Russia: Bargains To Be Had In Syria and Libya


September 3, 2020: Russia and Turkey are allies in Syria but are fighting each other in Libya. Well, not exactly fighting anymore but maintaining armed forces and confronting each other in anticipation of a peaceful settlement. In late 2019 Turkey intervened on the side of the UN backed GNA government. GNA is weak and backs Islamic rule, which is why it was about to be eliminated by the Russian backed Libyan HoR government and its more competent LNA (Libyan National Army) forces. Another advantage was that LNA was backed by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Turkey intervened in return for a signed agreement giving them the right to drill for oil in disputed waters between Libya and Turkey. In Syria Russian airstrikes have killed Turkish troops while the Turks have killed Syrian troops. That has also stopped, for the moment. The Libya fighting resulted in NATO countries openly backing Greece in the maritime dispute with Turkey that led to the Libya invasion. Turkey, Russia and Iran continue to pretend they are all friends and allies of Syria but the reality is different and becoming more visible and violent. Syrians fear Russia and Turkey will join forces to extract what they can from Syria. Many Libyans fear that Russia and Turkey are planning to grab the Libyan oil and keep it for themselves. There’s nothing like that to be grabbed in Syria. Russia may also be seeking use of a Libyan port as a naval base. That has already been obtained in Syria. At the moment Russian and Turkish forces in Libya are observing a ceasefire and an effort to settle the civil war there peacefully. That remains to be seen.

In eastern Ukraine Russia has kept its forces in Donbas relatively quiet. What with all that is going on in Syria, Libya and several other foreign hotspots, Ukraine is left alone, temporarily. Despite that economic analysts calculate that the war with Russia in eastern Ukraine has cost Ukraine about 15 percent of its GDP. The area Russia is seeking to annex, Donbas, was always a major part of the Ukrainian economy. Russia was only able to get control of half of Donbas before unexpected Ukrainian resistance caused a stalemate, which persists to this day. The fighting has cost Ukraine more (as a percentage of GDP) than Russia, which has a GDP ten times larger than Ukraine’s. After the war began in 2014 Ukraine began to cut many economic ties with Russia. Most of these trading relationships were formed when Ukraine and Russia were both part of the Soviet Union. Many of the surviving links involve key components for Russian warships and military aircraft. The Russians are still trying to recover from that but Ukraine has managed to lose less of its GDP than Russia. That’s because Russia was hit with international sanctions because of the Ukraine invasion. That came at the same time world oil prices went into long-term decline.

September 2, 2020: In northwest Syria (rebel held Idlib province) Russia carried out at least six airstrikes against Islamic terrorist groups. In addition, Russian reconnaissance aircraft directed Syrian army artillery fire at rebel targets. All this was in response to recent rebel attacks on Russian patrols in the area. There is supposed to be a ceasefire but some rebel factions refuse to respect that agreement. In the last week these rebel attacks have left about a hundred Syrian troops and militiamen dead. Some these deaths were outside Idlib where Syrian, Russian, Kurdish and American forces are still hunting down and killing ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members and have killed or captured several hundred in the last few weeks. .

September 1, 2020: Russian economists have revised their estimates of the covid19 recession impact on Russia. Instead of a five percent decline in GDP for 2020 they see a decline closer to four percent. Russia was already suffering from a recession when covid19 appeared and the economic impact of the virus was simply less than in the rest of Europe, where GDPs are shrinking 10-15 percent in 2020.

August 31, 2020: The UN reported that it had tracked 338 Russian military transport flights to Libya in a nine-month period ending at the end of July 2020. The UN estimates that Russia still has over a thousand military contractors in Libya in addition to a growing number of Russian Air Force combat aircraft. The UN also monitored Turkey, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Jordan and Qatar sending weapons to Libya via air and ship. All of this in in violation of an arms embargo for Libya.

August 29, 2020: In the Far East (Khabarovsk region) weekly anti-Putin demonstrations continue, with this week’s theme being the recent poisoning of opposition politician Alexei Navalny in a Siberian airport café. The poison was Novichok, which Russia government had used before to kill enemies. Back in 2018 Britain identified two Russian GRU (military intelligence) agents and described how the two used Novichok nerve gas to carry out a March, 2018 assassination attempt in Britain. The Americans were already convinced the Russians were responsible and in August imposed the first round of new sanctions on Russia for its use of Novichok . British investigators identified the Russians who were involved with the use of nerve gas to try and murder Sergei Skripal on March 4th. Skripal was a former Soviet intelligence officer, who worked for Britain as a double agent. He was found unconscious on March 4th, with his adult daughter, on a park bench near a British pub they had visited. The two were hospitalized and survived what turned out to be an assassination attempt using a form of nerve gas ( N ovichok) developed in Russia and, as far as anyone knows, not possessed by anyone but Russia. Three of the police officers who responded to the call about the unconscious people on the park bench also fell ill, one of them seriously. Everyone recovered and provided information on what happened. Four months later the container (a small perfume bottle) the Russian assassin carried the liquid N ovichok in was found. This was because a local couple had found the discarded N ovichok bottle nine days after the March attack and kept it. The assassins had tossed the bottle away in a park as they left the area to catch their flight back to Russia. Eventually the couple opened the bottle and both ended up in the hospital, where the woman died. When her companion regained consciousness he provided information leading to the N ovichok container and further analysis of it. Worldwide, four different labs analyzed the samples and all agreed it was N ovichok, a chemical weapon never manufactured outside Russia. In response to the March incident Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats suspected of being intelligence agents and Russia responded by expelling 23 British diplomats. More nations said they would expel Russian diplomates and after the June confirmation that it was Russian N ovichok the U.S. ordered a series of additional sanctions on Russia into effect. These could be limited if Russia admitted it used N ovichok and provided assurances it would never do so again (with any banned weapons). Russia has said it will do neither and denied any involvement. This assassination effort was nothing new for Russia. Russia insists that it does not do this and ha s been saying that since the Soviets started hunting down and killing “traitors” overseas back in the 1930s. Russia denied they were involved in the Skripal incident and now deny using novichok against Alexei Navalny, who was allowed to be flown to Germany for medical care.

Today the Khabarovsk protestors chanted “Putin, have some tea,” in reference to the suspected poisoned beverage Navalny consumed before falling ill. The Khabarovsk demonstrations began after July 9th when Sergei Furgal, the popular region governor was arrested on orders of the national government and flown to Moscow where he was ordered held in prison for two months as murder and other charges against him were investigated. In Khabarovsk these large and repeated public demonstrations let the national government know that Frugal defeating the Moscow-backed candidate in the 2018 governor election was no fluke. Furgal has since done what the locals, and not what the national government, demands. The Russian Far East was always full of independent minded people who live in a sparsely populated and rich (in raw materials) territory. Furgal was a popular and successful local businessman who was equally popular and successful as governor. The national government was not pleased and arresting Furgal triggered an unexpected popular protest movement. The Khabarovsk region includes about half of the Russian Pacific coast but the region contains only 1.3 million people.

August 28, 2020: South Korea complained to Russia after two Russian IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft violated South Koreas’ ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) for 30 minutes before heading east for Japan. This is the second time this month that Russian aircraft have entered the ADIZ without prior warnings. On the 18th six Russian military aircraft flew through the ADIZ for 20 minutes. South Korea also experiences more ADIZ violation activity off its west coast because of Chinese intrusions. In 2013 China announced a new ADIZ that overlapped South Korean, Philippine and Japanese air space. China demanded that any foreign military or commercial aircraft request permission before flying into this zone. South Korea and Japan protested while the United States quickly flew some B-52s into the disputed zone without asking for Chinese permission. China protested and the United States ignored them. The Russians don’t seem to care if the South Koreans are annoyed.

August 27, 2020: In the far east about fifty Russian warships took part in a training exercise that extended into an area off the Alaskan coast. These exercises involved firing weapons, including cannons of all calibers and missiles. This was the first time since the Cold War (1948-91) that so many Russian warships operated so close to the American coast. The exercise was in international waters but within the American EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone extending 380 kilometers from the coast). That led to the Russian ships encountering some American fishing boats and ordering them to move out of the way because Russian submarines were operating submerged and scheduled to surface several times to receive new instructions. Russian subs cannot communicate with other ships while submerged. The American fishing boats pulled up their nets and departed. An EEZ allows the owner to determine who can fish there but not block the movement of foreign ships into or through the EEZ.

August 25, 2020: In Libya Russian ally g eneral Hiftar of the LNA is not supporting the four-day old ceasefire agreement. His LNA is concentrating forces in the coastal city of Sirte while Turkish forces keep arriving from western Libya and deploying for an attack on the city. To Hiftar this indicates that the Turks have no intention of maintaining the ceasefire.

The GNA and eastern HoR (House of Representatives) governments both announced a ceasefire and agreement to hold elections in March while also forming a joint police force to maintain order in the coastal city of Sirte and the inland town of Jufra. Sirte is controlled by the HoR and its LNA and threatened with attack by the Turkish invaders.

The LNA also controls Jufra where it has a major airbase that is also used by the Russian Air Force. Jufra is 650, kilometers south of Tripoli or Misrata and hosts Russian instructors for Libyan pilots of MiG-29 and Su-24 aircraft as well as Libyan maintainers for both aircraft.

August 24, 2020: In eastern Syria (Hasaka province) a Russian armored vehicle convoy overtook some American MRAPs (armored trucks) and deliberately bumped into them. In one case two Russian armored vehicles boxed in an American MRAP and rammed the MRAP several times. Four American troops in the vehicle suffered mild concussions. Not wanting to escalate, the U.S. vehicles left the area. Russians were not supposed to be operating here and this incident is the twelfth time this year that there have been such encounters. The one difference is that this was the first incident that got violent. These confrontations usually involve American troops blocking Russian efforts to move into Kurdish controlled parts of Hasaka and Deir Ezzor provinces. Russian and American forces interact regularly in Hasaka and most of the time there are no problems. American-backed Kurdish forces control most of Hasaka province, where the local population is largely Kurdish. Russian, Turkish and Syrian forces are trying to move troops into Hasaka and gradually displace the Kurdish forces. In some cases, the Syrians, Russians or Turks are, via negotiation with the Kurds, allowed to base troops or patrol certain areas. The Americans have more surveillance capabilities than the Kurds and more frequently spot Russian troops moving into areas they are supposed to stay away from.

August 22, 2020: With all the data on worldwide oil exports for June was analyzed it was discovered that Russia was the second-largest oil exporter, behind the United States in first place and ahead of Saudi Arabia in third. Russian production held steady in June while U.S. output was up nine percent and Saudi output was down 12 percent. The Saudis are trying to get prices to rise by reducing their production. Russia will only cooperate by not increasing production and the Americans are not part of any international effort to limit production for whatever reason.

August 21, 2020: In Moscow a Libya ceasefire agreement was brokered by Russia. General Hiftar of the LNA was not invited, in part because the negotiations were mainly between Russia and Turkey. Representatives of the GNA (UN created Government of National Accord) and HoR (House of Representatives government, the last elected one) were there to approve or disapprove whatever the Russians and Turks agreed on. These talks were embarrassing for the Libyans, and Arabs in general, because once more Europeans were deciding the fate of Arabs. This view of the situation is understood by most Libyans and Arabs and made worse by the fact that the Arab nations are not able to stop it. The Russians and Turks take advantage of the corruption and fragmentation among the Arabs to bribe or intimidate those who oppose them.

Turkey has recruited over 30,000 Syrians to serve as mercenaries in Syria and Libya and is continuing to recruit, train and fly Syrian mercs to Libya. Turkey has worked with Syrian Arab mercenaries for a long time, not just in the last few years in northern Syria, but for centuries before that. Turkey offers acceptable terms and tends to fulfill its agreements. Despite all that Turkish military efforts in Syria (and Libya) are stalled.

Until the Turks showed up Hiftar had been successful at defeating Western plans for Libya. Those Western machinations were embodied in the GNA government, which was a UN creation that never attracted a lot of support in Libya. Hiftar and the HoR government did and because of that had a lot of Arab nations actively supporting it.

August 18, 2020: In eastern Syria ( Deir Ezzor province) a roadside bomb killed a Russian general as well as a local militia commander and two militiamen.

August 17, 2020: In northwest Syria (Idlib province), a roadside bomb was used against a joint Russian-Turkish patrol. There were no casualties but some vehicles were damaged.

Further east (in neighboring Aleppo province) Russian troops shot down a Turkish UAV flying near the border town of Kobane. The Turks had been firing artillery at Kobane recently and the Kurds demanded that Russia do something. The Russians were obliged to act because of an agreement with the SDF that allowed Russians to have a base near Kobane and patrol the area in return for protecting the Kobane residents from Turkish attack.

August 14, 2020: In northwest Syria (Idlib province) Russia and Turkey announced they had halted the joint patrols, especially along the M4 highway. The problem was the growing number of attacks on the patrols. In mid-July a roadside bomb on the M4 highway injured members of joint Russian-Turk patrol. Three Russians and several Turks were wounded. The bomb was apparently planted by Islamic terrorists in the half of Idlib province still controlled by Islamic terrorist rebels. Syria controls about half of Idlib and Turkey occupies much of northernmost Idlib.

August 9, 2020: France hosted an international donor meeting to coordinate aid for Lebanon in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion. The Arab Gulf states were invited, along with the United States, China and Russia. Iran was not invited. The International Support Group for Lebanon (United Nations, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, China, U.S., Britain, European Union and the Arab League) will be represented. This conference raised over $250 million for Lebanon. The explosion took place in an area controlled by Iran via its local affiliate Hezbollah.

August 8, 2020: Iran refuses to pay for the Ukrainian 737 they shot down in January 2020 because the aircraft was insured by a European insurance company, not an Iranian one. It was unclear if Iran was also refusing to deal with lawsuits from families of those who died in the 737. Back o n January 12th Iran admitted that their air defense forces, controlled by the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) , had shot down the Ukrainian 737 airliner on January 8th. At first Iran insisted it was an accident but soon became uncooperative about the accident investigation. They did let in Ukrainian investigators but refused to release the black box to anyone. The Ukrainian investigators quickly realized the 737 had been shot down by a missile, which very obviously struck right beneath the cockpit. This killed the pilots and explained why there was no distress call from the aircraft. The Ukrainians also found fragments of the missile but did not tell the Iranians, which at the point might gotten them expelled from the country. Meanwhile the Americans had satellite video showing the airliner exploding after the missile hit, as well as evidence of two air defense missiles being launched nearby at the same time. The U.S. quietly passed that video on to Canada, Ukraine and several other countries and used the informal diplomatic link to Iran (via Switzerland) to let the Iranians know the video existed and was real. About the same time Ukraine let Iran know that its accident investigators had transmitted back to Ukraine photos of the wreckage proving that the 737 was shot down by a Russian Tor missile, which Iran was known to use. Given all the proof that was available outside of Iran, the Iranians announced that the airliner was indeed shot down by Iranian air defense missiles. At that point confessing to what actually happened became the best move, but the Iranians also blamed the Americans for defending themselves against Iranian terrorism and killing their senior terrorism commander Soleimani.

August 7, 2020: In Libya Russia has brought in a S-300 or S-400 SAM (Surface-to- Air Missile) system at the LNA battery for the main oil export port of Ras Lanuf.

August 3, 2020: In Belarus, president-for-life Alexander Lukashenko was elected to another term. This time there were major and sustained public protests against his decades of rigged elections, corrupt rule and inability to improve the lives of most people in Belarus. Since the late 1990s Lukashenko has won these elections with 80-90 percent of the vote in visibly fraudulent voting. Lukashenko has been in charge since 1994, when he consolidated power in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the creation of Belarus. Lukashenko is a Soviet era official, who runs Belarus like the Soviet Union still existed. Belarus is a police state, where elections, and everything else, is manipulated to keep the politicians in power. It's a tricky business, but so far Lukashenko has kept the security forces up to snuff, and on his side. He bribes or bullies key officials to keep the country running. Lukashenko has maintained good relations with Russia, getting him cheap fuel supplies and other aid. Lukashenko initially won clean elections as a reformer and clean-government candidate. But he soon went bad. Lukashenko is openly nostalgic for the Soviet Union days, and he complained of the poor treatment given to fellow dictators in Iraq and Yugoslavia. Lukashenko is widely considered the last dictator in Europe, presiding over a corrupt, neo-Soviet government in Belarus. Such sentiment survives throughout the former Soviet Union. In Russia, opinion surveys indicate people more concerned with "strong leadership" (Stalin is often mentioned) than democracy (which is associated with chaos and corruption.) Belarus is, like Ukraine, one of the two ethnic Slav portions of ancient “Russia” that preferred to regain independence from Russia. Ukraine managed to establish a working, if corrupt, democracy. Belarus became a compliant ally of Russia but continued to resist Russian suggestions that Belarus again become part of Russia. The current unrest has Russia offering to send troops to help restore order. No one, including Lukashenko, wants that. There are fears Russia will give Lukashenko an offer he can’t refuse and obtain more direct control of Belarus, with an option to annex. EU nations have condemned Lukashenko and enacted economic sanctions.

August 2, 2020: China and Russia, Iran’s major trading partners, revealed that their banks can no longer do business with Iran. This makes it much more difficult to export anything to Iran as it now much be done on a barter basis or via illegal, and risky, banking channels. This revelation was no surprise because Iran had finally been returned to the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) black list. Iran had been moved to less restrictive Grey List in 2016 because of the 2015 sanctions treaty and assurances that Iran would provide proof that it was no longer supporting terrorism and other misbehavior. The only other nations on the blacklist is North Korea and, recently, Pakistan.

August 1, 2020: In southern Syria, on the Israeli border (Golan Heights) a Russia-backed Syrian militia has been taking control of the Syrian side of the border. Called the “Huran Army”, the militia contains many former rebels who are hostile to Iranian influence in Syria but willing to cooperate with the Assads.

July 31, 2020: Over the Baltic Sea, near Kaliningrad ( the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania), an American B-52 was intercepted by two Russian Su-27s which flew dangerously close. This was Russia demonstrating its anger at NATO increasing its forces on the Russian border and holding more military exercises there as well.

July 26, 2020: 2020 Odintsovo, the fifth of the new Russian Karakurt corvettes began sea trials. The navy is uneasy about this because the Odintsovo is the first of four Karakurts that will be armed with Pantsir M air defense system rather than the cheaper and less capable 57E6 Sosna-R. The one advantage of the Sosna-R is that it cannot be jammed. Sosna-R is basically an enlarged shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile that uses an electro-optical sensor to track the target and a secure control signal plus a proximity fuze to get it close enough to destroy or disable the target. Systems like Sosna-R have been around for decades and are known to work.

On paper the naval Pantsir is a superior system with a longer-range (30 kilometers) Hermes K missile backed by twin-multi-barrel 30mm autocannon (range five kilometers) to deal with anti-ship targets that get past the missiles. Pantsir M replaced two systems; the Sosna-R missiles and the two AK-630 CIWS autocannon. Pantsir M was deliberately designed to eliminate a design flaw in the land-based Pantsir-S1 that made it easy for some electronic and weapon systems to destroy or disable it.

July 23, 2020: China has gone public with its criticism of Russia for not delivering more missiles for the S-400 air defense batteries China purchased from Russia. The second shipment of Chinese S-400 equipment arrived by ship in December 2019, about a year after the first shipment. Another shipment, of missiles, was supposed to arrive in February but did not. Russia offers no explanation or a new delivery date. China already has some S-400 missiles but not enough for the S-400s to be used in a major conflict.

The Russian navy put the 5,400-ton frigate Admiral Kasatonov into service after the successful completion of sea trials. This comes eleven years after construction began and nearly six years after the Kasatonov was launched. It also comes two years after the first ship (the Gorshkov) of the class entered service. Two more of these Project 22350 Gorshkovs are supposed to enter service in 2022. These began construction in 2012 and 2013. As of late 2019 these four trouble-plagued Project 22350 ships were to be the only ones built.




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