Is Ukraine being thrown off the bus? Not really, but France and Germany are right

Hollande-Merkel-PoroshenkoPoroshenko was in bullish form at the UN General Assembly but was apparently very worried about the Putin-Obama handshake, worrying that Washington would make some deal over Syria at Ukraine’s expense. Perhaps he should have been looking at Europe, instead. The ever-perceptive Leonid Bershidsky has an interesting piece in Bloomberg where he suggests that France and Germany have in effect told Ukrainian President Poroshenko that he has to make peace with the separatists, through pushing through a new election law for the Donbas and an amnesty for separatist leaders to allow them to contest the vote:

The way Merkel and Hollande see it, Poroshenko should be interested in working to reintegrate the rebel-held areas into Ukraine, which would mean contesting the election and, in case of an almost certain defeat, working with the winners. That’s the European way of doing things; trying to enlist outside support to defeat the separatists is not, especially when Europe has plenty of problems of its own.

Inevitably, Kiev’s partisans will see this as a betrayal and playing into Putin’s hands, as the new plan puts the onus on Poroshenko to get the law through his recalcitrant legislature. In the process, what seemed almost certain – that at year’s end, while Kiev comes into for some criticism, Moscow and the Donbas rebels get the lion’s share of the blame for the (inevitable) failure of Minsk-2 – now looks much less clear. After all, the burden is on Poroshenko and Minsk-2 implicitly just history.

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Column Necromancy, or, where did all those old pieces from Russia! magazine go?

When Russia! magazine adopted its shiny new format, older articles were archived in a different place, under Unfortunately, search engines will generally take people fruitlessly and frustratingly to the former URL, so to make people’s life easier, here is a list helpfully compiled by my assistant Julie Baldyga of the archives pieces, by date, linked to their new homes:

Russians In Syria, Zaslon, and the risks of going native

SyriaIt is behind a paywall, alas, but I just wanted to note that Bearing Down: Russia to defend core Syrian government areas, a composite article on the Russians in Syria (me on the Russian side of things, Jonathan Spyer of the Rubin Center on the Syrian dimension) has come out in Jane’s Intelligence Review. There’s a short extract here, and some of the interested satellite photography has also made it into the general press. There has been a great deal of discussion about the deployment of Naval Infantry, Su-25 bombers and the like, but I did want to quote one paragraph of mine to highlight another aspect of the Russian commitment:

There is also a team from the Russian military Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoye razvedyvatelnoye upravleniye: GRU) attached to its Syrian counterparts, the Mukhabarat, working in the Ministry of Defence building on Umayyad Square, Damascus, according to IHS Jane’s sources. Western intelligence sources have also told IHS Jane’s that a small special forces team in Damascus is reporting neither to the GRU or to regular military cells, but instead to the Russian embassy on Omar Ben Al-Khattab Street. This implies that it may therefore be a unit from Zaslon, the highly-secretive special forces of the Foreign Intelligence Service (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki: SVR).

So first of all I think it’s important to note the extent to which the Russians may also be playing an increasing role in intelligence operations and military planning. Understandable, and they may well do some good for the regime. However, if we look at the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, while working alongside the locals can sometimes breed exasperation, even contempt, it can also lead to a Stockholm Syndrome of sorts as the outsiders begin to acquire an emotional commitment to their in-country counterparts. I wonder how this will affect the reporting going back to Moscow, and and if they will press for greater deployments when — I suppose if, but honestly I expect when — the war continues to go badly for Damascus.

But at the same time if that SF unit is from Zaslon — and that is just my speculation based on what little I have heard, and the way the reporting chain is not what I would expect for military Spetsnaz — then that would suggest that Moscow is at least willing to contemplate the possibility of the fall of the regime. The last time I heard with any confidence of Zaslon being deployed (other than a few individuals in extreme diplomatic protection missions) was to Baghdad in the final days of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Then, their role was to secure (retrieve or destroy) particular documents, military tech and whatever else Moscow wanted to ensure did not end up in American hands. It could be that, as higher tech Russian kit begins to bolster the regime’s capabilities, Zaslon is being deployed again as a precautionary measure.

Launch Event for the Initiative for the Study of Emerging Threats: President Ilves on ‘Modern World – Modern Threats?’

I’m delighted and honoured that to launch my new Initiative for the Study of Emerging Threats at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, Estonian President Toomas Ilves – not just a statesman but also a scholar and a keen observer of the evolving geopolitical environment – will be coming to talk on the subject Modern World–Modern Threats? Responses to Hybrid Aggression. The event will be at the SUNY School of Optometry Auditorium at 33 West 42nd Street, 1730-1900, on Monday, September 28. It is free, but attendees must register in advance here, and space is limited so register soon!


Purging Purgin, Pushing Pushilin (full version)

Turkeys voting for Thanksgiving?

Turkeys voting for Thanksgiving?

News just in that Denis Pushilin has just been elected interim speaker of the parliament (People’s Council) of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), replacing Andrei Purgin. Pushilin, who had held that role May-July 2014, used language fit for the 1930s, when he explained Purgin’s ouster as following an attempt by him

“to disrupt the meeting of the People’s Council, when the deputies had to listen to false declarations made with the aim of increasing tensions and destabilizing the situation.”

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Lt. Gen. Yakunin on policing Moscow

Yakunin copLt. General Anatoly Yakunin (yes, the other Yakunin], Moscow city police chief, gave an interesting interview to the government newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta, which was published on 24 August 2015, and I think it is worth reproducing some passages from it. Notes and subhead in red are mine, other text my translations from the original [italics are questions in the interview].

Making cuts? Read the full post »


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