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New Cold War? USA to add more armored brigades to Russian border

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US European Command officials said on March 30 that the Pentagon plans to significantly bolster its military presence in Eastern Europe, thereby enhancing the US Army in Europe. Accordingly, by February 2017, the US military plans to maintain a permanent footprint of three combat brigades stationed on the continent.

The deployments will include 250 combat vehicles, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, Bradley and Paladin Fighting Vehicles, howitzers and thousands of troops. Washington would also keep adding more armored brigades to the US Army in Europe.

The Kremlin, also closely watching the NATO military movements around its boundaries, has already warned it would face the new threats emanating from USA to cause territorial frictions. Russian surveillance vehicles in the space keep updating to Moscow the NATO preparations near Russian borders on a regular basis.

As usual, USA plans its military postures across the globe in close alliance with the NATO. The 4,200-strong rotation, positioned along NATO’s border with Russia, including deployments in Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania, will come in addition to 62,000 US personnel already stationed in Europe. US General Philip Breedlove said: This is a big step in enhancing the Army’s rotational presence and increasing their combat equipment in Europe.”

The Army implementation plan continues to demonstrate our strong and balanced approach to reassuring our NATO Allies and Partners in the wake of an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. America’s regional partners will host “a more frequent presence of an armored brigade with more modernized equipment in their countries,” General Breedlove said, calling for NATO to prepare for aerial combat against Russian planes over the Baltic States. “I think that the alliance does need to be ready for the air defense mission,” he said. “Air policing and air defense are meant for two different situations. The Baltic air policing is a peacetime mission.”

President Obama seems to focus on East-Europe pivot. The latest moves to expand the US military footprint in the East were already authorized by the White House in February, as part of the 2016-2017 European Reassurance Initiative (ERI). This year’s ERI allocates $3.4 billion to finance the US presence in Eastern Europe, an increase of some 400 percent above the ERI budget for the previous year.

Beginning in April 2014, the USA deployed expeditionary forces of some 600 troops to all three of the Baltic States. The huge increase in funding is the latest escalation of the US war preparations that have transformed Central and Eastern Europe into a virtual armed camp in the two years since the 2014 US-orchestrated coup in Ukraine. During this period, the US steadily extended its basing arrangements and political commitments through the post-Soviet sphere.

In September 2014, President Obama affirmed that the US commitment to the defense of Estonia is “unbreakable,” “unwavering” and “eternal.” Last February, NATO announced plans to double its combat units stationed in Eastern Europe, including the establishment of six command centers dispersed throughout the region. Together with these deployments, the latest wave of US military assets dispatched to Eastern Europe is designed to allow US forces to engage in large-scale war with Russia, US Undersecretary of Defense Robert Work said Wednesday. “If push came to shove, they’d be able to come together as a cohesive unit that has trained together, with all their organic equipment, and fight. That’s a lot better than what we have right now,” Work said. “There will be American equipment and people in each of these countries,” US General Ben Hodges told the media.

The Obama government says the new US deployments will be equipped with a “full kit” of the military’s most advanced weaponry and gear. Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal boasted that the additional forces will place “the most modern and capable equipment in the hands of US armored units who will train continuously in Europe.”

The anti-Russian drive is being accelerated by the role of NATO’s Eastern European and Baltic members, which seek to use the growing US-Russian confrontation to militarize their own societies and repress dissent under conditions of deepening social crisis. Economies of European nations have fallen due to Russian decision to block goods to the continent in protest against western sanctions over Crimean annexation. Absence of Russian gas has complicated the life of Europeans but the militarization processes would further accelerate negatively the living standards of and denial of democratic freedoms for the people.

Russian forces are already prepared to counter the “confrontational patterns” followed by the US and NATO, Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO Alexander Grushko said in response to the US military announcements. Moscow will take “all the military measures we consider necessary in order to counterbalance this reinforced presence,” Grushko said. “Certainly, we’ll respond totally asymmetrically,” Grushko said.

In an interview, Polish President Andrzej Duda denounced Russia and called for “a significantly increased presence of US troops on “our territory”. Duda called for NATO to “strengthen its defensive potential in this part of Europe to such a degree as to make it absolutely clear that it does not pay off to launch an attack against any member state. Only the increased presence of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe can ensure real deterrence,” he said. The Polish president is set to discuss a range of joint security projects with US leaders while attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Duda’s rhetoric aside, the military preparations of the US and its allies are anything but defensive in nature.

In reality, the USA and NATO forces massing on Russia’s border are part of preparations for a range of military and covert-intelligence operations directed against pro-Russian political factions in East Europe and against the Putin government itself, aimed at destabilizing and overthrowing pro-Russian governments using the “hybrid warfare” methods employed by the Western powers during the 2014 coup in Ukraine and the 2011 US-backed insurgency in Syria.

Russian fear that the USA and NATO would use the East European as well as former Soviet republics against the Kremlin, therefore, is not without foundations!

The USA-NATO seems to be trying to clip the wings of Putin’s Russia if it really attempts at recreating even a sort of Soviet Union or Imperial Russia, because the West is scared of a strong Russia in economic and military terms. While trying to get ‘services’ from Russia, the west is denying the Kremlin any chance of becoming a real superpower. For USA, treating Russia as an equal partner in global affairs is out of question.

Russia seems to have taken the ‘Western’ challenge and the Russian roles in Ukraine and Syria have clearly showcased the assertive Kremlin mindset.  

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Eastern Europe

Expansion of Georgia’s Black Sea Ports: Modus Vivendi for Georgia

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Over the past several months, a whole range of actions has taken place to expand all of Georgia’s existing and future Black Sea ports. These moves, in their entirety, could have geopolitical significance on at least the regional level as it will help further connect the country to the world maritime routes, increase the country’s transit potential and also enhance its position when it comes to China’s multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Several weeks ago, the European Union decided to financially support the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. In a document published by the European Commission regarding the development of the ‘Trans-European Transport Network’, it is stated that 233 mln Euros have been allocated for financing the 2nd phase of the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. It is also noted in the project that hundreds of millions of Euros have been assigned for the construction of the rail lines and highways throughout Georgia which will lead to the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. Moreover, the German Development Bank (DEG) together with the Dutch development bank have also decided to invest in Anaklia.

Further south, in Poti, a decision was made to construct a multimodal transit terminal. The facility will have modern equipment able to store up to 60,000 tons of fertilizer. Wondernet Express, the international logistics company behind the project, will invest $20 million in the project.

International port operator APM Terminals, along with Poti New Terminals Consortium, have submitted a conceptual design for the expansion of the APM Terminals’ Poti Sea Port. The project entails a 14.5-meter water depth at the 700-meter quay wall and 25 hectares of land for the bulk operation yard and covered storage facilities for various cargo types, including grain, ore, and minerals.

The US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has issued a loan of $50 million to Pace Group to develop a multi-functional marine terminal in Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti, aimed at expanding its operational capacities.

In Batumi, it was agreed that the expansion of the port will take place with the construction of an additional terminal.

It was even announced by the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Kobulia that the discussion of a ferry line between Georgia and the EU has been renewed.

Overall, these decisions show that there is a certain progress being made on Georgia’s Black Sea ports development and their inclusion in the world maritime network. This global financing from Europe to the US also shows how these geopolitical players regard the South Caucasus and Georgia in particular. One could surmise that the geopolitical projection of those global companies is based upon the idea that the situation in Georgia will remain stable and that Georgian-Russian relations are unlikely to take a confrontational course (at least from the mid-term perspective).

But this expansion of Georgia’s sea port infrastructure could also lead to increased interest from China in the Georgian transit corridor. I argued in a previous article for GEORGIA TODAY that, although Georgia does not figure in China’s BRI, the Chinese project is an evolving one. I suggested in the same article that over time, new corridors would appear; that the BRI, rather than being a static initiative, is in fact a model which will constantly adjust to rising opportunities.

It might be suggested that a more developed infrastructure will eventually draw the Chinese to Georgia’s Black Sea ports. The above-mentioned developments at Anaklia, Poti and Batumi can be considered the first stage in this process.

Taking a global perspective of these economic developments, I will argue that one of the scenarios in which Georgia and all the neighboring countries will reap benefits, is when as many world actors as possible have stakes in the Georgian economic corridor. It would be a certain modus vivendi for Georgia’s future development.

Analysts often argue that there is a solely military solution to Georgia’s problem with Russia. However, it is suggested here that yet another, and probably more accurate, solution to the Georgian dilemma for everyone (including the Russians) would be a Georgia where every great player has economic interests and is forced to upkeep the geopolitical security in the country for those very interests.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Times

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Eastern Europe

Trump buys Lithuania, EU cannot stop it

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The US President Donald Trump is no doubt a successful businessman who rules his country as if it is a huge enterprise. And this kind of management, to his mind, should lead to success. And very often it really works. As a wise leader he uses different tools to reach his goals. Thus, the most cunning one, which the US exploits in Europe – is indirect influence on the EU countries to gain the desired aim. The EU just becomes a tool in “capable hands” of the US.

Let us give the simple example. Last week the Ministry of National Defence of Lithuania announced that the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Šiauliai would get de-icing equipment for the aircraft. It would be acquired according to an agreement signed by the Ministry of National Defence and the AF Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate (AFSACD) on behalf of the Government of the United States of America.

It is known that the new equipment is capable of removing ice from aircraft at the necessary height which allows the Šiauliai Air Base to support bigger aircraft of the Alliance, such as C-17 – one of the largest transport aircraft capable of moving a large number of soldiers and large amounts of cargo.

It is said that “the procurement for the Lithuanian Air Force Base will fill a critical capability gap and allow the Base personnel to carry out cold weather operations, as well as support the NATO Air Policing Mission. The equipment will also be used for providing servicing for the aircraft of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Group-contributing countries and other NATO allies at the Air Base.”

But according to data, only three C-17s belongs to NATO. The US, in its turn, has 222 C-17s in service as of Jan. 2018. Among EU member states the only country that has C-17A ERs is the United Kingdom with 8 C-17A ERs in use. But The United Kingdom is in the process of leaving the organization. So, it is logical to assume that the most interested country in deploying C-17 in Lithuania is the US, not the EU or even NATO. And of course Lithuania cannot even dream of having such planes.

The second issue which is even more important is the fact that the agreement of approximate value of USD 1.03 million is financed from the European Security Assistance Fund (ESAF). Lithuania is not able to share the burden.

So, nothing depends on Lithuania in this issue. It only gives permission.

In the recent years Lithuania’s procurement from the US has grown significantly. The ministry of National Defence is currently in negotiations with the US department of Defence for procuring JLTV all-terrain vehicles.

Unfortunately, being a member of the EU, Lithuania so hardly depends on the US in military and security spheres that it often mixes up its real needs, responsibilities to the EU with the US interests in the region. Such approach could seriously complicate the relations with neighbouring Russia and Belarus which Lithuania borders. These two countries are interested in Lithuania as an economic partner. But if Lithuania will pose military threat to them, deploying US military equipment, these states could terminate any economic cooperation.

Is it a cooperation or manipulation and who will benefit?

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Eastern Europe

Georgia & Silk Roads: Belt & Road Initiative

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The ancient Silk Road, or as it is more often called nowadays silk roads, was an ancient trade route from eastern China to various major markets of the ancient and medieval periods (Roman/Byzantine empires, Sasanian Iran, the Arab Caliphate, etc). An important aspect to those trade routes was their changeability over time. This depended mostly on the political situation in the Middle East and this necessitated the seeking out of alternative routes to get important products from Central Asia and western China.

Contrary to widespread arguments, Georgia appeared on those trade routes only from time to time as a result of political disturbances (invasions, economic problems, etc.) in the region. The trade route across Georgia passed from North to South, from Georgia itself further south to Armenia and Iran as well as from East to West. Thus it is difficult to say that Georgia was either totally absent or dominated ancient and medieval trade routes. The Russians at times opened the Georgian transit route for European products to reach Iran in the 19th century. But the success of this commercial road ultimately depended on Russian political decisions. As is also well known that in Soviet times, virtually no international trade routes ran through Georgia as the Union was a closed-border one.

Thus, for the first time in many centuries, Georgia now has the chance to become a transit corridor for trade and energy from the Caspian area, Central Asia and even from western China. Refocusing on Georgia’s transit potential is linked to China’s economic and military rise which is arguably one of the central themes in 21st century geopolitics. Like many other rising powers throughout history, China has strategic imperatives that clash with those of the US. Beijing needs to secure its procurement of oil and gas resources, which are currently most available through the Malacca Strait. In an age of US naval dominance, the Chinese imperative is to redirect its economy’s dependence, as well as its supply routes, elsewhere.

This is how it comes to the almost trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is intended to reconnect the Asia-Pacific with Europe through Russia, the Middle East, and Central Asia. There are several major corridors pinpointed by the Chinese:

  1. China to Europe through the New Eurasian Land Bridge;
  2. The China-Mongolia-Russian Corridor;
  3. Central and West Asian countries.
  4. The China-Indochina Peninsula Corridor linking China with the South Pacific Ocean through the South China Sea;
  5. The China-Pakistan trade corridor;
  6. The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar trade route.

As seen, neither Georgia nor the South Caucasus feature on the list and many analysts think that this is proof that China will unlikely be interested in the South Caucasian route. Yet, the nature of the BRI is not static; it undergoes constant changes and it is likely that Beijing will always adjust its trade routes to rising challenges and new opportunities, trying to operate through difficult geographic terrain as well as politically unstable regions. These are Beijing’s major enemies which make any routes vulnerable and susceptible to re-routing. And this is very much similar to how transcontinental trade routes operated in ancient and medieval periods.

Thus China has and is likely to have in future, an individual approach to each country, which makes the fact that Georgia does not feature on the above-mentioned list of trade routes not an obstacle per se. China is responding to rising opportunities and in that sense Georgia’s ability to develop its Black Sea ports, internal railway and highway networks will facilitate China’s decisions on the active inclusion of the South Caucasian route in its BRI or any future commercial undertakings.

Surely the Chinese also look at the security of the South Caucasus and it is difficult to imagine that Beijing will not take into account Russian moves in the region. Mitigating the Russian challenge together with opening the Georgian market to other powerful players in Eurasia is arguably a modus vivendi for the region’s successful development.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today

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