Fire kills 10 at Russian arms depot, briefly halts Transsiberian railway

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The Transsiberian railway crossing Chuna River...
The Transsiberian railway crossing Chuna River near Nizhneudinsk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MOSCOW Wed Apr 30, 2014 2:20am EDT

(Reuters) – Explosions caused by a fire killed at least 10 people at a munitions depot in eastern Siberia and temporarily closed a section of the Transsiberian railway, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Engineers found a truck with 10 corpses in the early hours of Wednesday, a Defense Ministry spokesman told Rossiya-24 television, which carried pictures of flames swirling high in the night sky and turning it red.

The blaze broke out on Tuesday at the depot near Bolshaya Tura village, some 6,200 km (3,852 miles) southeast of Moscow, caused by a wildfire raging nearby. More than 1,000 residents were evacuated, the local Emergencies Ministry said. Read the rest of this entry »

20 March SWJ Roundup

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Small Wars Journal Daily Roundup


Ukraine to Pull All Its Military From Crimea, Conceding Loss – NYT

Ukraine Makes Plans for Troops to Leave Crimea – WP

Ukraine ‘Planning Crimea Withdrawal’ – BBC

Pro-Russian Forces Seize Ukraine Navy HQ – VOA

Ukraine Forces Attacked by Pro-Russia Gunmen; Navy Facilities Seized – LAT

Russian Troops Take Over Another Ukrainian Naval Base in Crimea – Reuters

Ukraine Orders Troops to Leave Crimea, Russia Offers Better Pay – McClatchy

Cyber Peace Reigns Despite Russia, Ukraine Tensions – VOA

Russia’s Moves in Ukraine Seen as ‘Wake-Up Call’ for NATO – WP

US, NATO Warn Russia Faces ‘High Costs’ Over Crimea – VOA

NATO Secretary General: Russia Must Suffer Consequences – AFPS

US, European Allies to Step Up Sanctions on Russia – LAT

US Ponders Next Moves in Crimea Crisis – WP

Obama: No US ‘Military Excursion’ in Ukraine – WP

US Defense Chief Praises Ukraine’s Restraint in Crimea Crisis – Reuters

UN Chief Heads to Moscow, Kyiv – VOA

In Crimea, a Swell of Patriotism, But What is to Follow? – WP

For Moscow, Crimea May Prove an Expensive Prize – CSM

Ukraine Minister Says West Sure to Provide More Support – Reuters

Opinions on Ukraine from American and Foreign Media – VOA Roundup

A New Russian Order – WP Editorial

Russia and the Group of 8 – NYT Editorial

Saving Ukraine from Another Russian Heist – CSM Editorial

Crimea Shows US Can’t Step Back and Let Others Lead – CSM Opinion

A Fear of Russia – WP Opinion

A Way Forward for Ukraine – NYT Opinion

Crimea’s Silver Lining – WP Opinion

NATO’s Strategic Ace: Vladimir Putin – UPI Opinion

Putin’s Warped Reality – WP Opinion

How to Punish Putin – NYT Opinion

Making Putin Pay – WP Opinion

Why Sanctions Don’t Really Work – LAT Opinion

Russia / NATO

Russia’s Moves in Ukraine Seen as ‘Wake-Up Call’ for NATO – WP

Biden: US Will Respond to Aggression Against NATO Allies – VOA

Biden Signals Plans for More US Military Drills in the Baltics – USAT

Another Set of Wary Allies Seeks U.S. Reassurance – NYT

In Eastern Europe, Biden Finds Uncertain Allies – WP

European Leaders Seek Ways to Curb Dependence on Russian Gas – Reuters

NATO’s Strategic Ace: Vladimir Putin – UPI Opinion


Watchdog: US May be Paying Salaries of ‘Ghost’ Afghan Policemen – S&S

Women Vital for Democratic Success in Afghanistan, UN Says – UPI

Razia Jan Fights to Educate Girls in Rural Afghanistan – CSM Read the rest of this entry »

Why U.S. Spies Get Putin Wrong

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By Eli Lake March 2, 2014 4:40 PM The Daily Beast
The last time Russian troops invaded one of its neighbors, the U.S. intelligence community was also caught off guard.


The year was 2008 and the country was Georgia instead of the Ukraine. And just as in 2014, back then there were early signs that Moscow was serious—it was issuing visas  to ethnic Russian speakers inGeorgia, like it’s doing now in Ukraine.  U.S. analysts just didn’t believe Russia would go as far as it did.

Today, as in 2008, American policy makers have found themselves burned after trying to make Vladimir Putin a partner when Putin himself sees America as a rival. This has often led Republican and Democratic led administrations to find themselves flat footed in the face of Russian aggression and U.S. intelligence analysts racing to explain how they misread Putin’s motivations.

Read the rest of this entry »

Russia plays the Iran card

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Russian President Vladimir Putin passes Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during their meeting at the Kremlin, Jan. 16, 2014.  (photo by REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)

The Geneva II conference to be held next week may be the most intriguing event in diplomacy since the Cold War. On the one hand, this is an example of the cooperation of major countries that want to resolve a regional conflict, each for its own reason. On the other hand, this is a classic “great game,” when all participants are afraid to miscalculate and miss out on the opportunities that will arise. All this is happening, yet the result is completely unpredictable. Even the process itself is unpredictable — a few days before the conference is set to begin, it is still unclear who will participate.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Failure of the Moscow Talks – What’s Next?

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Cascades of gas centrifuges are used to enrich...
Cascades of gas centrifuges are used to enrich uranium ore to concentrate its fissionable isotopes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

INSS Insight – Asculai, Ephraim: The Istanbul-Baghdad-Moscow talks on Iran’s nuclear program are over. As expected, they did not achieve anything of significance, besides deciding on further, lower level talks. Indeed, the P5 1 and the Iranian delegations shared one objective: they did not want the process to end, thereby necessitating a decision on different tracks. The Iranians are successfully playing for time, as they have done for so many years, and the members of the P5 1 group are also trying to delay any inconvenient decisions, each group member for its own reasons. Most noticeably, the US delegation would like to postpone any major decision until after the November 2012 presidential elections. For their part, the Iranians need time to advance their nuclear program and produce as much enriched uranium as possible. Although according to many reports the sanctions are hurting Iran, they are still not hurting Iran badly enough, and the Iranians are able to bear them.

The ultimate aims of both sides are, of course, diametrically opposite. The Iranians want to retain the capability to enrich uranium to military-grade levels and to gain the ability to produce several nuclear weapons in short order, should the Islamic Republic’s authorities so decide. The Iranian strategy is very simple: they want the world to recognize the legitimacy of the Iranian uranium enrichment program. Even under limited conditions, such recognition would enable Iran to retain its technical capabilities, to perfect the enrichment process, and to leave them a potential for a breakout (defined as the start of the process to produce military-grade enriched uranium), whenever they decide to do so. In addition, the Iranians could well construct concealed facilities and secretly produce enriched uranium to whatever levels they choose to achieve.

The P5 1 want to prevent this possibility, but their remaining options are few. It is nearly impossible to envision the Security Council taking any further action against Iran, because Russia and China would likely vote against it. The first and most probable option for the West (the P5 1 minus Russia and China) is to impose the July sanctions on oil and hope for the best. The next option is to increase the sanctions considerably and wait for the Iranians to blink. The third option is military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

What would the Iranians do? Although the present sanctions have hurt Iran considerably, there are those who think that Iran can shoulder them indefinitely and will therefore continue with its present tactics of preventing a showdown while enriching uranium. Read the rest of this entry »

The Undiplomat

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Obama’s ambassador to Moscow has gotten a rude welcome in Putin’s Russia. But he’s not going to take it anymore.



MOSCOW — This winter, Michael McFaul discovered a number of surprising things about himself. He was imposing odious American holidays, like Valentine’s Day and Halloween, on the Russian people. He personally whisked Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny out of the country to Yale on a fellowship. He was inviting opposition figures to the U.S. Embassy “to get instructions.” And he was a pedophile. Or so his online tormentors claimed.


This was McFaul’s welcome to his new job: United States ambassador to Russia. Along with being attacked on state television and having picket lines across from the embassy, he was being followed — and harassed — by a red-haired reporter from NTV, the state-friendly channel. One day, a horde of activists from Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth group, showed up at the embassy gates in white jumpsuits, and played dead: They did not want to be the victims of a revolution, like the unfortunates of Egypt, their posters said. As a result, the ambassador’s security had to be tightened.

“What I did not anticipate, honestly, was the degree, the volume, the relentless anti-Americanism that we’re seeing right now,” McFaul told me in February, a note of real hurt ringing in his normally chipper, measured voice. “That is odd for us. Because we have spent three years trying to build a different relationship with this country.” He added, almost stuttering, “I mean, I’m genuinely confused by it.”

A month later, he lost it.

The explosion came when McFaul arrived at the office of For Human Rights, an NGO in Moscow’s historic center. He was going to see his old friend, veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomarev, whom he’d known since he was an international studies graduate student running around perestroika-era Moscow. It may have been late March, but it was cold and the stuff that fell from the sky was neither snow nor rain: a long cry from McFaul’s California home. As ambassador, though, he didn’t have to bother with a jacket: he had his black Cadillac.

Had he known that the redhead from NTV would again be waiting for him with a camera crew, however, he may have dressed a little warmer.

What was McFaul going to discuss with Ponomarev?, the redhead asked as the camera bounced to follow the moving ambassador.

“Your ambassador moves about without this, without you getting in the way of his work,” McFaul said in slightly crooked Russian. He was clearly angry but maintained a wide, all-American smile. “And you guys are always with me. In my house! Are you not ashamed of this? You’re insulting your own country when you do this, don’t you understand?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Russian customs seize Iran-bound radioactive metal

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Former US embassy in Tehran, Iran
Image via Wikipedia

Dec 16, 3:38 PM EST

MOSCOW (AP)Russia’s customs agency announced Friday it has seized pieces of radioactive metal from the luggage of an Iranian passenger bound for Tehran from one of Moscow’s main airports.

It was not immediately clear if the substance could be any use to Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA confirmed that material had been seized from the luggage of an Iranian passenger in Moscow about a month ago, but denied it was radioactive.

Russia’s Federal Customs Service said in a statement that agents found 18 pieces of metal, packed in steel pencil cases, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after a radiation alert went off. It said the gauges showed that radiation levels were 20 times higher than normal.

Spokeswoman Kseniya Grebenkina told The Associated Press the luggage was seized some time ago, but did not specify when. The Iranian wasn’t detained, she said, and it was not clear whether he was still in Russia or not. She did not give his name. The pieces contained Sodium-22, she said, a radioactive isotope of sodium that could be produced in a particle accelerator.

Kelly Classic, a health physicist at the United States’ renowned Mayo Clinic, said: “You can’t make a nuclear bomb or dirty bomb with it.”

“You’d certainly wonder where it came from and why,” Classic told The Associated Press. “It’s prudent to be a little leery considering where the person’s going.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Condomnation of Vladimir Putin

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Russia’s embattled ruler meets his public.


MOSCOW – Russians had not really seen Vladimir Putin since his ruling United Russia party was walloped, at least by Russian standards, in the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections. Since then, Moscow, and the rest of the country, had been rocked by anti-government — and anti-Putin — protests. Tens of thousands of previously politically inactive people pinned white ribbons to their coats and came out across Russia to contest the elections, expressing their displeasure at being treated like idiots by the Kremlin for the past decade. Up until Thursday, the Kremlin’s reaction to this outpouring implied either panic, denial, or both. Putin remained well out of sight. He spoke through his spokesman in vague, contradictory statements, and, once, in a meeting of his People’s Front, blamed the protests on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, claiming she had sent Russians a certain “signal.” Read the rest of this entry »

The US/NATO ABM Defense Shield in the Black Sea Region

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08 December 2011

Three missiles pointing to the sky, courtesy edbrambley/flickr
Creative Commons - Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons - Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Russian missiles

The anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system under construction by the US and NATO in the Black Sea Region poses no threat to US-Russian nuclear strategic parity. On the contrary, it holds cooperative potential for the two leading nuclear powers. It could also stabilize the broader Eurasian security situation in the light of Iran’s policy of nuclear blackmail.

By Plamen Pantev for ISN Insights

The installation of NATO radar systems in Turkey and Romania paves the way for the creation of an effective regional anti-ballistic missile defense system: Bucharest also confirmed its readiness to host ABM platforms for ground-based interceptors of medium-range missiles; Georgia has displayed similar readiness to allow NATO to use its territory for further ABM systems; Bulgaria politically supports the construction of such a system, but the technical appropriateness of building it on Turkish and Romanian territory has so far prevented Sofia from physically hosting ABM system elements. The Black Sea regional anti-ballistic missile system will be a significant component of a larger regional infrastructure that would include Poland and Spain, as well as US ships equipped with Aegis combat systems, capable of intercepting ballistic missiles.

Tactics and Strategy

The purpose, design, implementation and consequences of having regional ABM defense around the Black Sea are of a tactical character as they cannot be used against Russian strategic forces and in no way threaten Moscow’s nuclear potential and deterrence capabilities – at least for the next decade. In the future, technological improvements could lead to the upgrading of the Black Sea ABM defense from tactical to one of strategic importance. Radar systems in operation in Turkey and Romania already have the potential to detect and track some ballistic missile launches from Russian territory, but with no significant military effect as Moscow’s strategic objectives are in a northerly, not southerly, direction. A decade could also provide enough time for negotiations and agreements between Russia and the United States which diminish both countries’ threat perceptions and promote broader deterrence interests.

The construction of the ABM system in the Black Sea area bears a huge potential for cooperation between NATO, the US and Russia. There are expectations and hopes in the countries of the Black Sea Region and within the Alliance that this system could become a joint cooperative project between the US and Russia: Neither the NATO countries, nor Russia and its immediate neighbors need an uncontrolled and increasingly provocative nuclear Iran.

The Uncertainties of Iran

At this point in time, Russia considers cooperating with Tehran a simple continuation of an old partnership. Both countries share a strong interest in the supply of, and markets for, natural gas: They have the potential to dictate most world developments in this area. They are also regional powers with a variety of geopolitical challenges surrounding them. Furthermore, Iran is a key component of Russia’s north-south strategic corridor, which links the chilly European north with the warm waters of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, a corridor along which trade and economic exchange has successfully flourished. Considering its strategic importance, Russia is undoubtedly interested in having a friendly Iran on its borders.

What Russia must also take into consideration, however, is Iran’s ambition to polarize sectarian differences within the Muslim religion, which has assumed very secular geopolitical parameters. Russia would not be excepted from experiencing the negative consequences of such a policy: The Russian Federation’s huge Muslim population – and perhaps more critically, its northern Caucasian territories – are not immune to Iran’s social, cultural and religious influence. Read the rest of this entry »

This Week – NATO needs to act on nuclear policy

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This week NATO foreign ministers meet (7th & 8th), less than six months before the summit in Chicago. They have a full agenda, not least the debates over the management of withdrawal from Afghanistan and discussing lessons from the Libya experience. They will also consider the deterrence and defense posture review (DDPR) that has been developing behind closed doors, but still in a surprisingly unformed state given its planned completion in May. Internal expectations are not high for significant change, but this really is not good news.

Unless NATO member states take initiative not only to clarify declaratory policy, but also lay out the road towards the withdrawal of its symbolic nuclear deployments in Europe, and shift the tools of assurance toward non-nuclear measures, they will be responsible for freezing the arms control relationship with Russia for several years and impacting upon the chances of pulling together international consensus behind tighter measures to combat the threat of nuclear proliferation.

Read the rest of this entry »