Sponsored by Exensor
07 Jan 22. Admiral Sir Tony Radakin warns of Russian threat at sea.
‘Phenomenal’ increase in submarine activity, says new defence chief
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, chief of the defence staff, said Russia had the power to cut undersea cables vital to the internet and doing so could be considered an act of war
The head of the armed forces has warned Russia that any attempt by Moscow to sever crucial underwater communication cables could be considered an act of war.
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, 56, the new chief of the defence staff, has raised concerns about the increase in Russia’s underwater activity.
“There’s been a phenomenal increase in Russian submarine and underwater activity over the last 20 years,” Radakin told The Times in his first interview since being appointed.
He said the underwater programme was “more than about submarines”. It was about being able to “put at risk and potentially exploit the world’s real information system, which is undersea cables that go all around the world.
“That is where predominantly all the world’s information and traffic travels. Russia has grown the capability to put at threat those undersea cables and potentially exploit those undersea cables,” Radakin, the first head of the navy to be given the job in 20 years, said. Asked if destroying the cables would be considered an act of war, he said: “Potentially, yes.”
The cables transmit nearly all internet data traffic. Many of those serving Britain are in the Atlantic, where Russian submarines are increasingly operating.
Speaking about Ukraine, before talks between Russia, the US and Nato next week, he said the situation there was “deeply worrying” and revealed he had given “military choices” to ministers to respond to an invasion by Russia, without saying what they were.
However, Radakin outlined plans to develop hypersonic missiles to compete with Russia’s growing military strength. “We haven’t [got them] and we must have,” he said.
Hypersonic weapons typically fly at lower altitudes than ballistic missiles and can reach 3,850mph, more than five times the speed of sound. They can also avoid detection for longer.
Tensions between Russia and Nato have soared in recent weeks as a result of the deployment of up to 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. Britain and the US have warned President Putin repeatedly of severe consequences in the form of sanctions if he presses ahead with an invasion.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary-general, said that the alliance needed to prepare for the possibility that diplomacy would fail, given Russia’s “unacceptable” demands. “The risk of conflict is real,” Stoltenberg said, adding that despite next week’s diplomatic schedule, Russia’s military build-up was continuing.
Radakin, who had a rare phone call with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, late last month, said: “There are talks happening next week but from a military point of view the whole situation is deeply worrying.”
Radakin said that Moscow was investing heavily in three areas: underwater programmes; “super” missiles, such as hypersonic and long-range missiles; and “anti-access area denial” systems in which it was creating “bubbles” in places such as the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic coast, where air defence systems make it impossible for other countries to fly aircraft near by.
Navy sources said that by damaging the cables, Russia could destroy a country’s economy: “In a third world war, would this be a particularly good way of making life difficult for us? Yes. That’s exactly why they are doing it.
“If you take away cables, no one can make telephone calls, they then can’t make business deals, buy shares, and the economy will grind to a halt.” The source said they could be blown up as well as severed.
Radakin’s comments on underwater cables follow a warning by his predecessor, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, who said in 2017 that the vital communication cables that criss-cross the sea bed were “vulnerable” to Russian military assets.
British ships and other assets have been tasked with protecting the cables from Russian submarines in areas such as the North Atlantic. This week it was reported that HMS Northumberland, a Type 23 frigate, had been trying to find a Russian submarine in late 2020, amid concerns it was trying to locate undersea cables, when the submarine collided with the warship’s sonar.
Last month Russia test-fired about ten new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missiles from a frigate and two more from a submarine. This week North Korea also claimed to have successfully tested a hypersonic missile, China has also tested hypersonic missiles.
An extraordinary virtual meeting of the North Atlantic Council took place on Friday in response to the events in Ukraine. Stoltenberg said afterwards: “The Russian military build-up has not stopped, it continues . . . we see armoured units, we see artillery, we see combat-ready troops. We see electronic warfare equipment and we see a lot of different military capabilities.”
What are the talks about?
Senior US and Russian officials are to hold bilateral talks on nuclear arms and Ukraine in Geneva on Monday. Russia and Nato are expected to hold separate talks on Wednesday, while Russian representatives will meet the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe the next day.
Moscow is seeking security guarantees over a perceived increase in western support to Ukraine, which it fears could join Nato.
What is the background?
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and sent troops into the east of the country in support of pro-Moscow rebels, although the Kremlin denies regular army units served there. Peace accords between western-backed Ukraine and the separatists were signed in Minsk, Belarus, in late 2014 and early 2015. A shaky ceasefire has been frequently violated and the military and political steps laid out by the accords remain largely unimplemented.
What does Russia want?
Russia recently moved nearly 100,000 troops close to its border with Ukraine, prompting fears of an imminent invasion. This is seen as a bargaining chip in Kremlin efforts to force the West to reduce military aid to Ukraine, as well as to discourage any attempt to draw Russia’s former Soviet neighbour into eventual Nato membership. Moscow also says it is afraid that Nato missiles could be deployed in Ukraine.
What do the US and its European partners want?
The US believes that Russian draft treaties published last month calling for Nato to effectively remove any troops or weapons from countries that joined the alliance after 1997 (meaning most of eastern Europe, including Poland, the Baltic states and Balkan countries) were deliberately unrealistic and an opening gambit.
Nato insists that Ukraine must retain the right as a sovereign state to join the alliance if it wishes, although this is thought to be a distant prospect.
What is the expected outcome?
A breakthrough is very unlikely bearing in mind the entrenched positions of both sides. President Biden has threatened Russia with an unprecedented level of sanctions if it invades its neighbour. Moscow has promised to “remove unacceptable threats to our security” if the West’s “aggression” continues. The best that can probably be hoped for is an establishment of some kind of dialogue and a moderate easing of tensions. (Source: The Times)
07 Jan 22. Airbus faces $339m class action suit in the Netherlands, lawyers say. Lawyers who say they are representing “a hundred” institutional investors have filed a class action lawsuit against Airbus in a Dutch court, saying they suffered at least 300m euros ($339m) in damages as a result of company misconduct. The suit, filed by the Foundation for Investor Loss Compensation on Jan. 3 at The Hague District Court, says investors suffered losses after buying shares in Airbus SE (AIR.PA) that were overpriced because the company withheld information about corruption at the company. The suit also names accountants KMPG and Ernst & Young as defendants.
A spokesperson for Airbus, which disclosed it was facing civil claims in the Netherlands in its third quarter 2021 earnings report, said the company would not comment on ongoing litigation. In its earnings report, Airbus said it believed it had “solid grounds to defend itself against the allegations.”
KMPG and Ernst & Young did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad first reported the filing against Airbus, which has its head office in Toulouse, France and registered headquarters in the Dutch city of Leiden.
The planemaker agreed in 2020 to a $4bn fine in a deal with French, British and U.S. authorities to settle a three-year investigation into bribery and corruption over sales practices.
“More than 100 institutional investors have now joined the Foundation, and the expectation is that that number will rise,” the filing said.
“The damage suffered by current participants is around 300 million euros. As more participants join, this number will rise,” it said.
The Dutch filing calls on the defendants’ representatives to appear at a court sitting on April 6. ($1 = 0.8846 euros) (Source: Reuters)
07 Jan 22. UK Foreign Secretary calls out unacceptable Russian behaviour at NATO talks. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss today (Friday 07 January) made clear the UK’s support for Ukraine and stressed NATO’s important defensive role as she attended a virtual NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting. Following the meeting, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “Russia’s military build-up on the border of Ukraine and in illegally-annexed Crimea is unacceptable. There is no justification for its aggressive and unprovoked stance towards Ukraine. We stand with our NATO allies in urging Russia to end its malign activity and adhere to international agreements it freely signed up to. We will defend democracy in eastern Europe and around the world. Our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. We are clear that any Russian incursion would be a massive strategic mistake, for which there would be a severe cost. The Russian Government needs to de-escalate, pursue diplomatic channels and abide by its commitments on the transparency of military activities. We will be discussing this at the NATO-Russia Council next week.” (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
07 Jan 22. UK calls in military to help with hospital COVID staffing crunch. Britain’s Ministry of Defence on Friday said that it had begun the deployment of the military to support hospitals experiencing staff shortages and extreme pressures due to record COVID-19 cases in the country.
The government said that 200 Armed Forces personnel had been made available to support the National Health Service (NHS) in London for the next three weeks.
Britain has seen a surge in coronavirus cases due to the Omicron variant, and has reported over 150,000 new cases each day over the last week.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that England can withstand the surge without new restrictions thanks to vaccination and the lower severity of the variant, but has warned of a challenging few weeks, as staffing is disrupted as people self-isolate.
The government has also deployed armed forces to assist with COVID-19 testing and vaccination programmes.
“Once again they are stepping up to assist NHS workers who are working round the clock across the capital, helping the health service through this difficult winter period where the need is greatest,” health minister Sajid Javid said.
Britain has reported nearly 150,000 deaths from COVID-19, and, two years into a pandemic, its state-run health service was already facing a morale and staffing crisis even before the recent surge in Omicron, a lawmaker report published on Thursday said.
The report said that the staffing crisis could derail efforts to catch-up with record waiting lists for elective treatment caused by COVID-19 disruption. read more
Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the Council of the British Medical Association, said that there were unprecedented levels of staff absence in the NHS.
“Although the government has resorted to the army helping out in London, let’s not forget we actually have a national problem at the moment,” Nagpaul told Sky News.
“This is a national problem and we’ve never known this level of staff absence before.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Reuters)
06 Jan 22. Russian submarine collided with Royal Navy warship in North Atlantic. First collision between Russian and British vessels since end of the Cold War occurred in late 2020.
A Russian submarine collided with a British warship’s sonar as it was tracking its movements in the North Atlantic, in the first collision between Russian and Royal Navy vessels since the end of the Cold War.
Following the collision in late 2020, HMS Northumberland was forced to abort its 48-hour mission to find the Russian submarine by using a towed array sonar.
The device, which uses hundreds of microphones attached to a cable, was trailed behind the Type 23 frigate in order to subtly detect submarines. However, it was damaged to such an extent that the warship had to return to port in order for the sonar to be replaced.
One Navy source told The Telegraph that the noise made when the submarine collided with the towed array would have been so powerful that “they probably would have scared themselves s–tless when they did it”.
They added that the probability of a submarine hitting the towed array was “infinitely tiny”.
“The ocean is a huge place and the towed body is so small that the likelihood of interaction is so low. This is just unfortunate and unintentional. The Russians would not have tried to do this on purpose.”
After the incident the crew launched a Merlin helicopter to try and find the submarine.
The collision was captured in a Channel 5 documentary for its series Warship: Life at Sea.
The footage captures the moment the crew spot what they think is a Russian submarine’s periscope and a communication mast peaking above the surface of the water.
Commander Thom Hobbs, the warship’s captain, is heard on camera saying: “We are very close to the submarine. We are probably parallel. If they were on the surface, we would definitely see faces.”
The submarine then turns sharply in what was described as an “aggressive move”. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
06 Jan 22. French presidential hopeful: “I am for leaving NATO.” The comments from the leader of La France Insoumise came ahead of the French presidential election, scheduled to take place in early April.
Leader of the leftist French political party La France Insoumise Jean-Luc Mélenchon this week called for France to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, hoping to stay out of what the presidential hopeful believes to be a “cold war” between the United States, Russia and China.
Throughout the statement posted on Twitter, the contender reiterated his belief that Russia should be viewed as a partner to France.
“I am in favour of leaving NATO. You have to de-escalate. If we leave NATO, we will not be dragged into the logic of the cold war that the Americans have with Russia and China,” the presidential hopeful announced via Twitter.
“Russia is a partner. I do not agree with making it an enemy. We incorporated 10 countries to NATO in the east, which was seen as a threat by Russia. Especially when anti-missile systems are installed in Poland.”
La Russie est un partenaire. Je ne suis pas d’accord pour qu’on en fasse un ennemi. Nous avons fait entrer 10 pays dans l’OTAN à l’Est, ce qui a été ressenti comme une menace par la Russie. Surtout quand on installe des batteries de missiles anti-missiles en Pologne.#Elysee2022
— Jean-Luc Mélenchon (@JLMelenchon) January 3, 2022
Despite lagging behind in recent French opinion polls, Mélenchon received 20 per cent of the vote in the 2017 French presidential election and has been a mainstay of French politics having been appointed to the French cabinet in 2000.
The comments come following a war of words between France, Australia and the United States following the announcement of the AUKUS agreement and the scrapping of the Naval Group submarine deal.
During the G20 leaders conference late last year, when asked whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison had acted dishonestly, President Emmanuel Macron responded with “I don’t think, I know.” (Source: Defence Connect)
06 Jan 22. UK warns Russia over Ukraine: we’re working on high-impact sanctions. Britain warned Moscow on Thursday that it was working with Western partners on high-impact sanctions targetting Russia’s financial sector should it invade Ukraine.
Russia has massed some 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border and though Moscow says it has no plans to invade its neighbour, President Vladimir Putin has demanded legally-binding guarantees that NATO will not expand further eastwards.
“We will not accept the campaign Russia is waging to subvert its democratic neighbours,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told parliament. “They have falsely cast Ukraine as a threat to justify their aggressive stance.”
“Russia is the aggressor here,” Truss said. “NATO has always been a defensive alliance.”
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, drawing sanctions and condemnation from the West. Kyiv wants the territory back.
Truss said that any further military incursion into Ukraine by Russia would bring “massive consequences, including coordinated sanctions to impose a severe cost on Russia’s interests and economy.”
“The UK is working with our partners on these sanctions, including high impact measures targeting the Russian financial sector and individuals,” Truss said.
Putin says NATO’s expansion eastwards since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union is a threat to Russia which, he says, has nowhere left to retreat to. He has warned the West against ignoring his concerns.
Truss said she would visit Kyiv later this month and that the situation was reaching a crucial moment with only one way forward: for Putin to step back from the brink.
“It’s vital that NATO is united in pushing back against Russia threatening behaviour,” Truss said.
Britain, Truss said, was opposed to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea.
“Europe must reduce its dependence on Russian gas,” Truss said. “Britain remains opposed to Nord Stream 2 and I’m working with allies and partners to highlight the strategic risks of this project.” (Source: Reuters)
05 Jan 22. Milestone for Royal Navy as HMS Montrose spends 1,000 days at sea. Warship has been on operations continuously since April 2019, as tensions in the Gulf require ‘persistent presence.’
A Royal Navy warship has reached a record 1,000 days at sea as tensions in the Gulf require a “persistent” presence.
HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate, has been on operations in the Gulf region continuously since April 11 2019.
The ship, with 200 sailors and Royal Marines on board, has worked with other British and allied vessels to counter what the Ministry of Defence (MoD) says are “regional challenges” from Iran.
The frigate has safeguarded shipping, kept sea lanes open and stopped drug trafficking in waters stretching to the Horn of Africa.
Commodore Ed Ahlgren, the senior Royal Navy officer in the region said: “I am delighted to mark 1,000 days of HMS Montrose in theatre.
“She has had many successes whilst in the region, including narcotics seizures and maintaining free and safe passage for shipping around three of the busiest trade chokepoints in the world.”
HMS Montrose is part of a Royal Navy trial to deploy major warships around the world for several years at a time, with crews being flown to and from the UK.
Patrol ships have since been committed to the Caribbean, Mediterranean and, most recently, Asia-Pacific region on extended missions.
Commander Claire Thompson, Commanding Officer of Montrose’s Starboard Crew, who are in charge of the ship until spring, said: “I am immensely proud of what both crews have achieved during the past three years.
“Our enduring presence in this region has shown the commitment the UK has to ensure the stability and security of the Gulf region along with our allies.
“This couldn’t be achieved without the commitment of our personnel and their support from their families back home.”
The Royal Navy’s support facility at the Bahraini port of Mina Salman, opened in 2018, has enabled warships to operate for longer in the region without having to return to Britain every six months for routine maintenance.
The Royal Navy said the new crewing model has been designed to “spare warships the lengthy passage to and from Britain, time which could be spent on patrol in the Middle East”.
HMS Montrose is the first major warship to adopt the dual-crew rotational manning model.
Retired Royal Navy Commander Tom Sharpe said the new system was cheaper and allowed the crews to work harder when deployed for “short bursts”.
“Tasking has not got narrower just because they’re there for longer,” he told the Telegraph.
“The fuel that would be used to and from the UK is wasted fuel; there’s a lot of fuel going into just getting the ship home.
“We must get away from the old model of thinking only a permanent ship’s company provides cohesion.
“This is not lessening the value of the cap badge.”
Last year’s Defence Command Paper, the most recent MoD strategy, said: “to pursue our foreign policy objectives…we will rebalance our force to provide a more proactive, forward deployed, persistent presence”.
Mr Sharpe said the new leadership of the Royal Navy – after former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Tony Radakin was made Chief of the Defence Staff last year – are reviewing the manning model to see if the experience from HMS Montrose represented “best practice”.
“The new First Sea Lord (Admiral Sir Ben Key) must make a decision soon on how much further this model is deployed,” he said. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
05 Jan 22. Bungling MoD chiefs waste billions. Ministry of Defence spent £5.7m on faulty ear plugs. The Ministry of Defence has “wasted” at least £13bn of taxpayers’ money on failed or delayed equipment programmes, administrative errors and cancelled contracts, according to the first audit of its kind.
An extensive dossier compiled by Labour has found 67 officially confirmed cases of waste since 2010, including millions spent on faulty ear plugs and administrative errors.
The cost of the errors could have been reduced or avoided entirely had there been better judgment or management inside the department, Labour has said.
Examples included £5.7m spent on ear plugs, which were found to be “not fit for purpose on operations”, in accounts from 2014 to 2015 and £4m spent on an “out of date” IT system, according to 2019-20 accounts.
There was also a “fruitless” payment of £21m that was lost due to the “incorrect” recording of Merlin helicopter components — one mistake that was part of a total of £64m wasted on admin errors.
The 13-page audit seen by The Times found the MoD had wasted at least £13bn since 2010 — when the Conservatives came into power — and £4 bn since 2019, when the current defence secretary, Ben Wallace, was given the job. The figures were described as the “tip of the iceberg”.
John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said the scale of MoD waste was “significant and systemic” and added that it was a “uniquely and continuously failing department”.
He said that not only was the waste “unacceptable” but the “indefensible dimension to this is the total lack of grip or concern from ministers on waste and value for money”.
Healey said that without changes being made, there was a “serious risk” that an extra £16.5bn for defence — as announced by Boris Johnson in November 2020 — would be swallowed by a “black hole” in current procurement programmes.
A Labour government would commission the National Audit Office (NAO) to carry out a comprehensive audit of MoD waste and make it the first department subject to a new “value for money” office, which would ensure all expenditure could be justified.
Although the MoD publishes its summary of accounts and the NAO carries out specific studies on parliament’s behalf, there has been no systematic audit of wasted money in the MoD.
The dossier, compiled from official sources, found £4.8 bn was wasted on cancelled contracts since 2010; £5.6bn was overspent on MoD projects; £71m was spent on unplanned life extensions; and £2.6bn was wasted on write-offs where equipment was withdrawn or scrapped before its expected end of service date.
In terms of money wasted on cancelling contracts, £595 m was wasted on a programme to modernise the Warrior armoured fighting vehicle and extend its lifespan to 2040. After ten years of development, the defence command paper published in March last year stated that the programme would be scrapped. The vehicle will be retired by the mid-2020s.
Cases included in the £64m wasted on admin errors include £32.6m in fines imposed by the Treasury for poor accountancy practices. A fine of £31.6 m in the 2015-16 accounts related to 36 contracts for which the MoD had to seek retrospective approval.
In terms of overspends, a new nuclear warhead assembly and disassembly facility in Reading is expected to cost £1bn more than planned as a result of poor project management, according to the NAO.
The purchase of four Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarines has also led to an overspend of £1bn. A new facility in Derby to provide nuclear cores for the Dreadnought-class submarines is expected to cost £333m extra — an overspend of 25 per cent of the original budget.
The NAO has attributed the cost increases to the fact the department started building before requirements and designs were ready.
Project requirements changed after building started, which incurred additional costs. The Dreadnought submarine programme is also £29m over budget, according to the NAO. The submarines will house the Trident missile system, replacing the Vanguard-class ballistic submarines as the new continuous at sea deterrence capability.
Write-offs included £231m identified for removing almost 750 ageing armoured vehicles from service, including Mastiff, Ridgeback and Wolfhounds, and £147m for withdrawing the Boeing E-3D Sentry aircraft fleet.
The airborne early warning aircraft flew its final missions over the Middle East in July last year. The withdrawal of HMS Quorn, a minehunter that was sold to the Lithuanian armed forces, was identified as a £21.6m constructive loss.
Unplanned life extensions of equipment led to £50m being wasted on keeping Reaper drones in service longer than planned because a new fleet of Protector drones replacing them was delayed by more than two years. The Protector programme has also cost an extra £325m than planned.
A Whitehall source said that some of the biggest figures were linked to projects commissioned and “mishandled” by the last Labour government, such as the rebuilt Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.
An MoD spokeswoman said: “This government is serious about investing in defence modernisation to ensure the UK armed forces have the relevant capabilities to face today’s threats. That means taking tough decisions to replace old equipment and halt programmes that no longer fit requirements.” (Source: The Times)
05 Jan 22. Geoff Hoon: I was told to burn memo that said Iraq invasion could be illegal. Tony Blair’s defence chief points to cover-up after he claims he was instructed to destroy secret note on war. Geoff Hoon claims he was ordered by Downing Street to burn a secret memo that said the 2003 invasion of Iraq could be illegal. The former defence secretary said his principal private secretary was told “in no uncertain terms” to destroy the memo, written by attorney general Lord Goldsmith, after reading it. However, this order was defied and it was locked in a safe instead, the Daily Mail reported. The instruction came from Jonathan Powell, Sir Tony Blair’s chief of staff, Mr Hoon claims. Mr Powell denies the allegation. Lord Goldsmith is said to have written the memo in 2003 and said the conflict could be challenged under international law. When the burn allegation first emerged in 2015, Sir Tony’s office described it as “nonsense”.
But Mr Hoon’s recollections, which appear in his recently published memoir, See How They Run, could bolster the campaign to strip Sir Tony of his knighthood.
He was made a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter in the New Year’s Honours, some 14 years after he left Downing Street.
An online petition for him to have the honour rescinded – which criticises his constitutional changes and his foreign policy decisions over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – has been signed more than 540,000 times.
Speaking on Tuesday morning ahead of a key speech outlining Labour’s vision for the coming year, Sir Keir was asked whether Mr Blair’s knighthood was a “thorny” issue.
“I think Tony Blair deserves the honour, he won three elections, he was a very successful prime minister,” Sir Keir told Good Morning Britain. He added: “I haven’t got time this morning to list all of his many achievements which I think vastly improved our country, whether that’s minimum wage, SureStart for young families…
“But the one I would pick out in particular is the work he did in Northern Ireland, and the peace process, and the huge change that has made.
“I worked myself in Northern Ireland for six years with the police service over there and I saw for myself the profound impact on peace, on both communities in Northern Ireland.
“So I don’t think it’s thorny at all, I think he deserves the honour. Obviously I respect the fact that people have different views.”
Anti-war campaigners have complained that Sir Tony’s knighthood is a “kick in the teeth” for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, said she was “amazed” to hear the former prime minister had been rewarded.
“I think it’s incredible given that this year we’ve seen the collapse of Afghanistan, which [was] Tony Blair’s first major war in the war on terror,” she told LBC radio. “We have eight million people on the edge of starvation in Afghanistan now. We have… Iraq in a terrible state now, nearly 20 years after the invasion.” (Source: Daily Telegraph)
05 Jan 22. Deteriorating Croatian-Serbian relations, a flashpoint for NATO and Russia. Major increases in Serbia’s military budget, supported by China and Russia, coupled with a war of words between the leaders of Croatia and Serbia have reignited the Balkans as a potential flashpoint for Russia and NATO expansion. Border crises in Eastern Europe, Russian troop movements, reciprocal sanctions between European powerhouses and Russia’s allies, and flash points in the Black Sea. 2021 tested both NATO and Russia’s resolve in protecting and expanding their spheres of influence in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
Following such a tumultuous year, Presidents Biden and Putin conducted a phone call earlier in the new year to address the range of concerns held by the superpowers.
“I’m not going to negotiate here in public, but we made it clear that he cannot — I emphasize cannot — move on Ukraine,” PRES Biden announced.
While it remains unclear what concessions – if any – the US and NATO had made to the Russian President, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that “President Biden made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.”
While civil unrest continues to rage in Ukraine, the US has seemingly drawn a line in the sand.
Russia’s political, military and economic posturing over 2021 relied on four key pillars to strengthen their bargaining power against their NATO opposition:
- Destabilisation: weaponising the migrant community illegally crossing from Belarus into Poland;
- Threats: massing troops on the boarder of Ukraine, with a suspected invasion imminent;
- Influence projection: bolstering the relative power of their Serbian and pro-Serbian allies in the Balkans;
- Economic and energy coercion: holding Europe hostage over the use of Russian gas.
Indeed, the symbiosis of all four pillars of Russian foreign policy provide a perfect storm for NATO and the European Union. Across the entirety of Eastern Europe, from the Polish border though to Ukraine, NATO faces a broad threat environment characterised by the full gamut of hybrid conflict: kinetic, non-kinetic and grey zone activities.
However, while much focus has remained on political instability in Belarus and conflict in Ukraine, Russia has sought to re-extend their sphere of influence into the Balkans, sparking fears of a new military arms race in the region.
Over recent years, a war of words between Serbia and Croatia has sparked largescale investment in military technology throughout the Balkans.
“In 2019, Serbia spent $1.14bn on its military, an increase of 43 per cent on 2018 that saw the country outstrip its NATO neighbour Croatia in terms of total spending,” Sasa Dragojlo wrote in BalkanInsight.
Croatia’s 2019 military budget just topped $1bn. Even Albania increased their military spend by 11.8% between 2021 and 2020.
Political basis for Balkan division
Russia’s theatre of influence operations across Eastern Europe has extended from the Belarussian-Polish border right through to the Balkans. In the latter, Russia has actively supported their Serbian allies and undermined pro-European peace keeping efforts in the region.
George Barros and Kateryna Stepanenko analysed Russia’s broad foreign policy tools in November’s Russia in Review, published by the Institute for the Study of War.
“The Kremlin politically weakened the Office of the High Representative (OHR), a key US and EU-backed international institution devoted to maintaining the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War,” the pair note.
“The Kremlin seeks to end the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, expel NATO’s headquarters in Sarajevo, and increase Russian influence in the Balkans.”
To strengthen their influence, Russia has also come to the aid of pro-Serbian secessionist movements in neighbouring countries, including aiding the pro-Serb Bosnian politician Milorad Dodik.
“Dodik claimed on October 8 that Republika Srpska’s army, tax administration, and judicial system would fully separate from Bosnia-Herzegovina’s central government by the end of November 2021. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) condemned international criticism of Dodik’s secession statements as ‘demonisation of the Serbian people’,” Barros and Stepanenko note.
The pair’s assessment on Russian influence among Serbian ethnic movements as a vehicle to exert competitive control in the region was reflected by Boguslaw Jagiello in their article The Balkan Kettle: Russia’s policy toward the Balkans published in Security & Defence Quarterly.
“The influence of Russia in Serbia and among Serbian minorities in neighbouring countries is a shuttle for its interests in the Balkans. They are also part of a broader plan to stop the integration of the Balkan countries into Euro-Atlantic structures and to maintain an area of instability and frozen conflicts in the immediate vicinity of the EU,” Jagiello argues.
Indeed, Jagiello’s analysis goes as far as to suggest that Russian operations in the Balkans reflect elements of Russian hybrid war in Ukraine.
“Russia’s hybrid actions were even directed at Serbian youth. With the consent of Serbia, Russian representatives organised a summer camp in the Serbian resort of Zlatibor, the aim of which was to instil patriotic values in Russian-Serbian youth. As it turned out, one of the organisers was a retired Soviet army officer, Colonel Valery Shambarov, known for his imperial views and associated with organisations directing fighters to the conflict region in eastern Ukraine,” Jagiello argues.
Russian intelligence and military agencies rely on several vectors in order to assert control and gain social influence among Serbian populations. Not only do they leverage ethnicity, but they also rely on Orthodox Christianity to build in-group characteristics and like mindedness between Serbia and Russia, and have even gone as far as to create charities and humanitarian organisations to act as vehicles to undertake information and intelligence collection.
“Russia is conducting a hybrid war against the current pro-Western authorities of Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo, and supporting Bosnian Serb separatism and paralysing the functioning of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It seeks to maintain Serbia outside of Western structures,” Jagiello continued.
Indeed, so deep are the cultural, linguistic and religious similarities between Serbia and Russia that Serbian volunteers even travelled to Ukraine to support pro-Russian separatists during the ongoing War in Donbas.
Mladen Obrenovic in As Ukraine Conflict Intensifies, Serb Volunteers Prepare for Battle for BalkanInsight recalls the stories of Serbian volunteers who enlisted for the pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.
“The Union of Volunteers of Donbas, an organisation operating in separatist-held eastern Ukraine that is involved in recruiting fighters, has also said it is getting ready for a potential escalation,” the report read.
“Dozens of pro-Russian military volunteers who came to Ukraine from Serbia and Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska have already fought under its umbrella in eastern Ukraine.”
Military build up
While military expenditure has increased in the region, analysts have presented more sobering views on the build-up. Rather than imminent war in the region driven by opposing world views, many argue that the Croatian-Serbian war of words demonstrates a desire from the respective leaders to build support domestically.
“In modernizing outdated military hardware left over from the Yugoslav era, Belgrade and Zagreb are not driven by strategic competition or fears of conflict with one another. Rather, elites in both countries are using the process of buying new weapons to advance broader foreign policy goals and, most importantly, improve their domestic political standing,” Vuk Vuksanovic and Marija Ignjatijevic wrote in War on the Rocks.
“Over the past six years, Serbian and Croatian leaders have happily fed the narrative of an arms race as they engaged in a series of high-profile weapons purchases. The good news is that actual procurement has sometimes lagged behind the rhetoric, and, to date, neither side has exceeded the arms control provisions of the Dayton agreement.”
This argument has been evidenced with many glimpses of regional cooperation.
Recently, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic supported Bosnian Croat political parties working with Bosnian Serb political entities led by Milorad Dodik to air similar grievances held between the ethnic Serb and Croat populations in Bosnia. Moreover, during Croatia’s earthquake last year Serbia provided €1m in aid, volunteers as well as emergency goods.
Nevertheless, the Balkans have become a theatre of competition for the NATO-Russian quests for control. As Europe’s eastern border erupts, there is no shortage of evidence to suggest that it can easily spread southwards. (Source: Defence Connect)
04 Jan 22. A petition calling for Tony Blair’s knighthood to be rescinded has reached 580,000 signatories in a matter of days. Alongside the former Prime Minister, more than 100 members of the Armed Forces were included in the New Year Honours list. Find out who they were in tonight’s Forces update. In other news, Lord Dannatt has warned of the dangers of personnel cuts to the military in tackling domestic threats, the MOD has confirmed that 885 Armed Forces personnel have refused COVID jabs, and in the Middle East, a drone attack on an Iraqi base has been foiled. Get all the details on these stories below. Finally, Polar Preet’s extraordinary success in reaching the South Pole has received widespread praise, including from Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. He described her efforts as a “phenomenal achievement.” We agree! A huge congratulations, Captain Preet, from everybody at BFBS. (Source: forces.net)
03 Jan 22. Serbia praises another arms shipment from Russia. Serbia’s president on Monday praised another shipment of arms from Russia despite fears in the Balkans that the country’s recent military buildup could lead to more tensions in the war-scarred European region.
President Aleksandar Vucic attended a training exercise at a military base near Belgrade that included recently purchased anti-tank Kornet guided missiles.
“I am pleased that our soldiers are happy about the purchase of Kornets from Russia,” Vucic said. “It is one of probably the best anti-tank weapons in the world.
“The Kornet is an important defensive tool to deter anyone from potential aggression against our country.”
Serbia has frequently been accused of saber-rattling and working with Slavic ally Russia to destabilize neighboring Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.
Serbia is widely blamed for triggering a bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s with its nationalist policies. The country lately has armed itself mostly with Russian and Chinese military aircraft, drones and anti-aircraft systems.
In recent months, Russia has handed over to Serbia 30 battle tanks and 30 armored personnel carriers. Serbia has also recently purchased sophisticated Russian Pantsir air defense systems, as well as attack and transport helicopters and Chinese drones.
Although formally seeking European Union membership, Serbia has refused to align its foreign policies with the 27-nation bloc and has instead strengthened its alliance with Russia and China.
Vucic said on Monday that Serbia “remains on the European path,” but also added that it will continue to “nourish” its friendly ties with Russia and China.
To join the EU, Serbia needs the support of all EU member nations, but the government has maintained frosty relations with fellow Balkan country Croatia, the last new member admitted into the bloc.
Croatia, which is also a member of NATO, is essentially in an arms race with Serbia, which recently received six used MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia and four more of the type from Belarus. In November, the Croatian government announced the purchase of 12 Rafale fighter jets from France.
(Source: Defense News)
Founded in 1987, Exensor Technology is a world leading supplier of Networked Unattended Ground Sensor (UGS) Systems providing tailored sensor solutions to customers all over the world. From our Headquarters in Lund Sweden, our centre of expertise in Network Communications at Communications Research Lab in Kalmar Sweden and our Production site outside of Basingstoke UK, we design, develop and produce latest state of the art rugged UGS solutions at the highest quality to meet the most stringent demands of our customers. Our systems are in operation and used in a wide number of Military as well as Homeland Security applications worldwide. The modular nature of the system ensures any external sensor can be integrated, providing the user with a fully meshed “silent” network capable of self-healing. Exensor Technology will continue to lead the field in UGS technology, provide our customers with excellent customer service and a bespoke package able to meet every need. A CNIM Group Company