Russia: Opportunities Everywhere

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September 18, 2017: While Russia is still doing business with North Korea they are, like China also officially cooperating with many of the new sanctions. Some compliance is fairly obvious, like the new rules banning North Korean workers who have long been legally employed in China and Russia. North Korea responded to the foreign worker ban by quietly ordering overseas workers to stay where they are and work illegally (in deals arranged by their government minders). Yet in many instances the export ban on slave labor is being enforced by Russia and especially China and that is hurting North Korea economically.

The North Koreans see this as yet another challenge that can be worked around. While it is true that there are still a lot of corrupt Chinese and Russians willing to do business with North Korea if the bribe is large enough, that is not working as well as it used to in China. This is because North Korea is very unpopular with Chinese in general and a growing number of senior Chinese officials in particular. Russians are less upset with North Korea, since the Russians do not have over a thousand years of history with Koreans. There aren’t many Russians on the small border with North Kore. Thus while having fewer economic resources than China, Russians are more receptive to shady deals. The problem is that North Korea has become very dependent on the much larger and still expanding Chinese economy. Russia simply cannot supply a lot of what North Korea needs. It is still possible to buy the forbidden goods in China and have them shipped to a fictitious customer in Russia who will quietly send it to North Korea. But that is more expensive. Yet right now what North Korea wants the most are materials for building and operating ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Russia can do that, unofficially and illegally of course.

Russia can’t admit it openly but a troublesome North Korea is an asset to Russia. The current North Korean government is more of a threat to Japan, the United States and China and that is good for Russia, which has no illusions about the long-range economic and military threat from China. The other East Asian economic giants (especially Japan and South Korea) are also a threat. This was obvious to anyone who noted the recent (August) announcements of increased defense spending among these eastern neighbors. South Korea announced its largest increase (6.9 percent for 2018) in its defense budget since 2009. This is a direct result of the increasing threat from North Korea. Next year South Korea will spend $38 billion, which is more than a third larger than the annual GDP of North Korea (which spends about a third of GDP on defense compared to less than three percent in South Korea).

South Korea is in the top ten of national economies, something which annoys North Korea (and the current Russian government) but is admired by the other neighbors (including China). Meanwhile Japan is also increasing its defense spending by 2.5 percent in 2018 (to $48 billion). Japan, like China and the U.S., are among the top five economies on the planet. Japan, because of the post-World War II constitution the United States insisted on (and Japan did not much object to) has been largely demilitarized considering the size of its economy. That is changing and the U.S. has dropped nearly all restrictions on what weapons it will export to South Korea and Japan and is ignoring treaties it has with both nations that restrict what types of advanced weapons (like ballistic missiles and nukes) they can develop. The Americans would still prefer that South Korea and Japan not build nukes (which both these nations could easily and quickly do). China and Russia would also prefer that Japan and South Korea remain non-nuclear weapon nations. But if North Korean military ambitions and threats (especially against South Korea and Japan) are not curbed popular opinion in South Korea and Japan is becoming more comfortable with the having their own nukes.

Russia already has lots of nukes but economically is much less well off. That is why the Russian central bank recently cut the prime rate (to reduce inflation) and adjusted GDP growth for 2017 upwards to 2.2 percent. Because of overdependence on oil and gas exports (and the sharp drop in oil and gas prices since 2013) plus sanctions (because of aggression against Ukraine and other neighbors) Russian GDP shrank 3.7 percent in 2015 but in 2016 the decline was .2 percent of GDP. That was expected to turn positive in 2017 and it did. Initial forecasts were increases of about one percent but these have been estimates have been raised as the year went. Russia is adapting to the lower export income and sanction related difficulties. Russia has been able to keep its military rebuilding program largely intact because of this but at the expense of needed infrastructure projects. This reminds everyone that these days Russia is minor power in purely economic terms, with a $1.2 trillion GDP compared to $1.4 trillion for South Korea, $11 trillion for China and nearly $19 trillion for the United States. For Russia, the economic news is not the worst problem they face. The sanctions and corruption caused another serious problem that the Russian government would rather not discuss (but are well aware of); the flight of investors and talented people from Russia. The investors and talent are mainly seeking better opportunities. The corruption makes investors (be they Russian or foreign) uneasy because the lack or legal protections makes for a very unpredictable economic environment. The same incentives drive talent away. Since 2013 over a million such people (most of them Russian citizens the rest disillusioned foreigners) have gone and the exodus continues.

Syria

Russia and Iran are pushing, with some success, the idea that Syrian civil war is over and the rebels defeated. Russian military commanders in Syria believe that the Assad government now controls 85 percent of the country. This is misleading since it includes Kurdish held territory and other rebel groups that the Assads and Russians consider “neutral” or pro-Assad. Nevertheless it is true that ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) controlled territory is rapidly shrinking and that the 2011 rebellion against the Assads is over. Early on (like 2013) it was obvious that while most Syrians opposed the Assads they could not form a rebel coalition to defeat the minority Shia government the Assad clan had created to rule the nation since the 1960s. What destroyed the rebels was the proliferation of Islamic terror groups competing to lead the revolution and next government. Islamic radicals have, for over a thousand years, been unable to agree on which version of Islam should be used to rule the Islamic world. This is a dispute too many Moslems are willing to die for, usually while fighting other Moslems. As a result it has been very difficult to create democracies in Moslem majority nations because eventually Islamic radical groups will trigger very destructive periods of Islamic terrorism and general mayhem.

Most UN members agree with Russia and Iran that the Syrian rebellion has been defeated but there is still no widespread support for the Assads, which most UN members want to prosecute for war crimes. As long as Russia and China make their UN vetoes available the UN will not be able to make a serious effort to take down the Assads. Moreover, even with the Assads, the largely Moslem Syrian population has not demonstrated any willingness to try democracy. The United States has said it does not want to use its armed forces to fight the Assad government, even though the U.S. and most Western nations agree that the Assads are unfit to run Syria effectively and should be removed from power. So American forces will remain active in Syria until ISIL is eliminated and then, as the current thinking goes, withdraw. The Syrian Kurds and Turkish efforts in Syria may delay the American departure.

To further complicate the situation Iran and Russia have both signed deals with the Assads to establish military (mainly naval) bases in Syria. Then there is the fact that Iran openly calls for the destruction of Israel while Russia and Israel have often worked together, even during the communist period (that ended in 1991 when the Soviet Union did). Russia tries to maintain its alliance with Turkey and Iran while also remaining on good terms with Israel and the Arab oil states in the region.

However Israel remains openly hostile to a permanent Iranian presence in Syria. Turkey quietly agrees and Russia is seeking opportunities for itself but seems to dislike the Iranian long range plan. Israel is quite blunt about describing Iran as replacing ISIL as the new threat to just about everyone. Russia sometimes supports that openly and Israel keeps trying to improve relations with the unstable Turkish Islamic government.

There have been secret meeting between Israeli, American and Russian officials over the issue but it is obvious Russia is seeking short-term opportunities and will on occasion openly support Iran if that will serve Russian interests. Meanwhile the only reason Russia, Iran and Turkey are currently allies is their desire for the Assads to stay in power and keep Syria free of Sunni Islamic terrorists and Kurdish separatists. Turkey, Iran and Russia back the Assads directly (with cash, personnel and weapons) and coordinate their military operations to help the Assads survive. Iran has been doing this for decades and currently spends at least a billion dollars a year to subsidize Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Assads in Syria.

In contrast the Sunni Arab states want the Assads gone and are more open in opposing Iranian plans for post-war Syria. Despite opposition from Israel, the Arabs, the Americans and even some Iranian allies Iran is determined to have a land route from Iran to Lebanon and military installations in post-war Syria. Israel has made it clear that it will, and can, make sure that does not happen. Turkey and Russia recognize that Israel is not only the stronger military power here but also has the most at stake. For decades Iran has called for the destruction of Israel and that does not sit well with Turkey and Russia because both nations have had clashes with aggressive Iranian ambitions over the past few centuries and see the current Iranian strategy as eventually taking down Turkey (for being Sunni and an ancient rival) and Russia (for not being Moslem and defeating Iranian attempts to expand in the 19th and 20th centuries). But at the same time Russia and Turkey will play Israel and Iran off against each other to do what is best for Russia or Turkey.

Ukraine

Russia has proposed that UN peacekeepers be stationed in the Donbas as a way to bring peace to the area. Ukraine notes that the Russian proposal implies that the Russian involvement in the Donbas violence would be legalized by the UN peacekeeper force and there was no guarantee that Russia would not treat the peacekeepers the same way it has the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) observer teams who continue operating in Donbas. The OSCE personnel are often targets for rebel fire. The 600 OSCE staff (most of them roving monitors) in eastern Ukraine and Donbas, whose job is to oversee the ceasefire, have been complaining since 2015 that they are being restricted by rebels and, less frequently Ukrainian forces from carrying out inspections. In the three years that OSCE has been monitoring the Donbas violence they suffered more and more casualties. From the beginning of the OSCE monitoring operation Russia has regularly been accused of interfering. The OSCE presence is recognized by Russia and is supposed to be monitoring the situation in Donbas and verifying who is doing what. That has proved to be difficult because the Russian backed rebels (and sometimes Russian troops pretending to be rebels) regularly interfere with OSCE monitoring teams. The Russians ignore or harass OSCE whenever they decide they need to, or simply feel like it. The pro-Russian rebels continue to block the movement of observers in their territory. OSCE has been less aggressive because of all this but because new team members constantly arrive there are still observers willing to do the job right. The OSCE has found that Russian backed rebels are responsible for most (sometimes 90 percent) of the violent incidents in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile Ukraine is concerned about Russia stationing more active duty troops on its borders, and currently conducting a major (for Russia) annual military exercise (Zapad 2017) in neighboring Belarus. Yet East European military leaders note that the Ukrainian military rapidly mobilized and improvised after 2014 and has stalemated Russian efforts to seize the Donbas region. The failure to have done so by now is clearly a defeat for Russia, no matter how they spin it in the media. East Europeans have long experience with Russian military developments, especially in peacetime and notice things people from outside the region tend or ignore, or just forget. Russia has a long history of trying to project the image of a mighty military power. Yet that image tends to prove way too optimistic when it comes to actually getting something done. In Ukraine the Russians assumed that the local government was so corrupt and inept that it could not mobilize an adequate defense. The Russians were wrong and now they are afraid that their threats are no longer working as the United States considers providing Ukraine with weapons. Russia has long indicated that it would see this as an act of aggression against Russia. Yet since 2014 Ukraine has become more nationalist, more united and more pro-West. These are all trends that Russia was trying to reverse by attacking Ukraine and now finds that it has taken on more than it can handle and is desperately searching for a way out. Many Ukrainians fear that Russia may abandon their usual caution and do something very risky, like a rapid invasion with all those additional troops it has moved to bases closer to Ukraine. The neighbors have come to accept that with Russia anything is possible. But Russia has survived for so long because its rulers were generally not reckless and when they were, as happened in 1914 and several times during the communist period (1922-91), the results were uniformly very bad for Russia and not forgotten by Russians, for a while at least.

The UN estimates that 10,225 people have died in eastern Ukraine between April 2014 and August 2017. About a quarter of the dead were civilians. The violence continues, but at a lower intensity. In the last few months there have been nearly a hundred dead, about a quarter of them civilians.

Venezuela

President Maduro, soon to be president-for-life relies a lot on its mismanaged oil wealth and the fact that China and Russia have loaned Venezuela so much money that it is in their interest to provide the tech and technicians to get the Venezuelan oil facilities going again and keep Maduro in power. China and Russia will do that, for a price and Maduro has travelled overseas recently to negotiate the best deal he can. Iran and Cuba also provide special skills and are also negotiating their fee. That’s how a dictatorship works. You steal what you can and pay what you must to keep it. Since 2013 Venezuelan GDP has dropped 35 percent and per-capita GDP is down 40 percent. Things will get worse before they get better even with a police state. That’s because the new government must put priority on keeping the government employees, especially the ones with guns, satisfied and content to follow orders. You don’t need a Cuban advisor to point that out but the Cubans provide practical advice on how to get it done as quickly as possible. Russia and China are willing to provide the needed equipment on credit.

September 17, 2017: Senior Russian and American military leaders discussed the Russian air attack on U.S. backed SDF rebels in Syria the day before. Russia admitted it was their bomb that wounded six SDF fighters but insisted their warplane was aiming at ISIL gunmen. The SDF reported that they were going after ISIL forces that had just crossed the Euphrates River to escape advancing Syrian troops.

Russia is also having some problems with Israel over where Iranian forces can go in Syria. Israel has said it will attack any Iranian forces that get within 80 kilometers of the Israeli border. Currently Russia says it will only agree to five kilometers and implies that Russian warplanes and air defense systems will side with Iran if there is a problem.

Since July Russia and the United States have agreed with Israeli concerns about Iran setting up bases in Syria and Lebanon. This is another way of saying Russia and the U.S. will not try to block Israeli attacks against Iranian forces getting too close to the Israeli border or Iranian efforts to establish new facilities in Syria and Lebanon. Russia does not want to put this to the test and understand that Israel has more at stake here than anyone else. In other words, nothing has changed and Iran has been officially reminded that they are on their own when they threaten Israel. Meanwhile Russia reminds the Syrian government that Iran intends to control a post-war Syria and attempt to turn it into a Shia majority nation (via forced conversions and expulsions of stubborn Sunnis). That would make the Assads totally dependent on and subservient to Iran, something that most Assad supporters are not in favor of. But defying Iran does not appear to be a practical option because the most effective troops the Assads have are the 20,000 or so Iranian supplied Shia mercenaries.

September 16, 2017: In the Central Asian city of Astana (the capital of Kazakhstan) the pro-Assad coalition of Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Assad government continues their negotiations (also called “peace talks”) with each other about how to settle the Syrian mess. The latest agreement is for the expansion of the existing “de-escalation” zones in rebel held areas of Idlib province. In Hama province (central Syria) Russian troops (mainly advisors and military police) help the Assad forces take control of territory the rebels were driven from with the aid of Russian air support in early September. Earlier this year these talks also involved some rebel factions but the rebels soon left because they described the Astana talks had nothing to do with peace but everything to do with how to defeat the rebels. The rebels see the decision to establish “de-escalation” zones in rebel held areas (Idlib province, of Homs province; near the Israeli border and outside Damascus) as a ploy to make it easier to defeat the rebel forces there. By the terms of this the zones would be “no-fly” zones for all aircraft except those from Russia, Turkey and Syria. The Assads and their supporters (Russia, Iran and Turkey) would establish checkpoints around the zones to control ground access. This would, in theory, allow emergency aid to get in (or be blocked) and eliminate air attacks on civilians. But the rebels point out that in previous ceasefire agreements the Russians and Assads ignored the terms and attacked rebels and civilians claiming they were reacting to rebel violence. In the case of the de-escalation zones established already that’s exactly what happened.

September 14, 2017: The U.S. backed SDF (Kurdish led secular rebel coalition) announced that they would not allow Assad forces to cross the Euphrates River in order to regain control of eastern Syria now largely held by the SDF.

The U.S. ordered all federal government agencies to stop using security software from Russian firm Kaspersky. This order was the result of continued suspicions that well regarded, but Russia based Kaspersky was secretly assisting Russian Cyber War efforts. Kaspersky denies the allegations and points out that there is no proof.

September 13, 2017: U.S. intelligence has documented North Korea using Russian Pacific ports conceal smuggling activities.

September 12, 2017: Turkish officials say they have signed a deal with Russia to buy $2.5 billion worth of the Russian S-400 SAM (Surface to Air Missile) system and paid an initial deposit. Part of one battalion is to be delivered and activated by the end of 2017. This deal causes some problems with NATO because S-400 is a major air defense system which should be interoperable with SAM systems in other NATO countries. This is not a major problem for Turkey but does indicate that Turkey may be leaving NATO sooner rather than eventually.

Turkey joins Algeria, Belarus, India and China which have also ordered the S-400. An S-400 battalion has eight launchers, each with two missiles, plus a control center and radar and 16 missiles available as reloads. All equipment is mobile. S-400 is also known as the S-300PMU-3, SA-21 or Triumf, was renamed S-400 because it turned out to be far more than just another upgrade of the S-300 and was considered sufficiently different to warrant a name upgrade. The S-400 entered service in 2007 when the first units were deployed around Moscow. Russia claimed the S-400 could detect stealth aircraft, implying that the hypothetical enemy was the United States. Russia also claims the S-400 can knock down short range ballistic missiles (those with a reentry speed of up to 5,000 meters a second, in the same way the similar U.S. Patriot system does.) Russia immediately offered the S-400 for export, an effort that is hampered by a lack of combat experience for the system. Patriot has knocked down aircraft and ballistic missiles, S-400 has not. Moreover, Russia anti-aircraft missile systems have a spotty history (especially when confronted by Western electronic countermeasures.) The S-400s based around Moscow are part of a project to rebuild the Soviet era air defense system, which has fallen apart since the early 1990s. The Indian purchase is seen as showing China that their Russian ally does not always support Chinese goals.

Another test of the RS-24 “Yars” ICBM was conducted. The missile was fired from Plesetsk in northern Russia to a target area 6,000 kilometers (half the max range) away in the Kamchatka peninsula on the Pacific coast. Russia is in the midst of replacing Cold War era RS-18 (SS-19) missiles with the new solid fuel RS-24 but it still occasionally test fires one of all types of ICBMs, including the remaining RS-18s. The RS-24 is fired from silos and mobile (rail or truck) transporters. Russia began replacing RS-18 in 2010 but just in case they were needed later, dozens of the RS-18s (which first entered service in 1974) were put in storage and only 30 remain in service.

September 11, 2017: The UN approved new economic sanctions against North Korea and both Russia and China said they would enforce them. Yet the United States continues to call on China and Russia to do more to halt the North Korean evasion of sanctions via corrupt officials and businesses in China and Russia. China in particular does not want too much international attention focused on that corruption, which has long been quite active along the North Korean border and still is. The United States is not being diplomatic in pointing this out but it is correct in showing how Chinese enforcement of sanctions does not really work unless China effectively curbs the Chinese corruption that enables North Korea to continue doing whatever it wants. For the North Korea the increased sanctions pressure merely increases costs (larger bribes are required in China and Russia).

September 10, 2017: Russia has sent some of its new MiG-29SMT fighters to Syria for combat experience and testing. In 2013 the Russian government agreed to buy 16 MiG-29SMT jet fighters even though the Russian Air Force did not want them. The purchase was made to keep the MAC (MiG Aircraft Corporation) from going bankrupt. Lack of new orders had put MiG in a financial bind and the best solution seemed to be the purchase of more existing MiG-29 models. The Russian Air Force is supposed to put 44 MiG-29SMTs into service, including 28 returned by Algeria for being defective.

September 8, 2017: North Korea has quietly freed a Russian yacht it had seized in mid-June. A North Korean warship seized the Russian yacht when both were 80 kilometers off the coast. The yacht and the vessel towing it to Vladivostok were definitely in international waters and the Russian ambassador demanded the release of the yacht and three man crew. North Korea was not responsive until now. This was similar to a May 2016 incident where North Korean warship seized a Russian sailing yacht some 160 kilometers from the east coast of North Korea (very much in international waters). The yacht and crew of five were taken to a North Korean port. The yacht was released two days later and continued on its way to its original destination (Vladivostok) for a sailboat race. In both cases North Korea would not say why they took the yacht and then released it.

Russia confirmed that a recent airstrike in Syria outside Deir Ezzor city had hit an ISIL command bunker and killed four ISIL leaders including Abu Mohammed al-Shimali (the senior ISIL leader for Deir Ezzor province) and Gulmurod Khalimov, a former Tajikistan police commander who joined ISIL in 2015 and quickly rose to be their senior military commander and currently the ISIL “War Minister.” The other two ISIL leaders were not identified nor was the exact date of the airstrike. The U.S. did not confirm the Russian claim but did agree that the two ISIL leaders Russia mentioned had apparently met with some misfortune recently. The United States has, since 2016, been offering a $3 million reward for the capture or killing of Gulmurod Khalimov.

September 7, 2017: Russia made it clear that it did not believe economic sanctions would have any impact on North Korean missile and nuclear weapons programs. Russia did not offer any alternatives and appeared content to tolerate North Korea to continuing to smuggle forbidden (by the UN sanctions) items in via Russia.

September 6, 2017: The UN accused the Assad government of using nerve gas against a pro-rebel village in Idlib province during April, an attack that killed over 83 (30 of them children) and left over 300 with nerve gas related injuries. This is a war crime that many UN members are demanding be prosecuted. As expected the Assads denied the charges safe in the knowledge that their ally Russia would use their veto to block any major war crimes prosecution. The UN investigators had concluded early on that the April attack used nerve gas but the latest report confirms that the nerve gas was delivered by the Assad forces.

September 4, 2017: Two more Russian soldiers were killed in Syria. Both soldiers were supporting Syrian troops in Deir Ezzor province when their convoy was hit by mortar fire. Russian casualties in Syria remain low with nearly all the fatalities were suffered by highly trained troops advising the Syrians or special operations personnel carrying out recon or other intel gathering missions. By the Russian official count the latest death makes 34 Russians killed in Syria since mid-2015. The actual number is believed to be 30-80 percent higher because of the growing use of Russian military contractors, who are not, for record keeping purposes, members of the Russian military. The Syrian war effort, despite the low number of Russian casualties, is not popular with most Russians who see Assad and most other Middle Eastern governments (especially former Soviet allies) as losers.

Russia and Egypt have finally, after two years of negotiations, there is an agreement on Russia building a nuclear power plant in Egypt (on the Mediterranean coast 130 kilometers from Cairo). The plant will have four reactors, generate 4,800 MW and Russia will loan Egypt $25 billion to pay for most of it. Egypt will still have to come up with $5 billion in cash. The power provided by this plant would increase the Egyptian electricity supply by 15-20 percent when it comes online in the mid-2020s.

September 3, 2017: North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test. This one appeared to be the largest one yet indicating a yield of 100-200 tons and described as a hydrogen bomb. The sheer size of the most recent test indicated either a fusion bomb or an enhanced fission bomb. But for a yield of over 100 tons a fusion bomb is more likely. Such designs have been around and in use since the late 1940s. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 a lot of Russian nuclear weapons designers and technicians were out of a job and the pensions of the retired ones were suddenly worth a lot less. The security for nuclear weapons designs, especially much older ones, became a lot more lax. There were plenty of opportunities to obtain previously unavailable tech.

August 30, 2017: After Israeli officials revealed that they regularly conducted airstrikes on targets in Syria Russia told the media that it had warned Israel not to attack Iranian forces or bases in Syria. What the Russians told Israel and Turkey privately is another matter.

August 28, 2017: In the south (Dagestan) there were two Islamic terrorism incidents. Early in the day two men with knives attacked some policemen and killed one of them while sounding another. The attackers fled but were soon found and shot dead. Later in the day two armed Islamic terrorism suspects were cornered in another part of Dagestan and a brief gun battle both suspects were killed as were two policemen.

August 25, 2017: Russia and China banned North Korea from establishing any new businesses in their territory or expanding existing ones. The Chinese are a much larger market than Russia and apparently intent on following through.

Iran and Russia have implemented their new “no visa for tourists” policy. Visa free arrangements encourage tourism and is agreed to between countries who trust each other not to abuse it. Since the sanctions were lifted in 2015 a lot more Iranians (mostly tourists) are visiting foreign destinations and Russia has been popular. Turkey recently reported that there are more Iranian tourists visiting Istanbul now than German.

August 24, 2017: A Russian Tu-95 bomber flew south from a base north of Korea until it got close enough to South Korea to cause South Korean F-16s to come up and investigate. Russia said it was a scheduled training flight.

August 23, 2017: In Sudan Russia's ambassador was found dead in the capital. In died in the swimming pool at his residence. Investigators said the cause of death was heart attack and not foul play. So far in 2017 three other senior Russian diplomats have died in similar situations.

August 22, 2017: After two years of negotiations Indonesia announced that it was going to buy eleven Russian Su-35 aircraft to replace its aging (and grounded) American made F-5s. Indonesia originally discussed obtaining 16 Su-35s and that is still a possibility if the August 2017 deal works. So far the Russians have not signed off on the terms. Indonesia drove a hard bargain and while it is paying $104 million per aircraft (including maintenance, spare parts and tech support) only 15 percent of that is being paid in cash. Half the price is being paid in Indonesian goods. This would mainly consist of items Russia has to import and that Indonesia produces like palm oil, rubber, coffee, cocoa, tea, processed fish, copra, and spices. Indonesia also has some manufactured goods Russia could use like footwear, furniture, paper, textiles and several kinds of machinery. Indonesia also produces some defense related goods. Then there is the 35 percent of the aircraft price that will be offset. This will include technology transfer for components and service (maintenance, assembly) to be done in Indonesia. The 35 percent offset for defense related purchases is standard with Indonesia. Details of the offset and exports to Russia have still to be worked out. Russia was eager to make this sale as it would be the second export sale for the Su-35.

The first export sale was to China, which received the first of these Su-35s in 2016. Because of frequent illegal copying of Russian technology this is expected to be the last Russian warplane exported to China. The Indonesia sale is important because it may help convince other potential customers (UAE, Pakistan, Vietnam, Algeria, Kazakhstan and Egypt) that Russia has been negotiating with. Brazil and South Korea rejected the Su-35 and Venezuela and Libya were interested but both have run into political and financial problems. Currently Russia has about 60 Su-35s and China has four (out of 24 ordered). Russia received its first Su-35s in 2013 and four were sent to Syria in early 2016 for some combat experience. These were apparently successful, especially when delivering Russian built smart bombs.

August 20, 2017: In Syria the government again thanked Iran, Russia and Hezbollah for defeating the attempt to overthrow Assad family rule. This “overthrow” was a major 2012 rebellion backed by most Syrians. First Iran (and Hezbollah, the powerful Shia force Iran created in the 1980s) came to the aid of the Assads, who had been Iranian allies since the 1980s. Russia entered in 2015 at the request of Iran and Turkey sent in enough ground troops in 2016 to chase ISIL from the border and prevent Syrian Kurds from gaining control of any more of the border area. Technically Turkey is not an ally of Iran, but it often acts like one and doesn’t really care if Assad remains in power or not.

August 22, 2017: Algeria confirmed it had received the first Russian Buk-M2E mobile SAM (surface to air missile) systems it had ordered and had used some of them in field exercises during July 2017. The Buk-M2E battery consists of a truck mounted command center, one or more surveillance radars (max range 160 kilometers) and four or more 6x6 wheeled vehicles carrying four 9М317 missiles. It is unclear home much Buk-M2E equipment Algeria has ordered or how much has been received but it was apparently at least one battery.

Development of the Buk M, a radical redesign of the 1960s era SA-6, was completed in 1988, near the end of the Cold War and disintegration of the Soviet Union. This delayed its introduction on a wide scale. Russia was not able to start production until after 2002. When NATO discovered the Buk in the late 1970s they called it the SA-11.

 


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