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Russian Spetsnaz – Ukraine’s Deniable ‘Little Green Men’

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In February 2013 the influential Moscow based ‘Military Industrial Courier’, published an article by Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, army General Valery Gerasimov. He explained, “That a perfectly striving country can, in a matter of months or even days, be transformed into an area of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe and civil war…”

He also said, this devastation need not be kinetic. The role of the non-military elements for achieving political and strategic goals has grown and in many cases they have exceeded the force of weapons in their effectiveness. All this is achieved by military means of a ‘concealed’ nature and include acts of information conflict and special operation forces.

The military doctrine promoted by Gerasimov and endorsed by Vladimir Putin resulted in the use of Spetsnaz troops: the deniable ‘little green men’ in the guise of local security forces who created the illusion of legitimacy- Ukrainians wanted to be part of Russia!. This was also an element of psychological warfare – local journalists did not know whether these men would answer questions or shoot them.

As intended, Spetsnaz troops created ambiguity: it allowed Russia to deny any involvement in the Ukraine conflict and was also designed to create a climate of indecision among multi-national organisations such as NATO, the EU and political systems based on the principles of consensus, when deciding on what actions to take.

While NATO and the 24 hour news cycle concentrated on Russian military forces on the Ukraine border, the ‘deniable’ Spetsnaz troops were quietly escalating tensions, engaged in subversion, training pro-Russian sympathizers and conducting reconnaissance throughout Ukraine. Without raising the Russian flag they created the conditions for a proxy-war and guided so-called separatists to achieve the objectives set out by the Kremlin. Stealth, rather than conventional military forces was used to further the objectives of deniable participation in the invasion of an independent state.

What is Spetsnaz?

Until the late 1990s the main source of information about Spetsnaz came from the writer Victor Suvorov. In 1987 he published ‘Spetsnaz: The inside Story of the Soviet Union”. Victor Suvorov, whose real name is Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezum, claimed to have served as a Spetsnaz officer.

Born in 1947, Rezum trained as a military officer in Kalinin and Kyiv, but there is no evidence of him serving with Spetsnaz forces. After studying at the Soviet Diplomatic Academy, in 1974 he served as a major in the Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU) and worked under diplomatic cover from the Soviet Embassy in Geneva. In 1978 Major Rezum defected to England and was subsequently sentenced to death by the Soviet Supreme Court for treason.

Although he undoubtedly knows the inner workings of the GRU during the Soviet period, his knowledge of Spetsnaz has been called into question. In light of the continued effectiveness of Russia’s Spetsnaz forces in Ukraine and other former Soviet states there is a need to review our understanding of these forces which have undergone extensive restructuring under Putin’s leadership.

Spetsnaz (special designation or special purpose troops) are often wrongly considered to be the equivalent to western Special Forces. Although in comparison with Russia’s conventional forces they can be considered elite, they should not be regarded as being at tier one Special Forces level: it is their capability of engaging in ambiguous political-military operations such as that in Ukraine, not the quality of their soldiers. (See RUSI March 2015, Igor Sutyagin)

The word Spetsnaz is not confined to the Russian military and has been used to describe special designation troops in all the Soviet states and the name is still used today. We also find the western image of an all-male military formation is not correct. As Suvorov said in 1987, these units also have a large number of women who have undergone the same training and possess the same skills as their male counterparts. This is supported by the arrest of two female Spetsnaz operators by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and several reports of females acting as agent provocateurs in Maiden Square. The Russian government also makes no secret of their female operatives. For instance, on 21 September 2013, RT released a video of 35 women undergoing Spetsnaz training and reported that 600 soldiers, including 150 women had completed the course at the Southern Military District in the Krasnodar region. (For further reading see my post ‘Russian Clandestine Operations in Ukraine’, 13 April, 2015)

Political Operators- active measures/ political warfare

Although there continues to be limited verifiable information coming out of eastern Ukraine, through the indiscreet use of social media, personal and Russian patriotic websites we see that female Spetsnaz operative played, and continue to play key roles in Ukraine and are officially regarded as essential within the broad concept of ‘political warfare’. A case in point is the capture of Maria Koleda by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in 2014, and the activities of Yulia Kharlamova of the 38th Separate Parachute Brigade, which I covered in an earlier post.

During the 2006 restructuring of the armed forces Spetsnaz was completely transformed in order to create a deniable military force capable of employing Gerasimov’s ‘new’ military doctrine, which has variously been described as non-linear warfare, hybrid warfare, asymmetric warfare and political warfare. To simplify this military strategy, Jane’s Intelligence Review of 2014, described Spetsnaz as an,“element of this military doctrine responsible for waging war below the radar of traditional collective intelligence”

While the restructuring included the introduction of new weapons, technology and integrating the Gerasimov tactics and concepts into their operational roles, Spetsnaz is still responsible for sabotage, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering; the assassination of political leaders and military officers. These units are also tools of the Russian intelligence communities. Although separate from the Ministry of Defence and reporting directly to Military Intelligence (GRU) they work closely with the FSB. Consequently, they may be referred to as Spetsnaz GRU or Spetsnaz FSB depending on what organisation they are assigned to. This became apparent after the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) captured both FSB and GRU Spetsnaz operatives.

Ukraine

There have been several reports of Spetsnaz troops in eastern Ukraine operating at platoon strength and these are said to be elements from five independent brigades- the 346 of the Special Operations Command (KSO), 2nd, 22nd, and 24th Spetsnaz brigades. Of particular interest are recent reports of the 100th Brigade operating in eastern Ukraine.

Although fully operational, because the 100th Brigade is currently tasked with training, testing new weapons and technology, they are ideally suited for training separatist militias, including instruction in the use of heavy weapons. This may account for the increased efficiency of the pro-Russian militias which are said to mainly consist of ill-disciplined terrorists and Russian mercenaries.

Each brigade has its own communications unit and during the 2006 restructuring and modernization program emphasis was placed on enhancing their signals intelligence capabilities. According to recent reports which have been supported by captured documents and photographs, a Spetsnaz Sigint unit has been operating in Syria and this has resulted in the increased accuracy of government air strikes and artillery fire against rebel leaders. In light of these documents, which are still to be independently verified, it has to be assumed the same capabilities are being employed in Ukraine.

Spetsnaz has proved capable of operating in politically and operationally complex environments and paving the way for conventional military forces. For instance, Spetsnaz ensured the 727th Independent Naval Infantry Brigade and the 18th Independent Motorized Brigade and other regular forces entered Ukraine with minimum opposition from government forces.

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Defense

Turkey is the Guarantor of Peace in the Black Sea region

Asim Suleymanov

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The wider Black Sea region—which brings together the littoral states plus neighbouring countries—is experiencing a rapidly shifting security environment that combines large-scale conventional military threats, internationalized civil wars and protracted conflicts, as well as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) challenges. As such, a fragile set of states caught between the Euro-Atlantic community, on the one hand, and Russia and its allies, on the other, has emerged as a key interface between the two security communities.  

Since the 1990s, most of the world’s identified cases of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials—fissile materials, in particular—have been located in countries around the Black Sea. The nuclear security situation in the region is further complicated by the existence of areas with unstable governance and protracted conflicts such as in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and areas of Eastern Ukraine since 2014.

The Washington’s open, aggressive behavior in the international arena pushes traditional allies away from it. But despite the escalation of the conflict with Turkey, the United States, being the founding member of NATO, is still pursuing the goal of strengthening its presence in the Black Sea.

Today, the main allies of the White House in this region are the leadership of Georgia and Ukraine, who dream of entry into NATO and accept all the imposed conditions.
However, for more than 80 years the presence of warships of non-Black Sea powers, that could enter the sea via the Bosphorus, has been regulated by the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits. According to it, the total non-Black Sea tonnage, with few exceptions, is limited to 15 thousand ships. It prevents the emergence of something more significant there than a detachment of light forces, one or two large warships. At the same time for warships there are restrictions on the class and duration of stay. In particular, ships of non-Black Sea states can stay in the water area for no more than 21 days.
Any attempts to violate this document will be extremely negatively perceived by Turkey, that should be one of the leading players in the region. It is impossible to revise the convention without the consent of Turkey, and only supporting by Ankara country can provide overwhelming superiority in the Black Sea.


In such a situation, the Pentagon considers it possible to use the navigable channel of Istanbul for the passage of American aircraft carriers, that will connect the Marmara and the Black Sea. A channel of about 50 km in length will run parallel to the Bosphorus, while the Montreux Convention will not extend to it. The construction of Channel Istanbul will be completed in 2023.

By the end of construction, everything will depend on the leadership of Turkey. If Ankara concedes and allows the passage of the US Navy aircraft carriers through the new channel, it will surrender all its positions in the Black Sea to the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, NATO member countries (this is not about Bulgaria and Romania) maintain a military presence in the Black Sea region. The Sea Shield 2019 naval drills ended in mid-April, and the reconnaissance ship HMS Echo of the British Royal Navy continues to carry out its mission in the Black Sea.

The US Navy already has 11 atomic high-speed aircraft carriers, each with about 90 aircraft. If we imagine that a small part of them will be placed in the Black Sea, then Russia will receive a defensive response. And then all the terrible scenarios of hostilities are likely to happen.

There is a hope that the Turkish government has enough resilience and determination in confronting the harsh rhetoric of other NATO partners.

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Defense

Insecurity of India’s Nuclear Weapons

Ali Raza

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After 1945, it came into the knowledge that nuclear weapons are the most destructive, lethal and powerful weapon on the planet earth, which can wipe out hundreds of thousands of people in short span of time. That’s why global community, particularly the U.S. and Former Soviet Union agreed on formulation of stringent globally accepted principles to secure these destructive weapons. India is the first country that brought nuclear weapons in South Asia by detonating nuclear device back in 1974 and yet again in 1998.However, since than safety and security of these weapons under the control of violent Hindutva regime has considerably attracted much of the scholars’ attraction.

Terrorism has become an increasing concern within international society but so far there has been less focus on one particular aspect of the problem that is nuclear terrorism. Yet, within the context of South Asia this is of special significance, given the number of insurgencies and freedom struggles with transnational linkages, and the nuclearisation of this region since 1998. Of all the South Asian states, India’s nuclear facilities are perhaps the most vulnerable to nuclear terrorism, given India’s expansive nuclear programme, much of it not subject to IAEA safeguards. In addition, the vulnerability of India’s nuclear facilities is further aggravated by its thriving underworld and more than a dozen insurgencies going on within the Indian states, as well as the freedom struggle in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

India’s nuclear programme has developed at an exceptionally fast pace. However, because a few of such facilities are under international safeguards, there is little knowledge about the levels of safety of the various nuclear facilities. Of the ten operational power plants, only four are under IAEA safeguards. According to an Indian parliamentary report, 147 mishaps or safety-related unusual occurrences were reported between the years 1995-1998 in Indian atomic energy plants. Of these, 28 were of an acute nature and 9 of these 28 occurred in the nuclear power installations. Thus, the state of Indian nuclear facilities raises serious concerns as they seem to be vulnerable to a high probability of terrorist attacks, thefts and accidents. The scale of the programme aggravates the problems, as there are plans for the building of pressurized heavy water reactors, fast breeder reactors and thorium reactors on a commercial scale.

Apart from the risk of falling of nuclear weapons and related technology in the hands of terrorists, if one looks at the leadership of India and try to analyse the factor of rationality in the decision making of use of nuclear weapon it clearly suggests that the current leadership i.e. BJP is not only hawkish in its nature but equally believes in use of force for political gains, which further leads us to the assumption that the nuclear decision making is equally occupied by the Hindu hardliners.

During the recent Pulwama Crisis, it has been learnt that BJP’s irresponsible behaviour should suffice for all Indians to understand that India will remain hyphenated with Pakistan for foreseeable time. India planned to use Brahmos missile that could carry nuclear warhead. India’s behaviour clearly shows that nuclear weapons are in wrong hands. Because the yield and potential related to the nuclear weapons are absolutely detrimental and possession of such weapons in wrong, less responsible and extremist hands is a threat for the entire world.

The only purpose of nuclear weapons is to acquire deterrence in order to avoid the possibility of war. But, India is showing the attitude that it will use these weapons for the purposes of war fighting, which is unacceptable to international community.  

The track record of India in the field of nuclear weapons and related technology is much muddier. India initiated arms race in the region, and, it is leaving no stone unturned e.g. advancements in sea-based nuclear capabilities and militarisation of space. Most importantly the recent ASAT test, which is in fact a compelling factor for neighbouring states to think in the same way in order to acquire comparable technologies for equalizing the defence capabilities. These alarming acts of India can bring the entire region at the verge of instability, which in fact could prove dire for the peace of the entire globe keeping in view the economic, natural resources, political and security factors of the region.

The time has come for the international community to break its silence and stop their patronage for India and take serious note and steps regarding the possession of nuclear weapons by India in relation to its aggressive and immature behaviour and mind-set of its leadership, which can lead entire globe to the unacceptable disaster. Since, Kashmir is flash point between both nuclear armed states it is only India which is triggering it by its continuous atrocities in Kashmir. Most importantly existence of ISIS in India is also a foremost point of concern especially keeping in view the nuclear program of India, according to the recent development ISIS claimed for the first time that it has established a “province” in India, after a clash between militants and security forces in the contested Kashmir region killed a militant with alleged ties to the group. This is not only the matter, which solely related to the stability and security of South Asia. This time instability is knocking the door of entire globe in the form of India. The continuous negligence of international community with respect to Indian nuclear weapons will definitely disturb the stability as well as peace of the entire globe.

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Defense

Why the U.S. is silent about military exercises in the Baltic States

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The Baltic States are in the anticipation of the annual large scale military exercise Saber Strike.

The well-known annual international exercise held since 2010 by the United States Army Europe (USAREUR) is focused on the Baltic States. These countries consider this event as a key element of participants’ training on command and control as well as interoperability with regional partners. The Saber Strike exercise aims to facilitate cooperation amongst the U.S., Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and allied and partner nations.

Usually these maneuvers take place in June. Thus, it is logical to assume that the time of the military exercise is coming, but this year event is never mentioned.

There are two ways of situation development. The first one is – Saber Strike 2019 will not be held at all. The second one is the information about Saber Strike 2019 is classified.

The first assumption is unlikely taking into account the U.S. and NATO desire to strengthen the position in the region. This assumption is also contradicted by the increasing number and scale of international and national military exercises in the Baltic region.
So, the second assumption is most likely. But the question arises about the aim of hiding the information or its content. It is widely proclaimed that NATO and the U.S. put transparency about the exercises in the head. This principle is either one of the key priorities of all international organizations including UN and OSCE. Transparency of activity helps to build international peace and trust.

It is especially surprising after NATO expressed concern about transparency of Russian and Russia-Belarus military drills which were held near the Baltic State’s borders. Unlike allies, opponents give preliminary information about planned exercises. By the way, some facts can be find on Internet about joint exercise Union Shield 2019 that will take place in autumn in Russia.

BulgarianMilitary.com  quoted  Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu who stated in 2018 that “Union Shield 2019” exercise would be only defensive and emphasized: “First and foremost, and I would like everyone to hear that, our drills are solely of defensive nature. We do not plan any offensive actions as compared to the [NATO] military exercises. We, undoubtedly, are doing this not as a response to some drills but as a response to the threats which exist today and which, to our big regret, grow every year.”

From time to time we can read about the preparations for Russian-Belarusian exercise “Union Shield 2019”. Thus on March 12-14, the Belarusian-Russian command-staff training on working out the interaction of military authorities, formations and military units in the framework of the regional grouping of troops (RGT) was carried out jointly, as well as improving the RGT control system.

“The general staffs have embarked on the preparation of the Union Shield 2019 exercise, which will be the main event of joint training of the military command and troops in 2019 and which will further improve the system of military security of the Union State,” Belarusian Minister of Defense Andrei Ravkov noted. According to him, such events help check the quality and level of combat readiness of the regional group of troops, to see the real capabilities of weapons and the ability to carry out combat tasks.
True or not, but information is available. It is not very detailed but at least it is provided in advance. At least they name it as defensive.

As far as Saber Strike is concerned, everything is vaguely and therefore scary. What is the aim of it? Does it have defensive or offensive nature? When and who will come to the Baltic States? The approach “no comments” is not the best one in this case. The Baltics want and should know. Our opponents should be aware either. Otherwise their respond could be unexpected and even destroying. Uncertainty causes panic and rejection among local population.

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