TBR News October 21, 2017

Oct 21 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., October 21, 2017: “During the Cold War, the US set up NATO, and later the EDU, to facilitate their pressure on Russia. But Trump has so shaken European confidence in the once all-controlling US that they are turning towards an economic union with Russia. The US pressured Denmark to refuse Russian entry for the second Nordstrom pipeline because the US wanted to both damage Russian business and to be able to sell their own natural gas to the Danes. The Russians merely moved the pipeline north out of Danish territory and it is doubtful if Denmark will be able to buy Russian natural gas or oil. And the once-powerful NATO is larger than the Russian military but in reality, it is becoming weaker as time progresses and the priorities of the member nations is shifting.”


Table of Contents

  • S. warns public about attacks on energy, industrial firms
  • Spain will sack Catalan government, call regional election
  • First Catalonia, now Italy — referendums are in fashion
  • Washington’s economic war against Russian gas supplies to Europe unacceptable – Gerhard Schroeder
  • Substantial Risk: NATO Grapples with Serious Organizational Shortcomings
  • NATO Shmato?
  • If Russia Attacks Baltics – Overun NATO?
  • NATO report casts doubt on ability to defend against Russian attack on eastern flank
  • Order from Chaos
  • Germany says hopes to resume training of Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq


U.S. warns public about attacks on energy, industrial firms

October 21, 2017

by Jim Finkle


– The U.S government issued a rare public warning about hacking campaigns targeting energy and industrial firms, the latest evidence that cyber attacks present an increasing threat to the power industry and other public infrastructure.

The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation warned in a report distributed via email late on Friday that the nuclear, energy, aviation, water and critical manufacturing industries have been targeted along with government entities in attacks dating back to at least May.

The agencies warned that hackers had succeeded in compromising some targeted networks, but did not identify specific victims or describe any cases of sabotage.

The objective of the attackers is to compromise organizational networks with malicious emails and tainted websites to obtain credentials for accessing computer networks of their targets, the report said.

U.S. authorities have been monitoring the activity for months, which they initially detailed in a confidential June report first reported by Reuters. That document, which was privately distributed to firms at risk of attacks, described a narrower set of activity focusing on the nuclear, energy and critical manufacturing sectors.

Homeland Security and FBI representatives could not be reached for comment on Saturday morning.

Robert Lee, an expert in securing industrial networks, said the report describes activities from two or three groups that have stolen user credentials and spied on organizations in the United States and other nations, but not launched destructive attacks.

“This is very aggressive activity,” said Lee, chief executive of cyber-security firm Dragos.

He said the report appears to describe groups working in the interests of the Russian government, though he declined to elaborate.  Dragos is also monitoring other groups targeting infrastructure that appear to be aligned with China, Iran, North Korea, he said.

The hacking described in the government report is unlikely to result in dramatic attacks in the near term, Lee said, but he added that it is still troubling: “We don’t want our adversaries learning enough to be able to do things that are disruptive later.”

The report said that hackers have succeeded in infiltrating some targets, including at least one energy generator, and conducting reconnaissance on their networks. It was accompanied by six technical documents describing malware used in the attacks.

Homeland Security “has confidence that this campaign is still ongoing and threat actors are actively pursuing their objectives over a long-term campaign,” the report said.

Government agencies and energy firms previously declined to identify any of the victims in the attacks described in June’s confidential report.

Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by Nick Zieminski

 Spain will sack Catalan government, call regional election

October 21, 2017

by Isla Binnie and Julien Toyer


MADRID (Reuters) – The Spanish government decided on Saturday to sack the secessionist leadership of Catalonia and force the region into a new election, saying it had to take the unprecedented step to prevent the region pushing ahead with independence.

The plan, which still requires the approval of the upper house Senate, seeks to resolve Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades but risks an angry reaction from independence supporters, who plan street protests later in the day.

In outlining the cabinet’s decision, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the Catalan economy, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, was already in worrying shape as a result of the regional’s government push for independence.

“We will ask the Senate, with the aim of protecting the general interest of the nation, to authorize the government… to sack the Catalan president and his government,” Rajoy told a news conference.

It is the first time since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s that the central government has invoked the constitutional right to take control of a region and rule it directly from Madrid.

Direct rule will include full control of the region’s police, finances and public media. The powers of the regional parliament will also be curbed.

Rajoy said his intention was to not use those special powers for more than six months and he would call a regional election as soon as the situation was back to “normal.”

“Our objective is to restore the law and a normal cohabitation among citizens, which has deteriorated a lot, continue with the economic recovery, which is under threat today in Catalonia, and celebrate elections in a situation of normality,” Rajoy said.

The measures must now be approved by Spain’s upper house, the Senate, where a vote is scheduled for Oct. 27.


Rajoy has insisted that Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who heads the northeastern region’s government, has broken the law several times in pushing for independence, including with a referendum on Oct. 1 that the government declared illegal.

“The rulers of Catalonia have respected neither the law on which is based our democracy nor the general interest,” the government said in a memorandum obtained by Reuters. “This situation is unsustainable.”

The independence push has brought on Spain’s worst political crisis since a failed military coup in 1981 several years after the end of the Franco dictatorship. It has met with strong opposition across the rest of Spain, divided Catalonia itself, and raised the prospect of prolonged street protests

It has also led Madrid to cut economic growth forecasts for the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy and prompted hundreds of firms to move their headquarters from Catalonia. Rajoy on Saturday urged firms to stay in the region.

The main opposition Socialists said on Friday they would back special measures and had agreed on the holding of regional elections in January. Rajoy also received the backing of the head of state, King Felipe, on Friday, who said at a public ceremony that “Catalonia is and will remain an essential part” of Spain.

Pro-independence groups have mustered more than one million people onto the streets in protest at Madrid’s refusal to negotiate a solution. Heavy-handed police tactics to shut down a the Oct. 1 independence referendum drew criticism from human rights groups.

Regional authorities said about 90 percent of those who cast ballots voted for independence. But only 43 percent of voters participated and opponents of secession mostly stayed home.

Puigdemont stopped short of making a unilateral declaration of independence following the referendum, but on Thursday he threatened to do so unless the government agreed to a dialogue. He accused Madrid of “repression”.

Editing by Angus MacSwan


First Catalonia, now Italy — referendums are in fashion

The Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto are holding referendums on Sunday in a bid for more autonomy from Rome. But has the crisis in Catalonia put a damper on their aspirations?

October 21, 2017

by Megan Williams (Rome)


There was a time, late last century, when a brave and free people in the north of Italy dreamed a great dream of a new nation. It was to be called Padania. Followers organized joyful rallies festooned with clover green uniforms and flags where they decried the waste of Rome.

Processions took place where sacred Po River baptismal water was carried to the new land’s “capital” of Venice and legends from the heroic past were shared. Padanian ID cards were handed out. “Northern Bank” notes made a fluttering, fleeting appearance.

Some three decades later, as secessionist tensions erupt in Catalonia, the soaring dream of that folkloric Italian state has, well, not come fully crashing down, but largely evaporated.

The party that drove it, the populist, anti-immigrant Lega Nord or Northern League, is instead proposing two modest, legal and non-binding referendums in the wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto this Sunday. There, they’ll put to voters the question of whether they want regional representatives to negotiate with Rome for more autonomy and return on their taxes.

If Veneto Governor Roberto Zaia and Governor Roberto Maroni of Lombardy feel any solidarity with the plight of their confreres in Catalona, it’s hardly shone through.

“[Catalan leader Carles] Puidgemont lost an extraordinary chance. He stopped in the middle of the ford and no longer has the strength he had on the first day,” said Maroni, adding that paradoxically, Milan now has a leg up on Barcelona in the cities’ bid to become the new headquarters for the European Medicines Agency, poised to leave the UK after Brexit.

Using the referanda as an election platform

What the Italian referendums are really about, say observers, is political positioning ahead of crucial 2018 elections.

“The Northern League is looking to maximize their gains in the next national election,” says Cristina Fusone, political science professor at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “We’re witnessing a new geography of political forces in Italy [with the Five Star anti-politician movement] and the timing of the referendums reflects that.”

For years, the Northern League was a small, but critical member of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition. Berlusconi, who has reemerged on the political scene after he was ousted in 2011 and found guilty of tax fraud, is still an unchallenged leader in his Forza Italia party and has backed Sunday’s vote, promising greater regional autonomy as part of the election platform for the center-right.

The Democratic Party, even in the polls with the Five Stars and the center-right, opposes it.

“The first problem is that the referendum question is too vague,” says Lorenzo Colovini, member of the Democratic Party and Gruppo 7 Luglio [a Democratic Party chapter in Venice — the ed.], which is urging people to boycott Sunday’s Veneto referendum, where a 50 percent turnout is required.

“If the referendum were really serious, they should have defined more precisely what more autonomy means. It’s like a blank check. It’s really just political propaganda for Governor Zaia,” said Colovini.

But Cristina Fusone says this is only partially true.

Since 2001, Italian regions have had the constitutional right to request further autonomy, everything from education to finance. However, the right to financial management was suddenly curtailed with the European financial crisis.

“The problem stems from the austerity measures introduced,” she says. “Re-centralization of financial management has taken place and so this autonomy has been restricted. Every region is now bound to comply with balanced budget rules.”

It’s a restriction that has rankled the wealthier northern regions, who glaringly outperform the underdeveloped southern Italy in all financial indicators.

North-South divide

Enzo Muovero Milanese, law professor and former cabinet minister, says while a development and employment gap between the north and south remains, the resentment of the north toward the south is no longer what it was several decades ago.

“The main point is the correct administration,” says Milanese of the move for autonomy. “These two regions have been ruled by the Northern League for years and they are well managed. There’s a good health system, low unemployment rate, so the idea is to draw attention to how managed they are and how much better the country could be managed.”

Like Fusone, he says the economic crisis in Europe has largely fueled the drive for more regional autonomy in Italy and elsewhere.

“It has led some to believe that more local autonomy might be a way to escape a political decision far away,” he said. “But the real question is, what is local? Is a country local with respect to the EU? Is it a region? A town?”

The question is hardly rhetorical. Alongside the issue of more regional autonomy in the Veneto referendum, another question was supposed to address whether the city of Venice should separate from the nearby mainland city of Mestre. Venetians in favor of the move say it would allow Venice to tackle the issue of mammoth cruise ships and tourism causing environmental harm to their harbor. But Italy’s constitutional court has yet rule on whether the question of municipal separation is legal. Consequently, Governor Zaia excluded it from the ballot, to the bitter disappointment of many.

But it’s a question that could well reemerge — and not the only one.

“There are rumors about other regions, such as Emilia-Romagna, wanting autonomy,” says Muovero Milanese. “So the mosaic is quite colorful.”

One hopes not quite as colorful as Catalonia.

 Washington’s economic war against Russian gas supplies to Europe unacceptable – Gerhard Schroeder

October 20, 2017


The United States would like to weaken Russia’s energy cooperation with the European Union, said former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, adding it’s unacceptable to create barriers to Russian gas deliveries to the German market.

It’s wrong if the Americans and the European Union somehow resist each other on this issue. And still there are attempts to create some difficulties for this project [Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – Ed.],” he told Rossiya 24 news channel.

According to Schroeder, “the fact the Americans will try entering the German market with the help of sanctions and to dominate with its liquefied shale gas is nothing but the signs of an economic war, and such war is unacceptable.”

Germany is interested in gas which it “will receive for sure and which will be cheaper than shale gas,” said Schroeder.

The ex-chancellor said German authorities were right to call the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline purely an economic project which should not be politicized.

Last week, European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said the EU has no legal means to stop the pipeline that will deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline, which goes under the Baltic Sea to Germany. The Gazprom-led project is opposed by the Baltic States and Poland.

During the EU summit on Friday, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo described the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a threat to European energy security.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week Moscow faces obstacles constructing the new route despite the fact that diversification of gas supplies is cost-effective, beneficial to Europe and serves to enhance the security of supplies.

The Kremlin has repeatedly said the pipeline is strictly about business, accusing the United States of trying to thwart the project, as it wants to export its own liquefied natural gas to Europe.


Substantial Risk: NATO Grapples with Serious Organizational Shortcomings

In a secret report, NATO warns that it may not be prepared to confront a hypothetical Russian attack. Senior military officers would like to see a return to the command structures used by the alliance during the Cold War.

October 20, 2017

by Matthias Gebauer, Konstantin von Hammerstein, Peter Müller and Christoph Schult


The 2nd Cavalry Regiment is one of the oldest units in the U.S. Army. As early as 1846, soldiers from the unit fought against Mexico and in the American Indian Wars two decades later, elements of the unit stumbled into an ambush and were scalped. In 1905, the cavalry members put down a rebellion on the Philippines before going on to take part in two world wars. More recently, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment made several tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But on July 18, 2017, the 1st Squadron of the proud regiment came up against an opponent that it couldn’t handle. At the Romanian-Bulgarian border, the unit’s convoy found itself stopped by a simple border crossing. “We sat in our Strykers for an hour and a half in the sun just waiting for guys to manually stamp some paperwork,” Colonel Patrick Ellis, the unit’s commander, told the American website Defense One.

In times of peace, such a situation seems little more than burlesque. But in more serious circumstances, such a thing could limit NATO’s ability to defend itself. Ever since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the Western alliance has been preparing to defend its territory against an aggressor, should it become necessary. But the bureaucracy associated with the international borders among the alliance’s 29 member states likely slows troop convoys more effectively than any Russian tank trap ever could. And the problem isn’t one of bureaucracy alone.

Since the end of June, a report marked “NATO SECRET” has been circulating in headquarters in Brussels that unsparingly lists the alliance’s weaknesses. Under the innocuous title “Progress Report on the Alliance’s Strengthened Deterrence and Defense Posture,” the authors arrive at the shocking conclusion that “NATO’s ability to logistically support rapid reinforcement in the much-expanded territory covering SACEUR’s (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) area of operation has been atrophied since the end of the Cold War.”

Atrophy is a word used by doctors to describe the wasting away of bodily tissue, often the result of disuse due to injury. And it takes quite some time before strength is rebuilt. Twenty-seven years after the end of the Cold War, NATO’s logistical infrastructure is apparently in a similar situation: Its functionality is limited.

There are shortages of almost everything: things like low-loaders for tanks, train cars for heavy equipment and modern bridges that can bear the weight of a 64-ton giant like the Leopard 2 battle tank. What good are the most expensive weapons systems when they can’t be transported to where they are needed most? “The overall risk to rapid reinforcement is substantial,” the report reads.

A Vexing Situation

Not even the alliance’s rapid-response unit can be relied upon. “The current status of enablement of SACEUR’s AOR does not give sufficient confidence that even the NATO Response Force is able to respond rapidly and be sustained, as required.”

The secret report from Brussels paints a picture of an alliance that wouldn’t be in a position to defend against an attack from Russia. It would be unable to position its troops quickly enough, it lacks sufficient officers on staff and supplies from across the Atlantic are insufficient.

It is a vexing situation given that the Western alliance is (likely) militarily superior to, and (certainly) in much better shape economically than, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s autocratic regime. Ultimately, though, as thousands of years of military history have shown, it is often unspectacular factors such as supply lines, provisions and logistics that determine victory or defeat. To be sure, hardly anyone really thinks that Russia might attack a NATO member state, but many in the alliance are convinced that only a credible military deterrence will prevent Putin from exerting political pressure on the alliance’s easternmost countries like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

As such, three years after the Crimea annexation, the alliance’s military architecture is facing far-reaching restructuring. The period of the so-called “peace dividend” – a term referring to the years following 1989 when Western countries felt they no longer needed to spend as much money on their defensive capabilities – is over and Cold War command structures have returned. Once again, NATO should be prepared for a large military conflict, for a “MJO+,” as it is called in military jargon. The invocation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, whereby an attack on one member is seen as an attack on all, would constitute such a “Major Joint Operation Plus.”

The alliance “must be able to rapidly reinforce a threatened ally or allies, to underpin deterrence in peacetime and crises, and to reinforce an ally or allies for defense in case of attack,” the report reads. It must also be able to quickly mobilize and sustain troops, “whatever the nature, demand, destination or duration of the operation, mission or activity.” To ensure that capability, “a robust civil/military logistics structure and enabling capabilities” are required, including lines of communication from North America to the eastern and southern borders of NATO territory and “intra-European routes.”

Defense ministers from the 29 NATO member states assigned the task of reforming the alliance’s command structures back in February. In the future, the alliance must be able to carry out several operations concurrently at the maximum “level of ambition,” they said at the time.

‘Relevant and Robust’

Hitherto existing NATO command structures is “at best, only partially fit for purpose and, while it has not been tested, would quickly fail if confronted with the full NATO Level of Ambition,” the secret NATO paper notes. This “level of ambition” is designed as “MJO+.” In other words, NATO is preparing for a possible war with Russia.

NATO military leaders have long known that the alliance’s command structures are no longer up to the task of a major conflict with Russia. A week ago Friday, they presented the NATO Military Committee with their suggestions for augmenting the officer staff. Now, all member states have the opportunity to comment on the plans and in early November, defense ministers will likely approve it.

“We recognize the need to adapt and modernize the alliance and its command structure,” says Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide. “Norway is committed to ensuring that NATO’s command structure remains relevant and robust.” Her Danish counterpart Claus Hjort Frederiksen says: “Russia has broken international law,” making it necessary for the alliance to review its structures. “NATO is the strongest defensive alliance in the world because for the last 70 years, it has constantly adapted to new challenges.”

Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis likewise demands improved structures for “NATO’s deterrence and military reinforcement measures” in Eastern Europe. The new structure should “support NATO’s posture in vulnerable areas, such as the Baltic region.”

Only a few numbers are necessary to document the atrophy that has befallen the alliance. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, 23,000 soldiers served in NATO command posts, but hundreds of thousands of American troops were also stationed in Europe at the time. In a crisis, military leaders could have quickly mobilized both troops and materiel and sent them east.

Supply lines across the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe were also better organized. From 1952 to 2003, NATO maintained a specific command tasked solely with transporting military supplies to Europe. Every day, the supreme allied commander, an American admiral based in Norfolk, Virginia, planned for a potential large-scale confrontation with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

But then the wall fell and relations with Russia briefly thawed. It seemed the time had come to disarm and take advantage of the peace dividend. By 2011, the command posts had shrunk by 10,000 officers to just 13,000. These days, only 6,800 show up for service in the two command headquarters in Brunssum, the Netherlands and Mons, Belgium.

No Longer Unthinkable

For quite some time, the smaller command posts were more than sufficient because the armies belonging to the alliance no longer saw large land wars as the greatest risk. Indeed, the militaries underwent substantial changes, instead focusing on “international crisis management,” a reference to smaller missions outside alliance territory. The need to defend national and alliance territory seemed obsolete, a relic from the times of the Cold War.

The alliance was completely taken off guard by the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Suddenly, the idea of war in Europe was no longer outlandish and it was no longer unthinkable that Russia could turn its attentions to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of which had been Soviet republics. Unsurprisingly, concern was particularly high in Eastern European NATO member states. The Baltic countries and Poland insisted that the alliance had to send a strong message and they demanded reassurances that NATO would rush to their aid should the need arise.

They were heard and at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales, the alliance agreed to send combat units to the four countries. The “battlegroups,” each of which made up of around 1,000 troops under the leadership of the four largest NATO partners – the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and Germany – are to act as an early-warning system. The “Enhanced Forward Presence” is too small to be particularly meaningful from a military point of view, but it is a clear message to Russia that NATO is determined to defend its territory, even in the former Soviet republics in the Baltics.

But the move to the east also laid bare the alliance’s weaknesses, some of which the current command structure revamp is designed to fix. As determined as NATO was to resuscitate its former posture of deterrence, the implementation was chaotic. “We were forced to realize that we had become quite rusty,” one NATO general admits. “We had simply forgotten how to move troops.”

Situations of the kind experienced by Colonel Ellis from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment at the Romanian-Bulgarian border are hardly unique to the alliance’s southeast corner. All countries, and sometimes even local and regional authorities, have to approve each individual military transport. There are no standardized forms and it isn’t enough to simply report the total number of vehicles: The authorities insist on receiving the serial numbers of each individual truck and armored vehicle. Welcome to the great NATO paper war.

Problematic Distribution

If NATO wants to transfer troops from Stuttgart to NATO’s external border in Latvia via Poland to increase the alliance’s deterrent posture relative to Russia, weeks of preparation are necessary to clarify the bureaucratic details of such a transport. “Even if a war were to break out, that wouldn’t mean that the rules would be lifted,” says General Steven Shapiro, head of logistics for the U.S. Army in Europe. And experts like Shapiro are fully aware that bureaucracy isn’t the only hurdle in the way of an effective defense of alliance territory.

The provision of supplies must likewise be reorganized, a need that has led to a proposal to establish two new command posts with a total staff of 2,000. A new maritime command in the U.S., modeled after the Supreme Allied Command in the Cold War, is to organize the safe passage of soldiers and materiel to Europe. The sea route, many high-ranking NATO officers believe, could prove to be the alliance’s Achilles heel in a worst-case scenario. In classified meetings focused on command reform, analysts have warned that Russian submarines are present in the Atlantic, though they go largely undetected. Attacks on NATO troop convoys could hardly be defended against as things currently stand.

But the distribution of supplies in Europe is also problematic, a concern that an additional command is to address. Its task would be that of planning and safeguarding logistics between Central Europe and NATO member states to the east. The hope is to ensure mobility and to better protect areas west of the alliance’s outer border. While the concept may sound rather technical, it is actually nothing less than the rebirth of the mobilization concept adhered to during the Cold War.

Poland has demonstrated great interest in leading this “Rear Area Operation Command.” Warsaw has been insisting that as many NATO units as possible be permanently stationed in Poland. The Polish government believes that doing so would be an effective means of deterring the Russians.

But the Americans and other allies favor a different location: Germany’s geographic placement make it an ideal candidate. The command, after all, would be a kind of distribution center for troops that land in Bremerhaven or elsewhere in Central Europe. In early October, high-ranking military representatives from the U.S. informally asked their German counterparts if the Bundeswehr, as Germany’s military is known, would be interested in applying to host the new facility. In a Thursday evening telephone conversation between German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and her American counterpart James Mattis, their first since the German elections in late September, the new command structure was likewise on the agenda.

For Berlin, leading the new command is an attractive prospect. It would mean an important task for Germany, which has repeatedly been pushed by other alliance members to take on a more significant role. Domestically, the project would likely also be unproblematic, even if the Green Party becomes part of the next government. The plan, after all, doesn’t call for Germany to send troops into battle. It merely envisions the country supplying staff personnel, the kind of task that German political leaders enjoy taking on the most.

Senior British military officer Richard Shirreff is keeping a close eye on NATO, now that it is finally beginning to move. The four-star general was deputy supreme allied commander in Europe until 2014, making him the highest-ranking European in the NATO command structure. He attracted attention following his retirement by writing a thriller about a fictitious account of war with Russia.

The book isn’t only interesting for its literary qualities, but also for its message: After the alliance focused on distant crises like those in Afghanistan after the end of the Cold War, it is time to once again take seriously the threat posed by Russia. Otherwise, Shirreff believes, NATO doesn’t stand a chance in the face of an attack in, say, the Baltics. “It’s high time for Europe to see the annexation of Crimea as a wake-up call,” Shirreff says.


NATO Shmato?

Donald Trump’s apparent rejection of the cornerstone of global security after World War II has stunned U.S. partners in the alliance.

July 21, 2016

by Krishnadev Calamur

The Atlantic

America’s NATO allies may be on their own after November if Russia attacks them.

Donald Trump, the GOP  presidential nominee, appeared to make U.S. military support for NATO member states conditional on whether those states have met their financial obligations to the bloc, which has served as the cornerstone of global security after World War II. The comments, in an interview with The New York Times, represent a marked departure from the security policy of every presidential nominee from either of the two major parties since NATO’s founding in 1949.

The Times asked Trump: “If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?” The full exchange is worth reading:

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

SANGER: That’s true, but we are treaty-obligated under NATO, forget the bills part.

TRUMP: You can’t forget the bills. They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that.

SANGER: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations ——

TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.

HABERMAN: And if not?

TRUMP: Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.

SANGER: You’ve seen several of those countries come under cyberattack, things that are short of war, clearly appear to be coming from Russia.

TRUMP: Well, we’re under cyberattack.

SANGER: We’re under regular cyberattack. Would you use cyberweapons before you used military force?

TRUMP: Cyber is absolutely a thing of the future and the present. Look, we’re under cyberattack, forget about them. And we don’t even know where it’s coming from.

At issue is NATO’s Article 5 on collective defense, which states that an “armed attack against one or more of them [members] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all…” The article was invoked once: by the U.S. after the attacks of September 11, 2001—which explains why NATO was involved in the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan. A NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that after the attacks NATO sent AWACS planes to patrol American skies and deployed a third of the troops in Afghanistan for more than a decade; more than 1,000 soldiers from non-U.S. NATO allies and partners were killed there, the official pointed out.

In a statement, NATO Secretary General‎ Jens Stoltenberg said: “Solidarity among Allies is a key value for NATO. This is good for European security and good for US security. We defend one another. We have seen this in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of European, Canadian, and partner nation troops have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with US soldiers.”

If Trump is elected in November and is true to his pledge, then few of NATO’s 28 members will qualify for U.S. support in the event of a war. Only the U.S., Greece, the U.K., Estonia, and Poland meet NATO’s guideline that defense spending constitute 2 percent of GDP.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Estonian president, tweeted Thursday morning about his Baltic nation’s commitment to NATO. He did not mention Trump.

Estonia, along with its Baltic (and NATO) partners, Lithuania, and Latvia, were until the early 1990s part of the Soviet Union. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, were, likewise, member of the Soviet-allied Warsaw Pact, NATO’s communist counterpart. When the Soviet Union collapsed, these former communist countries looked to the West for new alliances. All are EU and NATO members. Trump’s remarks are causing jitters because the memory of the Soviet Union is still fresh in these states, and they are increasingly wary at Russia’s muscle-flexing under President Vladimir Putin. (Trump on Putin: “He’s been complimentary of me. I think Putin and I will get along very well.”)

The one NATO ally whom Trump appeared to defend in his interview with the Times was Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president who survived a coup attempt last week, and, in response, has purged the country’s institutions of those he believes are responsible, and declared a three-month state of emergency.

“The coup never took place—the coup was not successful,” Trump said, “and based on the fact, and I give great credit to him [Erdogan] for being able to turn that around.”

When questioned whether a President Trump would “press him to make sure the rule of law applies?” the GOP nominee replied:

“I think right now when it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems, and I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country. … We need allies.”

Erdogan, who has been pressed by the EU and the U.S. on respecting the rule of law in the wake of the coup attempt, has yet to respond.


If Russia Attacks Baltics – Overun NATO?

How would NATO hold up in an all-out war against Russia? Rand Wargame found that Russian forces could quickly overwhelm NATO forces currently protecting Latvia, Lithuania …

by Kris Osborn

How much of a threat do Russia’s emerging 5th-generation stealth fighter, nuclear arsenal, high-tech air defenses, anti-satellite weapons, conventional army and submarines pose to NATO and the U.S.?

Current tensions between Russia and NATO are leading many to carefully assess this question and examine the current state of weaponry and technological sophistication of the Russian military — with a mind to better understanding the extent of the kinds of threats they may pose.

Naturally, Russia’s military maneuvers and annexation of the Crimean peninsula have many Pentagon analysts likely wondering about and assessing the pace of Russia’s current military modernization and the relative condition of the former Cold War military giant’s forces, platforms and weaponry.

Russia has clearly postured itself in response to NATO as though it can counter-balance or deter the alliance, however some examinations of Russia’s current military reveals questions about its current ability to pose a real challenge to NATO in a prolonged, all-out military engagement.

Nevertheless, Russia continues to make military advances and many Pentagon experts and analysts have expressed concern about NATO’s force posture in Eastern Europe regarding whether it is significant enough to deter Russia from a possible invasion of Eastern Europe.

Also, Russia’s economic pressures have not slowed the countries’ commitment to rapid military modernization and the increase of defense budgets, despite the fact that the country’s military is a fraction of what it was during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s.

While the former Cold War giant’s territories and outer most borders are sizeably less than they were in the 1980s, Russia’s conventional land, air and sea forces are trying to expand quickly, transition into the higher-tech information age and steadily pursue next generation platforms.

Russia’s conventional and nuclear arsenal is a small piece of what it was during the Cold War, yet the country is pursuing a new class of air-independent submarines, a T-50 stealth fighter jet, next-generation missiles and high-tech gear for individual ground soldiers.

A think-tank known as The National Interest has recently published a number of reports about the technological progress now being made by Russian military developers.  The various write-ups include reporting on new Russian anti-satellite weapons, T-14 Armata tanks, air defenses and early plans for a hypersonic, 6th-generation fighter jet, among other things. Russia is unambiguously emphasizing military modernization and making substantial progress, the reports from The National Interest and other outlets indicate.

For instance, Russia has apparently conducted a successful test launch of its Nudol direct ascent anti-satellite missile, according to The National Interest.

“This is the second test of the new weapon, which is capable of destroying satellites in space. The weapon was apparently launched from the Plesetsk test launch facility north of Moscow,” the report from The National Interest writes.

In addition, The National Interests’ Dave Majumdar reported that Russian Airborne Forces plan six armored companies equipped with newly modified T-72B3M  tanks. Over the next two years, those six companies will be expanded to battalion strength, the report states.

Russia is also reportedly developing a so-called “Terminator 3” tank support fighting vehicle.

.During the Cold War, the Russian defense budget amounted to nearly half of the country’s overall expenditures.

Now, the countries’ military spending draws upon a smaller percentage of its national expenditure. However, despite these huge percentage differences compared to the 1980s, the Russian defense budget is climbing again. From 2006 to 2009, the Russian defense budget jumped from $25 billion up to $50 billion according to Business Insider – and the 2013 defense budget is listed elsewhere at $90 billion.

Overall, the Russian conventional military during the Cold War – in terms of sheer size – was likely five times what it is today.

The Russian military had roughly 766,000 active front line personnel in 2013 and as many as 2.4 million reserve forces, according to globalfirepower.com. During the Cold War, the Russian Army had as many as three to four million members.

By the same 2013 assessment, the Russian military is listed as having more than 3,000 aircraft and 973 helicopters. On the ground, Globalfirepower.com says Russia has 15-thousand tanks, 27,000 armored fighting vehicles and nearly 6,000 self-propelled guns for artillery. While the Russian military may not have a conventional force the sheer size of its Cold War force, they have made efforts to both modernized and maintain portions of their mechanized weaponry and platforms. The Russian T-72 tank, for example, has been upgraded numerous times since its initial construction in the 1970s.

On the overall Naval front, Globalfirepower.com assesses the Russian Navy as having 352 ships, including one aircraft carrier, 13 destroyers and 63 submarines. The Black Sea is a strategically significant area for Russia in terms of economic and geopolitical considerations as it helps ensure access to the Mediterranean.

Analysts have also said that the Russian military made huge amounts of conventional and nuclear weapons in the 80s, ranging from rockets and cruise missiles to very effective air defenses.

In fact, the Russian built S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft air defenses, if maintained and modernized, are said to be particularly effective, experts have said.

Citing Russian news reports, the National Interest reported that the Russians are now testing a new, S-500 air defense systems able to reportedly reach targets up to 125 miles.

In the air, the Russian have maintained their 1980s built Su-27 fighter jets, which have been postured throughout strategic areas by the Russian military.

Often compared to the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 Eagle fighter, the Su-27 is a maneuverable twin engine fighter built in the 1980s and primarily configured for air superiority missions.

Rand Wargame (ed note: Rand is a branch of the CIA)

While many experts maintain that NATO’s size, fire-power, air supremacy and technology would ultimately prevail in a substantial engagement with Russia, that does not necessarily negate findings from a Rand study released last year explaining that NATO would be put in a terrible predicament should Russia invade the Baltic states.

NATO force structure in Eastern Europe in recent years would be unable to withstand a Russian invasion into neighboring Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the Rand study has concluded.

After conducting an exhaustive series of wargames wherein “red” (Russian) and “blue” (NATO) forces engaged in a wide range of war scenarios over the Baltic states, a Rand Corporation study called “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank” determined that a successful NATO defense of the region would require a much larger air-ground force than what is currently deployed.

In particular, the study calls for a NATO strategy similar to the Cold War era’s “AirLand Battle” doctrine from the 1980s.  During this time, the U.S. Army stationed at least several hundred thousand troops in Europe as a strategy to deter a potential Russian invasion. Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that there are currenty 30,000 U.S. Army soldiers in Europe.

The Rand study maintains that, without a deterrent the size of at least seven brigades, fires and air support protecting Eastern Europe, that Russia cold overrun the Baltic states as quickly as in 60 hours.

“As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members. Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options,” the study writes.

“AirLand” Battle was a strategic warfighting concept followed by U.S. and allied forces during the Cold War which, among other things, relied upon precise coordination between a large maneuvering mechanized ground force and attack aircraft overhead.  As part of the approach, air attacks would seek to weaken enemy assets supporting front line enemy troops by bombing supply elements in the rear. As part of the air-ground integration, large conventional ground forces could then more easily advance through defended enemy front line areas.

A rapid assault on the Baltic region would leave NATO with few attractive options, including a massive risky counterattack, threatening a nuclear weapons option or simply allowing the Russian to annex the countries.

One of the limited options cited in the study could include taking huge amounts of time to mobilize and deploy a massive counterattack force which would likely result in a drawn-out, deadly battle. Another possibility would be to threaten a nuclear option, a scenario which seems unlikely if not completely unrealistic in light of the U.S. strategy to decrease nuclear arsenals and discourage the prospect of using nuclear weapons, the study finds.

A third and final option, the report mentions, would simply be to concede the Baltic states and immerse the alliance into a much more intense Cold War posture. Such an option would naturally not be welcomed by many of the residents of these states and would, without question, leave the NATO alliance weakened if not partially fractured.

The study spells out exactly what its wargames determined would be necessary as a credible, effective deterrent.

“Gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states,” the study writes.

During the various scenarios explored for the wargame, its participants concluded that NATO resistance would be overrun quickly in the absence of a larger mechanized defensive force posture.

“The absence of short-range air defenses in the U.S. units, and the minimal defenses in the other NATO units, meant that many of these attacks encountered resistance only from NATO combat air patrols, which were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The result was heavy losses to several Blue (NATO) battalions and the disruption of the counterattack,” the study states.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia could be likely Russian targets because all three countries are in close proximity to Russia and spent many years as part of the former Soviet Union, the study maintains.

“Also like Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia are home to sizable ethnic Russian populations that have been at best unevenly integrated into the two countries’ post-independence political and social mainstreams and that give Russia a self-justification for meddling in Estonian and Latvian affairs,” the study explains.

The Rand study maintained that, while expensive, adding brigades would be a worthy effort for NATO.

Buying three brand-new ABCTs and adding them to the U.S. Army would not be inexpensive—the up-front costs for all the equipment for the brigades and associated artillery, air defense, and other enabling units runs on the order of $13 billion. However, much of that gear—especially the expensive Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles—already exists,” the study says.

The actual NATO troop presence in Eastern Europe is something that is still under consideration and subject to change in this new administration. For quite some time, NATO and the US have been considering adding more troops to the Eastern flank as a way to further deter Russia.

The Pentagon’s European Reassurance Initiative, introduced last year, calls for additional funds, forces and force rotations through Europe in coming years, it is unclear what the force posture will ultimately be.

At the same time, the Pentagon’s $3.4 Billion ERI request does call for an increased force presence in Europe as well as “fires,” “pre-positioned stocks” and “headquarters” support for NATO forces.

Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that more solidarity exercises with NATO allies in Europe are also on the horizon, and that more manpower could also be on the way.

For example, NATO conducted Swift Response 16 from May 27 through June 26 of last year in Poland and Germany; it included more than 5,000 soldiers and airmen from the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain.


NATO report casts doubt on ability to defend against Russian attack on eastern flank

A confidential NATO report has questioned the alliance’s ability to defend against a Russian attack. Eastern European members of the alliance fear Russian aggression.

October 20, 2017


NATO would be unable to repel a Russian attack on its Eastern European members, according to an internal alliance document cited by the German magazine Der Spiegel (German language) in its Saturday edition.

The internal document, titled “Progress Report on the Strengthened Deterrence and Defense Capability of the Alliance,” questioned the ability of the NATO Response Force to “react rapidly and – if necessary – sustainably.”

“NATO’s ability to logistically support rapid reinforcement in the strongly expanded territory of the European commander’s area of responsibility has atrophied since the end of the Cold War,” Der Spiegel quoted the document as saying.

It attributed NATO’s deficiencies to a smaller command structure since the end of the Cold War and logistical difficulties on the alliance’s eastern flank.

NATO’s relations with Russia have soured over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

Poland as well as Scandinavian and Baltic member states feel threatened by Russia and have urged the alliance to bolster its eastern flank against possible aggression.

In response, NATO has sped up the deployment and increased the size of the Response Force to 40,000 troops.

In 2014, NATO members decided to create a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force consisting of four battalions to act as a spearhead and deterrence against a possible Russian attack.


Order from Chaos

The serpentine trajectory of Turkish-Russian relations

October 4, 2017

by Torrey Taussig·


Turkey and Russia have a centuries-long history woven together by eras of conflict and halfhearted cooperation. In recent years, the two countries have moved closer together under the increasingly authoritarian leadership of Turkish President Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. In September, Turkey rebuffed NATO warnings and finalized a deal to purchase advanced S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia, a move Erdoğan called a matter of Turkey’s national security. Russia, Turkey, and Iran are also seeking deeper cooperation on Syria, where despite clashing interests, the three are negotiating an end to the conflict on their own terms. Finally, and after a brief halt in 2016 due to political tensions, Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) is set to build a $20 billion nuclear power plant in southern Turkey, which some estimate to become operational by 2023.

Many of these moves are pragmatic and instrumental. Turkey, like many European nations, relies extensively on Russia for its energy needs. In Syria, Turkey and Russia need one another’s cooperation to achieve their security interests. Geopolitically, Turkey uses its relationship with Russia as leverage vis-à-vis its European and NATO partners, whereas Putin sees Turkey as a wedge he can drive into NATO and transatlantic solidarity. Yet how far will their tactical cooperation go in binding the two countries in a deeper, strategic partnership?

Brookings scholars Kemal Kirişci and Pavel Baev address this question and many more in their new paper, “An ambiguous partnership: The serpentine trajectory of Turkish-Russian relations in the era of Erdogan and Putin.” On September 19th, the Center on the United States and Europe convened Kirişci and Baev, along with experts Evren Balta of New York University and Naz Durakoğlu, a senior policy advisor to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, to discuss the paper. In a conversation that I moderated, each provided their insights on the state of play in Turkish-Russian relations, and the implications of its uncertain trajectory for the United States and the EU.

A Perplexing Relationship

According to the panelists, growing cooperation between Russia and Turkey is perplexing given their starkly diverging national interests.

The energy sphere, in particular, highlights several contradictions. Turkey’s national security relies on its ability to diversify its energy sources, yet Turkey has taken steps in recent years that have increased its reliance on Russian energy and technology. In 2003, completion of the Blue Stream pipeline increased exports of Russian gas to Turkey, which now accounts for over 50 percent of Turkey’s overall gas resources. More recently, Erdoğan has signaled his approval for the TurkStream pipeline, which, as the paper highlights, will deliver 15.75 billion cubic meters of gas to Turkey and southeastern Europe by 2020. Erdoğan’s decision to grant Rosatom the rights to build the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in southern Turkey is also controversial: As Baev and Kirişci note, it would give Russia “control over a significant portion of Turkey’s electricity production.” In contrast to Turkey’s goals of diversification, both projects will aggravate Turkey’s dependence on Russian energy.

Another perplexing area of cooperation between the two is on Syria and their respective counterterrorism campaigns, as Turkey and Russia maintain directly conflicting interests over Syria’s trajectory and the future of political Islam in the region. First, Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war in September 2015 to support the Assad regime fundamentally clashed with Turkey’s priority of removing Assad from power. Russia also shows just enough concern on the question of the Kurds in Syria to expose America’s vulnerability on this tension with Turkey, but not enough to quell Erdoğan’s mistrust. Despite Erdoğan’s vehement disapproval, Moscow has cultivated ties with the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), a strong Kurdish faction operating in Syria, and has drafted a new Syrian constitution that grants significant autonomy to Kurdish regions.

In Moscow, Baev and Kirişci argue that “Putin made a direct connection between Erdoğan’s hostility to the Assad regime in Syria and his embrace of radical Islam.” Russia is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, which comprises almost 15 percent of the Russian population. Putin respects the religion and its role in Russian society, but perceives of political Islam as a real domestic security threat. Putin is therefore highly distrusting of  Erdoğan’s support for and connections to radical Islamic groups in Syria and has an interest in seeing this ideology fail across the region.

In this already fraught context, relations soured dramatically following Turkey’s shoot-down of a Russian fighter plane in November 2015, which led Russia to impose sanctions on Turkey and initiate a vitriolic propaganda campaign against Erdoğan. Yet the sanctions were lifted (aside from those on Turkish tomatoes) and relations were normalized after Erdoğan apologized for the incident in June 2016. Russia, Turkey, and Iran, despite competing interests, have since deepened their cooperation on Syria, launching the “Astana format” in early 2017 to enact a ceasefire and negotiate an end of the Syrian conflict. The three are now working together to implement “de-escalation zones” throughout the country.

How can these contradictory and perplexing moves be explained? One lens through which to understand their cooperation is ideological, as both leaders maintain a mutual distrust of Western intentions.

An Axis of the Excluded?

Erdoğan and Putin see the West’s instruments of democracy promotion as targeted directly at their own regimes. Erdoğan believes the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen was behind the July 2016 coup that attempted to oust him from power. Similarly, Putin sees American support for civil society actors and democracy activists in Russia and in surrounding countries as pitted against his power. As democratic leaders in the West grow increasingly wary of Erdoğan’s authoritarian order and Putin’s brazen acts of aggression, the two leaders have cozied up to one another. As an illustration of their deeper bond, Putin immediately condemned the 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan, unlike leaders in Western capitals.

However, the anti-Western thread that runs through both leaders’ narratives is different in fundamental and important ways. Kirişci highlighted that in Moscow, Putin and the Russian elite view Russia as “the true and conservative European civilization, which stands in contrast to western Europe’s postmodern and liberal identity.” Ankara, on the other hand, which has a long history of shared traditions with Europe, began to ideologically transition away from the West following the Arab Spring. Baev and Kirişci write, “Turkish leadership hailed the popular uprisings as a ‘grand restoration’ of Islamic civilization and expected the formation of a ‘Muslim Brotherhood belt,’ stretching across Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria.” Erdoğan has since attempted to reorient Turkey as the leader of an emerging Islamic civilization in the Middle East.

During the event, Evren Balta also noted that although Erdoğan and Putin sit atop governments with strong statist traditions in which tools of the bureaucracy and the state are used to implement the will of the leader, neither country should be considered a unitary actor. To understand the many contradictions inherent in Turkish-Russian relations, we need to look inside the “black box of authoritarianism” to the competing political coalitions and interests that are shaping the trajectory of this relationship. Indeed, the confluence of various regime, personal and factional interests may account for why Turkey and Russia have sought cooperation on economic, energy, and security-related matters where their national interests diverge.

Facts Don’t Lie 

In spite of their admittedly on-and-off collaboration, cold hard facts belie deeper cooperation between the two, particularly at the expense of Turkey’s relations with the West. The paper highlights that Russian foreign direct investment (FDI) into Turkey constitutes only 3 percent of all FDI into Turkey between 2007 and 2015, while FDI originating from EU member states during this time made up a substantially larger 73 percent. The EU is also Turkey’s top trading partner, and Turkey exports goods of greater value to the United States than it does Russia, where most of Turkey’s exports are agricultural. Overall, as Naz Durakoğlu stated at the event: “When Turkey looks at Europe, there is a strong economic link. When Turkey looks at the U.S., there is a strong security link. When Turkey looks at Russia… this link is not concrete at all. And you can’t build on something that does not have a solid foundation.”

For these reasons, among others, all four panelists agreed that Turkey’s most prosperous path lies in the West. Baev argued that Turkey’s institutional foundations in the transatlantic arena give the West more leverage in influencing Turkey’s trajectory. “With adversaries,” Baev said, “there is not much room for influence… it is more about containing.” Indeed, Russia is now a staunch adversary of the West with clear intentions to destabilize the United States and fragment solidarity within the European Union and NATO. Therefore, if the West seeks to limit cooperation between these two authoritarian leaders, it should seek to do so through its NATO-bound relationship with Turkey.

Turkey, for its part, is not doing itself any favors regarding developing stronger ties with the West (where most of its economic and security needs are met). Durakoğlu cautioned Turkish policymakers who seem to be “investing a lot in the tolerance of the West,” both in how they are conducting their internal affairs and their affairs with Russia. She elaborated that Ankara would do well to remember that support from the West, while essential, is not unconditional. To illustrate this point, some in the U.S. Congress have acknowledged that Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missiles from Russia may have violated U.S. sanctions on Russia signed into law last month, thereby automatically triggering the imposition of sanctions on Turkey.

Take a Good Look in the Mirror

Yet tensions are not only driven by Turkey’s leaders, and the main fault line between the West and Turkey lies in the Kurdish question. To maintain Ankara’s allegiance to NATO and to its partnerships in Europe and the U.S., the West must acknowledge the very real security threat Ankara perceives from America’s support of Kurdish forces in the region. It is on this very issue that the West may push Turkey further into Russia’s orbit, despite the overriding differences in their national interests.

Finally, to inhibit greater cooperation between Turkey and Russia, Kirişci argued at the event that Western leaders need to “look in the mirror.” Strategic drift in the West, compounded by President Trump’s questionable commitment to the transatlantic partnership and the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU have had damaging effects on Turkey’s own trajectory. Unlike in the 1990s when the United States and the EU engaged Turkey as part of their efforts to strengthen the liberal international order, today their commitment to the liberal principles, and to Turkey, is less evident. Kirişci warned: “When you become ambiguous about your commitment to upholding the liberal international order, you start to see countries that are part and parcel of that order drift away.”


Germany says hopes to resume training of Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq

October 20, 2017


BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany hopes to resume its mission training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq on Sunday, provided the conflict between the Kurds and the Iraqi government does not worsen, a German defense ministry spokesman said on Friday.

Germany suspended its training assistance last week citing the increased tensions between Baghdad and the Kurds after the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq voted in a non-binding referendum for independence.

Germany, along with other Western nations, joined Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors in opposing the referendum, partly due to concerns that it would distract from the fight against Islamic State militants, in which the Kurds have played a key role.

“If there is no serious changes on the ground, it’s highly probable that the training will resume on Sunday,” the German defense ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman said Germany took the decision to resume the training after consultations with the Kurdish and Iraqi parties and with the United States.

He was speaking on the day when Iraqi forces completed their push to take back control of the contested province of Kirkuk from the Kurds, who had moved into the area in 2014 to prevent Islamic State seizing the oilfields.

Germany has provided 32,000 assault rifle and machine guns, as well as other weapons valued at around 90 million euros since 2014.

About 150 German soldiers are providing training to the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters for their combat against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

Reporting By Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Gareth Jones

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