The Syrian regime managed a highly strategic advance over the last few days around north Aleppo, cutting off rebels from key supply lines. This advance, which also relieved the regime enclave of Nubbol and Zahraa, puts the rebels in a precarious position across northwest Syria, and may mark the beginning of the end of them as a coherent fighting force.
Aftermath and Political Fallout
This event marked the first time a NATO member has ever shot down a Russian jet. The initial response by Russia was rather muted, likely due to their leadership trying to ascertain the specifics of what happened. Several hours later, Putin responded to the shoot-down, calling it a “stab in the back" committed by "accomplices of terrorists". The Russian Ministry of Defence also characterised the shoot-down as an “unfriendly act”, and promised a series of measures in response.
Later in the evening, the MoD also announced a significant tightening of its air support in Syria. All operations would now reportedly fly with a fighter escort and “dangers” to Russian aircraft would be "destroyed” with support from ship-based anti-aircraft systems.
For its part, Turkey has defended its actions, with President Erdogan claiming that “we did our best to prevent this outcome”. As well, Erdogan claimed that Turkey’s actions were in some part driven by the desire to protect ethnic Turkmen in Syria from Russian bombing saying: “Russia is bombing Bayirbucak Turkmens and claiming they are targeting ISIS.” As well, in a leaked letter to NATO his government referred to repeated breaches of its airspace over the last few years as a further pretext for its actions.
No WWIII, But More Room for Escalation
While there will likely be no further escalation or direct reprisals from either party following this incident, there is now a much greater risk of escalation. With both sides taking aggressive postures to defend their aircraft and strategic interests, mistakes and miscalculations are possible, if not probable. As has become the norm over the previous years, Syria is becoming an even more dangerous flashpoint.
This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on ISIS’s strategic evolution. Part 1 can be read here.
In the past month, ISIS, in collaboration with its regional affiliates has killed at least 400 civilians in a series of major attacks. On October 31, the group’s Sinai Province bombed a Russian passenger jet flying from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, killing 224. Then on November 10, a series of suicide bombers targeted a Shia neighborhood of Beirut killing at least 43. Finally on November 13, nine attackers conducted a Mumbai-style assault on several regions around Paris, killing at least 129 people.
Such attacks are both unprecedented in terms of scope and scale. So how do they fit into what we know about ISIS’s strategy of continuous theater-based offense?
The simple answer is they don’t. Rather, they prove that the group’s baseline strategy of responding to military defeats with counterattacks elsewhere in Syria and Iraq is no longer viable.
Recent defeats have shown that the militant group has reached a limit in its ability to mount counterattacks. Notwithstanding a theater-wide Tet-style offensive in Iraq or Syria, the forces arrayed against ISIS are now too large in number, and too well organised to suffer new, large-scale losses of land. So instead, in order to maintain an air of invincibility, and gain a propaganda victory, the group is now engaging in spectacular international attacks.
The Far Enemy
Into the future, fresh ISIS offensives in Syria and Iraq are possible, if not probable, but are unlikely to have the same effect as those in the past. Furthermore, the rate of these offensives and their size will continue to decline as the group begins to feel the bite of continuous attrition from air-strikes and failed attacks. With the territory controlled by ISIS now in decline, the group is shifting more and more towards hitting soft international targets. This regression is in many ways similar to the focus Al Qaeda put on attacking the 'far enemy' (USA) over the 'near enemy' (Muslim countries) following the First Gulf War.
From a Western (and Russian) perspective, this is critically dangerous. With border security compromised due to large-scale arrival of refugees - the vast majority of which are legitimately fleeing the worsening regional conflict - security services have their work cut out for them. France alone has stated that it has a list of at least 10,000 “potential terror suspects”. Within such an environment, further attacks on soft targets are all but inevitable.
However, with each successive attack which ISIS carries out, they will also increase the number of foreign nations intent on destroying their core territories in Syria and Iraq. Already there is talk of a possible alliance between Russia and France, the two nations who have suffered the most from this recent wave of international terrorism, in order to defeat ISIS in Syria. With this taken into consideration, these attacks, while horrifying from a security perspective, also represent the beginning of the end of ISIS as a conventional military threat.
Obviously, the defeat of ISIS’s conventional forces will not solve the root problems that lead to the group’s rise in the first place. But rather it will give international players and local partners the space to implement reconstruction and educational projects, in order to restore some level of order to the regions formerly occupied by the group. Should these steps not be taken, a tactically different ISIS will continue to wage an insurgency in the region, as well as presenting a continuing international threat.
By Thomas Baron As Russia increases its level of commitment on the ground in Syria, there are increased concerns that any meaningful change in the political situation is slipping away. Washington has, over the course of the civil war, reduced its own red lines and failed to act to support a meaningful uprising that could be deemed legitimate by the international order, and there are increased concerns over what direction the conflict will take and what the end will look like.
Ultimately, what is ideal for the Syrian groups on the ground is an all out victory in their favour while for the regional and international powers it is for a friendly government to be installed or maintained. The high levels of death and destruction such a victory entails in the short term has made them highly unpopular is recent decades amongst the international community (although there are arguments that such victories are more stable and ideal in the mid to long term) and most participants now insist that the conflict should end at the negotiating table.
A negotiated settlement is favoured outright by the United States and their Western allies for various reasons. The first of these is that such a settlement justifies international norms which state that democratic, inclusive negotiations are the key to successful governance as well as an effective moral and ethical resolution. A second, more practical reason is that it is increasingly clear that only through a negotiated settlement may the United States start building meaningful influence in a future Syria government that could benefit its global vision.
Occupying an essential position on the geopolitical map, Syria has been firmly seated in the anti-American bloc of nations since the Ba’ath party seized power in 1963. In spite of CIA attempts to cultivate an opposition movement to seize the country, particularly throughout the 1950s as part of anti-communist operations, US influence failed to gain hold and, in the years before the Arab Spring, the United States had little-to-no known influence over potential opposition groups on the ground.
With the rise of the Arab Spring and the fall of regimes across the region, many saw the conflict in Syria as a chance to topple the Assad/Ba’ath regimes once and for all, installing a government that was democratic in values, open to international norms on trade, and less hostile to its neighbours.
Attempts to bolster rebel forces who emerged as opposition groups armed as protection against increased government aggression failed and it has been increasingly obvious that the US lacks the ability or willingness to wield their power adequately to influence the dynamics of the conflict on the ground to the point where an all-out rebel victory could be won.
Evidence that Russia’s aerial campaign is focused not on ISIS – as Moscow claims – but rather at Arab rebels that pose a threat to the Assad regime is growing. Targeting these groups helps lessen the pressure on areas under Assad’s control and helps him and his allies expand this control across the cities of the northeast of the country.
This strategy has the added advantage of eroding non-ISIS, Arab rebels and limiting the groups available for support on the ground by regional and international players. By doing so, it is hoped, the conflict will slowly move away from the complex network of actors on the grounds towards a two-way fight between the Assad bloc and ISIS, realising the held rhetorical line that Assad is the last bulwark against terrorism. Doing so would make a negotiated settlement impossible as non-ISIS rebel groups hold no points to negotiate and nothing to offer at the table.
Other states traditionally allied with the United States – mainly the Gulf States and Turkey – have been able to build some influence with material support to groups who the United States has traditionally been deemed too ‘Islamist’ to support. These states may not share Washington’s willingness to negotiate a settlement with Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime, however, and it may be up to international powers to convince these states that such a diplomatic solutions are in their best interests.
A key for America’s strategy will be ensuring that fighting groups favourable to the United States can maintain a place on the battlefield in order to ensure a seat at any future table can be easily occupied and that their concerns will be taken seriously. Without control of places of geopolitical that will be essential to the future states, such groups would be marginalized in the future negotiations.
Such an outcome will be much easier to achieve than an all-out victory. The Obama administration has, since Russia began its aerial campaign, loosened its demands that Arab rebel groups meet certain criteria to be considered for US support and have ended failed training programmes for the elusive moderate rebels. Its new focus will be on forcing a stalemate on the ground, creating a situation in which all-out victory will be elusive to all players and advances on the battlefield near impossible for Assad’s forces, although it is unclear how far they are willing to go to achieve this aim.
If this paralysis can be achieved and if the parties in the conflict can be persuaded that this is the case, it will lead the way to divert the conflict of the battlefield towards the negotiating table. If victory is still seen as a possibility through war – or if parties believe advances can be made that will strengthen their position in negotiations – then negotiations will be elusive and the possibility of meaningful compromise weak.
In Syria it is important to note that for the United States, the fear of loosing strategic headway is slim. If they can nudge the Syria conflict to a negotiated settlement that would include groups open to Western and Gulf influence, this may be a victory in itself. An Assad victory would simply be a return to the norm in the levels of control they have over the territory of Syria and the cost of his removal as well as the risk of who his replacement may be, are too great for the US.
A return to normal, however, would signal to America’s allies a step-away from the region and an unwillingness to act as a security guarantor. Some fear that this will embolden the revolutionary bloc of states, leading Iran and Russia to further increase support for actors who will destabilize the regional and world order. Such a move could force America’s allies to look to self-defence and self-determination to tackle the expanding threat and may do so in a manner more disruptive, with itchier fingers on the trigger, that could lead to a greater level of conflict with more devastating results.
To be successful in this policy, the United States will need to relay the support of its regional allies to ensure that both they and their partners on the ground respect any negotiated settlements that can be forged. Similarly, it will need to ensure that Russia, as the biggest power involved, will respect the agreements, bringing the Assad regime, Iran, and Hezbollah to the table. Whether or not this can be achieved may be largely down to the diplomatic abilities of Obama and Kerry to make the negotiated settlement appear the best option.
Nearly a month ago, the Russian Air Force began its first strikes against opposition forces in Syria. While the stated goal of these strikes was to fight ISIS, based on eyewitness reports and geolocation, it can be determined that the vast majority of these strikes have been against non-ISIS rebel forces in Syria’s northwest, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, and the Al Qaeda-linked Jahbat al-Nusra (JaN). Knowing this, it is clear that Putin’s strategy in Syria is not to eliminate ISIS first but rather to focus on the other rebel groups, which more directly threaten the survival of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Taking this is the apparent goal of the intervention. How successful has it been? Have tangible gains been made over the past few weeks?
Small Territorial Gains
Following on the back of these air strikes, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has conducted a number of offensives in Homs, Hama, Aleppo, and Latakia Governorates.
In Homs, regime forces backed up by Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters conducted an attack against the rebel held town of Talbeesa in the Rastan Pocket, north of Homs city. This attack is ongoing and has managed to capture some outlying areas, however it has yet to achieve any conclusive results.
In Hama, the SAA has launched a counter-offensive in the Al-Ghab plain, the scene of heavy fighting with the rebel Jaish al-Fatah coalition earlier this year. Here the SAA has been more successful and managed to capture the towns of Al-Bahsa, Safafa, and Farwa. The offensive is also ongoing at this stage. A separate offensive was also conducted against Al-Lataminah further south in the Al-Ghab plain; however, it stalled after encountering stiff rebel resistance.
In Latakia gains have been more marginal, with a strong SAA push towards Salma facing strong resistance from Jaish al-Fatah forces. While small villages were captured, rebel forces counterattacked and managed to capture the nearby (regime held) town of Dorin.
In Aleppo the SAA has made its strongest showing. Its forces have attacked north from Al-Safira into territory held by ISIS, and have begun to clear a route towards the besieged regime-held Kweris Air Base. Despite slow going, progress has been made and this offensive is continuing. Meanwhile, south of Aleppo regime forces have pushed west, capturing the villages of Haddadin and Abtin.
Significant Material Losses
These territorial gains have come at a significant cost. Most notably, ATGM systems operated by rebel groups have caused significant damage to regime armoured vehicles. Both the US-made TOW missiles supplied as part of a CIA program, and well as Russian Kornet and Fagot missiles captured from regime stockpiles, are more than capable of penetrating the armour of the T-72 tanks operated by the SAA.
On any given day rebel groups upload a large number of videos showing these missiles being used. From this footage, it is possible to estimate that between 5 to 10 armoured vehicles (including tanks, APCs, and self-propelled artillery) are lost per day in these offensives. While at the beginning of the war Syria had one of the largest stockpiles of tanks in the world, these vehicle losses are unsustainable, and in the long run will deplete the SAA’s ability to conduct mobile operations and simultaneous offensives.
One notable ‘victory’ for the Russian air forces operating in Syria, is that so far none of its aircraft have been shot down by rebel fire. Its low-flying helicopters are particularly vulnerable to MANPADS and anti-aircraft artillery. Despite some initial rumours, there has been no confirmation of any losses. This stands testament to the skill and training of the Russian air crews, as much as to the rebel’s lack of sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons.
Given the high cost which the SAA is paying for its ongoing offensives, combined with their slow progress, it is clear that Russia has yet to achieve its strategic goals. The longer these offensives drag on, the more costly they will become, especially as regional supporters of the rebels like Turkey and the Gulf States ramp up their supplies of weapons to the region.
With this in mind, Russia will need to change its strategy in order to achieve its goals. The easiest way for it to do this would be to deploy a significant number of ground troops to the front lines, in order to spearhead offensives with their better weapons, training and morale. Alternatively, and more difficultly, it could tighten its lines of communication with the SAA so as to allow more comprehensive close air support in battles, enabling regime troops to fully leverage Russian air power.
A final face-saving and unlikely option would be for Russia to reduce its commitment to fighting the rebels while simultaneously increasing its number of airstrikes against actual ISIS targets in western Syria, in cooperation with other international players like the US.
Despite this, Russian (and SAA) troops will have a hard fight ahead of them, and whichever option Putin chooses will likely have a profound effect on how the war plays out into the future.
On Friday, both the Pentagon and White House announced plans to make significant changes to the the “train-and-equip” program. The program, which was slated to produce “5,000 trained fighters in a year,” only ended up training a total of 60 Syrian rebels. https://twitter.com/Conflicts/status/652449556978921472
The program itself will not be stopped entirely. Resources will be reallocated to provide aid to rebels already fighting ISIS, rather than putting efforts to training new opposition fighters against the terror group. Brett McGurk, Deputy Special Presidential Envoy on the Counter-ISIL Campaign, told reporters that the groups in focus for this shift would be Arabs, Christians, and Kurds in the northeast, as well as other moderate groups to “protect Jordan” in the south.
So a question begs itself: Is it best to take those guys out and put them through training programs for many weeks, or to keep them on the line fighting and to give them additional enablers and support? I think the latter is the right answer, and that’s what we’re going to be doing.
Despite its internal political troubles, US officials also emphasized that Turkey would still be a “fundamental part” in the coalition against ISIS. The US, who has worked closely with them to gain access to the Iraqi Peshmerga corridor and other strategic regions, will continue the relationship primarily through NATO.
Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes described the shift as an “evolution” of the program, but pointed out that training rebel forces have not been completely phased out in the fight against ISIS.
Frankly, we’re also not ruling out any future training, but we are acknowledging a pause in the way in which we’ve approached the program and conducted the training out of the country to date.
The officials also claimed that they wanted to support the existing rebels with resources in order to promote “credible opposition factions” to help a peaceful power transition away from Bashar al-Assad. Rhodes told reporters that while a militaristic approach is important, the military alone cannot solve the Assad issue.
...there’s no military solution that could be imposed upon them in which Assad stays in power. That would be a recipe for more extremism, a recipe for more conflict. And it’s just simply something that we don’t think would work.
Regarding the Russian presence in Syria, officials recognized that they were being “extraordinarily counterproductive” in the effort towards political resolution. Plans of specific US actions against Russia were not discussed, and officials were quick to change the topic of discussion with reporters.
With Russian forces on the ground, Turkey’s domestic political struggles, and ISIS getting stronger and more fearless, the US is in a difficult position. Are American forces finally adapting to Syria’s dynamic and volatile battlefield with these changes, or are they setting up their exit strategy? Only time will give the full picture on how the US will react to the “quagmire in Syria".
The Syrian Civil War has been raging now for more than four years, and in that time, despite a few close calls, there have been no large-scale interventions of foreign ground forces in the country. This however, is all about to change. The Russian Federation, over the past few months has massively ramped-up the level of support which it providing to the Assad Government in Syria, and appears to be building up the ability to conduct offensive operations within the country. But what equipment are they sending and what does this say about their plans for Syria?
Initial indications that Russia had changed its level of involvement in the Syrian conflict appeared last month when a number of Russian ships began delivering hidden cargo to the country’s naval base in Tartous. Around the same time, video footage and images began to appear online of Russian soldiers deployed to Syria, which many speculated were military advisers.
While this was alarming on its own, and drew international attention, it was just the beginning. In the last few weeks the Russian Air Force has been conducting daily cargo flights to airbases in Latakia. These flights have been delivering a number of advanced combat systems which appear, by all accounts, to be intended for use in offensive operations by Russian forces themselves.
Some of the these advanced systems being deployed include T-90 main battle tanks, as well as the advanced new BTR-82a infantry fighting vehicles and at least one R-166-0.5 electronic warfare and communications vehicle. These systems which have been sighted both on the ground and reportedly in satellite imagery are indisputably of Russian origin, and not in use by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
Hybrid war or full-scale intervention?
Currently, estimates put the number of Russian soldiers in Syria in the low thousands, with more arriving daily. Knowing this, it is still difficult to assess just how large in scale Russia’s intervention in the conflict will be.
One important question that needs to be analyzed is whether Russia will follow its (reasonably) successful strategy of ‘hybrid war’ where it semi-covertly backs local forces without taking an official lead role. Until recently this looked to be the case, with official denials from Putin’s government that Russian soldiers were involved in direct fighting within the country.
However, the situation is developing quickly and it is appearing more and more likely that Russian troops are building up to take a more overt role in the conflict. Comments by the Russian leadership that they would help out Assad militarily “if there is a request” indicate that any pretense of mere ‘support’ for the Syrian regime will soon be dropped.
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) September 16, 2015
So far, aside from expressions of meaningless ‘deep concern’ towards these deployments, other major international players in the conflict have remained muted in their response. This will likely change if and when Russian troops begin to see more active combat within the country. Should they begin to turn the tide in certain regions against the rebel forces which Putin and Assad label as “terrorists and extremists”, the backers of these rebel groups could respond.
Primarily, Turkey and the Gulf States are poised to increase the supply of arms to their favoured rebel groups. As well as increasing the quantity of these supplies, these countries could also supply rebels with more advanced weaponry such as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), for example the US-made Stinger missile, which was an alleged game-changer during the Soviet/Afghan War.
If this does not prove to be enough, Turkey could be put under pressure to use its ground forces to establish a much-hyped ‘safe zone’ in the north of Syria. Such a move would bring NATO and Russian forces into a possible dangerous confrontation within the country.
Knowing these possible international responses it is likely that for the time being Russia will tread carefully with its forces in Syria, and use them to attack isolated rebel positions as well as to generally halt existing rebel advances – especially in Latakia and the Al-Ghab plain. The last thing an economically-strained Russia wants is to risk the Syrian Civil War becoming an international one.
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Following Russia’s rotation into the monthly presidency position at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on September 1st, where Russia's main stated goal is to counter international terrorism, President Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia has indeed been involved militarily in the Syrian Civil War.
President Putin was careful to say that direct military intervention has not yet happened — going so far as to call it “premature” — but rather he confirmed what many knew already: Russia has been supplying arms and helping train pro-Assad soldiers.
“Moscow and Damascus have certain military contracts and they are being fulfilled,” RIA Novosti and Russia Today quoted him as saying. He then directed the focus to Russia being “ready to contribute to internal dialogue in Syria” because, according to the Russian president, refugees are fleeing Syria because of ISIS and not because of Assad – a bit strange considering many Syrian refugees’ cite Assad and “the war” for their reason of fleeing their homeland.
We do realize that political changes are needed and we are talking to our partners in Syria... The president of Syria, by the way, agrees with it, up to calling early parliamentary elections, establishing contacts with the so-called ‘healthy’ opposition and involving them in governance..."
For the past four and a half years, Russia has used its United Nations veto to support the Assad regime and has promoted diplomatic talks over military intervention to resolve the Syrian conflict. President Putin even had an article published in The New York Times in 2013 calling on Americans to understand the Russian position.
Now, as ISIS poses a direct threat to Russia and has targeted top Putin allies and even Putin himself, Russia is taking necessary measures to thwart any more ISIS advances. This includes talking to and partnering with the United States, one of the main nations placing sanctions upon Russia, which has spiraled the Russian economy into a deep recession.
President Putin denounced US airstrikes in Syria in the press conference, calling the efficacy of them “poor” yet announced his desire for the creation of an anti-ISIS coalition, which would involve leaders from the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, amongst other willing states.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, also reiterated the importance of the Syrian army to combat the rebels and called again for Syria's role to be strengthened internationally. "The international coalition against the terrorist organization ISIS will not be effective without Syria being part of it," he said in a speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. "President Assad was elected by his people and is thus the completely legitimate president of Syria, regardless of the statements from the West."
Can Putin maintain the Assad regime and therefore maintain the longstanding Russo-Syrian alliance — which has lost Russia credit in the eyes of certain Middle Eastern and Western nations within the past few years — while fighting ISIS alongside Middle Eastern and Western nations?
Russia’s alliance with Syria began in the 1950s Soviet era well before Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad were in power. The Communists in the Soviet Union and Syria found common ground in anti-Israeli, anti-American, and some anti-Arab sentiments, and maintained decently close throughout the latter half of the twenty-first century. As the decades passed on and leaders passed on, it wasn’t until 2005 that Syria and Russia truly began to deepen the alliance – under both Putin and Assad. One step forward, two steps back, repeat.
Numerous articles discuss theories that Putin is afraid of Assad losing power for a variety of reasons: Russia has interests in Syria, such as the exporting of arms and the Tartus naval base; the fear surrounding the Chechen-Russian conflict of the ‘90s and the almost-Yugoslavization of Russia; the failure of the USSR in 1991; the US failure of pulling out of Afghanistan in 2014, following the ongoing war that resulted after 9/11; and the general sense that if Assad can lose power after an uprising, so could Putin just as easily.
However, Syria is not Russia's primary arms importer. That's been India for years now. The Tartus naval base theory is interesting but the Cyprus port deal gave Russia an alternative naval base in the region. There could be "fear" still lingering in Putin after the fall of the USSR and the memories of the Chechen Wars and the US Invasion of Afghanistan, but Putin brought Russia out of the rubble of the Yeltsin administration and into a whole new era of conservative, traditional nationalism, which is clearly working in his favour as his approval rating hovers around 89 per cent in Russia. Why would he fear the collapse of his presidency when he is so loved by Russians?
The real reason is as simple as this: Syria is more useful to Russia as an ally than an enemy, and right now, Russia needs all the allies it can maintain. By locking arms (in a sense both literally and metaphorically) with Assad, Putin is ensuring his own survival as well as that of his nation in a world that Russia believes is trying to eliminate Moscow from being a part of. If Putin can support the Assad regime, squash the rebels in Syria (including those in ISIS), Putin will come out on top and give this new, more hardened Russia more global credibility.
The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Europe
Syrian refugees are seeking asylum in Europe from the Syrian Civil War in mass numbers that far exceed the refugee situation during and post-World War II. Many are dying on the way to Europe, and if they do make it to Europe, certain European Union leaders are blocking their entrance into the countries they’d like to settle in. Russia is, of course, roped in to this as well. Some refugees are routing via Moscow and Saint Petersburg to get to Norway and other Scandinavian countries, others have chosen to stay within Russian borders. According to Russian news agency Interfax, 12,000 Syrian refugees are currently in Russia. President Putin say it was all "absolutely expected."
This crisis puts Russia in a difficult position as it further demonstrates the weakness of the Assad regime and Assad's inability to crack down on the rebels and maintain the people in his land, which is not a quality the current Russian government cares to endorse. It also conversely puts more pressure on Russian leaders to explain why Russia is still backing a failing dictator, especially at a moment when they are chairing the UNSC with a focus on fighting international terrorism.
As the Putin-Assad tango continues masking the more serious issues at hand (such as the chemical weapon usage by the Assad regime in the past), the world will have to predict the next steps in this complicated geopolitical dance. Indeed a deeper understanding of this choreography of power could eventually boost hopes for a more manageable solution to this conflict.
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Following a report published by a European think-tank group on the ever-impending possibility of a NATO-Russia war, NATO has responded that the report is “misleading” and the Russians have yet to respond – what does this all mean?
The think-tank European Leadership Network (ELN) published a report today that claims Russia and NATO are close to a full-on war as they continue to cross into each other’s borders with their military exercises. The authors of the report found that NATO is focusing on securing the Baltic States, while Russia is focusing on securing the Arctic – two key areas for either side.
“Each side is training with the other side’s capabilities and most likely war plans in mind. Whilst spokespeople may maintain that these operations are targeted against hypothetical opponents, the nature and scale of them indicate otherwise: Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia.”
– from Ian Kearnes, Łukasz Kulesa, and Thomas Frear of the European Leadership Network (ELN).
NATO responded that the ELN report “misleadingly puts NATO and Russian exercises on par” and that Russian exercises far outnumber those planned by NATO and its allies.
“Moreover, Russia has incorporated nuclear and nuclear capable forces in its recent exercises. NATO has made repeatedly clear that we not seek confrontation with Russia. For over two decades, we have tried to build a cooperative relationship with Russia. But Russia has changed borders by force, continues to support separatists in Ukraine and threatens to base nuclear missiles close to Alliance borders.”
– from Deputy spokesman Carmen Romero of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
There’s yet to be an official Russian response (as of 14:00 CEST - this article will be updated once one is released). Previous responses from Moscow towards NATO-centric topics have accused the organization of undermining regional stability via their increased presence in bordering nations with Russia, as stated by Sputnik International.
Coincidentally, the ELN report was published on the same day as the Russian annual holiday celebrating their Air Force branch, known as the VDV; this year marks their 103rd in official existence. Additionally, Russia recently expanded their military aviation branch on August 1st 2015 to include their “aerospace” program, designed to defend Russia against air and space attacks.
So is war between NATO and Russia inevitable as these military drills escalate? The ELN authors are careful to directly state that war will happen -- even going so far as to provide pointers to NATO and Russia on how to avoid war -- but their message is clear enough: at this rate, it’s bound to happen. Spokesmen and women can cite their statistics or opt for the “blame game” tactic, but what lies on the international table presently is an unstable country in a deep recession with anger towards the West and a trembling military organization in fear of any other upsets in Europe, which in all reality looks to be the recipe to another war.