There is no shortage of security threats to the NATO alliance: a resurgent and militarily active Russia; the territorial and global jihadist threat of DAESH; and the movements of over 4 million refugees.
Now, more than ever, would seem a time where solidarity of purpose and the coordination of logistical and security efforts would serve as a useful mechanism for minimum basic security. While NATO could hardly be described as a model of solidarity or efficiency, the outlook of NATO has not only dramatically changed after the November 24th downing of a Russian Su-24 warplane, its very purpose for existing may be now called into question.
While the data is insufficient at this point, the narrative is developing predictably. Turkish President Erdogan said that the Russian warplane violated Turkish airspace and that it failed to respect 10 warnings from the Turkish military. Ultimately, “Turkey is a country whose warnings should be taken seriously and listened to. Don’t test Turkey’s patience. Try to win its friendship.” Erdogan doubled down by highlighting the estimated 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey – a burden that far out paces any commitment by other NATO member states. These are nothing short of targeted threats and are intended to resonate more within the NATO alliance than act as a hedge against Russia’s military activity on or within Turkish borders.
Russia’s reaction has been equally predictable. President Putin has quickly adopted a more harsh tone, not only highlighting the consequences of this action on Russian-Turkish relations but directly calling this “a stab in the back by the terrorists’ accomplices.” Thus, the board is set, the die cast, and the pieces moving. The next steps are now what crucially matter. In this sense, it is easy to see why some are questioning how is this not the start of WWIII? We are witnessing a nearly global response to a series of meta-conflicts that have seen tens of thousands of lives lost and millions displaced. Meanwhile, global and regional powers are now openly brandishing military, economic, and political tools, bound in seemingly contradictory relationships as everyone has a web of shared/conflicting interests. Forces are gradually being amassed reminiscent of a situation preparatory to war and now the traditional security dilemma could be starting to unfold. The only ingredient missing is a modern day Ferdinand-Princip moment.
It would be overly pessimistic to say that this is a foregone conclusion. Similarly, it would be foolishly naive to say that the current state of affairs in the Syrian-DAESH conflict is not a potential tinderbox that could unravel the world’s strongest military alliance. Unfortunately, the varied and inconsistent reactions by NATO member states are doing little to prevent the pessimistic narrative from becoming reality. The brief moment of opportunity and unity of purpose between the U.S., Russia, and France in light of DAESH’s global strikes in Paris seem to have been as substantively robust as internet selfies transposed with the French flag on Facebook. The Turkish strike, which could technically be called a strike by NATO against Russia, has effectively sublimated any global sentiment for transcending traditional rivalries.
While the message from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was clear (“we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally”), the responses from leaders of other NATO member states have been less clear. The responses have been a mix of passively enumerating international law, a call for calm and de-escalation, and confusion, given the many reports citing that the Russian aircraft was only in Turkish airspace for 30 seconds. This last claim, which comes out of an early report from the U.S., gives credence to Putin’s charge that this attack from Turkey was far from reactionary but premeditated. How, ultimately, can the NATO alliance move forward given the disparate reactions to the events of November 24, their competing goals in the two-front challenge of Syria-DAESH and Russia, and the increasingly emotional political discourse heavily-laden with nationalistic overtones?
It is important to put the NATO alliance into context. It is a military alliance intended to provide mutual security and protection against external threats. This function was a strategic priority of the highest order. The history of NATO was rather simple in this regard: it was designed to be a bulwark against the Soviet Union in a bi-polar world with inter-state security threats expected to be fought in conventional theatres. 25 years on, a lot has changed in the global political and security landscape. And while NATO has not adapted one cannot be overly critical: NATO, in effect, served its purpose. If its purpose now is to support and extend ad infinitum the status quo of ‘Pax Americana,’ then its aims are aspirational and its structure is subordinated to interests based upon values (or dogma) rather than security.
It is at this point where we ought to be reminded of another set of European values – the specific and changing interests of the state. To paraphrase the famous quote from Henry Templeton: “I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of [insert country]. We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and those interests it is our duty to follow.” NATO is not a single sovereign state and it is no longer singularly charged to defend the collective interests of Europe against the no longer existent Soviet Union. Security threats and interests change, as do individual state strategies toward pursuing those interests and defending against diverse threats. NATO, in its current structure, no longer adequately addresses the security challenges to its member states nor serves as a convening body to unite a set of similar interests among diverse parties. This alliance is in tatters and basically has been for 25 years. The Turkish strike on the Russian aircraft was not the straw that broke the camel’s back, therefore, but simply the removal of a blindfold long needed to be removed.
No one will deter Russia in the Baltic region
Recently researchers and analysts of the RAND Corporation issued the report “Exploring Requirements for Effective Deterrence of Interstate Aggression.”
The stated aim of this report is “to provide a fresh look at the subject in this context, with two primary purposes: to review established concepts about deterrence, and to provide a framework for evaluating the strength of deterrent relationships.” Chapter Four of the report is called “Deterring Russia in the Baltic Region” and presents analysis of security challenges in the Baltic States.
This particular report is interesting by the fact that it acknowledges the minimal likelihood of Russia’s military aggression in the Baltics. It is more than strange when take into account the previous report that insisted on high level probability of Russian aggression. This time experts consider the situation to be less dangerous for the Baltic Region.
According to the RAND Corporation analysts, Russia does not consider the Baltic States to be a strategically important region for itself.
Therefore, despite the Kremlin’s desire to change the balance of forces in Europe in its favor, Russia does not consider “aggressive actions in the Baltic States as a tool of achieving these goals.”
The US specialists have not found evidence of preparing the invasion of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, and Russia’s buildup of military power on their borders.
They have made a conclusion that a more aggressive behavior of Russia towards the Baltic countries can occur in case of the anti-missile defense systems deployment on their territory.
Instead, experts recommend that the US authorities treat Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with understanding and condescension and even take into account that their eternal anti-Russian fears are associated with difficult common historical past. In other words, they advise to rather provide moral support.
The report of the RAND Corporation cannot be treated only as a private opinion of a non-governmental organization. The findings of this center of expertise usually anticipate and justify strategic decisions made by the United States.
Thus, two years ago RAND Corporation held a war game, which revealed that the Russian armed forces need only about 60 hours to occupy the Baltic States, and NATO allies would not physically have time to help Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The analysis of the results of the war game was one of the rationales for deploying four multinational battalion-size battle groups on their territory.
Today, the RAND Corporation concludes that Russia does not threaten the Baltic States, and military tensions over this region can arise only if the missile defense systems are deployed. It follows logically that the further militarization of the Baltic States is explosive and undesirable.
So, the US elites as well as NATO do not want to deal with the Baltic States. They do not want to be distracted by countries that are of no importance for Russia, their main antagonist.
The first recommendation made by the analysts of the RAND Corporation in the report is “to assess the motives of potential aggressors and ease security concerns. In Europe, this could include avoiding deployment of the most provocative U.S. systems in or near Eastern Europe, thinning Russian and Baltic forces, and working on a successor to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.”
In the case of military provocation in the Baltic Sea, similar to the one that occurred in the Kerch Strait, NATO, the US or the EU will not even provide the Baltic States with active diplomatic assistance, not to mention immediate military support. The RAND Corporation made this more than clear for the Baltic States.
Russian Aluminium, Health Ministry Announce Ebola Vaccine
Russian Aluminium (RUSAL), one of the world’s largest aluminium producers, together with the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, announced the completion of the vaccination against the Ebola virus in the Republic of Guinea. Two thousand people have received the GamEvac-Combi vaccines during the testing programme conducted at the Scientific Diagnostic Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology (SDCEM) in Guinea.
The centre was an initiative of Russian business tycoon, Oleg Deripaska, and was built by RUSAL during the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2015. GamEvac-Combi vaccine was created in the Gamalei Federal Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation. The vaccine is currently in the final round of testing.
“As part of the testing programme, the health of the vaccinated participants and the development of the immunity are monitored for one year. At the end of this period of monitoring, the vaccine will receive international certification making it available for use by the World Health Organisation and other organizations for the purpose of preventing the spread of the disease,” according to media release.
Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, instructed the development of the vaccine following a request from the President of the Republic of Guinea Alpha Condé at the end of 2014.
In 2016, the vaccine was revealed during the World Health Assembly where the former WHO Director-General, Margaret Chen, was in attendance. The vaccine was registered in Russia at the end of 2015.
Along with developing the vaccine, RUSAL, as part of the public-private partnership supported by Oleg Deripaska, opened a research centre, an isolation ward and a hospital in Guinea. RUSAL’s commitment to fighting the epidemic was acknowledged by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, who thanked RUSAL’s shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, for his contribution to the international effort against Ebola.
The strong relationship that RUSAL has established with the Republic of Guinea is something that Oleg Deripaska often speaks about. He recently highlighted RUSAL’s commitment to helping the population of the country hit by the virus; “When the outbreak of the fever came, we made every effort to help”, said Oleg Deripaska.
“Currently the vaccine is administered to the Russian medics and other specialists going to the regions where there is a high risk of Ebola contagion”, said Veronika Skvortsova, the Minister of Health of the Russian Federation. “During the Ebola outbreak, the centre has shown the best results in terms of the number of Guinean persons wholly recovered: 62.5% of the SDCEM patients with a confirmed Ebola fever diagnosis have been successfully treated”.
The advantages of GamEvac-Combi vaccine
The vaccine was developed using a biotechnology method without using the pathogenic Ebola virus. The base of the vaccine is the genetic material of an adenovirus and vesicular canker virus, safe for humans, modified with a gene containing the information about the structure of the GP protein of the Ebola virus.
Pre-clinical and clinical studies have proven the safety of the vaccine and have shown that it stimulates the immune system more efficiently than foreign vaccines. Another important advantage of the vaccine is its more favourable transportation and storage conditions: GamEvac-Combi can be transported and stored at the temperature above -16◦C – and similar foreign vaccines require the temperature of less than – 60 ◦C for storage, which is difficult to implement in the hot African climate.
The SDCEM centre, that will continue to do medical examinations for the Guinean population, is the most advanced and biologically safe facility in the Western Africa. The centre was created in line with all international humanitarian organizations’ recommendations and is equipped with modern medical and laboratory equipment. RUSAL invested more than US$10 million in the construction of the SDCEM.
Currently, SDCEM is the leading centre in the field of investigating and preventing infectious diseases in Guinea. It also serves as the training facility for the national epidemiologists.
RUSAL has been active in Guinea since 2001 being one of the largest foreign investors in the country. In Guinea, RUSAL owns Kindia Bauxite Company (KBC) as well as the bauxite-alumina facility Friguia. RUSAL continues implementing projects to launch the world’s largest bauxite mines Dian-Dian in Boké region.
Putin, United Russia and the Message
On Dec. 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary meeting of the 18th United Russia party congress, reiterated the key challenges, problems and accomplishments for the nation. The congress delegates identified the challenges and priorities in the party’s work for the coming year.
Putin acknowledged the party’s support during his presidential election campaign, saying it was “a momentous thing shaping the top institution of power” in Russia. This concerns the president, the government, the region – any level, down to the local or municipal one.
Putin further referred to an action plan that was presented in a condensed form in the Executive Order in May 2018 and that set out in national projects drafted by the Government (the majority in the Government are United Russia members) and was supported by legislators (United Russia holds the majority in the State Duma). He pointed to the fact that there would not be any success without United Russia’s backing at the regional and municipal level.
“The United Russia party plays a special role. For a number of years the party has been showing its competence, its ability to make responsible decisions, explain these decisions to the people,” Putin told the party delegates during his address, while acknowledging frankly that there have been pitfalls and problems in the political leadership.
Leadership means making responsible decisions the country needs. This leadership is an enormous resource to achieve dynamic and substantive change that can ensure a radical improvement in the quality of life and greater well-being of the population.
Putin reminded the party meeting that the entire world going through a dramatic situation. In his words: “the world is undergoing a transformation, a very powerful and dynamically evolving transformation, and if we do not get our bearings, if we do not understand what we need to do and how, we may fall behind for good.”
He suggested that United Russia with its tremendous legislative, organisational and human resource potential must fully utilise it and consolidate all of society, in solving development issues, in implementing the nationwide agenda.
Putin told the party delegates never allow any sort of rudeness, arrogance, insolence towards people at any level – at the top level and the lowest, municipal level. This is important because it does the country a disservice, it is unfair to the people and it denigrates the party to the lowest of the low. The public demands fairness, honesty and openness.
What is “society” after all? It is the people. Thus, one key factor here is that people’s opinions and attitudes must necessarily be taken into account. There must be commitment to implementing people’s initiatives, and their initiatives must be used in attaining common goals, especially at the municipal level, according to the Russian leader.
The most crucial thing for a political party is a steady standing of its representatives and that United Russia does not have to fear change but rather work strategically towards making a change for the better.
Putin further asked the delegates to work relentlessly for a free democratic country, development of nationwide tasks, realisation of new ideas and approaches. Discussions and competition, including within the party itself are very efficient tools for solving problems in the interests of the nation. United Russia has to do everything needed to instil both inside the party in particular and in society in general this political culture, an atmosphere of dialogue, trust and cooperation with all political forces of Russia.
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