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Russia in Libya and the Mediterranean

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There are several myths about Soviet/Russian involvement in Libya in particular and the Mediterranean in general. Unfortunately, such “political stories” are firmly rooted in the traditions of the Cold War and the post-Soviet period of geopolitical fog.

The first myth perpetuated in all the analytical efforts is that Gaddafi was a staunch ally to the Kremlin. This misreading of the Colonel has been the reason for many failures in describing the past and the present of Russia’s moves in Libya and beyond. Gaddafi was a dedicated enemy of everything communist, ready to bring the Russian connection into play as a proverbial “stick” in his troubled relations with the Americans. In doing so, he was far from original but rather following in the footsteps of many Middle Eastern politicians who blackmailed the West with the threat of “going Soviet.”

The second myth is that Moscow has historically been trying to convert North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean into the “main proletarian confession.” This particular narrative dates back to the early decades following the 1917 revolution when the imagination of a few idealistic amateurs conceived the “world revolution.” Fortunately for the Soviet Union, this romantic dream died long before World War 2; and unfortunately for the hypothetical West, the attitude remained unchanged.

The third myth is that Russia has no business to be anywhere outside of its borders. In fact, this is an attitude spread by Washington among its allies in Europe through NATO doctrines rather than a myth. The argument typically goes, “We are here because we are good” and “We are good because we say so”, while they should not be here “because they are bad” and “they are bad because we say so.” The keywords here are “because we say so.”

Now, these are the myths. What could be said of the reality?

Myths Turned Historical Reality

At the outset, Russia cast a close look at the Mediterranean during the time of Catherine the Great. At that time, the understanding was clear. If we want to a) secure the Southern border and b) trade with the world with no restrictions, we had to have access to the warm high seas. For that to happen, Moscow had to project power. Those were the days when power projection was the key to trade success. Not that much has changed.

Paul the First went a little further as he tried to establish Russia’s naval base in Malta. An old trick got in his way, though, he was stopped by repeated blows to his head.

However, the idea was quite clear. The Mediterranean and North Africa were definitely worthy of attention. The Soviet leadership was nothing if not excellent students of history, something that soon resulted in particular attention to the area. For the most part, all the Soviet Mideastern discourse could not and should not be taken separate from the Eastern Mediterranean track. Naturally, Libya was ideally positioned for the effort to project political, military and ideological power to the Eastern Mediterranean. Ideology should receive rapt attention as well. It has always been in the offering, still being there albeit under the disguise of “traditional values”. It is worth stressing that this new package for the old adage enjoys undisputed success with the traditionalist elites in North Africa and the Middle East.

The Moscow–Tripoli relations were always anything but smooth. If not for the American posture towards Gaddafi, one might say Moscow would have failed to get inside the Jamahiriya at all. Washington somehow served the cards in favor of the Kremlin, though, and Gaddafi signed a considerable package with Russia in the early 1970s. However, even this package came with a pinch of salt when Russian specialists and advisors were for months not allowed to attend their workplaces in the military units after their arrival to Libya. It was an enigma at the time, but it then became more than clear that Gaddafi kept the door open for a setback in the relations with Moscow if the situation with the West (meaning the U.S.) changed to the positive.

Something like that happened during 2004–2006. By time the Soviet Union was long gone, Gaddafi made loud concessions, and Washington started afresh with Tripoli. Immediately, Gaddafi’s contractual policies shifted in favor of the Western alternatives, like signing tremendous contracts with Italy. That was a clear sign of the times, coupled with the same old “game of options”. When several meetings between Gaddafi and the new Russian leaders took place and a few agreements were signed, this served as source of optimism in the Kremlin. This came at a time when Russia started reassessing its position in the MENA region and was in the process of defining who is who vis à vis Moscow’s newly-found ambitions. The new agreements signed between Moscow and Tripoli were perceived in Russia as a manifestation of the newly-found rapport with the rich North African country. Probably, this period, more than any time else, gave rise to the speculations about the “eternal friendship” between Gaddafi and Russia.

However, the enthusiasm was waning as it became increasingly evident that Gaddafi was more interested in the new acceptance from the United States and that Libya transited from the enfant terrible of global politics to the country welcomed in the diplomatic chambers of Europe and America. Evidently, by the time of the Security Council resolution of 2011 on Libya, Moscow’s political elite became disinterested in Libya as a possible partner, which was the reason why Russia abstained from its right of veto.

Against this backdrop, Russia entered the years 2014–2015, heralding the country’s expanded presence in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Facing Today’s World

It has virtually become an article of faith that Russia has become overly aggressive in its foreign policy from that time on, creating a vacuum around itself and fostering many hostile elements in the West with crippling sanctions from the former “partners” being “displeased” by Russia’s modus operandi. This is one way of looking at the issue. Let’s try to adopt a different approach, one closer to Moscow’s optics.

It all started in Ukraine and with the Crimea. After the 2013 Euromaidan and the ousting of President Yanukovitsh, there was a well-founded apprehension about Sevastopol’s fate and the ill-disguised intentions of the new political elite in Kiev to turn this naval base over to NATO. Anyone with some experience in international politics could deduce this was a huge red line for Russia. With Sevastopol, Russia could lose its ability to operate in the Mediterranean and project its power to the Middle East. This aspect is strangely absent in the Western (and sometimes Eastern) discourse. Or, maybe, this is not that strange.

This fact was exacerbated by the intense anti-Russian campaign in the former Soviet Republics on the Western border. It genuinely hurt Russian feelings. We all remember the unbelievable amount of money Russia, then part of the Soviet Union, invested in these same republics, and this “post-factum animosity” went against all beliefs of the Russian people. This implies reactions among ordinary citizens to whom political elites in Moscow had to really pay attention.

The Yugoslavia crisis also raised another principal issue: when “they” do it, it has to be the struggle for democracy as half of Europe could be bombed amid happy dancing around the “equality campfire;” when “we” do it, they call it transgression, annexation and you name what. Unjust. Definitely unjust. And what would you call denying Russia its right of influence and its freedom of presence in the regions which Moscow considers its areas of interest while hailing the U.S. for doing the same? Discrimination. Definitely, discrimination.

Hence, the go-alone (China is out of account here) trajectory in the Middle East and beyond as well as the genuine belief that “our cause is just and we will prevail.” Actually, this is not so different from the American discourse. The scale of confrontation between the two countries may well come as the result of this similarity.

A lot is said about the “ring of enemies” and the “motherland under siege” narrative, which allegedly mirrors the Kremlin’s international policies and influences its Middle Eastern discourse. This is a dangerous misreading of the situation. This is an American narrative rather than a Kremlin narrative. As any counterproductive policy, it leads to Moscow exploiting this pressure and having a good response from the grassroots level. All attempts at depicting it otherwise are dangerous delusions that result in mistakes when formulating strategies.

As far as the 140 million people living in Russia are concerned, we have to account for a next-to-total support of the Kremlin’s political course. This is what matters to decision-makers. The situation may gradually be changing now, but the inertia is still strong.

A Change of Mind

Now, if we put all this together as the basis for our analytical attempt, we might work out a better understanding of Russia’s foreign policy approach to Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean, which is a crucial part of the nation’s Southern track.

As mentioned before, Russia has lost interest in Libya for practical reasons. For some time, the country was considered a Western fiasco; and as such, it was apodictically left for the West to deal with. This is especially true for the period since 2015, when Syria has stolen all the available effort. The Syrian file left a lot of room for speculation. Many “specialists” posited that Russia entered Syria to make itself indispensable as a party to the regional mediation process and, which is much more exotic, to alleviate the Crimea fallout. Perhaps, nothing could be farther from the truth. Reasons for such argumentation are clear as there was a need to project the success of the U.S. sanctions policies and to show to the civilized world that the courageous stance of Washington and its allies against the Russian threat was a success. The result of this narrative was more than misleading. In fact, the Russian political elite, mainly oriented towards domestic reactions (remember the support for the PLO in the 1970s)[1], maintained that Moscow was not at all intimidated by Western activism. Contrary to this original plan, Moscow successfully used the anti-Russian campaign to its own ends, openly accusing former “partners” of inadequacy.

The decision to engage in the Syrian file was based on several factors, and none of them was truly perceived by the West. The first and the most important was terrorism. For Russia, Syria was too close to the borders for comfort to allow terrorist activities to go unimpeded. It was imperative not just to put an end to groups like ISIS and JN but to eliminate the most active terrorists physically so that they would not be able to return to their homeland. Following the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States was not trusted to do good. No doubt, the second reason was the support of the regime, and this is not to mean in in the sense “we like Assad, let him stay.” This was rooted in discouraging the notion of forceful replacement of political rulers per se. The old adage stipulating “what was done by force would be undone by a greater force” was at the forefront of the reasoning. The third factor has, of course, to account for the military presence in the Mediterranean. To lose naval facilities that facilitate operations in the area was absolutely unacceptable, especially since the reasoning seemed sound—if the Americans have the right, then we also have the right. Hard to argue, isn’t it? Then, there was also the display of loyalty to the long-time ally and the necessity of defending Orthodox Christians, bearing in mind that the discourse of Orthodoxy has been a significant part of the domestic political narrative.

However, the Syrian engagement served as a catalyst for the change of status towards Libya.

During the Syrian crisis and as a result of military successes (with occasional fiascos, for sure), the outlook on the Middle Eastern paradigm became more and more “militarized” in the sense that it started to look as though we could achieve by force more than we would achieve by word “in this neck of the woods”. As a result, the military started replacing diplomats in a lot of venues. The argument was clear – there is still a lot of terrorist activity, so we need to be proactive.

With the tangible results in Syria, the Libyan option started to look more and more doable. However, there still was reluctance to engage on the state level. The position of the Kremlin was clear. As we do not know what will come as a result of the Libyan kaleidoscope, we will hedge our risks by talking to everybody without engaging on the part of anybody. If there were a private initiative, we would not interfere. This is plausible deniability which turned out to be not so convincing in the fall of 2019 as world news agencies readily tied the so-called Wagner to the Russian government. Still, it is not a state endeavor and should not be considered as such. At the end, it is definitely private and not very impressive.

During the initial period of official engagement in Syria and the unofficial one in Libya, Russia faced several challenges that it learned to cope with, except for that of Turkey. Ankara became active in the Middle East some time ago, recently arriving in Eastern Mediterranean. This was probably something new for the “front-line” Mediterranean countries of Europe, but not for Russia. Russia had to deal with Turkey through all its recorded history. Nothing changed in principle. It is still the interests of one country and the interests of the other. However, the context is different. Turkey remains a NATO member and, as such, enjoys the support of other member-states.[2] On the other hand, both countries enjoy certain levels of economic cooperation and are reluctant to sacrifice it, at least for now. There are even “optimistic” voices in Russia saying that Turkey is ready to leave NATO and cut relations with the U.S. to foster a new alliance with Russia. This is an interesting albeit unrealistic opinion.

In reality, the two countries have been dancing in close military proximity in Syria, now having to adjust to each other yet again over the frontline in Libya. Both countries have an impact on the U.S. involvement, both negatively, as in Syria (playing hoax on the Kurds and seeding discord in the tribal structure of the Levant), as well as positively, as in Libya (facilitating a new possible track to solution, however improbable it may look).

Still, Moscow appears to take a very cautious approach to the GNU, noting the new circumstances amid which Haftar finds himself. The closeness of Abdelhamid Dbeiba to Ankara is not a secret, while Haftar’s reluctance to cede his domain to anybody is also known. It seems Moscow is waiting for the final outcome, hardly being optimistic of the election’s prospects. If there are no elections, then the unity of the country is questionable and who is to say where the balance goes? The remark of Vershinin pronounced on the margins of the Berlin 2.0 that evacuation of foreign fighters from Libya should be approached cautiously, is telling.

Moscow’s approach to Eastern Mediterranean is based on the new contextual reality. Mediterranean seems to be in transit from a Eurocentric to a Mideastern character. Recently, the leading Gulf nations have shown their keen interest in what is happening in the region. From Moscow’s perspective, this means that the “liberal democratic” construct of the Mediterranean will increasingly be subjected to the stress-test by the “desert warrior” political routine. In this context, Russia feels more comfortable as a historically proven all-road political vehicle, capable of navigating traditional waters of no-man’s land of the Middle East. It might be too optimistic but definitely not without merit. The region is changing, and Russia that replaced the shackles of the socialist ideology of the past with the potent weapon of traditional values feels itself capable of not only participating in this change but also of driving it.

From our partner RIAC

  1. The Palestine Liberation Organization was considered a terrorist group, but for the Soviet people, they were freedom fighters worthy of international support. This legitimized the Kremlin’s decision to approach Arafat. A similar thing is taking place now.
  2. Mind NATO’s position towards Turkish incursions into the Syrian territory in 2012 and 2013, where Rasmussen depicted Turkey as a suffering party.

Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, School of Asian Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics, RIAC Expert

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Defense

What is driving Russia’s security concerns?

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The current discussions between Russia and NATO pivot on Russia’s requirement for the Alliance to provide legally binding security guarantees: specifically, that the alliance will not expand east, which will require revoking the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit decision that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO” .

It is useful to shed some light on the underlying points which drive Russia’s deep concerns. Moscow holds that the USSR was deceived on the issue of NATO expansion. At the same time, it is recognised that it was the fault of the Soviet leadership not to acquire legally binding guarantees at that time and the fault of the Russian leadership in the 1990s not to prevent NATO expansion per se. The current acrimony is caused by numerous examples of Western leaders making promises, blurred or straightforward, not to expand NATO further.

The Russian leadership after 1991 expressed this concern on many occasions, including the letters of Boris Yeltsin to Bill Clinton in October 1993 and then in December 1994.

But Russia’s proposals were not limited only to political statements. For example, in 2009 Moscow already put forward the draft of a legally binding European Security Treaty.

As to the issue of membership, it is unlikely that Moscow buys certain behind-the-scenes hints that the potential NATO membership of Ukraine is really only a rhetorical position. Often this approach is called “constructive ambiguity”. Moscow strongly believes, with good reason, that in the past all unofficial promises about the expansion of NATO were broken. Why would it believe them now?

Another fundamental point, from Russia’s point of view, is that beside the right to choose alliances, there is a crucial role for the concept of indivisible security, particularly the elements of equal security and the obligation that no country not to strengthen its own security at the expanse of the other. These principles are enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act (1975), in the Paris Charter (1990), in the NATO-Russia Founding Act (1997) and in the Charter of European Security (1999). Therefore, it should be the obligation of both sides to work out the parameters of indivisible security holistically and not to pretend that this is an invention of Moscow.

Arguably, indivisibility of security may include, for example, an obligation not to indicate the other side in military strategic concepts, doctrines, postures and planning as an enemy, rival or adversary. Among other things, it may also include an obligation to halt the development of military planning and military exercises, which designate Europe as a potentialtheatre of war between NATO and Russia. It is Pentagon, which in its official press statements indicate for example Georgia, Ukraine and Romania as “frontline states”.

A common Western argument against Russia’s current draft is that it is difficult to see how such a legally binding guarantee can be achieved when Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates that its parties, upon unanimous decision, can invite any other European state to join.

But to refer to Article 10 regarding the expansion of NATO after 1991 is not correct. In 1949 Article 10 of course did not envisage the open-door policy for the states that were in the Soviet bloc. After 1991 a qualitatively new situation arose. It was not Article 10 but a political decision of the United States in 1994-1995 to open a totally new chapter in the expansion. That decision was of a paramount importance.

Also, it is said that the United States is similarly unlikely to enter into a bilateral arrangement with Russia regarding NATO expansion, since this would violate Article 8 of the Treaty, whereby parties undertake not to enter into any international engagements in conflict with the Treaty.

Again, the point is not straightforward. The US de facto is the dominant member of NATO, which in most circumstances calls the shots there. According to history, when its national interests demanded, it took decisions that can be interpreted as conflicting or even undermining Article 8. For example, the security interests of the UK were clearly disregarded in 1956-1957 in the course of the Suez crisis due to the actions of the US. Or doesn’t the AUKUS run counter to the security interests of France? Or, for example, didn’t the way in which the US left Afghanistan undermine the security of some other members of NATO?

Short of the legally binding guarantee by NATO, what other options for a settlement might be satisfactory for Russia?

Russia deeply values the status of neutrality that several countries in Europe maintain. Indeed, it would be difficult to dismiss the fact that the international standing of Finland, Austria or Switzerland would have been much lower if not for their policy of neutrality. Moreover, one may say that the security of these countries is even higher than the security of some member states of NATO. So why not consider an option of neutrality, for example, for Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia, buttressed by certain international treaties like it was in the case of Austria?

Another back-up option would be to consider any further theoretical expansion of NATO on the conditions that were applied to the territory of the former German Democratic Republic—i.e. that NATO integrated troops or NATO infrastructure is not deployed on this territory.

Alternatively, a further option could be to place a moratorium on a new membership, for example for 15-20 years, which would not undermine Article 10 per se. For example, Turkey now for 16 years is a candidate-country of the European Union but nobody in the EU pretends that it can become a member in the foreseeable future.

Mutual security concerns could be met if a significant complex of agreements is approved. Firstly, agreements could be made on military-to-military communication, on military drills and exercises, and on patrols of strategic bombers.

Secondly, there could be a NATO-Russia comprehensive agreement on the basis of well-known IncSea and dangerous military activities agreements.

Thirdly, there is scope for an agreement on an obligation not to deploy in NATO members, bordering Russia, any strike systems, either nuclear or conventional.

And fourthly, in the league of its own, there could be an agreement on a Russia-NATO legally binding moratorium on the INF land-based systems, both nuclear and conventional.

Finally, on Ukraine, it is often said that Ukraine is much weaker than Russia and has no ability to launch and sustain a large-scale offensive against Russia. This misses the point.

Russia is concerned about two things. First, that there is no guarantee that sooner or later a third country would not decide to sell to or deploy in Ukraine strike systems that will endanger Russia’s security. Second, that Ukraine may attack not Russia but Donbas, like Poroshenko did in 2015, to try to solve the problem with military means and at the same time to try to involve NATO in military confrontation with Russia. This could be called a Saakashvili style of doing things.

It is unlikely that Russia will ever agree to restrain the movement of troops on its own territory, which would be quite humiliating. This would be a matter for a new CFE treaty if such a treaty is ever revived. Another question is what is considered “in proximity to the Ukrainian border”? At present, the deployment of most additional Russian troops, described by Western sources as “in proximity”, is minimum 200-300 km from the border. Does it mean that Russian troops will be prohibited from approaching its own borders in proximity, for example, of 400-500 km?

Meanwhile, on the other side there are more than 100 thousand Ukrainian troops concentrated on the contact line with Donbas, and much closer to it than the distance between the Russian troops and the Russian border. It is interesting to note that maps, which Western media these days is so fond of printing and which show locations where Russian military forces are stationed or deployed on the territory of Russia, do not have any indication of Ukrainian troops disposition. What happens if Ukrainian troops receive orders to attack Donbas akin to orders that Saakashvili gave his troops in 2008 to attack Tskhinval? It is clear that Moscow will never let Kiev take Donbas by force destroying the whole edifice of the political process based on the Minsk-2 agreements, which, importantly, in 2015 became a part of the UN Security Council Resolution. The additional Russian troops deployments are intended to deter Kiev from attacking Donbas and they are not a harbinger of “invasion of Ukraine”.

At present there are conflicting signals coming from all sides, which can be interpreted in many ways. Warmongers shout that diplomacy is a waste of time and that only muscle-flexing and even application of hard power will teach the other a lesson. Still, most top policymakers in Moscow, Washington and major European capitals seem to prefer further consultations and dialogue, both public and confidential. In the sphere of arms control in Europe and CBMs, on which there is an ample pool of expert recommendations, the US and NATO have let it be known that they are ready to talk seriously with Moscow.

The situations in the Baltic region and in the Black Sea region require urgent and lasting de-escalation. A compromise on the issue of further expansion of NATO should be reached in a way that satisfies both sides in spite of each having to make necessary concessions. A final imperative is that the US-Russia tracks on the future of strategic stability and cyber security should proceed unhindered. The P5 statement of January 2022 on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races needs to be followed by a P5 summit – the Russian proposal that was unanimously supported in 2020.

In summary, Western and Russian diplomats, both civil and military, need time to continue their work, which is of existential importance.

From our partner RIAC

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In 2022, military rivalry between powers will be increasingly intense

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“Each state pursues its own interest’s, however defined, in ways it judges best. Force is a means of achieving the external ends of states because there exists no consistent, reliable process of reconciling the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise among similar units in a condition of anarchy.” – Kenneth Waltz,

The worldwide security environment is experiencing substantial volatility and uncertainty as a result of huge developments and a pandemic, both of which have not been experienced in a century. In light of this, major countries including as Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and India have hastened their military reform while focusing on crucial sectors. 2022 might be a year when the military game between big nations heats up.

The military competition between major powers is first and foremost a battle for strategic domination, and the role of nuclear weapons in altering the strategic position is self-evident. In 2022, the nuclear arms race will remain the center of military rivalry between Russia, the United States, and other major countries, while hypersonic weapons will become the focus of military technology competition among major nations.

The current nuclear weapons competition between major nations will be more focused on technological improvements in weapon quality. In 2022, the United States would invest USD 27.8 billion in nuclear weapons development. It intends to buy Columbia-class strategic nuclear-powered submarines and improve nuclear command, control, and communication systems, as well as early warning systems.

One Borei-A nuclear-powered submarine, two Tu-160M strategic bombers, and 21 sets of new ballistic missile systems will be ordered by Russia. And its strategic nuclear arsenal is anticipated to be modernized at a pace of more than 90%. This year, the United Kingdom and France will both beef up their nuclear arsenals. They aspire to improve their nuclear forces by constructing new strategic nuclear-powered submarines, increasing the quantity of nuclear warheads, and testing new ballistic missiles.

Russia will commission the Zircon sea-based hypersonic cruise missiles this year and continue to develop new hypersonic missiles as a leader in hypersonic weapon technology. To catch up with Russia, the US will invest USD 3.8 billion this year in the development of hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons are also being researched and developed in France, the United Kingdom, and Japan.

Surviving contemporary warfare is the cornerstone of the military competition between major countries, and keeping the cutting edge of conventional weapons and equipment is a necessary condition for victory. In 2022, major nations including as Russia and the United States will speed up the upgrade of primary war equipment.

The United States will concentrate on improving the Navy and Air Force’s weaponry and equipment. As planned, the US Navy will accelerate the upgrade and commissioning of weapons and equipment such as Ford-class aircraft carriers, Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines, and F-15EX fighter jets, as well as develop a high-end sea and air equipment system that includes new aircraft carrier platforms and fifth-generation fighter jets.

Russian military equipment improvements are in full swing, with the army receiving additional T-14 tanks, the navy receiving 16 major vessels, and the aerospace force and navy receiving over 200 new or better aircraft. The commissioning of a new generation of Boxer armored vehicles in the United Kingdom will be accelerated. India will continue to push for the deployment of its first homegrown aircraft carrier in combat. Japan will also continue to buy F-35B fighter jets and improve the Izumo, a quasi-aircraft carrier.

The US military’s aim this year in the domain of electromagnetic spectrum is to push the Air Force’s Project Kaiju electronic warfare program and the Navy’s next generation jammer low band (NGJ-LB) program, as well as better enhance the electronic warfare process via exercises. Pole-21, Krasukha, and other new electronic warfare systems will be sent to Russia in order to increase the automation of electronic warfare systems. The electronic warfare systems of the Type 45 destroyers, as well as the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, will be upgraded by the United Kingdom. To build combat power, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces will continue to develop the newly formed 301st Electronic Warfare Company.

Around the world, a new cycle of scientific, technical, and military upheaval is gaining traction, and conflict is swiftly shifting towards a more intelligent form. Russia, the United States, and other major countries have boosted their investment in scientific research in order to win future battles, with a concentration on intelligent technology, unmanned equipment, and human-machine coordinated tactics.

This year, the US military intends to spend USD 874 million on research and development to boost the use of intelligent technologies in domains such as information, command and control, logistics, network defense, and others. More than 150 artificial intelligence (AI) projects are presently being developed in Russia.

This year, it will concentrate on adapting intelligent software for various weapon platforms in order to improve combat effectiveness. France, the United Kingdom, India, and other countries have also stepped up their AI research and attempted to use it broadly in areas such as intelligence reconnaissance, auxiliary decision-making, and network security.

In the scope of human coordinated operations, the United States was the first to investigate and has a distinct edge. The US intends to conduct the first combat test of company-level unmanned armored forces, investigate ways for fifth-generation fighter jets to coordinate with unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and drone swarms, and promote manned and unmanned warships working together on reconnaissance, anti-submarine, and mine-sweeping missions.

Russia will work to integrate unmanned equipment into manned combat systems as quickly as feasible, while also promoting the methodical development of drones and unmanned vehicles. Furthermore, France and the United Kingdom are actively investigating human-machine coordinated techniques in military operations, such as large urban areas.

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Spotlight on the Russia-Ukraine situation

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The United States of America and Russia have recently been at loggerheads over the issue of Ukraine.

Weeks ago the leaders of the two superpowers behind the Ukrainian situation convened a meeting on the crisis. Although they both drew a clear line between them during the meeting, they made no political commitment, thus showing that the political chess game surrounding Ukraine has only just begun.

In what was seen as a “frank and pragmatic” conversation by both sides, President Putin made it clear to President Biden that he was not satisfied with the implementation of the February 11, 2015 Minsk-2 Agreement (which, besides establishing ceasefire conditions, also reaffirmed arrangements for the future autonomy of pro-Russian separatists), as NATO continues to expand eastward. President Biden, in turn, noted that if Russia dared to invade Ukraine, the United States of America and its allies would impose strong “economic sanctions and other measures” to counterattack, although no US troop deployments to Ukraine were considered.

Although they both played their cards right and agreed that they would continue to negotiate in the future, the talks did not calm down the situation on the Ukrainian border and, after the two sides issued mutual civilian and military warnings, the future development on the Ukrainian border is still very uncertain.

Since November 2020 Russia has had thousands of soldiers stationed on Ukraine’s border. The size of the combat forces deployed has made the neighbouring State rather nervous.

The current crisis in Ukraine has deepened since the beginning of November 2021. Russia, however, has denied any speculation that it is about to invade Ukraine, stressing that the deployment of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border is purely for defensive purposes and that no one should point the finger at such a deployment of forces on the territory of Russia itself.

It is obvious that such a statement cannot convince Ukraine: after the 2014 crisis, any problems on the border between the two sides attract attention and Ukraine still has sporadic conflicts with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Firstly, the fundamental reason why the US-Russian dispute over Ukraine is hard to resolve is that there is no reasonable position or room in the US-led European security architecture that matches Russian strength and status.

Over the past thirty-two years, the United States of America has forcibly excluded any reasonable proposal to establish broad and inclusive security in Europe and has built a post-Cold War European security framework that has crushed and expelled Russia, much as NATO did when it contained the Soviet Union in Europe in 1949-1990.

Moreover, Russia’s long cherished desire to integrate into the “European family” and even into the “Western community” through cooperation with the United States of America – which, in the days of the impotent Yeltsin, looked upon it not as an equal partner but as a semi-colony – has been overshadowed by the resolute actions of NATO, which has expanded eastward to further elevate its status as the sole superpower, at least in Europe, after its recent failure in Afghanistan.  

Maintaining a lasting peace after the great wars (including the Cold War) in the 20th century was based on treating the defeated side with tolerance and equality at the negotiating table. Facts have shown that this has not been taken on board by the policy of the United States of America and its Western fawners and sycophants. Treating Russia as the loser in the Cold War is tantamount to frustrating it severely and ruthlessly, thus depriving it of the most important constituent feature of the post-short century European security order.

Unless Russia reacts with stronger means, it will always be in a position of defence and never of equality. Russia will not accept any legitimacy for the persistence of a European security order that deprives it of vital security interests, wanting to make it a kind of protectorate surrounded by US-made nuclear bombs. The long-lasting Ukrainian crisis is the last barrier and the most crucial link in the confrontation between Russia, the United States of America and the West. It is a warning to those European countries that over the past decades have been deprived of a foreign policy of their own, not just obeying the White House’s orders.

Secondly, the Ukrainian issue is an important structural problem that affects the direction of European security construction and no one can afford to lose in this crisis.

While Europe can achieve unity, integrity and lasting peace, the key challenge is whether it can truly incorporate Russia. This depends crucially on whether NATO’s eastward expansion will stop and whether Ukraine will be able to resolve these two key factors on its own and permanently. NATO, which has continued to expand in history and reality, is the most lethal threat to security for Russia. NATO continues to weaken Russia and deprive it of its European statehood, and mocks its status as a great power. Preventing NATO from continuing its eastward expansion is probably the most important security interest not only of Russia, but also of European countries with no foreign policies of their own, but with peoples and public that do not certainly want to be dragged into a conventional war on the continent, on behalf of a country that has an ocean between Europe and itself as a safety belt.

The current feasible solution to ensure lasting security in Europe is for Ukraine not to join NATO, but to maintain a permanent status of neutrality, like Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. This is a prerequisite for Ukraine to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty to the fullest extent possible, and it is also the only reasonable solution for settling the deep conflict between Russia and the United States of America.

To this end, Russia signed the aforementioned Minsk-2 Agreement of 2015. Looking at the evolution of NATO over the past decades, however, we can see that it has absolutely no chance of changing a well-established “open door” membership policy.  

The United States of America and NATO will not accept the option of a neutral Ukraine, and the current level of political decision-making in the country is other-directed. For these reasons, Ukraine now appears morally dismembered, and bears a striking resemblance to the divided Berlin and the two pre-1989 Germanies. It can be said that the division of Ukraine is a sign of the new split in Europe after Cold War I, and the construction of the so-called European security – or rather  US hegemony – ends with the reality of a Cold War II between NATO and Russia. It must be said that this is a tragedy, as the devastating consequences of a war will be paid by the peoples of Europe, and certainly not by those from New England to California.

Thirdly, the misleading and deceptive nature of US-Russian diplomacy and the short-sightedness of the EU, with no foreign policy of its own regarding the construction of its own security, are the main reasons for the current lack of mutual trust between the United States of America – which relies on the servility of the aforementioned EU – and Russia, terrified by the nuclear encirclement on its borders.

The United States took advantage of the deep problems of the Soviet Union and of Russia’s zeal and policies for the self-inflicted change in the 1990s – indeed, a turning point – at the expense of “verbal commitment” diplomacy.

In 1990, on behalf of President George H. W. Bush’s Administration, US Secretary of State Baker made a verbal promise to the then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, that “upon reunification, after Germany remaining within NATO, the organisation would not expand eastward”. President Clinton’s Administration rejected that promise on the grounds that it was its predecessor’s decision and that verbal promises were not valid, but in the meantime George H. W. Bush had incorporated the Baltic States into NATO.

In the mid-1990s, President Clinton indirectly made a verbal commitment to Russia’s then leader, the faint-hearted Yeltsin, to respect the red line whereby NATO should not cross the eastern borders of the Baltic States. Nevertheless, as already stated above, President George H. W. Bush’s Administration had already broken that promise by crossing their Western borders. It stands to reason that, in the eyes of Russia, the “verbal commitment diplomacy” is rightly synonymous with fraud and hypocrisy that the United States of America is accustomed to implementing with Russia. This is exactly the reason why Russia is currently insisting that the United States and NATO must sign a treaty with it on Ukraine’s neutrality and a ban on the deployment of offensive (i.e. nuclear) weapons in Ukraine.

Equally important is the fact that after Cold War I, the United States of America, with its mentality of rushing to grab the fruits of victory, lured 14 small and medium-sized countries into the process of expansion, causing crises in Europe’s peripheral regions and artfully creating Russophobia in the Central, Balkan and Eastern European countries.

This complete disregard for the “concert of great powers” – a centuries-old principle fundamental to ensuring lasting security in Europe – and the practice of “being penny wise and pound foolish” have artificially led to a prolonged confrontation between Russia and the European countries, in the same way as between the United States of America and Russia. The age-old trend of emphasising the global primacy of the United States of America by creating crises and inventing enemies reaffirms the tragic reality of its own emergence as a danger to world peace.

All in all, the Ukraine crisis is a key issue for the direction of European security. The United States will not stop its eastward expansion. Russia, forced into a corner, has no other way but to react with all its might and strength. This heralds Cold War II in Europe, and lasting turmoil and the possible partition of Ukraine will be its immutable destiny.

The worst-case scenario will be a conventional war on the continent between NATO troops and Russian forces, causing millions and millions dead, as well as destroying cities. The war will be conventional because the United States would never use nuclear weapons – but not out of the goodness of its heart, but out of fear of a Russian response that would remove the US territory from the NBC security level.

To the point that that we will miss the good old days of Covid-19.

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