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Not-so-Nuclear War



On February 4, 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense officially announced the first combat patrol mission of a nuclear-powered submarine carrying low-yield nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Some details were reported several days before that: the platform was USS Tennessee, which had went on combat patrol in the Atlantic in late 2019.

The low-yield combat payload in question represent the all-new W76-2 thermonuclear warhead for the Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). It is a derivative of the standard “light” W76-1 warhead, with the original secondary stage removed. As a result, the original yield of 100 kt has been reduced to between 5 and 7 kt.

According to official explanations, up to and including those contained in the new nuclear doctrine [1], the United States intends to use the weapon to give additional stability and flexibility to its regional (not strategic!) nuclear deterrence. The idea is that the number of such missiles will be limited, because they are intended for fairly specific purposes.

The U.S. military had long sought permission for low-yield nuclear weapons from the White House, arguing that the president was only limited to high-yield weapons as a last resort and that “interim” response options would come handy in certain scenarios. These were eventually termed “tailored” nuclear scenarios in the new doctrine.

These statements become more specific when looked at through the prism of expert chatter, stories run by specialized publications and private statements. Such as: What if the Russians attack an Eastern European country and, quite inevitably, receive a devastating response from NATO, but then they cunningly use their tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) to raise the stakes? How would the free world respond to that?

Their requests are quite simple and clear. The only question here is, why use a strategic SLBM in a purely tactical mission?

Something is Lacking

The U.S. has two types of nuclear weapons in its arsenals that would perfectly fit the purpose in terms of their yield. There are AGM-86B (ALCM) long-range air-launched cruise missiles, the backbone of the strategic triad’s air component. These are tipped with W80-1 warheads with dialable yield from 5 to 150 kt. There are also B61-family tactical nuclear gravity bombs that come in four different variants, some of them with 300 t and 1.5 kt yield in TNT equivalent.

Why another low-yield warhead?

The problem is not in the warhead itself, but in the delivery method. Russia, and the USSR before it, have historically been inferior to NATO in terms of airpower. For this reason, Russia has always relied on air defence (and electronic warfare) and is perhaps still the best when it comes to building reliable multi-layered air defence. It is, therefore, extremely difficult to penetrate a single air-launched nuclear weapon through that detection and multiple engagements system. The ALCM has been around for a long time, it is a well-known missile. Its more advanced derivative, the AGM-129, was decommissioned because it proved to be inferior. The combat aircraft with B61 were similarly ill-suited for such a hostile environment [2]. Starting a nuclear mission and stupidly losing the delivery vehicle to a Pantsyr or an S-400 would have been a much harder blow than refraining from participation in the escalating conflict.

Single nuclear strikes (as opposed to the massive use of nuclear force) on the theatre become a challenge. Theoretically, at some point, the United States will have nuclear systems that would be up to the task due to their stealth capabilities (LRSO cruise missiles, F-35 combat aircraft plus B61-12 guided bombs) or short flight time combined with the ability to break through air or missile defence (land, sea or air-launched hypersonic boost-glide systems). However, the problem articulated by the United States has to be addressed right now.

This leads to a palliative solution that implies removing the secondary stage from the W76-1 and using the resulting mini-Trident as a guaranteed delivery vehicle. Strange as it may seem, high accuracy is not required here. Not only will the strike be directed against a “soft” target (tactical formations, emplaced positions, or above-ground structures), but it does not even have to hit that target since it is the very fact of the use of nuclear force that matters during the early stages of escalation and not the actual damage.

It may seem clear, but how real is this image of “deterring” Russia? Is it even possible to have such a conflict as the one described in the American strategic papers?

On Reading and Comprehension Skills

Descriptions of a possible conflict along the lines of “Russia suddenly invaded the Baltic states, pre-emptively used its TNW to confuse NATO and force the alliance into a retreat” do not even merit earnest critical consideration. It is quite sad that such ideas are widespread among western political scientists and security experts [3]. However, even an expert with the greatest bias against Russia is likely to acknowledge that no matter what one thinks of Russian dignitaries, no matter what malicious intents one ascribes to them, believing these people to be infantile or irrational is a crucial research fallacy. Over the last couple of decades, the Russian elites have demonstrated a reserved, mistrustful and utterly rational (to the point of cynicism) approach to foreign and domestic policies, an approach that is utterly incompatible with the reckless idea of “let’s occupy the Baltic states, detonate a bomb and threaten a total nuclear war, because we’re bound to lose any other way.”

But what is this idea based on? It is based on Russia’s actual nuclear strategy, the general understanding of which is almost completely the opposite to its intended meaning. Russia has constructed a defence plan against a stronger enemy on the basis of the concept of the limited use of nuclear weapons in special cases.

The logic of “de-escalating” a military conflict by raising the stakes in the form of limited (including demonstrative) use of nuclear weapons has been repeatedly expounded both in general terms and in military details. Asymmetric scenarios are no exception. In such cases, a country responds to a massive attack of conventional forces with a first (limited) nuclear strike. Since, following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the lengthy socioeconomic crisis of the 1990s, Russia had significantly fewer conventional weapons than NATO, it was a rational strategic deterrence plan that implied balancing out conventional weapons with nuclear forces [4].

This was duly reflected in strategic planning documents. The foundation for such planning was laid back in 1993, when Russia officially disengaged itself from the 1982 Soviet obligation not to deliver the first nuclear strike, even though this use of nuclear weapons still applied to a global war only [5]. Subsequently, Russia developed a full-fledged military doctrine in 2000 that allowed the use of nuclear weapons “in situations that were critical for the national security of the Russian Federation,” including “in response to a large-scale aggression using conventional weapons.”

In 2010, the new version of the military doctrine showed the direction of Russia’s military development. The wording became more specific: now nuclear weapons could only be used in a conflict that “threatened the very existence of the state.” The current 2014 doctrine retains this strict wording and additionally bolsters it by introducing the notion of “strategic non-nuclear deterrence” that had previously been absent.

Let us note that this latter step was taken at the peak of the military and political crisis between Russia and the West, in the second half of 2014. If Russia had indeed relied on the irrationally incommensurate nuclear deterrence of the West and, in accordance with the classical “madman theory,” had wished to convince the West of this, there would have been no obstacles in the way of Russia enshrining such deterrence officially. Instead, Russia demonstratively enacted a “doctrinal détente.”

They Offered War and Nobody Came

Taken together, these developments reflected Russia’s efforts to rebuild and modernize its armed forces setting a course for raising the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons and for gradually filling up all those potential rungs on the escalation ladder that previously had to be “secured” using nuclear means with non-nuclear precision-guided weapons.

A number of motives driving this evolution can be identified. First, it is a flexible and comprehensive approach to deterrence that was not entirely typical for the USSR in the last years of its existence [6]. Second, there is a clear unwillingness to endow nuclear weapons with any significance greater than that inevitably required by the military strategic balance. Third, the logic of this development directly contradicts the very idea of “nuclear coercion” in regional conflicts with NATO. To coin a phrase, Russia has been gradually “clearing the mines” from a dangerous destabilizing situation that had emerged on the continent following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and significant curtailing of the potential of Russia’s armed forces. The temporary lowering of the threshold for using nuclear weapons reflected precisely the transitory nature of the current factors.

Thus, at the moment, we can presume that Russia cannot simply deliver a first nuclear strike when things start going wrong in a military conflict with a near-peer adversary. The circumstances have to be more severe than this, in which is clearly and presently suffering a large-scale military defeat that threatens a national disaster. Regardless of who started it.

Let us, however, go back to “mini-Tridents” and see what their place in this scenario is. Everything appears to be just the same, but there is one flaw that cannot be eliminated. Such weapons systems will hardly be an effective deterrent if Russia has been cornered so badly that it used nuclear weapons to de-escalate a catastrophically developing conflict with NATO (and it does not matter whether we are talking about the very fact of their existence, as the United States sometimes claims, or about the outcome of a retaliatory strike). The problem of an impending defeat has not been eliminated and, consequently, neither was the stimulus for the further use of nuclear weapons. In this case, the initiating state will simply move to the next rung of the escalation ladder, delivering a multiple strike on the battle ground or selecting a more valuable and sensitive target for a single strike (for instance, within the continental United States). Psychologically, this transition will be much easier (not to say more thoughtless) than the decision to deliver an initial strike.

The crucial thing is that this is precisely the scenario where the apparent military and technical advantages of the “mini-Trident” we mentioned above will lose their importance. Facing an imminent large-scale military defeat, Russia’s integrated air and missile defence system will have been largely “dismantled” through the intensive and successful use of NATO’s precision-guided weapons, and resistance to air and missile strikes will have taken on fragmented nature. In such circumstances, a “mini-Trident” is excessive as a delivery vehicle for a single strike. These tasks can be handled by usual means, such as cruise missiles or combat aircraft. Moreover, “mini-Tridents” will even be harmful in such a situation: an SLBM launched and detected by the early warning systems (which would be left intact in such a conflict), may be misconstrued by Russia given the acute stage of the crisis and thus prompt a launch-on-warning [7]. NATO most certainly does not need this, since it would actually be winning such a war “on points.”

The W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead:

-is officially aimed against the non-existent scenario of Russia using nuclear weapons in an act of provocation in the unrealistic event of a Russia—NATO conflict;

-is unable to deter Russia’s first use of nuclear weapons in an actual crisis situation as prescribed by its nuclear doctrine;

-harbours an additional destabilizing potential.

What is the point of this warhead then?

“I Don’t Know Who Needed it or What They Needed it For”

Note that in our story, the outlandish strategy of “escalate to de-escalate” has become intertwined with the notion of escalation control, or the idea that a conflict (including a nuclear conflict) can be proactively managed by keeping it low-intensity. This is not surprising at all because the two concepts are the same thing. Consequently, we have to go much further back in time, to the turn of the 1950s–1960s in the United States, to find the roots of this phenomenon. The single, yet crucial remark here is that escalation control is a scholastic and convoluted theory, an exercise for minds with a propensity for abstract thinking. Meanwhile, “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, as it is described today, is, in terms of both political motivation and means of implementation, a highly oversimplified form of the concept.

The United States is a pioneer in terms of introducing plans for limited use of nuclear weapons in practice. If we recall the entire history of the its “counterforce”— the 1974 Schlesinger Doctrine, Carter’s 1980 PD–59 plan and other contrivances of the heights of the Cold War, we will find it very hard to pretend that “mini-Tridents” appeared as an emergency response to Russia’s particularly malicious nuclear doctrine of the last few years. Back in 1962, Robert McNamara said that the United States could look for a way to stop a war on favourable terms, using its own forces as a bargaining chip, threatening further attacks. He further noted that, in any case, the highly secured large reserves of fire power could convince the enemy to abstain from attacking U.S cities and could stop the war [8].

We should not view these things as tales of a long gone bipolar past. A current 2019 American paper on planning nuclear operations states that, “Employment of nuclear weapons can radically alter or accelerate the course of a campaign. A nuclear weapon could be brought into the campaign as a result of perceived failure in a conventional campaign, potential loss of control or regime, or to escalate the conflict to sue for peace on more-favorable terms [9].”

It is sometimes hard not to think that the current nuclear strategy of the United States is subject to a kind of “projective” logic, something that should be familiar to practicing psychologists and means projecting one’s own aspirations and associations onto another person. In this ironic sense, mini-Tridents are very convenient as a nuclear weapons for “limited-scale” operations long since embraced by the U.S. military doctrine. Whether or not they are holding Russia back from an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, or if Russia is somehow self-deterring, is beyond the point. What is important is the very fact that such a potential exists, as arms control experts put it, capabilities are always more important than intentions.

One feature of Trident II SLBM is its depressed trajectory, which makes it possible to use the missile where very short flight time and a relatively low apogee are needed. Thus, at a striking distance of 1900 km, the missile will reach the target in six to seven minutes, never going higher than 150 km, and it will cover a distance of 3000 km in nine to ten minutes with a maximum height of 185 km [10]. Taking into account the changes in precision, it is generally accepted that these SLBM possess significant counter-force capabilities, which puts them beyond the classical role of “city killers” in retaliation strikes that is usually assigned to sea-launched missiles.

This means that the choice of the delivery vehicle was not accidental, although it was influenced by the desire to save time and money. The platform is indeed resilient against air and missile defence, allows for very short flight time and is convenient for discriminate nuclear strikes with low “collateral damage.” Besides, with this payload, it does not pose any counterforce threat for the strategic nuclear force of a potential enemy (the same accuracy with 15–20 times less yield) and planning officers could therefore erroneously perceive it as a relatively “stabilizing” kind of weapon. It is not such a weapon, due to a reduced nuclear use threshold and functional ambiguity of delivery vehicle.

Yet, the danger of low-yield nuclear warheads being deployed is not so much in the lowering of the nuclear threshold as such. First of all, it is about the continuation of a much more encompassing dual process, which erodes two categories: the clear differences between nuclear weapons and non-nuclear weapons on the one hand, and between strategic and tactical weapons on the other. Mini-Tridents bear the prints of both, especially if you recall how much effort was spent only 10–15 years ago to equip them with non-nuclear precision-guided warheads (nothing came of it, but lightening, or in this case, the shell, most certainly did strike the same place twice).

The result of the changes taking place in the respective nuclear doctrines of the United States and Russia can hardly be considered positive. The United States (if freed from the burden of having to explain its actions) directly raised the question of “usable” nuclear weapons, that is, a battlefield capability, and not an instrument of strategic deterrence. Thus, the image of conflicts of the future implies a limited use of nuclear weapons, including, possibly, against non-nuclear states—the United States has already tried to include such provisions in its 2018 nuclear doctrine. Subjectivity is also important here. Donald Trump is a man of exceptional sincerity and consistency. Look at his campaign promises and compare them with actions in the White House. But even during the election campaign, Trump noted that he does not understand the meaning of weapons that cannot be used.

Given all the severe restrictions we emphasized above, Russia continues to think of itself as of a besieged fortress that is about to fall. This leads, among other things, to the desire to make its nuclear doctrine as opaque as possible, implementing a strategy of “deterrence through uncertainty,” the traditional refuge of the weakest side (take China, for example, which has been adhering to this approach for 50 years). Another national habit, namely making non-strategic strike systems dual-capable (which is both cheap and convenient, and, again, in certain scenarios increases the constraining uncertainty) creates further problems in this area.

Both attitudes do the same job, albeit from different sides and in different ways. They both blur the “red lines” of the first use of nuclear weapons. In the case of the United States, this line descends lower to the area of “clashes,” due to the development of delivery vehicles and the appearance of the illusion that such an employment can be controlled, is limited and implies supposedly low “collateral damage.” It feels like a nuclear strike, but not really. In the case of Russia, the intentional management of nuclear uncertainty lays down destabilizing factors for possible military and political crises, complicating their course and simplifying the transition (including erroneous) from the non-nuclear section of the escalation ladder to the nuclear one.

This might sound like a paradox, but both superpowers are escalating the strategic nuclear risks by solving situational problems caused by the lack of political trust. One problem deals with the imaginary lack of low-intensity deterrence against Russia’s aggressive behaviour, while the other continues to safeguard the risks of a no-less-imaginary NATO intrusion amid the continuing weakening of conventional forces.

All the conditions for a self-fulfilling prophecy are met.

[1] Nuclear Posture Review 2018. Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2018, pp. 54–55.

[2] Davis P. K. et al. Exploring the Role Nuclear Weapons Could Play in Deterring Russian Threats to the Baltic States. Santa-Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019, pp. 52–53.

[3] See, for instance: Kroenig M. A Strategy for Deterring Russian Nuclear De-Escalation Strikes. Washington, DC: Atlantic Council, 2018; Luik J., Jermalavičius T. A Plausible Scenario of Nuclear War in Europe, and How to Deter It: A Perspective from Estonia. // Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 2017. Vol. 73. No 4, pp. 233–239; Schneider M. B. Escalate to De-Escalate. // Proceedings. 2017. Vol. 143/2/1,368 (Feb. 2017), pp. 26–29.

[4] Note that this is essentially “mirroring” the situations of the 1960s–1970s, when NATO relied on America’s forward-based nuclear weapons in Europe to balance out NATO and Warsaw Pact’s conventional weapons.

[5] Principal provisions of Russia’s Military Doctrine. Presidential Executive Order 1833 of November 2, 1993.

[6] Studies by several western experts based on contacts with members of the Soviet military and political leadership indicate that, despite having done the relevant theoretical work, the USSR only planned on the concentrated use of nuclear weapons (both on the battle ground and against the enemy’s strategic targets behind the front lines). See, for instance: Hines J. G., Mishulovich E., Shull J. F. Soviet Strategic Intentions 1965–1985. Vol. I: An Analytical Comparison of U.S–Soviet Assessments During the Cold War; Vol. II: Soviet Post-Cold War Testimonial Evidence. McLean, VA: BDM Corporation, 1995.

[7] It is not very likely, but still probable, and this is precisely the strategic “black swan” that leads to the situation collapsing without any chance of recovery. Concerning the real influence highly unlikely events with a highly significant effect have on nuclear deterrence, see: Yarynich V. E. C3: Nuclear Command, Control, Cooperation. Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2003.

[8] McNamara R. S. Speech before the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, 17 Feb. 1962. Cited after: Ball D. Deja vu: The Return to Counterforce in the Nixon Administration. Santa-Monica, CA: California Seminar on Arms Control and Foreign Policy, 1974.

[9] Joint Publication 3–72, Nuclear Operations, 11 Jun. 2019, pp. V–3.

[10] Gronlund L., Wright D. Depressed Trajectory SLBMs: А Technical Evaluation and Arms Control Possibilities. // Science and Global Security. 1992. Vol. 3. No. 1. pp. 100–160.

Ph.D. in Technical Science, fellow at the Centre for International Security, IMEMO, Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC expert

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Foreign Troops withdrawal at a faster pace from Afghanistan



The US is withdrawing troops at a faster pace than expected. It has been reported that almost half of the remaining forces have already been evacuated. It might be a part of the US strategy. Only time will explain it well. The US is handing over some crucial posts to Afghan Government Forces like the essential Bagram Air Base. Afghan Army was created by Americans, trained by Americans, equipped by Americans, and considered loyal with American. Their task was to obey American orders, protect American interests, and counter the Taliban.

The Taliban’s offensive against the Afghan forces has witnessed a sharp increase in diverse parts of more than twenty provinces of Afghanistan. The Taliban even attacked Mihtarlam – the 16th largest city in the Laghman province – which has been a comparatively quiet and calm city in the last few years. As a result of the Taliban’s current encounters, innocent Afghans have become refugees in different parts of the country. Their next destination may be Kabul and they are capable of taking over Kabul conveniently.

As a matter of fact, the Afghan Governments of President Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai were not legitimate Afghan-owned Governments; they were created by Americans and served Americans as puppet Governments. The natural pillars of the power were the Taliban. American took control from the Taliban in 2001, and they negotiated the troop’s withdrawal with the Taliban directly, without involving President Ashraf Ghani’s Government initially. American knows that Taliban are the real owners of Afghanistan and should rule their country in post withdrawl era. Americans acknowledged the potential and supremacy of the Taliban. President Ashraf Gahni or Hamid Karzai has no roots or public support in Afghanistan and will have no role in the future political setup in the post-withdrawal era.

Taliban are well-educated people, having good knowledge of Economics, Science & Technology, Industry, Agriculture, International relations and politics, and in-depth understanding of religions. They ruled the country in 1994-2001 successfully. Their era was one of the most peaceful eras in the recent history of Afghanistan.

Just like any defeating army, the US is trying to harm Afghanistan as much as possible, and destroying its weapons and war machinery at an estimated worth of US Dollars 80 Billion, and destroying ammunition depots, Infrastructures, and all-important places, before the surrender, creating a tough time for Taliban to reconstruct the war-torn country. Even the US is deliberately pushing Afghanistan towards chaos and civil war-like never-ending trobles.

Desperate, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani complained about American disloyalty in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 14, 2021.   Displaying a feeling of betrayal and helplessness, President ashraf Ghani is blaming Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s positive role in bringing the Taliban to negotiating table in Doha is widely admired by the US and International community.

Similarly, in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 22, 2021, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has also taken a tough stance on Pakistan and blamed Islamabad for its alleged link with and support to the Taliban. However, he also indirectly gave the message that the United States would not want peace in Afghanistan. At the same time, he has expressed high hopes “for the so-called Troika Plus, a diplomatic initiative launched by Russia which also includes China and the United States.” In response to the very first question about the Taliban, Karzai says that “I realized early into my tenure as president that this war is not our conflict and we Afghans are just being used against each other” by external forces.

However, it was the people of Afghanistan who suffered the four decades of prolonged war. It seems their sufferings are reaching an end. All the neighboring countries also suffered due to the Afghan war, and it is time for all neighboring countries to support Afghan reconstruction. China is already willing to assist in reconstructing Afghanistan under its mega initiative BRI. Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia, and Russia may also outreach Afghanistan and play a positive role in rebuilding Afghanistan.

A stable and peaceful Afghanistan will be beneficial for all its neighbors and the whole region. Let’s hope for the best, with our best struggles.

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What position would Russia take in case of an armed conflict between China and US?



China and Russia have seen increasing interactions and closer bonds as they face amid US pressure. The trilateral relations of China, Russia and the US are of great significance in the international order. Ahead of the upcoming Putin-Biden summit, Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) interviewed Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov (Denisov) on a range of issues including bilateral and trilateral relations, COVID-19, and many others.

GT: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden will meet in Geneva on June 16. What are your expectations for the meeting? How do you evaluate the possibility of improvement in Russia-US relations during Biden’s presidency?

Denisov: We are realists. We do not expect impossible outcomes. We welcome any measures that reduce tensions and competition, but we are very cautious about what we can expect from the Russian-American relations, especially in the context of the very tense relations between the two countries. The Geneva summit, the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office, is less likely to resolve important issues between the two countries. A better outcome, though, is that it sets the conditions for resolving problems in the future.

GT: Some analysts suggest the Biden administration may take measures to ease tensions with Russia in order to concentrate on dealing with China. Will this strategy alienate Russia from China and draw it closer to the US?

Denisov: This view is too short-sighted. It can’t happen. I think we’re smarter than what the Americans think.

GT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited China after the China-US meeting in Anchorage, while China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi visited Moscow after a Russia-US foreign ministers’ meeting. Was the timing of these two visits deliberately arranged? What signal did this send?

Denisov: As for the timing, it was purely coincidental that the two visits followed the high-level talks between China and the US in Anchorage and between Russia and the US in Iceland. It takes time and technical preparation to arrange a visit at the level of foreign minister and above.

When Russia was preparing for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to China, it was not aware that senior diplomats from China and the US would meet in Anchorage. The same goes for Director Yang Jiechi’s visit to Russia.

But it is a good thing that these two diplomatic interactions came on the heels of Russia and China’s conversations with the US. It will give senior diplomats from both countries an opportunity to have an in-depth discussion on what has happened in previous meetings between China and the US and between Russia and the US.

GT: Do Russia and China coordinate and communicate with each other on their stance toward the US?

Denisov: A principle in international political exchanges is that the question of an absent third party should not be discussed in the exchanges. However, this principle is almost never observed. A case in point is US President Biden’s trip to the UK for the G7 summit. Although Chinese representatives will not be present at the meeting and will not be able to express their positions, the US has announced that it will discuss its policy toward China with its European Allies.

In this context, the US topic certainly occupies a place on the agenda of the meeting between senior Chinese and Russian diplomats. Although the last two visits were short and had limited agendas, the two sides discussed in great detail a range of topics, including some of the most pressing and acute issues in the current international situation. As a matter of fact, there is no content or topic that should be avoided in the political dialogue between Russia and China.

GT: Competition and confrontation between China and the US are escalating. If one day an armed conflict between China and the US happens, what position would Russia take?

Denisov: There will be no answer to this question because I am convinced that there will be no armed conflict between China and the US, just as there will be no armed conflict between Russia and the US, because such a conflict would exterminate all mankind, and then there would be no point in taking sides. However, if you are asking about the judgment of the international situation and major issues, then Russia’s position is clearly much closer to China’s.

In recent years, the US has imposed sanctions both on Russia and China. Although the areas and content of the US’ dissatisfaction towards Russia and China are different, the goal of the US is the same: to crush the competitor. We clearly cannot accept such an attitude from the US. We hope that the Russia-China-US “tripod” will keep balance.

GT: As far as you know, is President Putin scheduled to visit China this year?
Denisov: There is a possibility. Our high-level exchange plan includes President Putin’s visit to China, and both sides have the willingness. China hopes that President Putin will be the first foreign leader to visit China after the pandemic, while Russia also hopes that President Putin’s first state visit after the outbreak will be arranged in China. However, whether this arrangement can be implemented will depend on how the pandemic develops. While the two leaders have not exchanged visits in the past two years, they have spoken on the phone a number of times and the exchanges between Russia and China at the highest levels remain close.

GT: President Putin recently said that the US was wrong to think that it was “powerful enough” to get away with threatening other countries; a mistake, he said, that led to the downfall of the former Soviet Union. How do you comprehend President Putin’s words?

Denisov: Anyone who follows current US policy will not disagree with President Putin’s views. My interpretation of this statement is that President Putin is not “foreseeing” that the US will suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union, nor is he saying that he would like to see that happen. He is simply warning that the risk is real, but many American political elites have not yet fully realized it.

We cannot imagine a world without the US today. The US plays a big role in terms of economy, culture, science and technology, and we cannot deny this fact. But on the other hand, the US needs to recognize that it is not the only country in the world, and it needs to take into account and respect the realities and goals of other countries. President Putin is reminding the US not to make the mistakes of the Soviet Union.

GT: Many reports in recent years have said the US and some other countries are trying to incite a “color revolution” in China and Russia to create a “zone of geopolitical instability” around the two countries. Under the current situation, what kind of cooperation can China and Russia carry out?

Denisov: That is why I said that Russia and China are highly consistent in their judgment of the international situation. Both Russia and China follow the principle of non-interference in another country’s internal affairs, but in the past few years, we have witnessed “color revolutions” in many countries, which have led to domestic chaos. These “color revolutions” certainly have some domestic or local reasons, but they are always accompanied by the presence of external forces.

In order to prevent a third country from interfering in the internal affairs of Russia and China, we should jointly work out some “rules of the game,” especially in the field of information security so as to prevent some countries with more advanced information technology from imposing their own political agenda on other countries through IT technology.

Recently, a new phenomenon has emerged in the world: hybrid warfare (Hybrid warfare refers to a new type of warfare in the 21st century, which involves a mixture of conventional and non-conventional means. It is considered to be more varied and covert than conventional warfare.) In this field, the international community does not yet have the corresponding rules to restrict or regulate it.

On the one hand, it is the common concern of Russia and China to prevent their country from being invaded by bad information from the outside world. On the other hand, although Russia and China have sufficient capabilities and strong information networks to resist a “color revolution,” some countries and regions around us are relatively vulnerable in this regard, and external interference at the information level could easily lead to large-scale domestic turbulence [in these countries and regions]. The recent events in Belarus and what happened in Hong Kong two years ago are two examples. Therefore, to formulate common rules against “color revolutions” is also for the stability of more countries and regions.

GT: The West has been hyping up Russia and China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy,” claiming that the two countries are pursuing geopolitical interests through vaccine exports and aid. What do you think of it?

Denisov: China has so far provided at least 350 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines overseas. Russia’s vaccines exports are not as large as China’s, but it has cooperated with 66 countries. San Marino has beaten the outbreak with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. At the same time, Russia has also taken the lead in proposing providing relevant technology and process support to help countries produce vaccines. So far, we have discussed relevant cooperation with 25 medical manufacturers from 14 countries.

We believe that the issue of mutual recognition of vaccines can best be addressed through multilateral platforms such as the WHO, as both Russian and Chinese vaccines may face difficulties in getting recognition. This is not because of the quality or protection rates of the Russian and Chinese vaccines, but because some competitors are very reluctant to allow Russian and Chinese vaccines into other countries. They will create artificial obstacles, including using political tools and unfair methods to achieve their goals.

The suggestion of “vaccine diplomacy” is one of the obstacles they create. Some countries with “vaccine nationalism” give priority to vaccinating their own population, which is fine in itself, but at the same time they are trying to discredit other countries’ vaccine aid and prevent Chinese and Russian vaccines from entering the market of third countries. This is not right. It is a typical “vaccine politicization.”

Besides, the West’s fabrication about the virus being a result of “a Chinese laboratory leak” is a classic case of politicizing the pandemic. These are very unfair political statements, which are not the right way to address this devastating human crisis.

GT: Some analysts said that there are considerable differences in terms of China and Russia’s strategic interests: Russia has little interest in maintaining the existing international order, while China, as the biggest beneficiary of the existing international order, only seeks to adjust the order. What do you think of this view?

Denisov: This is a rather black and white statement. It is also a radical view of the international situation, as if there are only two options before us: preserving the existing international order or destroying it. But that’s not the case.

Russia and China are both world powers and have their own interests at the global and regional levels. These interests cannot be identical in all cases. But on the whole, the international interests of Russia and China are the same, so our positions on most international issues are the same. The most obvious example is how we vote in the United Nations Security Council: Russia and China often cast the same vote at the Security Council.

The international order is not static. It not only evolves, but has recently accelerated its evolution. The international order needs reform to make it more responsive to today’s realities, but we cannot change it in a one-size-fits-all way.

I do not agree with the view that Russia and China have very different views on the reform of the international order. In fact, our positions on some of the most important issues are the same, and we just have different views on some specific details.

GT: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. How do you evaluate the CPC’s performance and achievements?
Denisov: Since I was assigned to work in Beijing in the 1970s, I have witnessed firsthand China’s development over the past half century. I have seen with my own eyes the tremendous progress China has made under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and I have seen that China’s success is the result of many important factors, such as the dedication and diligence of the Chinese people and the right decisions made by the leadership.

For the CPC, this year is very important. In the future, China will welcome another 100th anniversary: the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Perhaps I will be too old to see what China will look like when that day comes. But I can imagine it, because in the course of China’s development over the past 50 years, I have seen the support of the Chinese people for the CPC as the ruling party, and the crucial role it has played in China’s achievements. I know there is a song in China that many people sing: “Without the CPC, there would be no New China.” I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate all Chinese people.

GT: We learned that some Russian people have negative views of the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Union. Will they equate the CPC with the Soviet Communist Party? Will this affect the current China-Russia relations?

Denisov: Russia is a big country and its people hold diverse views. I think the number of Russians who feel this way is very small.

Indeed, the Soviet era had many flaws, but people of my generation who actually experienced this era could still think of many good and positive things when they look back. Our poll shows that the negative attitude toward the Soviet Union is largely held by young Russians who were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union and did not see it firsthand. They had a different attitude towards the Communist Party, but it was more about the Soviet Union’s own policies at that time, not the Communist Party in general.

I also want to share a personal view on the Soviet Union and the Communist Party: If a figure like Deng Xiaoping had appeared in the Soviet Communist Party at that time, perhaps the course of our country’s development would have changed forever.

Recently, there have been a lot of discussions about state and different social systems. We have also found that the responses of different countries to the COVID-19 pandemic reflect the strengths and weaknesses of different social development models. Today, the Chinese economy has emerged from the crisis caused by last year’s epidemic, demonstrating the great vitality of China’s development model. This reminds me of a Chinese saying: Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth.

from our partner RIAC

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“African Lion 2021”: More than military Show between the US and Morocco



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On June 7th, 2021, Morocco, the US, and NATO began joint African Lion maritime drills in the Atlantic Ocean south of  Morocco. This is a unique military cooperation between the three powers, which are all regarded by the United States as either competitors or antagonists. The military exercise is translated variously, yet, given that the Southern aquatic of Laayoune is an extremely sensitive waterway as it bonds to the Strait of Tarfaya, through which about a fifth of Africa’s trade corridors, the drill serves to sustain stability and security of the Moroccan Southern region along with a message that Spain is not isolated in foreign affairs. Last year, the Spanish meaninglessly pulled itself out of the “USAFRICOM” deal. Since then, waters around Spain have become the question of regional tension as the Kingdom of Morocco has cautioned the Spanish government against involving in Morocco’s Demarcation Maritimes borders.

However, as the strongest ally of Morocco, the US has sent two warships from its Atlantic Fleet – a frigate, a tanker, and a rescue tug boat – to take part in the drills, which were the first time being held in such a format. Now as America’s most important strategic partner, Morocco was also determined to join the training, as it sent a guided-missile warship to the naval drill. True, joint military exercise is a routine exchange with any other state since it is in line with related international laws and practices. But the naval drill of Morocco, the US, and NATO are sure to go beyond the normal military cooperation. Although Morocco claims that joint drill has no connection with regional situation, it affirms the will and capability of the three powers to jointly safeguard the peace and maritime security of the region and beyond.

As the two biggest alliance drills, The US and Morocco’s participation in the joint naval drills certainly signifies the emergence of a so-called “counter-coalition” to encounter the one that Algeria envisages creating. Some pessimistic reactions in Northern Africa have already tried to interpret this collaborative naval drill and their potential military cooperation as a threat to the peace and the balance of power in the region. The U.S. and its allies regularly hold joint military exercises all across the African continent at any given time of the year, which thus makes such occasions commonplace. Yet, France has mostly failed to promote peace and stability according to the resolution first approved by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Most other states, except Spain, have shown their interests or even worries that their participation in the U.S.-led Military drills in north Africa will only heighten tensions in this geo-strategic region.

In addition, the US and Morocco’s military ties with France and Israel are not secret anymore, with America opening up a Training drone institute in Morocco, Morocco making an arms deal with Washington following  The Agency of International Trade (ITA) reported that sales of military equipment to Morocco more than doubled in 2020, and both US and Morocco having participated in important arms exhibition in the UAE. Due to this fact, it is bizarre to describe triple drills as being aimed against any third party when they’re really just a drill of what could be described as a part of normal diplomacy, or put it simply, seeking diplomatic means through military ends.

Strategically, Washington and Rabat are keen to prove their pragmatic strategy to the North African region en bloc. For instance, the US and Morocco are not taking sides in the African  Sahel conflict. This pragmatic approach could even be moving to a higher level whenever Morocco and the US can urge all parties to resolve their disputes through political means instead of military ones. However, for Washington and Rabat, the probable risks are both geopolitical and economic because of the presumed division of labor between the two ally powers under which the US takes responsibility for security in the region while Morocco focuses on socio-economic development.

It is highlighted that the US and Morocco both intend to show their sophisticated strategic partnership to a larger scope. First of all, the triple maritime drills which are labeled “African Lion Marine Security ” are aimed at implementing regional order and stability. To this end, the entire exercises are being practiced: reducing terrorism perils, carrying out rescue operations, and defense against attacks from pirates. The purpose is to learn as much as possible, mainly when it comes to preserving the security of international trade in the strategic regions and share experience in maritime rescue operations. Consequently, the US, Morocco, and NATO have a responsibility to ensure the strategic regions together. Secondly, the joint naval drills secure regional stability and order persistent with the United Nations’ 1982 Convention. As per this convention and as signatories, the US and Morocco refused the unilateralist concept that France is the region’s dominant maritime power. Freedom of Navigation also mentions vessels flying the flag of these sovereign states shall not suffer meddling from the French navy at will. Therefore, under the 1982 Convention and Freedom of Navigation, NATO non-ally can hold naval drills with the US and Morocco for exercising cross-military coordination, willingness, and information gathering. As Moroccan News outlet argues that the drills likewise adhere to International Maritime Law by helping Morocco, the US, and NATO to enhance collective security. It’s completely fine with the three powers regarding the joint drills as core to their security, mainly if it uses maritime forces to prevent terrorism risks.

To sum up, Morocco and the US can have their formalities for the drills as well. France quests to repel Washington’s maximum pressure attitude. The maritime exercise helps to argue that the U.S. has failed to isolate France strategically and militarily among Maghreb region. The Kingdom of Morocco says regional security has to be provided by regional states. The joint drills are in line with the concept of North Africa’s collective security efforts. Additionally, Morocco depends on regional stability for its geostrategic approach. In truth, France has failed to apply a binary containment policy toward Morocco and US in the North Africa. It couldn’t hinder the presence and influence of their maritime forces towards the region. Then again, the joint naval exercises bring a counterbalance against the U.S. with a message that in the year of  “African Lion” 2021 and beyond, the three powers would be able to involve in similar joint military drills if need to be.

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