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NATO and Russia in the Baltic and the North Pole

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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NATO strategic response to Ukraine’s annexation by the Russian Federation in March 2014 is currently focused on the forward defense of the Baltic countries, which are increasingly important in Western geostrategic planning and which control from Europe the Arctic zone, the area in which Russia can hit the US interest more easily.

Cleary the Alliance believes that the Baltic countries can be Russia’s next “enlargement”, as happened precisely with Ukraine.

More probably, however, Russia wants to weaken and, indeed, “finlandize” NATO’s Baltic region which, as is also well-known to Russia, is a key point even for the Atlantic interests.

Not to mention the North Pole’s wealth of mining and oil resources, which would really be the economic game changer for the whole Russian system.

And it would also be the Russian solution to replace the Middle East OPEC countries, all with oil wells which are depleting to a greater or lesser extent.

The Russian Arctic region is the area in which approximately 80% of the Far North’s oil is extracted, especially in the Russian autonomous region of Khanty-Mansiysk, in addition to 11 offshore extraction sites in the Barents Sea, 182 in the Kara Sea and a large number (185) in the Russian autonomous region of Nenets.

Hence the Arctic would be the area in which Russia can become the global leader of the oil and gas market.

With specific reference to minerals, in the Russian Arctic area there are large – albeit not yet accurately measured – amounts of copper, gold, nickel, uranium, iron, tungsten and diamonds.

The Russian Arctic area is by far the richest in minerals – and the same holds true for oil and gas, as we have already mentioned.

Russia is protecting its Arctic to avoid future financial dependence on the West and to diversify its economy.

If the United States hit the Russian Arctic, they will destroy the future of Russian resources.

The considerations made above lead us to think that the Russian conflict with NATO in relation to the Baltic countries is also a clash with the Western Alliance for the control, security and safety of the most rational ways of communication between Russia and its Arctic riches.

Hence the aim would be eliminating the possibility of NATO having close bases along the way between Russia and its economic potential in the North Pole.

The issue is whether Russia will be able to fully exploit its Arctic oil and gas.

Gazprom and Rosneft have not yet the technology to extract natural gas and oil, while Western sanctions do not enable Russian companies to obtain the necessary technologies in the West.

And the very limited loans that Russia can obtain in the West – again as a result of sanctions – do not certainly allow the self-funding of these advanced technologies.

According to IAEA, the US oil agency, the Russian Arctic oil will generate profit only when the barrel price reaches 120 US dollars.

However this is not the problem: Russia knows that, in the near future, the Middle East oil will start to run low and it will sell its oil and gas at the highest (fixed) price.

Hence, for the Russian Federation, the ideal solution can only be the stable relationship with China, at least to reach its first strategic goal on its oil and gas market, namely to reduce its dependence on the EU significantly.

Nevertheless there are also other countries on the waiting list.

For example, in November 2014, Russia proposed to India a joint plan for exploiting the oil and gas resources in the Arctic and Siberia, a region that Russia considers to be strategically and politically contiguous to the North Pole.

Currently the amount of natural gas extracted does not meet the expectations of President Putin, who would like to increase the market share of the Russian natural gas from 5% to at least 10%.

It is precisely for this reason that he has urged a partnership on an equal footing with India, together with China.

Hence while NATO is planning its “North’s design”, Russia is developing a Russia-China-India strategic triangle which, for the time being, is mostly economic, but will soon be turned into a political, military and strategic initiative.

For Russia, however, the Arctic is both a geoeconomic issue and a geopolitical and patriotic myth: the Russians participating in a Swedish mission to the North Pole in 2007 planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed so as to claim the area as “national territory” to all intents and purposes.

In short, on the basis of its current foreign policy doctrine, Russia wants to become a great power, as in the USSR times, but without the limitations of that system.

Hence, above all it fears the encirclement by large and small powers and, in fact, this explains much of Russia’s current postures and attitudes.

Russia’s Arctic strategy, however, is to make their very long polar coast useful also for maritime trade and – as already mentioned – use the North Pole region as the necessary plus to become an oil and economic superpower.

In principle, the Arctic line is much shorter than the one using the Suez Canal. Even China will participate in this project, with its North-Eastern ports, such as Dalian, from which in 2003 the first Chinese icebreaker heading for the Arctic, namely Yong Sheng, left on August 8, which is a lucky day in the Chinese tradition.

From Dalian to Rotterdam, via the Arctic, the Chinese vessel spared thirteen days of navigation compared to the traditional route heading for Suez.

Obviously there is an equally important consideration in Russia’s mind, whereby the Arctic line is the longest border between the Russian Federation and the United States.

This is the reason why NATO is trying to reassure the Baltic countries, which fear above all to end up like Ukraine and hence become the most comfortable passageway for Russia to reach the North Pole from the West and control it.

Russia, however, does not want to “conquer” the smallest Baltic countries – it only wants to have a right of free passage and a strategic and political insurance that attacks on Russia will not be launched from the Baltic region.

Let us revert, however, to NATO operations in

the North Sea and its shores: the naval military exercise BALTOPS, carried out by ships from 17 countries, began on June 5, 2016 and ended on June 20.

As many as 49 ships, with important exercises of submarine warfare, as well as amphibious actions in which 700 Swedish, US and Finnish soldiers participated, and finally with an air force consisting of 61 jet aircraft and the participation of Georgia and thirteen other non-NATO members.

The Atlantic Alliance’s exercises in the North Sea have always been very important: it is in the framework of this type of operations that a submarine, probably a British one, disengaged itself and later went to attack and sink the well-known Russian submarine Kursk equipped with the very advanced VA-111 Skval, a torpedo reaching a speed of 7 to 13 kilometers per second.

In addition to BALTOPS, in November 2014 the three Baltic States created an autonomous military alliance, called NORDEFCO, while Denmark and Sweden agreed on close defense cooperation in January 2016.

For the Atlantic Alliance NORDEFCO should be rapidly extended particularly to the European States such as Germany, Great Britain and Poland and to the United States, almost as an embryo of the “North’s NATO” that some people theorized at the beginning of this millennium

Nevertheless, once again the strategic assessment of the enemy is still based on the old idea – which we deem wrong – whereby Russia would simply like to recover three former Soviet territories, namely Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

We do not believe that this is the Russian strategic motivation: Russia only wants to ensure the security and safety of its sea lines and of its communication with the Arctic, as well as the equivalence of the war potential with the United States on the long Arctic border between the two great countries.

However, there are also Russian territorial claims on the Arctic, which are of considerable political significance.

In 2007, two Mir submersibles reached the maximum depth of the North Pole.

The naval means have scientifically proven that the Lomonosov and Mendeleiev submarine ridges, which reach up to Greenland, are a geological extension of Russia’s continental shelf.

This would enable Russia to claim exploration rights for additional 1.2 million kilometers in the Arctic, which would allow to autonomously exploit the large oil fields of the Chikotka-Murmansk-North Pole region.

It is an evident threat to the almost total hegemony the United States have over the Arctic polar area, which is an essential theme of the US global strategy. The US military bases are scarce and, above all, the US strategy is based on 12 fully-operational icebreakers, in addition to two new recently-built ships.

Once again, however, the United States are lagging behind compared to Russia: the latter has 22 icebreakers and other 19 vessels suitable for the Arctic climate. The United States are better equipped in terms of submarines: they have 41 nuclear ones, while Russia has only 25 units of this type.

With specific reference to the forces on the ground, the United States have three brigades in Alaska, each consisting of three thousand soldiers.

Two new air squadrons, with stealth aircraft, are planned to be deployed in a base near Fairbanks, Alaska.

In short, the largest force in the Arctic is still the American one, while Russia is lagging behind in the construction of its Arctic forces.

And the various attempts made by NATO and the Western countries bordering on the Arctic Ocean to decide, on their own, the control areas and the respective territorial changes, in addition to the presence of US military bases on their share of the North Pole, have led Russia to militarize its Arctic region so as to defend its mining networks and avoid the United States even “listening” their signals.

Hence the current Russian defense network is organized as follows:

1) new air bases in Franz Josef Land and in Tiksi, Naryan-Mar, Alykel, as well as in four other areas;

2) naval bases in Franz Josef Land and in the New Siberia’s islands;

3) infantry bases: the imminent creation of the North Arctic Group and of two Arctic brigades, a motorized infantry one in Murmansk and the other in the Nenets district;

4) the electronic warfare regiment of the Northern Fleet deployed in Alakurtti, near Murmansk;

5) five fixed radar centers in Sredni, Alexandra Land, Wrangel Island, Juzhnii and Chukotka;

6) the air defense positions: the Pantsjr-S1 system has already been adapted to the Arctic climate and the different modes of use in extreme cold weather conditions;

7) a joint strategic command of the Northern Fleet, the Arctic brigades, the air force, the air defense and the electronic and signal intelligence centers.

The Arctic and the control over it are a sort of insurance that Russia will continue to be a global power at energy level, while strategically the North Pole is already part of the US missile defense system, which could weaken the Russian nuclear potential and hence make Russia irrelevant at geostrategic level.

Hence, according to the Russian decision-makers, the Arctic is the region where, in the future, the Atlantic Alliance’s pressure will be mostly felt. The Atlantic Alliance will not operate by making people rise up with “color revolutions”, as there is no population in the Arctic, but it will directly threaten the Russian military apparatus in the region and hence also in South-Central Russia.

Furthermore, considering the now stable tendency to ice melting, the Arctic will increasingly become a potential conventional war area.

Therefore NATO would use the Baltic region as an area to make its operations in the North Pole safe, while a remote and irrational invasion of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia is expected.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Top Uzbek Jihadist Leader Suffers for Loyalty to Al Qaeda

Uran Botobekov

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Well-known Uzbek jihadist leader Abu Saloh

The recent arrest of a well-known Uzbek jihadist leader Abu Saloh al Uzbeki (Sirajuddin Mukhtarov) by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and thereafter resumption of armed clashes between former and current al Qaeda’s jihadi formations in northwest Syria in June 2020 will directly affect the activities of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), dozens were killed during an armed clash between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), former al Qaeda’s strongest branch in Syria, and the newly formed alliance led by current al Qaeda’ s-affiliate Hurras al-Din (HD).

It should be noted that on June 16, 2020, the HTS arrested the fierce ideologist of al Qaeda and former emir of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) Abu Saloh, which caused tension among Russian-speaking militants in Sham and raised eyebrows of the global Salafi-Jihadi movement. A week later, on June 22, the HTS arrested its former senior commander, member of the group’s Shura Council Abu Malek al-Talli, accusing him of fomenting division, insurrection and disarray after his new faction Liwa al-Muqatileen al-Ansar helped establish an al Qaeda-leaning operations room in Idlib.

The cruelty of the HTS’ repressive apparatus towards its former members and the armed clashes between jihadist groups in Idlib was caused by the creation of the new Joint Operations Center Fathbutou (Be Steadfast) on 12 June 2020, which included al Qaida-inspired “hardliners” such as HD, Jabhat Ansar al-Din (JaD), Tansiqiyat al-Jihad (TJ), Ansar al-Islam (AI) and Liwa al-Muqatileen al-Ansar (LMA).

Militants of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad at training camp

Strengthening the position of al Qaeda’s allies seriously undermined the HTS’ stance in the northwestern Idlib province, where it rules over the local Salvation Government with an iron hand and where it established so-called Sharia rule. In order to maintain its status quo and keep dominant position over other rebel groups, HTS began large-scale arrests of those jihadists who broke away from its “Clear Victory Operations Room” and joined al Qaeda-linked Fathbutou Operations Center. At the personal instruction of the HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Joulani the KTJ’s former amir Abu Saloh and its dissenting commander Abu Malek al-Talli were arrested.

If the arrest of Abu Malek al-Talli was seen as an intra-group showdown, the arrest of Abu Saloh caused a broad resonance among al Qaeda members in Central Asia and the Middle East, and it was widely reported in the Arabic, English and Russian press. The US FDD’s Long War Journal devoted twoarticles in a row to the Abu Saloh’s arrest and carefully assessed his Jihadi activity, with one exception. The Washington-based hawkish think tank, for some reason, never mentions the fact that Abu Saloh and his KTJ fighters swore allegiance (bayat) to al Qaeda, and that the main reason for Abu Saloh’s conflict with HTS and his current dissident demarche is related to his unwillingness to break the bayat to al Qaeda.

But some Arab and Russian media were also inaccurate in assessing the reasons for his arrest. Especially Russian experts on the Telegram channel, referring to Zaman alWasl, the Syrian outlet close to HTS, claimed that Abu Saloh was arrested for financial debts (over$ 60,000) to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

KTJ jihadists attack the Syrian Army in Saraqib city, February 2020

However, such a simplistic and superficial assessment neglects to analyze the complex processes taking place inside the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups and the influence of al Qaeda’s ideology on them. The true reasons for Abu Saloh’s demonstrative demarche, who defied Syria’s most powerful militant faction, are due to his ideological differences with HTS and the dominance of al Qaeda’s global ideology among Uzbek and Uyghur Islamists.

Abu Saloh’s radical supporters see the future of Holy Jihad not only within the framework of only one state, as the HTS in Syria does. They are seriously worried about the future of global Jihad in the event of the fall of Syria’s last bastion of resistance if the Assad regime were to succeed in retaking the Idlib province entirely.

In his Jummah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) speeches, he urges jihadists not to “get stuck” in one place, but “to rush to the aid of those Muslims where they need the help of the Warriors of Allah.” That is, his views on global jihad are compatible with the ideological doctrine of al Qaeda.

Abu Saloh’s position on the problem of Jerusalem is identical with al Qaeda. He believes that the Al-Aqsa Mosque can only be liberated with the help of jihad. He claimed that after the victory of jihad in Syria, their path will be directed to Palestine.

Abu Saloh Between Two Fires: Al Qaeda and HTS

Under the Abu Saloh leadership, KTJ grew out of an unobtrusive regional group into a formidable and tough member of the global Salafi-Jihadi movement. KTJ, created by him in 2013, consists of Central Asian militants, mostly Uzbeks and Kyrgyz from the Ferghana Valley.

In early 2015, Abu Saloh and his militants swore allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri. In September 2015, however, KTJ rejoined the al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusrah Front (NF) as part of Al Nusrah’s efforts to consolidate various foreign groups inside Syria. Since that period, HTS has become a combat mentor of KTJ’s Uzbek militants. During this time Abu Saloh demonstrated his brilliant ability to successfully spread the al Qaeda ideology on a global scale. He was and remained a faithful and aggressive propagandist of the Jihadi idea into Central Asia.

His ideological disagreements with HTS’s predecessor Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS)began after it publicly distanced itself from al Qaeda, its original parent organization. Although Abu Saloh never openly criticized the Jihadi line of HTS and its leader Julani, he regularly defended the ideological views of al Qaeda’s former and current leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. And, of course, Julani, from whom Ayman al-Zawahiri openly demanded further submission to al Qaeda, did not like Saloh’s step out of HTS line

Abu Saloh’s growing authority beyond HTS and his close contacts with prominent ideologists of global Jihadism, such as Abu Qatada al-Falastini, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and others also irked Julani. Dissatisfied with his arrogant ideological behavior, HTS decided to remove Abu Saloh from the leadership of KTJ. According to the UN, in April 2019, Abdul Aziz Uzbeki (Khikmatov), a native of the Fergana Valley and deputy leader of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) in Afghanistan, was elected the new leader of KTJ.

The intrigues and regional division of jihadists within KTJ also played an important role in the resignation of Abu Saloh. Being a native of southern Kyrgyzstan with Uighur roots, he was considered a “stranger” among jihadists from Uzbekistan, who make up the majority of KTJ. Together with him some jihadists from Kyrgyzstan left KTJ’s leadership.

After his resignation, he actively conducted a preaching mission for Muhajireen (foreign fighters) in Idlib, becoming the ideological mouthpiece of Central Asian jihadism. In his public speeches, he was even more deeply imbued with the ideas of al Qaeda. His Telegram channel has the largest audience among other jihadist figures of post-Soviet countries. He combined the image of a conservative Imam and a modern lecturer with stylish glasses, drawing complex diagrams of the Quran’s Surahs and Ayahs on the blackboard.

Under HTS pressure, the new KTJ leadership continued to further reduce the role of Abu Saloh when his preaching responsibilities were transferred to the new Uzbek imam, Ahluddin Navqotiy, who arrived from Turkey. From March 2020, his public audio and video performances and sermons gradually began to disappear from the KTJ’s website, which pushed him into the arms of al Qaeda.

In ideological friction between al Qaeda’s HD and HTS, which often developed into an armed clash, Abu Saloh sided with al Qaeda. On the sidelines, he supported HD’s demands handing over all of al-Qaida’s weapons from HTS to HD because Julani had broken his bayat to al Qaida. HD has consistently been at odds with HTS, criticizing the group for diluting the religion and monotheism (Tawhid), for adopting the Sochi ceasefire agreement and for establishing a modus vivendi with secular Turkey.

Amid Idlib’s local residents’ dissatisfaction with HTS policies that allowed the Russian patrols to enter the M4 highway, HD managed to convince more jihadists to join its ranks and attempted to lead a rebellion in northern Syria. Step News Agency has confirmed that Abu Saloh recently defected from HTS to Jabhat  Ansar al-Din alongside 50 other members of KTJ. HTS regarded such a step as a betrayal and arrested Abu Saloh and Abu Malek al-Talli.

After the arrest of “defectors”, the situation in Greater Idlib sharply escalated. Fathbutou slammed the arrests and accused HTS of betraying jihad and complying with the “secular” Astana agreement. HD captured checkpoints in the Harem, Armanaz, Kuku and Sheikh Bahr districts, and blocked traffic, demanding the release of the detainees. More than 30 people were killed as a result of the four-day clashes between HD and HTS.

Al Qaeda expressed its support for HD and the arrested pro-al Qaeda’s leaders, urging HTS’ jihadists not to fight against Fathbutou. Famous sheikhs Abu Qatada al Falastini, Abu Muhammad Al Makdisi, Sodik Abu Abdullah Al-Hashimi (Sudan) and others called on the conflicting parties to put down their weapons, stop the bloodshed and focus on the “revolution in Syria”. On June 26, HD and HTS signed an agreement to end the clashes, open all checkpoints, as well as unhindered exit of all civilians from conflict zone under the guarantees of Russian-speaking Jihadi groups Ajnad Al-Kavkaz and Jund Ash-Sham.

Despite the reached “peace” agreements, Abu Saloh still remains in prison.Abu Mohammad al-Julani put forward a condition in which Abu Saloh and his accomplices would be released if they rejoined the HTS. If they refuse, HTS promised to accuse Abu Saloh of embezzlement of money and property, and apostasy against the HTS.

In conclusion, his suffering for loyalty to al Qaeda and his “spiritual heritage” will have an important impact on the development of Jihadism in Central Asia, in spreading the al Qaeda’s ideology and in attracting young Muslims to the path of religious extremism.

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Future of U.S.-Russia Relations After The Bounty Reports

Nasir Muhammad

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A jaw-dropping intelligence story surfaced on 26th June, 2020, in the New York Times, telling that a specialized branch of the Russian Federation’s military intelligence agency GRU, Unit 29155, secretly offered bounties to affiliates of the Taliban inside Afghanistan for carrying out successful deadly attacks on the outgoing U.S. and allied forces there.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Trump took to Twitter and called it a hoax and an effort aimed at damaging his reputation and that of the Republican Party especially at a time when the presidential election is just a few months away. Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, told NBC News in a video call that the story is a hundred per cent bullshi*– denying any such role played by Moscow. And the third, last, and most important party to rebuff these reports was the Taliban, who said they do adhere to the terms and conditions of the agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020.

After Donald Trump’s dismissal of the story as “fake,” other top officials of his administration such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’ Brian rushed to the defense of the president, calling the leaked intelligence assessment as “important and serious” but “unverified,” and thus not of the level to be shared with the president, at least verbally so.

Robert O’ Brian, especially, went so far, and perhaps inadvertently so, as to confess that they have actually been deliberating for months to prepare a list of potential responses to Moscow if they reached to the bottom of such reports, while refusing to answer when exactly did they first learn of such reports- further complicating things for the Trump administration in their denial of truth in the leaked intelligence assessment and their apparent unresponsiveness.

On the other hand, top democrats such as Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have accused Mr. Trump of “being soft on Vladimir Putin,” in the broader context though, and have further stressed that the particular reports be pursued relentlessly to ensure the safety of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Joe Biden, a strong democratic candidate in the US presidential race, called the revelation “shocking and horrifying” and, went so far, as to label President Trump’s entire existence in the Oval Office as a gift to Vladimir Putin.  

It is pertinent to mention here that following the late February 2020 U.S.-Taliban peace deal in Doha, Qatar, the number of U.S. troops has just been reduced to around 8,600 from then 12,000. They are expected to witness a full withdrawal from the war ravaged country by mid-2021 if the Taliban shows a wholehearted adherence to the agreement on the ground. 

So far the U.S. alone has lost as much as 28 soldiers in various violent attacks in Afghanistan since 2019. Given the complex multiplicity of militant groups on the Afghan soil, it remains unclear as to which of these attacks were actually orchestrated under the influence and patronage of Moscow.

If the reports turn out to be true, it will have far reaching implications, irrespective of who wins the November 3, 2020 U.S. presidential election: Would it mean that Vladimir Putin wants the U.S. and allied forces to remain trapped in an unending war in Afghanistan, so that he could more aggressively pursue his country’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Europe and even North Africa and South America? Would it mean that Putin wants the U.S. and their partners to stay in the war torn country to actually continue doing his country a big favor- neutralizing and pre-empting the radical jihadist elements from proliferation and intrusion into the central Asian republics that has the potential of ultimately threatening Russia herself? Or, and finally, would it mean that Mr. Putin wants to settle his country’s score with the U.S. from the Soviet times and force the latter into a hasty and embarrassing pull out by unleashing paid mercenaries and Taliban affiliates onto her and her NATO allies?

The above questions do not have easy and quick answers, at least for now, owing to the lack of political stability and the greater number of warring factions and peace spoilers in Afghanistan, the capricious nature of the U.S.-Russia relations, and more importantly, the apparent inability, on part of both academic researchers and policy makers in the U.S. and Europe, in effectively and timely deciphering and predicting the foreign policy overtures of Russia due to Vladimir Putin’s apparently spectacular strategizing and policy-making prowess.

More important, if the reports are corroborated, will be to see how the U.S. will respond, or not respond at all. In the latter case, the U.S. as a superpower will be embarrassed globally and will likely lose the confidence of its allies and partners in terms of security guarantees. In the former case, Russia will more likely be slapped with some more biting targeted economic sanctions. Such a move, nonetheless, will have the potential to nudge Russia, often dubbed as a rogue state in the West, into further collaboration with other anti-America roguish states and violent non-state actors in the world, and creating further chaos and instability that no one can really afford. Then, the million dollar question that the Trump administration should try answering is, how to engage with the powerful bear?

According to a top U.S. based retired Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies, who preferred to remain anonymous, “The only real means that the U.S. really has is sanctions, since anything more is likely to lead to real conflict. However, given the nature and orientation of the current president in Washington and the multiple levels of domestic chaos in the U.S. at the present time, I doubt that anything will occur in the near future.”

Alienating Russia seems to be more disastrous than accommodating her and perhaps this is why Mr. Trump appears not to be too tough on Vladimir Putin. He has said at multiple times that “If we could all get along, that would be great.” The question is, at the cost of what?

Thus, Sir Winston Churchill stands vindicated once again when he called Russia “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Having said all of the above, it is believed that the ball really is in Russia’s court. If she avoids pursuing a belligerent foreign policy especially one vis-à-vis the U.S. in conflict ridden countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Argentina and Venezuela, none other than Russia herself and the Russian people would be the ones to reap the benefits of such a move as it will further her trade ties with the rich West. It is really up to Putin’s Russia now as to which course of action it is going to pursue, which one not to pursue, and why.

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Was gory Galwan scuffle just about 800 metres of land, Or it has deeper roots?

Amjed Jaaved

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After bloody scuffle on Sino Indian Line of Actual Control at Ladakh, China and India have agreed to create a buffer zone, with both sides receding 1.8 kilometers. The joint statement stressed both sides would not violate the status quo.

But why did the Galwan scuffle take place? Galwan shot into prominence because the melee was violent.  Similar scuffles continue to take place at various points on Sino-Indian border.

Indian media portrays the gory brawl as a storm in a tea cup. It says that China stakes claim to territory up to 800 metres into the Indian side from Patrol Point 14 at Galwan. But, Murphy’s Law says `nothing is as simple as it seems’.

Real cause: US military strategist Edward Luttwak rightly pointed out casus belli of friction in an interview. He said, `In the last few months, the BRO [border roads organisation] has taken pro-active steps to develop connectivity over the bordering areas by building roads. The development has triggered the neighbour China, eventually leading to the army standoff at Galwan Valley’ (The Statesman dated July 6, 2020).

The truth is that India had been building roads and bridges all along Sino-Indian borders to improve connectivity between hinterland and the LAC. China repeatedly warned India against changing status quo, but in vain. Both countries have differing perceptions of the LAC. To meet Indian threat in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China built 51,000 km road network.  There are five airfields on the Plateau and one a little off to the East towards Chengdu. A railway line of nearly 1,150 km from Golmo (in the north in Qinghai) to Lhasa was completed in July 2006. Its highest elevation is across the Tanggu La (Pass) at 5072 metres (16,640 feet). It has been further extended 253 km south to Shigatse (Xigaze) on the banks of Tsang Po (Brahmaputra River). There are plans to further extend it another 700 km from Shigatse up to the Nepal border.

Recently China manufactured a light tank, ZQT 15 and tested it extensively in Tibet. It has also inducted the CZ-10 medium attack helicopter for operations in the mountains. It has also inducted the Y-20 heavy-lift transport aircraft which will facilitate troop mobilization in Tibet.

Still China was alarmed by India’s project for developing the Ladakh region through the Galwan valley into Shyok . The stand-off was triggered by China moving in troops to obstruct road construction activity by India. Last year, India completed the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) road which connects Leh to the Karakoram Pass. India also maintains a key landing strip at DBO at 16,000 feet. The broader context for the tensions is the changing dynamic along the LAC.

Why and where face-offs occur? They occur because of overlapping territorial claims in around two dozen spots across the Western (Ladakh), Middle (Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), Sikkim, and Eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) sectors of the India-China border. The boundary in the Sikkim sector is broadly agreed, but has not been delineated.

Face-offs occur when patrols encounter each other in the contested zones between overlapping claim lines. Protocols agreed to in 2005 and 2013 are seldom adhered to.

An overview of India’s road network: There are 61 to 73 strategic or defence roads along the India-China border totalling 3,346 km. Of these, 36 roads (1,260 km) have been constructed, while links have been established in 20 others (2,035 km) which are being tested. Work on the remaining five roads has begun and will be completed soon.

Some of the finished roads include the stretch connecting Sasoma and Saseria in the Ladakh sector, the Ghatibagarh-Lipulekh road in the Mansarovar sector, Gunji-Kutti-Jollingkong road in the Uttarakhand sector, Dokala in the Sikkim sector, the Balipara-Charduar-Tawang road in the Tawang sector and the Damping-Yangtze in the Arunachal sector.

Project cost of over Rs 3,000 crore is concealed under budgets of civil ministries.

According to a source in Ministry of Home Affairs, the government has spent Rs 3,728 crore on the project. This includes Rs 781 crore spent in 2016-17, Rs 745 crore in 2017-18 and Rs 890 crore in 2018-19. The proposed cost for the current fiscal is Rs 1,312 crore.The estimated cost to complete the very first phase was Rs 4,700 crore.

Inference: Lest Kashmir dispute be internationalized, India wants to keep cool with China. China too is under stress because of USA’s hostility. Besides Galwan, rival troops repeatedly collided with each other in north Sikkim, particularly Naku La across May and June . However, both countries can’t afford one to mount a full-fledged offensive.  To attack a company’s strength of 120 Chinese soldiers, India will require nine companies or 1000 soldiers.

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