Baltics

Trump-Putin breach portends global catastrophe

Well, this is some very telling—and deeply disturbing—timing. Let's review what has happened in the one day since Mike Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor over his pre-election phone calls with the Russian ambassador. Trump, having heretofore been completely acquiescing in Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea, now tweets: "Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?" On the very day of  Flynn's resignation, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said: "President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea." (Russia's Foreign Ministry quickly responded, no dice: "Crimea is part of the Russian Federation.") Also that fateful day, the Pentagon said that multiple Russian military aircraft buzzed a US Navy destroyer in the flashpoint Black Sea, in "unsafe and unprofessional" maneuvers. This is said to have happened last week, but it is notable that it is only reported now. Russia of course denies it. (RFE/RL)

Syria: nuclear flashpoint

The US on Oct. 4 announced it is suspending talks with Russia over the Syria war, citing the Kremlin's support of the Bashar Assad regime in the brutal bombing campaign on the besieged city of Aleppo. Secretary of State John Kerry days later called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime. Despite the seeming lack of anyone left to negotiative with, he still insisted: "We aren't going to leave the multilateral field, we are going to continue to try to find a way forward in order to end this war." (Jurist, Oct. 7; NYTFox News, Oct. 4) All indications point to further escalation. Moscow's Defense Ministry cautioned the US against carrying out air-strikes on Assad's forces, darkly adding that Russia now has air-defense missiles operational in Syria. Russia has just installed S-400 and S-300 air-defense systems at the Tartus naval base and Khmeimim air-base in the Assad regime's coastal stronghold of Latakia. The radius of the weapons reach may be "a surprise," the Defense Ministry's Gen. Igor Konashenkov boasted. (RT, Oct. 6; BBC, Oct. 4)

Cold War nostalgia as 'missile shield' goes live

The US Aegis anti-missile station at Deveselu, Romania, was officially activated this week—to harsh protests from Moscow, despite Washington's claim that the system is intended to intercept missiles fired from the Middle East. Together with an installation in Poland, the Deveselu facility forms the long-delayed "missile shield" first conceived under the George Bush administration. (BBC News, AFP, RT, May 12) Moscow's claim that the "missile shield" is actually aimed at encircling Russia is mirrored by Washington's charge that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, having deployed cruise missiles in contravention of the 1987 pact. (Arms Control Association, May 2016)

Obama's nuclear upgrade: Euro-missiles redux?

There was brief media splash last month after Germany's ZDF TV reported that the US is planning to replace 20 nuclear bombs deployed at Büchel airbase. According to the reports, the current B61 bombs are to be replaced this year with B61-12s, a newer version that is said more accurate and less destructive (potentially making their use more "thinkable"). Alarmingly, reports indicated that the new variants can also be fired as missiles, while B61s had to be dropped from aircraft. Moscow of course immediately responded by threatening "countermeasures"—including deployment of Iskander ballistic missiles to Russia's Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. (The Telegraph, Reuters, Sept. 23; Washington's Blog, Sept. 23)

Kurds as pawns in Turko-Russian game?

Bashar Assad can only be taking perverse joy at Turkey's attempt to play an Arab-versus-Kurdish divide-and-rule card, seeking to isolate the Kurds from the Arab-led Syrian opposition. There was an advance for this stratagem today, as a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander said it was wrong to send rebel forces to the ISIS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobani when Aleppo was besieged by Assad regime forces. Nizar al-Khatib told a group of journalists at a press conference in Istanbul: "I am criticizing this decision because we need these forces in the other fronts in Aleppo. The situation is very critical in Aleppo right now, regime forces have been surrounding the city for some time." (Hurriyet Daily News)

Will Ukraine 'go nuclear'? Looking scarier...

CNN reports April 26 of a "perilous face-off" as Russian state news complained that Ukraine has mobilized 15,000 troops in the suburbs of Slavyansk in the country's east "in order to wipe out the city and its residents." A Defense Ministry source said the number of Ukrainian troops put the pro-Russian militants who control the city at a disadvantage, as the latter are "armed only with small amount of pistols and shotguns." Of course, Russia's military massively outweighs Ukraine's and the Defense Ministry's statement is a barely veiled threat of intervention. Meanwhile, USA Today reports that Russian warplanes have entered Ukrainian airspace several times in the last 24 hours, according to the Pentagon. The violation of Ukraine's airspace follows war games that have moblized some 40,000 Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. Earlier this week, the Pentagon deployed 600 paratroopers to Poland and the Baltic states "to reassure NATO allies in the region about the US commitment to their defense." Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk charged that Moscow "wants to start World War III" by seeking to take over Ukraine.

Baltics militarized by NATO amid Russian threats

NATO on April 1 began a two-day exercise, briging more than 100 US Air Force personnel, along with F-15 fighter jets and a Germany-based Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) craft, to former Soviet air bases in Lithuania. Denmark is also sending six F16 fighter jets to the Baltic as part of an expanded NATO air policing mission, with regular patrols to begin May 1. The incidence of Russian jets flying close enough to Baltic airspace this year to prompt NATO jets being scrambled has increased to about once a week, according to Lithuania's defense ministry. NATO jets were scrambled about 40 times in both 2012 and 2013; in 2004, the year the Baltic republics joined NATO, it only happened once.

Ukraine crisis threatens Russian pipeline plans

In response to the Crimea crisis, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced he is to delay talks with Russia on the South Stream gas pipeline that would export Russian gas via the Black Sea. The South Stream line strategically bypasses Ukraine, which currently hosts the main arteries for export of Russian gas. (Reuters, March 10) The European Commission has already postponed discussion of the OPAL pipeline, part of the Nord Stream project, which similarly bypasses Ukraine via the Baltic Sea. (Voice of Russia, March 11) Russia's giant Gazprom, which uses the existing Nord Stream line to send gas to Germany, plans to start shipments to Europe through the South Stream line at the end of 2015. Russia is seeking to boost gas exports to Europe as much as 23% over the next 20 years. (Bloomberg, March 12)

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