Russia: Always Look On The Bright Side of Strife

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December 16, 2021: Russia has been a disappointment to Iran because now Iran must contend with the loss of cooperation from allies in places like Syria. The close relationship Russia has with Israel is a disappointment because Russian now openly regards Israel as a more valuable Russian partner in Syria than Iran. Russia has long recognized that Israel has the strongest economy in the region as well as being the most capable military power. Israel also has nuclear weapons. In 2018 Russian diplomats told Israel that Russia would support Israel if Iran attacked Israel directly. The Russians made it clear they did not want to fight the Israelis, especially when the Russians had much evidence that their most modern military equipment would not do well if there were clashes with Israel. It eventually became known that Israel would cancel or reschedule an airstrike at Russian request. This was usually because there were Russian troops in the target area and Israel, once informed, was able to divert that airstrike to another area in need of attention.

The Assads want a similar deal but Russia and Israel agreed that this would only happen if Russia and Israel agreed with the details of any “peace” deal between the Assads and Israel. The Assads also had to understand that there were Syrians who wanted Israel destroyed along with the Assads and all foreigners in Syria. Israel and the Assads are still working out the details of this potential agreement. Russia believes such a peace deal would be hailed as a major achievement for Russia in Syria and most of the world will agree if the changes do not prompt Iran into starting a major war over it.

Serving in Syria Builds Better Warriors

Russian media has been giving recent revelations about the experience of Russian pilots and ground forces officers in Syria. Time spent in the Syrian combat zone has proved to be invaluable by giving 90 percent of Russian military pilots combat experience. Since 2015 many pilots have flown over a hundred combat sorties in Syria and a few of them over 400. This would account for so many Russian aircraft types showing up in Syria, sometimes in small numbers for short periods. Russia had earlier revealed that they combat tested a lot of new equipment and weapons in Syria, enabling the new gear to use a sales inducement of “combat tested”.

Russian aircraft flew over 40,000 sorties in Syria so far, so there was plenty of work for Russian pilots to get some combat experience. This was even though most of the sorties did not involve engaging the enemy. In Syria that meant lots of reconnaissance sorties and combat sorties where there was no combat, as in nothing to bomb or weather that prevented such attacks. The combat experience of the pilots wasn’t all that dangerous because there were no enemy aircraft and the Islamic terrorists and irregulars below only had short range anti-aircraft weapons like heavy machine-guns and some portable heat-seeking surface to air missiles. Most of the combat experience came in the form of finding designated targets and bombing them, often with unguided bombs that had to be dropped from low altitudes.

So far nearly 70,000 Russian troops have served in Syria, many more than once. Both pilots and ground troops served in Syria for short periods, like three to six months at a time. Since Russia has been in Syria for six years, a growing number of Russian pilots and ground forces officers have served more than one tour.

Russia also confirmed that promising ground forces officers were also sent to Syria for some combat experience and currently most of the commanders and chiefs of staff of units from battalion size up to the divisions, armies and military districts have had some experience in Syria. For the ground force officers the experience often meant going into action as advisors to Syrian officers. This was often in the form of Russian officers leading by example because most Syrian officers had become reluctant to lead their troops into combat due to heavy casualties the Syrian army has suffered since 2011. Russia special operations officers got the most combat experience because they led Russia spetsnaz commandos on combat missions and took a few casualties.

December 15, 2021: Russia still has over 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border and in Crimea with more units arriving every week, including more air defense and artillery. If this continues through the winter there could be 150,000 Russian troops in position to attack Ukraine before the snow melts. For several months Ukrainian intel officials have been explaining why and how Russia was serious about completing their takeover of Ukraine. The initial 2014 effort was partially successful but has been stalled since late 2014. Ukrainians have long warned that the Russians were not giving up on their plans to reincorporate Ukraine into Russia and rebuild the Russian empire that communist misrule destroyed in 1991. Russia spins their rebuilding of the Russian empire as necessary for peace in the region because the official Russian version of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was that this event was a tragedy that must be fixed.

For the new offensive Russia has used a collection of older tactics to create a plan, and a force currently gathered on the Ukrainian borders, to destroy Ukrainian independence by early 2022, probably beginning in January or February. Why a Winter Offensive? Because Russia can turn off the natural gas supplies to Ukraine without angering natural gas customers depending on the pipeline passing through Ukraine. Russia can now supply those customers via new pipelines to Western Europe via the Baltic Sea and avoid Ukraine. These new pipelines turned the gas supply into a valuable weapon. Russia has been waging a psychological warfare campaign on Ukraine since 2014. Ukraine warned the West what was happening and was, as the Russians expected, largely ignored until recently. Ukraine is now receiving coal from the United States. Russia will no longer export coal to Ukraine. Russia believes it has persuaded enough German politicians that Ukraine is not worth going to war over and that the Americans would not be reliable allies in such an effort to prevent or disrupt any effort to assist Ukraine against a Russian invasion.

The key to the Russian strategy for conquering all of Ukraine is demoralization and multiple armed incursions that will overwhelm Ukrainian ability to handle the situation and further demoralize Ukrainians. Russia currently has over 100,000 troops in Ukraine or on the borders, Ukraine believes that Russia will make fifty or more simultaneous attacks using battalion size ground units, advancing into Ukraine from different locations along the northern border as well as from the larger garrison now stationed in Russian occupied Crimea. Russia also has some naval infantry units available for operations along the Ukrainian Black Sea coast as well as over 3,000 airborne and airmobile troops who can be flown in as small groups to attack or disrupt Ukrainian defense efforts. There would be a lot of artillery fire from the Russian side of the border initially as well as airstrikes inside Ukraine. All this offensive action will only last a few days because Russia has not got the supplies for anything longer. The invading units will go for some logistic targets that will provide needed fuel and food, but that cannot be relied on. The plan depends on demoralization of Ukrainians and economic collapse. NATO aid is not expected to be a major factor. Ukrainians believe that the Russian obsession with preventing Ukraine from joining NATO has been the root cause of all this aggression against an independent Ukraine. Russia wants to make it clear that Ukrainians would be safer from this violence if they were part of Russia, and not an annoying, to Russia, neighbor.

Ukraine has upgraded and expanded its armed forces since 2014 and currently has 250,000 troops on active duty and most (80 percent) are in the ground forces. Conscription was halted in 2013, but revived in 2014 because of the Russian invasion. Ukraine has several hundred thousand men with military experience who can be called up, armed, and organized into units to deal with a major emergency. The ground forces also include about 10,000 special operations and airborne/airmobile troops. Russia has many agents inside Ukraine and knows of the growing reserve and paramilitary forces and the enthusiasm of Ukrainians to obtain military training to defend their independence. Russia has a lot of reluctant conscripts which means a large portion of their ground forces are untrained or poorly trained for offensive or special operations. Russia is putting most of its few effective units into the new Ukrainian offensive. For most Russians Ukraine is a much warmer place than the rest of Russia, but the winter weather there still involves snow, but not as much as Russia, that remains on the ground although it is not as cold. It’s only noticeably warmer along the Black Sea coast and the Crimean Peninsula. Despite that, living in temporary accommodations near the Ukraine border is not a morale booster.

When informed that NATO, including the Americans, would respond militarily to a Russian invasion of all Ukraine, the Russia leader claimed such an attack was not going to happen because the Russian plans and concentration of troops on the Ukrainian border were an effort to see what Russia could get away with while avoiding a major war that Russian could not afford. Or something like that. With the Russians it is more realistic to depend on what they can do right now and not predictions of what they might do.

The Last Czar Makes A Claim

President Putin later made matters worse in Ukraine and all nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union by reinterpreting the agreements that dissolved the Soviet Union and used Western assistance to deal with Soviet nuclear weapons outside of Russia. Putin now insists these new nations owe Russia large debts because Russia paid off all the Soviet foreign debts when the Soviet Union dissolved and that was part of the deal t0 avoid civil war, where NATO and other independent nations would back many of the potential rebels. This has always been the justification for Russian claims on Ukraine but now are being applied to the Baltic States, three small nations that got free of the Soviet Union and joined NATO. Putin is threatening NATO members, who have a mutual defense agreement with NATO. If Russia attacks a NATO member, all NATO members are obliged to join a defensive effort. Putin has always wanted to rebuild the “Russian Empire”, which the monarchy (czars)

Putin refuses to face the fact that when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, it was because half the population willingly went to the 14 new countries and most of those people were quite enthusiastic about ending the Soviet Union and their domination by that empire. The Soviet Union was basically the Russian Empire cobbled together by the old czarist monarchy over more than two centuries of conquest and expansion. Thus, half the Soviet Union population felt like conquered people, not part of any union. The Soviet Union dissolved quickly in 1990-91 because over half the population really wanted it to happen and had wanted it for a long time. Another issue Putin ignored was that many ethnic Russians were tired of supporting a lot of the less affluent conquered people and were fed up with the economic failures of communism. The former Soviet Union citizens who regret the breakup tend to be older people who were disillusioned at how corruption and bad leadership made post-Soviet life less wonderful than was expected. The younger people are more realistic, never having lived as adults in the Soviet Union and intimately familiar with the fact that freedom isn’t free and democracy is hard. For younger Russians there are more economic opportunities than under communism. While Russia lost half its population in 1991, it retained most of the valuable natural resources (like oil and natural gas) and that meant more prosperity for post-Soviet Union Russians. While the post-Soviet government was initially reluctant to increase state supplied pensions, which were low during the Soviet period because there was little to spend it on and the state supplied housing and some health care, the pensions did eventually go up. But not as much as the economy grew and the working Russians were obviously doing better than the pensioners who had grown up under communism. In Soviet times that meant there was little economic opportunity and most everyone was equally poor. The old-timers never got used to the changes and most would prefer the communists to come back. That won’t happen and as the generations that grew up under communism die off so will any desire to return to the bad (but familiar) old days. Putin noticed that many more Russians favored rebuilding the empire and made that a popular talking point that has gained traction with many Russian nationalists. Putin has little support for reviving the Soviet Union, but restoring the czarist empire is another matter. Not to the former imperial territories, especially the many that have made new friends, like NATO, China, and Iran. These are opponents more powerful than any the czars had to face.

December 14, 2021: A new Russian heavy bomber, the Tu-160M, is ready to fly and has been seen carrying out taxing tests. The Tu-160M is a resumption of Tu-160 production. Back in 2006 Russia began putting its Cold War era fleet of Tu-160s back into service. The last Russian heavy bomber built, the Tu-160 took over a decade to develop and entered service in 1987. Only 35 were built before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and about half of those were still in service by 2007. The aircraft is like the U.S. B-1, as the Russians never got to try and build something like an American B-2. The Tu-160 can carry up to a dozen cruise missiles each. While some of the original Tu-160s were upgraded after the 1990s. The Tu-160M is a total revamp of the original Tu-160. Some things don’t change and recently a Russian video appeared showing a heavy bomber in flight with one of the crew using a slide rule, apparently to calculate course and/or fuel consumption rate. Most pilot training, especially for the crews of long-range aircraft, includes instruction on how to use special slide rules for such calculations in the event of problems with the electronic navigation and flight management instruments that do this automatically. For generations, ever since long-range flight became possible, manual tools were used for these calculations, along with a special bubble sextant to obtain the location of an aircraft. On the surface the original sextant is used for this but in the air, there is no fixed horizon to base these calculations. The bubble-sextant creates an artificial horizon that enables aerial navigation that shows position within ten kilometers or less. Surface sextant navigation is even more accurate and electronic navigation, especially using GPS, is accurate enough for landing aircraft. Media tends to refer to EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) created by a distant nuclear weapon detonation as the reason for these manual backups. EMP causes widespread and irreparable damage to microelectronics and that usually means the aircraft will have problems staying in the air, with navigation a distant second. Over the last few decades, it has become more and more difficult to build aircraft that are invulnerable to EMP. More frequently there are failures of navigation equipment for several other reasons, justifying continued training in how to revert to old-school techniques. This includes dead-reckoning and use of landmarks below.

December 13, 2021: The EU (European Union) has imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group, a private company that supplies military contractors to wherever the Russian government wants them. The EU accuses the Wagner Group of committing atrocities and war crimes. Not mentioned was the fact the Wagner Group was created in 2014 when president Putin asked retired special forces brigade commander Dmitriy Utkin, to form a PMC (Private Military Contractor), the Wagner Group. “Wagner” was Utkin’s code name in the special forces. Wagner was used to train foreign forces as well as intervene in areas where Russia did not yet have an official military presence. Wagner personnel were nearly all former Russia soldiers or police. Wagner came to be seen as an extension of the Russian military, reporting directly to the national leadership. Russia has a long history of similar groups. Russia has had Cossacks and various other private militias working for the national leader. Now Putin has his own Cossacks, which so far have operated outside of Russia.

December 12, 2021: Germany has used its clout in NATO to prevent a much smaller and more recent NATO member (Lithuania) from delivering a Lithuanian AUD (Anti UAV Defense) system, that can be held and operated by one person, to Ukraine. These systems had already been paid for and Ukraine believed Germany would not try and block another NATO nation from exporting a defensive system. Germany explained their decision by insisting that an effective AUD could provoke Russia into attacking Ukraine. There is a new chancellor in Germany but he is not expected to act any differently than his predecessor, who was in power for 16 years. Germany can get away with this against smaller NATO members but not against the larger ones, especially the United States, Britain, Turkey, or France.

December 7, 2021: In Ukraine the government seized 13 passenger aircraft belonging to a Russian airline. These airliners were used to illegally transport Russians and other foreigners to Crimea. Ukraine never recognized the Russian annexation of Crimea after 2014 but did not enforce their aviation laws against Russian airlines until now. Ukraine is also banning Russian aircraft from Ukrainian air space. Russian aircraft can still get to Crimea, but it will take longer and cost the airlines more.

December 6, 2021: In coastal Syria an Israeli airstrike hit a target very close to Russian forces. The target was a storage area in the port of Latakia. Israeli airstrikes in this area are rare because Russia uses the port for bringing in cargo. Israel said that it would attack Iranian weapons shipments wherever it found them. There were no casualties from this attack but there was a fire and secondary explosions in a cargo container storage area.

December 5, 2021: In Syria Israeli, Russian and American airstrikes appear to be coordinated. The Americans are even more secretive about their airstrikes in Syria than Israel but each month there are three or four airstrikes by unidentified aircraft or UAVs in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) against Iranian weapons storage sites outside Al Bukamal City, which is on the Euphrates River and as well as the Bukamal border crossing into Iraq. Israel and the U.S. use the same type of aircraft (F-15s) for these attacks and the attacks involving UAVs are not Israeli because the Israelis don’t use armed UAVs, which is an American specialty. In the rest of Syria similar strikes on Iranian targets are Israeli. The U.S. and Israel have a strong military, economic, and diplomatic relationship and often quietly cooperate in areas of mutual interest. The Russians are apparently part of the airstrike coordination in Deir Ezzor province where most of the airstrikes against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) targets are Russian, but some are not and are often claimed by the United States.

November 30, 2021: In Syria, along the Israeli border, Syria’s Daraa province has been experiencing an undeclared war between Iranian and Syrian forces since 2018. Anonymous assassins use pistols and hidden bombs to kill those who work, or worked for government forces or Russia and Syria backed local militias. Russian and Assad forces openly force Iran-backed groups and individuals out of the area. There is no open violence because Iran, Syria and Russia are still officially allies. Near the Israel border Russian and Syrian pressure has prevented Iranian attacks on Israel. Russia and Syria have also been checking locals to see if they are Syrian Shia wearing authorized Syrian army or police uniforms rather than Lebanese Shia using stolen uniforms as disguises. This border security operation is a big deal for Syria and Israel and a major embarrassment for Iran, which is why Iran has not cranked up its usual media outrage to complain. Israel will sometimes fire on Iranian forces operating in Daraa, especially near the Israeli border. Israel also shares intel with Russia and Syria about Syrian officers who are secretly working for Iran. The Iranians pay well, and in dollars. Israel will sometimes release evidence of this to the media, so that Iranians back home have another reason to oppose Iranian foreign wars. Negotiations have been underway between Iran and Russia/Syria for over a year but are not making much progress. The covert Iranian violence is just another incentive for Syria to get the Iranian agents out of the area.

November 29, 2021: In southern Syria (Suwayda province bordering Jordan) a Russian patrol arrived to distribute aid. They were met by locals protesting the Russian presence, even if it was soldiers in armored vehicles delivering aid supplies. The locals are loyal to the Assads but fear that the Russians are looking for some of the many Syrian army deserters in the area. There are men who return home and depend on family and local elders to protect them. The Russians left peacefully. The new governor of the province is related to the Assad family.

November 28, 2021: In eastern Syria (Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces), Russian warplanes carried out over sixty airstrikes in the last week against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) targets. Dozens of Islamic terrorists were killed and even more wounded. Some of the bombs set off secondary explosions indicating that a lot of ammo and fuel supplies were destroyed. So far this month there have been over 500 Russian airstrikes against ISIL in eastern Syria. Target information comes from many sources, including Syria, Kurds, Turkey, Israel, and the Americans.

In northwest Syria (Idlib province) the Syrian troops are using rocket fire and Russian air strikes to drive pro-rebel civilians out of their homes and north towards Turkish forces, where the Turks are building a new town closer the Turkish border and within the 30-kilometer security zone Turkey wants to establish on the Syrian side of the border where Syrian refugees in Turkey or residents of Idlib who will accept Turkish terms (no more support of rebels and keep the peace in the security zone). In return the Turks promise to provide new housing and protection from attacks by the Assad forces or the Russians.

November 24, 2021: In North Korea (the capital) most foreign embassies have closed because of the near-total covid19 lockdown since January 2020. There are at least nine embassies still operating, most with a much-reduced staff. Russia and China still have a lot of embassy personnel but now Russia has evacuated most of the embassy staff, leaving only two diplomats and some support staff. Shortages of basic supplies are part of the problem but the other issue is that there is not much for the Russians to do. China is the largest investor and trade partner with North Korea and its diplomats have much more to do.

November 22, 2021: In northern Syria (Aleppo province) Turkish and Russian forces have resumed their joint patrols near the largely Kurdish town of Kobane (Kubani). This is an effort to reduce clashes between the Turkish and SDF forces.

November 18, 2021: In the Far East (Pacific Coast) there is a chronic shortage of Russians and not enough workers. Since early 2020 thousands of North Korean workers have been stranded by the North Korean lockdown. Lacking direct contact with security officials from North Korea. These “overseas” workers have gone independent, finding better paying jobs while telling officials back in North Korea that they lost their jobs due to covid19 restrictions. These restrictions were never as strict in Russia and China. North Korean officials find it easier to believe the myth instead of the reality. There are still labor shortages in Russia and China and now the North Koreans, with their reputation for hard work and resourcefulness, are using that to improve their lives in exile. The North Korean security officials who accompany and control these North Korea workers have apparently also developed entrepreneurial skills. When the North Korea lockdown ends these entrepreneurs can either run for it and abandon their families back in North Korea or pay a large bribe to get back into North Korea and avoid prosecution.

November 17, 2021: Russia is losing another export market as China appears to have solved some of its key problems with building high-performance military jet engines. This one is the WS-10C engine, which is now in mass production with factories equipped to build it operating in multiple shifts to deal with the backlog. The WS-10 family of engines was designed to replace jet engines China had to import from Russia plus China’s inability to obtain the latest version of the Al-31F engine, the AL-41F1, used in the Russian Su-57 stealth fighter. The WS-10C is an improved, and reliable, WS-10 that makes the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter more effective but not equal to the F119 engines that power the American F-22 and F-35. Russia and China are both trying to build an engine that will match the performance F119. With the F119 the F-22 is capable of very agile maneuvering as well as supercruise (efficient supersonic speed without using the afterburner). Getting the WS-10 and more powerful WS-10C into production replaces the Russian AF-31 engines used in most modern Chinese fighters. The WS-10C makes the twin engine J-20 more effective, but not as effective as the F-22 with two F119 engines. The F-35 is powered by one F-135 engine, which is a variant of the F119. The Chinese version of the F119 is the WS-15, which is still trying to overcome reliability problems. Despite that China has been closing in on Russian engine performance and reliability and beginning to surpass the Russians in some categories. Currently, China is seen more likely to match F119 performance before Russia does.

November 16, 2021: In coastal Syria Russia has been upgrading and expanding facilities at its Tartus naval base. One of the more notable was conducting a smoke screen test. This is the second such use of a smoke screen to conceal Russian port operations. The Russian military has used units specializing in this sort of thing for over 70 years and those specialists ran a smoke screen test on a northern Russian naval base in 2016. In the 1960s Russia realized that their proficiency with smoke screens also served another purpose, it disrupted the laser guidance of the recently introduced American laser guided bombs. These were not a major threat to Russian naval bases but in more distant combat zones the laser guided bombs were a serious threat, as was revealed in the late 1960s when the American first used their Paveway bombs. The Americans already had guided bombs employing electro-optical (TV) guidance during World War II but the tech was not used in bombs until the 1960s when more reliable and accurate versions were available. Smoke was always an effective way to disrupt the accuracy of electro-optical bombs and laser guided weapons.

This Russian use of smoke screens at Tartus was apparently a test of how quickly one could be generated in an emergency. Using smoke to conceal details of what is going on from aerial or satellite surveillance is a thing of the past with the growing use of multi-spectral sensors and AESA radars that can see through any kind of atmospheric obscurant, even sand storms. The U.S. and Israel have had Tartus under constant aerial observations with such sensors, if only to count what’s coming in and what’s leaving via Tartus.

Since early 2021 Russia has been visibly improving its Tartus naval base and nearby Hmeimim airbase. Russia has had access to Tartus since 1971, when the Soviet Union signed a deal with Bashar al Assad, the father of the current Assad running Syria, for its warships to use the port of Tartus. Russia never established a naval base at Tartus but because of the 1971 agreement, usually had a few dozen officers, sailors and civilian specialists working in Tartus to arrange resupply for visiting Russian warships, which sometimes headed for Tartus to make some minor repairs that needed parts or tech assistance that could only be obtained in a friendly port. This arrangement continued until 2013, when the Syrian civil war escalated and Russia pulled its personnel out of Tartus. Russia returned in 2015, with a major military intervention that played a major role in defeating the rebels.

November 15, 2021: Russia insists it will begin delivering five batteries of S-400 SAM systems India agreed to buy for $5.4 billion in 2018. Actual delivery has been stalled by American economic sanctions on Russia for the 2014 attack on Ukraine and continued threats against East European neighbors. India believes they have enough support in the current U.S. government to get a waiver for this deal, despite that such a waiver might cause future problems with U.S. sales of warplanes or air defense systems that contain features designed to defeat systems like the S-400, which is also used by China.

November 12, 2021: France hosted an International Conference for Libya that was sponsored by the UN. Participants included Algeria, Britain, Chad, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kuwait, Malta, Morocco, the Netherlands, Niger, Qatar, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE (United Arab Emirates), the U.S., the African Union, the European Union, the Arab League and the Sahel Group of Five. There was agreement that the elections must go forward and not much else.

 

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