A Hurricane in the East: are rebels getting BM-27 ‘Uragan’ Rocket Systems?

UraganUS intelligence sources are claiming that Russia has actually stepped up its material support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine, including heavier rocket systems. I suspect these may the BM-27 Uragan (‘Hurricane’) systems, the very kind that Moscow has been criticising Kyiv for using in recent days. This is a truck-mounted multiple-tube rocket launcher system akin to the previously-used BM-21 Grad on steroids, able to ripple-fire its 16 220mm rockets in 20 seconds. As such, it represents a substantial upgrade to rebel firepower.

A few quick observations.

1. OK, so maybe Putin won’t be backing away from the rebels…but it may be the storm before the calm. A willingness to supply heavy hardware, coupled with the uncompromising rhetoric from the Kremlin, does suggest that Putin has chosen not to back away from his adventure in eastern Ukraine. However, it’s not impossible that the hope is that allowing the rebels to give Kyiv’s forces a bloody nose will allow Moscow to negotiate some terms for a ‘peace with honour’ extrication from the mess on stronger terms, given that at present, between the seizure of Slovyansk and the moral charge provided by MH17, the Ukrainian government is in unyielding mood. This can be disastrous (witness Russia clinging on in WW1 in the hope that “next battle” would provide one such victory), but can work. (more…)

Blowback’s a bitch: MH17 and the east Ukraine campaign’s long-term costs for Russia

MH17Policy makers, especially policy makers who have never seen action, are often seduced by covert operations. They see them as the perfect policy instrument: cheap, deniable, effective. Yes, there can be tremendously effective covert or at least non-conventional operations and campaigns, but just as all intelligence operations must come to terms with the fundamental truth that nothing is guaranteed to stay secret for ever, so too these sneaky campaigns can very easily either fail or, even more likely, have unexpected consequences that may overshadow the intended outcome. After all, while Al-Qaeda and the rise of Osama Bin Laden cannot entirely be charted back to the US campaign to support Islamist rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan–had the social, political and intellectual climate not been ready for the message of jihad then they would have remained on the fringes–nonetheless there is a strong connection.

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Reasons Why Malaysian Airlines MH17 Was Probably Shot Down By A Rebel Missile – And Why This Means The Rebels Have Lost

Of course, it’s still too early to say definitively what happened but this is a personal blog, not a newspaper article or a government report, so I have the space to vent and express what I think rather than what I know. So, here goes.

Although I wish it were otherwise, I feel the overwhelming odds are that MH17 was shot down by a Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile fired by the rebels (but supplied by the Russians):

1. The rebels, notably generalissimo Strelkov actually claimed to have shot down a government An-26 in the general area of the MH17’s demise. The social media claims in question have been retrospectively deleted, but in this age nothing is truly lost.

2. The rebels have shot down other government planes and indeed there is strategic merit to their denying their airspace to Kyiv’s forces, given that air power is one of the government’s real advantages. If they thought the MH17 was a government plane, then this might have seemed a great opportunity.

3. MH17 was flying too high for the man portable and light vehicle-mounted SAMs the rebels have openly deployed, but recently they admitted–and again these claims seem to have been retracted–to having at least one Buk-M1 SAM system, a tactical battlefield system that has the range to claw a civilian airliner out of the sky, and the warhead to do it with one hit.

4. The Buk is a radar-guided missile, so it could quite possibly have been launched without any eyeballing of the target. Furthermore, while the rebels may have the Buk’s radar targeting system, they lack the extensive radar network and, above all, the skilled sensor operators who might have been able to tell a passenger airliner from a government troop plane.

5. The pattern of wreckage, the state of the corpses, suggests a catastrophic in-air impact and then rapid descent, not a crash from engine or system failure. Again, this speaks to a missile attack, and there do not seem to have been Russian or Ukrainian fighter jets in the air near there. So, again we’re back to a SAM.

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The ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ and Russian Non-Linear War

But what happens when the bear looks like a stray dog, or a cute little kitten?

But what happens when the bear looks like a stray dog, or a cute little kitten?

Call it non-linear war (which I prefer), or hybrid war, or special war, Russia’s operations first in Crimea and then eastern Ukraine have demonstrated that Moscow is increasingly focusing on new forms of politically-focused operations in the future. In many ways this is an extension of what elsewhere I’ve called Russia’s ‘guerrilla geopolitics,’ an appreciation of the fact that in a world shaped by an international order the Kremlin finds increasingly irksome and facing powers and alliances with greater raw military, political and economic power, new tactics are needed which focus on the enemy’s weaknesses and avoid direct and overt confrontations. To be blunt, these are tactics that NATO–still, in the final analysis, an alliance designed to deter and resist a mass, tank-led Soviet invasion–finds hard to know how to handle. (Indeed, a case could be made that it is not NATO’s job, but that’s something to consider elsewhere.)

Hindsight, as ever a sneakily snarky knowitall, eagerly points out that we could have expected this in light of an at-the-time unremarked article by Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. In fairness, it was in Voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er, the Military-Industrial Courier, which is few people’s fun read of choice. Nonetheless, it represents the best and most authoritative statement yet of what we could, at least as a placeholder, call the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ (not that it necessarily was his confection). I and everyone interested in these developments are indebted to Rob Coalson of RFE/RL, who noted and circulated this article, and the following translation is his (thanks to Rob for his permission to use it), with my various comments and interpolations. (more…)

The CGA and Russia in 2014

Originally posted on The Global Citizen:

Moscow2014GFIThis June saw the first Global Field Intensive course to Moscow, led by Professor Mark Galeotti, who is currently researching in Russia. MSGA students enjoyed a varied and busy program in which they visited the Carnegie Moscow Center, explored Russian and Georgian cuisine, spoke to academics, officials and journalists, sampled the city’s nightlife, networked with expats working in Russia, and listened to the Australian ambassador give a candid briefing over tea and muffins. Student reports prepared in advance of the trip are up on their own blog. Professor Galeotti then traveled to London where he spoke at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, on the evolving role of the Russian intelligence and security apparatus.

GaleottiLondonFirst2014Subsequently, he gave a briefing for LondonFirst on the security implications of the Ukrainian crisis for London, ranging from the impact of sanctions to the risks of increased Russian espionage…

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Retirement of FSO’s Murov may exacerbate Russia’s underground silovik conflicts

General Evgeny Murov - the stabilising silovik

General Evgeny Murov – the stabilising silovik

It’s not been confirmed, but there are reports that Evgeny Murov, head of the FSO (Federal Guard Service) is stepping down from his position, probably this autumn. Not a great surprise–he’s turning 69 this year and there have been reports that he’s wanted to step down for a few years now. Nonetheless, I view this with some concern because this is a time in which there are considerable pressures bubbling beneath the surface of the Russian intelligence and security community and Murov–the longest-serving of all the security agency chiefs currently in place–performed a quietly useful role as a stabilising force. Yes, his men are the besuited bullet-catchers with earpieces of the Presidential Security Service, the black-clad marksmen up on the roofs around the Red Square on parade days, the goose-stepping Kremlin Guard at the eternal flame and the guys guarding the State Duma and the like. But the FSO also plays an unofficial role as the watchers’ watcher, the agency that keeps tabs on the other security services to keep them in line, and gets to call bullshit if one or the other is briefing too directly for their institutional advantage–I discuss the FSO’s role in more detail here.

Murov’s reported successor is Alexei Mironov, his deputy and the head of Spetssvyaz, the FSO’s Special Communications Service. Fair enough: this should ensure a smooth handover at a time of tension. But it remains to be seen if Mironov has the stature, thick skin and independence of mind both to stay largely out of the silovik-on-silovik turf wars and also to help the Kremlin keep the agencies in check. If not, and this is a theme I’ll be touching on in a talk at Chatham House on Friday, there may be troubling times ahead both for Russia (as the spooks may end up in another internal war) and the outside world (as they may seek to gain traction with the Kremlin by aggressive moves abroad). I’ll be developing these issues more later.

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