partnerships align firmly with the new Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
As of yet, this remains to be seen.
South Korea remains economically reliant on China and has demonstrated little willingness to tempt Chinese economic reprisals unlike Japan, India and Australia. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (albeit still using 2019 data), China is South Korea’s largest export destination, representing 25 per cent of the nations exports. This figure almost doubles the 13.5 per cent represented by the United States sitting in second place. Meanwhile, China represents 21.3 per cent of the country’s imports, again compared with the 12.3 per cent of the US at number two.
It is easy to sympathise with South Korea’s hesitation toward economic reprisals. In 2017, China restricted trade and tourism to the country in response to its installation of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile interceptor (THAAD), which reportedly gave radar intelligence deep into China’s interior. South Korean industry was dealt a devastating blow by the Chinese sanctions.
Moreover, while public attitudes toward the United States in South Korea remain warm, such positive sentiment isn’t felt toward all members of the Quad. Public sentiment toward Japan in South Korea remains incredibly low following centuries of hostilities between the two neighbours. Recent opinion research published by Hankook Research showed that for the first time since the survey’s inception in 2018 that South Koreans rated China less favourably than Japan. While Japan recorded a 28.8 per cent favourability rating, North Korea and China were rated at 28.6 per cent and 26.4 per cent, respectively. It would suggest that there is little support for the Republic of Korea to support either China or Japan in the event of major hostilities.
While to the regular observer it may appear that South Korea is a natural bedfellow of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the historic, economic and political dimensions heeding rapprochement between Japan and South Korea are overwhelming. In this light, how does this impact South Korean policy to the Taiwan flashpoint?
Japan, Australia and the US begin to abandon strategic ambiguity on Taiwan, will South Korea follow?
Australia, Japan and the US have long straddled a policy of ambiguity on the question of Taiwanese sovereignty.
At the outbreak of the Sino-Soviet split, when cracks began to appear between the USSR and China on the question of which country would form the global communist vanguard, the US implicitly aligned itself closer to China to mitigate the growing hegemony of the Soviets.
It wasn’t so long ago that the US even tacitly worked with China on military and intelligence matters, evidenced throughout the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when clandestine intelligence units in the US and China would implicitly trade intelligence with one another to the detriment of the USSR.
Now with little need to placate China, the policy of strategic ambiguity has gone by the wayside.
While official foreign policy doctrine is sluggish to confine strategic ambiguity to history, Australia, Japan and the US’ political leadership has been forthright on their willingness to defend Taiwan. President Biden event went as far as to suggest that the United States has a commitment to defend Taiwan, notions of which were echoed by Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton and an agreement between the US and Japan to use the island of Kyushu as a staging area for the deployment of troops in the region.
The Republic of Korea, on the other hand, has been far more silent on the issue.
Writing in War on the Rocks this month, Professor Sungmin Cho of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies argued that despite generic promises to protect peace in the region between the US and South Korea, that the Korean government has sought to downplay any existence of bilateral military co-operation between Taiwan and the Republic of Korea.
PROF Cho notes that despite simply agreeing to harmony in the Taiwan Straits, that “in the domestic briefing on the outcome of the summit, however, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong remarked, ‘We are fully aware of the unique relations between China and Taiwan. Our government’s stance has not changed. We’d like to reiterate that regional peace and stability is the common wish shared by everyone in the region.’”
The analyst remarks that despite the close ideological, political and economic affinities between North Korea and China, the two countries also seek the same end goal: political reunification with a land and population that they perceive to be legally theirs. If either China or North Korea seeks to undertake military action, the other could militarily act in to support the broader goal of reunification or to suppress US military capabilities.
“Despite the difference in legal status, Chinese experts tend to positively perceive that Korean unification, if it happens first, would stimulate the Chinese people’s aspiration for national unification. They even expect that Beijing may learn some lessons from the Korean experiences of integrating two different systems.
“Therefore, if Pyongyang intends to do so, Beijing will not oppose North Korea’s concurrent provocations to pin down US Forces Korea and US Forces Japan from moving to the Taiwan Strait.”
As such, while the South Korea’s apprehension toward involvement in the Taiwan Strait is economically justifiable, Professor Cho notes that any military activity in the region could likely cascade to involve a vector of North versus South Korean conflict regardless of their position of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan.
Though, over recent weeks – signals from Seoul show little sign of support to Taipei regarding the Taiwan Straits question.
In late December, South Korea disinvited Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang from taking part in a business conference in the country. The invitation to speak was cancelled regarding “cross-Strait issues.”
In response, Taiwanese spokeswoman noted that “the foreign ministry has summoned the South Korean acting representative to Taipei to express our strong dissatisfaction over the impolite action”.
South Korea supporting Australia’s defence industry
Despite ongoing strategic ambiguity regarding the Taiwan Strait, Seoul has sent positive signals to Australia’s defence industry co-operating on a wide range of cutting-edge upgrades for the war fighting capabilities of the Australian Defence Force.
Last month, South Korea-based defence company Hanwha signed a $1bn contract with the Commonwealth government for the supply of Huntsman self-propelled artillery systems and armoured ammunition resupply vehicles to the Australian Army under the LAND 8116 Phase 1 program.
The vehicles are set to be manufactured in Australia at a new facility operated by the firm’s local Victoria-based facility.
Just days later, Australia and South Korea formally committed to bolstering co-operation in the space domain under a new collaboration agreement.
The announcements coincided with South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s fourth meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, signalling a shift in the nature of Canberra and Seoul’s long-standing relationship.
Prime Minister Morrison, who was joined by President Moon at a signing ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra to announce the Hanwha deal, noted the importance of the nations’ Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, adding that bolstering industry collaboration would support efforts to address “mutual security challenges”.
Meanwhile, after signing the space MOU with Australia, President Moon said he hoped the deal would “enhance exchange and foster co-operation” across a range of fields including space exploration, the launch vehicle industry, and satellite navigation.
“[I] hope this agreement [becomes] the stepping stone for the two countries to expand into space together,” President Moon added.
According to Michael Shoebridge, ASPI’s director defence, strategy and national security program, such initiatives form part of South Korea’s new regional security strategy.
“In sheer strategic and defence terms, South Korea shifted from its sole focus on the threat from North Korea several years ago and has been pursuing a force structure for its military that is able to play a part in deterring conflict in the wider region,” he writes.
“Seoul is showing strategic imagination that’s being translated into real military capability in a timely way.”
Shoebridge points to the country’s push to develop surface and sub-surface capabilities, aimed at strengthening its offensive posture.
He also notes South Korea’s aircraft carrier program, which would support longer-range regional engagements.
Other areas of investment include a ramp up in the development of independent surveillance and reconnaissance, and precision strike capabilities, which have “broader application than only deterring Pyongyang”.
“All these developments provide a platform for defence-to-defence cooperation from research and development to operational concepts and shared capabilities between Australia and South Korea,” Shoebridge continues.
But “high-technology” co-operation should be at the core of the partnership.
This, he writes, should include low-emissions technologies, space, critical-minerals, semi-conductors, artificial intelligence and uncrewed systems.
Shoebridge suggests Hanwha Defense Australia’s potential receipt of the LAND 400 Phase 3 contract — an $18bn to $27bn program to deliver next-generation infantry fighting vehicles to the Australian Army — could help get the ball rolling.
“Australia would have to build a deep technical working relationship with South Korean industry and its government research and development efforts, and this relationship could be used for co-operation on more useful capabilities that both countries need like missiles, small satellites, new energy systems for military purposes and unmanned systems,” he writes.
“That’s an indirect way to extract value from a dubious army armoured vehicle program, but if it’s really going to proceed, then it makes sense to extract benefits out of it that matter to our strategic environment.”
South Korea’s geostrategic pivot and its efforts to ramp up industry collaboration with regional partners like Australia signal “some alignment” on the “bigger strategic picture” around the Quad, AUKUS and shared challenges posed by China.
However, Shoebridge notes that while Seoul would benefit from co-operatives like the Quad and AUKUS, it would explore non-government alternatives to fostering its relationship with like-minded neighbours.
He suggests Prime Minister Morrison invite his counterpart to the 2022 Sydney Dialogue on emerging and critical technologies.
“If we understand our strategic environment and the future of our digital world as it is affected by this, the future of the relationship won’t be about South Korea equipping the Australian Army with tracked howitzers and large armoured fighting vehicles,” he writes.
“Instead, it will be through deeper cooperation in the areas of strength that South Korea’s defence organisation and military are pursuing and that are relevant to maritime and air power, missiles, space and strike capabilities.
“And in a bigger strategic way, it will be through the contribution that the unique partnership between South Korea’s government and its ‘big tech’ sector can make to how the world’s powerful and creative democracies can harness the digital world for common prosperity, security and [wellbeing].” (Source: Defence Connect)
12 Jan 22. N. Korea’s Kim calls for more ‘military muscle’ after watching hypersonic missile test. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for boosting the country’s strategic military forces as he observed the test of a hypersonic missile, state media said on Wednesday, officially attending a missile launch for the first time in nearly two years.
On Tuesday authorities in South Korea and Japan detected the suspected launch, which drew condemnation by authorities around the world and prompted an expression of concern from the U.N. secretary-general. read more
The second test of a “hypersonic missile” in less than a week underscored Kim’s New Year’s vow to bolster the military with cutting-edge technology at a time when talks with South Korea and the United States have stalled.
After watching the test, Kim urged military scientists to “further accelerate the efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernize the army,” KCNA news agency reported.
It was the first time since March 2020 that Kim had officially attended a missile test.
“His presence here would suggest particular attention on this programme,” Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, posted on Twitter.
Unlike some other recent tests, ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photos of Kim attending the launch on its front page.
“While Kim probably unofficially attended other tests in the interim, this appearance and its Page One feature on Rodong Sinmun is important,” said Chad O’Carroll, chief executive of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea. “It means Kim is not concerned about being personally associated (with) tests of major new tech. And doesn’t care how the U.S. sees this.”
U.N. Security Council resolutions ban all North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests and have imposed sanctions over the programs.
Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to surrender or limit its arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles have stalled, with Pyongyang saying it is open to diplomacy but only if the United States and its allies stop “hostile policies” such as sanctions or military drills.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland called the launches dangerous and destabilising.
“It obviously takes us in the wrong direction,” she said at a regular briefing in Washington on Tuesday. “As you know, the United States has been saying since this administration came in that we are open to dialogue with North Korea, that we are open to talking about COVID and humanitarian support, and instead they’re firing off missiles.”
The European Union on Tuesday condemned the latest North Korean missile launch as a “threat to international peace and security” and called on Pyongyang to resume diplomacy.
Despite their name, analysts say the main feature of hypersonic weapons is not speed – which can sometimes be matched or exceeded by traditional ballistic missile warheads – but their manoeuvrability, which makes them an acute threat to missile defence systems.
Photos released by state media appeared to show the same type of missile and warhead that was first tested last week, analysts said.
“The test-fire was aimed at the final verification of overall technical specifications of the developed hypersonic weapon system,” KCNA reported.
After its release from the rocket booster, a hypersonic glide vehicle made a 600 km (375 mile) “glide jump flight” and then 240 km of “corkscrew manoeuvering” before hitting a target in the sea 1,000 km away, the report said.
South Korean officials had questioned the capabilities of the missile after the first test last week, saying it did not appear to demonstrate the range and manoeuverability claimed in a state media report and featured a manoeuverable warhead rather than an actual glide vehicle.
On Tuesday, however, South Korea said the second test appeared to show improved performance, with the missile reaching top speeds up to 10 times the speed of sound (12,348 km per hour / 7,673 miles per hour), although they did not comment on its manoeuverability.
“The superior manoeuverability of the hypersonic glide vehicle was more strikingly verified through the final test-fire,” KCNA said.
11 Jan 22. Russian troops to withdraw, says Kazakhstan’s president. New prime minister appointed as unrest shows signs of calming after week of violent protests. Russia sent a peacekeeping mission last week to help quell the worst unrest in Kazakhstan’s modern history. Russian troops will withdraw from Kazakhstan, the country’s president said, following a week of violent protests in which citizens demanded social and political change in the central Asian republic. Kazakhstan’s president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who requested help from Russia last week after claiming the protests were a “coup d’état”, said on Tuesday that the Moscow-led military mission was complete and the contingent would leave the country within 10 days. His comments came amid signs that the worst unrest in Kazakhstan’s modern history was beginning to calm. Witnesses in Almaty, the country’s largest city, said that cafés were reopening and families were going out for walks, while Tokayev said the situation was stabilising.
In his first move to rejig the government he sacked last week, Tokayev named Alikhan Smailov, an official from the previous regime, as the prime minister with the approval of parliament. The protests began as peaceful demonstrations against fuel price rises and the longtime rule of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 81-year-old former president who stepped aside as the head of Kazakhstan’s security council last week when the violence began. Russia sent a peacekeeping mission from the Collective Security Treaty Organization bloc, consisting of 2,030 troops and 250 units of military equipment, to Kazakhstan to help quell what Tokayev called a terrorist threat with foreign influence. “The main mission of the CSTO peacekeeping forces has been successfully completed,” Tokayev said in an address to the country’s parliament. “In two days, a gradual withdrawal of the united CSTO peacekeeping contingent will begin. The process of the contingent withdrawal will take no more than 10 days.” On Monday, Vladimir Putin said that the Russian-led forces were securing critical infrastructure to “normalise the situation” and help “restore order to the country”, in comments that showed Moscow’s willingness to back allies in former Soviet states against street protests. Kazakhstan’s own special forces focused on Almaty, where the most violent clashes left more than 100 people dead. At least 164 people have been killed, including three children, and almost 8,000 people arrested in Kazakhstan, according to the country’s authorities. “One has to understand, when we made that decision, we were risking losing control of Almaty, which would have been given up to the terrorists for grilling. Having lost Almaty, we would have lost the capital and then the whole country,” Tokayev said, notably avoiding mentioning the capital, which was renamed from Astana to Nur-Sultan in 2019 to honour Nazarbayev.
The name of the capital has been a source of debate in the past days, as protesters across the country demanded a break from the Nazarbayev era. Until last Wednesday, Nazarbayev still held effective power as head of the country’s security council, despite resigning from the presidency in 2019 after almost three decades in power. Analysts said that the appointment of Smailov, who served as finance minister and deputy foreign minister before becoming deputy prime minister under Tokayev, indicated the limited human resource to staff official positions, with little immediate changes in the country’s top echelons. “There are no others in Kazakhstan, they are all Nazarbayev people, just like Tokayev himself,” said Temur Umarov, a central Asia expert at Carnegie Endowment in Moscow. “We will be seeing a lot more of Nazarbayev’s people in important roles in the future. But they will be the ones Tokayev considers professionals, who are not financially linked to the Nazarbayev family and did not actively fawn under Nazarbayev.” Tokayev fired the previous prime minister Askar Mamin and his cabinet last week, conceding to the demands of protesters. He then appointed Smailov as acting prime minister while the dismissed government continued to function until further changes were made. (Source: FT.com)
09 Jan 22. Corruption Claims Against Thales Threaten Indian Rafael Deal. The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that a powerful French arms company is facing allegations that it used a secret and illicit system of paying middlemen to secure lucrative international contracts.
The claims against Thales, raised by a lawsuit filed in a commercial court near Paris, could jeopardise a much-needed French defence deal to India.
The French government is bracing itself for claims arising during court hearings based on a lawsuit by the Indian defence consultant Sanjay Bhandari, who says he was hired by Thales to secure a €2.4bn contract to upgrade Mirage 2000 military jets for the Indian Air Force. The contract was signed in 2011. Mr Bhandari is asking the court to order Thales to pay him commissions that he says he is owed. The lawsuit is ongoing and a judgement is expected later this year.
The case comes with Thales and a French consortium currently negotiating with the Indian government to sell more Rafale military jets.
But talks are at a very delicate stage, because India could buy the F35 fighter jets from the US instead. If France loses out on another valuable defence deal after being frozen out by Australia on the submarine contract, that could be a catastrophic blow for President Macron.
Thales firmly denied Mr Bhandari’s allegations, saying it never signed a contract with him and that it complies with anti-corruption laws. In his claim, seen by The Telegraph, Mr Bhandari alleges that from 2008 he helped Thales sell the upgrade of the Mirage jets by facilitating a meeting with the then Indian Defence Secretary, KP Singh. He claims that he was due a consultancy fee of €20m but was only paid €9m.
Mr Bhandari alleges this was due to political factors in 2016 when he was close to the Indian Congress Party. At this time the ruling BJP Party, which backs Prime Minister Modi, started persecuting him, he claims. He fled to the UK where he is currently fighting extradition on unrelated matters and is claiming political asylum.
Mr Bhandari is wanted in India for alleged tax evasion and money laundering. India is seeking his extradition from the UK and a hearing is due in London in the next few weeks. He claims that the charges against him are part of a plot by BJP supporters to discredit him because of his links with the previous Indian administration.
But it is the allegations that will emerge during Mr Bhandari’s case against Thales that could embarrass the French defence industry which has close ties to the government. In his writ, Mr Bhandari states that he was told by François Dupont, then managing director of Thales India, about an elaborate financial covert scheme in India and Dubai which enabled the payment of secret commissions to intermediaries.
“This arrangement was presented as being a standard practice within the Thales group for the payment of commercial intermediation services, taking into account the regulations in force in France,” the claim states.
A special subsidiary called Thales Middle East & Africa is alleged to have been in charge of the deployment of these financial structures. The Thales executives included the president of Thales Air Systems, Guy Delevacque, and François Dupont, then managing director of Thales India.
Initially, it was agreed with India that as part of the Mirage 2000 modernisation contract, Thales would set up a technology transfer that would benefit local Indian industry. Part of the funds received were to be earmarked for this purpose. But these funds were in fact mainly used by Thales to make indirect payments to middlemen who were lobbying foreign governments, the lawsuit claims. The claim alleges that in order to pay the commissions to Bhandari, Thales awarded offset contracts to two companies based in Bangalore, India. The companies would retain about 25pc of the price paid by Thales for services that could materialise in engineering or consulting. In fact the remaining amount was paid to a Dubai-based company called UHY Saxena Consulting, the lawsuit says. But this company did not in fact provide any services to Thales other than the payment of the fees due to Bhandari on the designated accounts.
According to the claim: “This fictitious economic justification constructed by Thales also involved the conduct of an audit by the UK firm Ernst & Young. On February 14, 2019, Pierre-Marie Budin told Bhandari that the intermediary company involved in the financing package would be audited by Ernst and Young in order to ‘protect everyone’.
A spokesman for Thales said: “Thales firmly denies the claims by Sanjay Bhandari regarding the sums allegedly due or any other payments to him by Thales SA. Thales never signed a contract with Mr Bhandari or his companies in connection with this project. Thales complies with the law and applies a zero tolerance policy on corruption and influence peddling. The Group’s integrity programme is regularly evaluated and amended to reflect changes in applicable legislation and best practices”
A source close to Mr Bhandari said: “Bhandari helped Thales win the Mirage upgrade deal. But Thales – a powerful multi-national – sacrificed their former partner on the altar of Indian domestic politics and reneged on their side of the bargain. It’s a David versus Goliath but we know who won that fight in the end.”
09 Jan 22. Saudi Arabia turns to Gulf states to replenish depleted air defences. Missile and drone strikes against kingdom by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has appealed to regional countries for help to replenish the depleted stock of interceptor missiles for its US-made Patriot air-defence system as Yemeni rebels ramp up rocket and drone strikes on the kingdom. A senior US official said the Biden administration supported the moves to source missiles from the Gulf amid concerns that Riyadh’s Patriot stocks could run out in “months” given the current rate of attacks on the kingdom by Houthi rebels. The US has to greenlight transfers of the interceptors. “It’s an urgent situation,” the official told the Financial Times. “There are other places in the Gulf they can get them from, and we are trying work on that. It may be the faster alternative [to US arms sales].” Two people briefed on talks between Saudi Arabia and its neighbours confirmed that Riyadh had made such requests. “There is an interceptor shortage. Saudi Arabia has asked its friends for loans, but there are not many to be had,” said one of the people. A second person said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hinted at the issue during a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh in December and the kingdom subsequently contacted nations in the region directly. It is not clear if Saudi Arabia’s neighbours have been able to supply it with munitions yet. Experts said it would only be a short-term measure to help cover the time it takes for the kingdom to secure US approval for arms sales. Saudi Arabia sources most of its arms from the US but its ability to procure weapons from Washington has been complicated by bipartisan criticism of the conduct of its war in Yemen, as well as concerns about human rights abuses under Prince Mohammed’s leadership.
Another senior administration official said Washington was “working closely with the Saudis and other partner countries to ensure there is no gap in coverage”. A third US official said the Houthi rebels, who are aligned to Iran and control northern Yemen, ramped up their assaults on the kingdom last year, launching 375 cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia, many of which targeted oil infrastructure, airports and cities. “Responding to those attacks using those kind of interceptors means that they’re going to have a burn rate that is faster than they may have anticipated before,” the official said. “That is something that we have to deal with and the answer to that is not only more interceptors, but the answer to that is ultimately a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Yemen.” Saudi defence systems take out the majority of projectiles. But 59 civilians have been killed since Riyadh launched its war against the Houthis seven years ago, according to Brigadier General Turki al-Malki, the Saudi defence spokesman. He said the kingdom valued “its strong and solid partnership with the United States”. “Our military co-operation is ongoing and we will continue to work closely with our US partners in facing the threat of cross-border ballistic missiles, rockets, and UAVs [ drones],” he said. A photo distributed by Houthi rebels shows the launch of a missile aimed at Saudi Arabia in 2018 © REUTERS US President Joe Biden froze the sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia shortly after he entered the White House and ended support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis.
He pledged to reassess relations with Riyadh and has criticised the kingdom over the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents and progressive Democrats are resistant to supporting the kingdom. Last year, Washington redeployed some Patriot systems out of Saudi Arabia. Biden administration officials insist they are committed to the defence of the kingdom, and the state department has recently approved the sale of 280 air-to-air missiles. In December, the Senate rejected a bipartisan bid to block the $680m deal. The senior US official said the 280 air-to-air missiles would be a “big help”. But he said the armaments would take time to arrive in the kingdom, adding that Riyadh needed the Patriot interceptors “in addition to that to help them tide them over”. “This town is hard for the Saudis,” he said. “Even saying we are committed to the defence of the Saudis is a risky statement in this environment.” Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, told a Middle East conference in November that Washington was “significantly enhancing Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend itself”. Saudi Arabia has been fighting the Houthis since leading an Arab coalition that intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 after the rebels ousted the Yemeni government and seized Sana’a, the capital. Riyadh’s intervention was backed by the US and UK, but its conduct of the war drew widespread criticism and stoked pressure on governments to halt arms sales to the kingdom as thousands of Yemeni civilians were killed in coalition air strikes, including hundreds of children. Seth G Jones, director of the international security programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that there was growing recognition in Washington of the Houthi threat to Saudi Arabia, and concern that if the US did not support the kingdom, Riyadh would turn to China. More centrists elements of the Democratic party are pushing back against progressives, arguing “we need to defend them [ Saudi Arabia] from adversaries and pre-empt the Chinese moving in”, he said. (Source: FT.com)
13 Jan 22. Security talks with US and Nato ‘unsuccessful’, says Kremlin. Russian officials cast doubt over efforts to defuse Moscow’s threat of military action against Ukraine. Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s lead negotiator in talks with the US, said discussions about Moscow’s grievances had so far run into a ‘dead end.’ Russia says talks with the US and Nato in Geneva and Brussels have failed to address its security grievances, casting doubt over the prospect of a western diplomatic push to defuse Moscow’s threat of military action against Ukraine. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that the talks had been “unsuccessful” despite “positive elements” on issues Russia did not consider central to its demands. “That’s bad,” he said. Peskov said Russia would have the “political will” to continue talks if the west was willing to negotiate on rolling back Nato’s expansion. Sergei Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister and Russia’s lead negotiator in the talks with the US this week, also said the discussions on the two draft treaties outlining the Russian grievances had so far run into a “dead end” because the US and its allies were only willing to consider issues such as arms control and force deployments, rather than Russia’s key requests. “Without any clarification on whether there are any resources or any reserve of flexibility on the other side to work on these serious issues, I don’t see any grounds to sit down in the next few days, get together again and start these same discussions,” Ryabkov told television channel RTVi. Russia has massed about 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in recent months and threatened “the most unpredictable and grave consequences for European security” if President Vladimir Putin’s push for security guarantees from the US does not succeed. In opening comments to talks with Russia at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Zbigniew Rau, Poland’s foreign minister and chair of the security organisation, warned on Thursday that “the risk of war in the OSCE area is greater than ever before in the last 30 years,” citing the Ukraine crisis. The OSCE meeting with Moscow is the final stage of a three-part diplomatic effort to engage with the Kremlin and avoid renewed military aggression against Ukraine by Russia after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. It follows bilateral talks with the US in Geneva on Monday and a Nato-Russia summit in Brussels on Wednesday. Russia is demanding a pledge from Nato to halt the alliance’s eastward expansion, commit to never admitting Ukraine and Georgia and to limit troop deployments in former eastern bloc countries. The demands are deemed unacceptable by western capital. Fresh Russian troop movements on the border with Ukraine on Wednesday were “part of the pressure” exerted by Moscow to achieve its aims, Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said at an informal meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers in Brest, France. EU diplomats would use the Brest meeting to “work out the position of the European Union, decide how we are to face the crisis”, he added. Russia has denied it is planning to invade Ukraine but has warned of a “military-technical response” if the talks fail. “If we don’t hear constructive response to our proposals within reasonable timeframe & aggressive behaviour towards Russia continues, we’ll have to take necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security,” said Russia’s OSCE ambassador Alexander Lukashevich, according to the Russian mission’s Twitter account. (Source: FT.com)
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