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Diplomacy
Berlin, March 15, 2024: Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron

The French - German tension

by Juan Antonio Sacaluga

That there is a miscommunication between Paris and Berlin is something that is already being unreservedly acknowledged even among the power leaders in the two capitals. The rift caused by the war in Ukraine is the arena in which tensions are being played out. But there are underlying factors that have contributed to making this gap a major concern for the European stability. We point out the following: The strategic factor Geography determines strategic choices. Germany has always looked to the East as a pole of concern, but also as a pole of opportunity. The former has almost always outweighed the latter. Wars have historically conditioned coexistence with Rusia, regardless of the political regime that has existed in each historical stage. There is one incontrovertible fact: Germany has never won a war against Russia. On the other hand, when talking about peace, German interests have prevailed. Hence in Berlin (or in Bonn, during the first Cold War) there has always been a tendency towards appeasement towards Moscow. Earlier, Hitler wanted to postpone the inevitable confrontation with Stalin’s Russia with a tactical, not a strategic pact (in 1939), a move to gain time and consolidate his domination of Western Europe. With the victory of the Soviet Union, Germany endured the division of the country for almost half a century, a punishment even more humiliating than the previous ones. The western part prospered, and the eastern part stagnated. However, this underhand triumph did nothing to facilitate the reconciliation. Willy Brandt understood this very well when he launched his ‘Ostpolitik’ (Eastern policy) in the early 1970s. The initiative caused concern in Washington, not so much because it was opposed to a thaw it shared, but because of the risk of losing control of the process. There was also some reluctance in Paris. De Gaulle and his heirs had always maintained an open channel of cooperation with Moscow but were distrustful of German overtures. With the crisis of the Soviet system, Franco-German tensions surfaced again. A united and strong Germany awakened the ghost of three devastating wars for France. The Chancellor at that time, Kohl was Gorbachev’s main supporter and acted as a fundraiser for a Soviet Union that was falling apart at the seams. Germany’s repeated commitment to peace and European integration did not seem to be a sufficient antidote to the vision of an Eastern Europe, ‘germanized’ by the economic weight of the new political and territorial power. Germany’s actions in the Yugoslav wars, initially perceived in Paris as ‘dynamiting’, contributed to increase those fears. After the failure of the democratization trial in the ‘new’ Russia, largely caused by a predatory capitalism encouraged from the West, Germany continued to cultivate very close relations with Moscow to prevent an undesirable drift in the Kremlin. Until the successive crises in Ukraine have brought this strategic project to a halt. In France, there has always been an interest in an autonomous relationship model with Moscow, whether in collaboration with Germany or the United States, but in no way subordinate. Gaullist nationalism has survived, both on the right and on the left. Somehow, the French elites have tried to avoid Paris from playing a secondary role in relations with the Kremlin, whether in cooperation or confrontation. Hence Macron (‘more papist than the Pope: more Gaullist than the General’), will attempt a risky mediation game with Putin after the phantom intervention in Crimea and the more obvious one in the Donbas, in 2014; and eight years later, when the invasion of Ukraine was consumed. There has been much speculation about the true intentions of the French president’s trip to Moscow. Macron is anything but naive. Perhaps it was indeed the inevitable need of the Elysée Palace to leave its mark. Now that any conciliation with Moscow seems distant, Macron takes the lead among the ‘hawks’ and pretends to forget that he once wanted to look like a ‘dove’, by suggesting that, although there is no allied consensus, sending soldiers to Ukraine cannot be ruled out to prevent a Russian military triumph. Of all Macron’s gambits, this has been the most or one of the riskiest. And the one that has provoked the most irritation on the other side of the Rhine [1]. Since February 2022, Germany has buried the various branches of the ‘Ostpolitik’, a task falling to a Social Democratic chancellor, perhaps the most unremarkable and least suited for high-level leadership. Olaf Scholz announced the ‘zeitenwende’ (translatable as “change of era, or time”). Half a century of rapprochement with Russia was called into question. The economic equation (energy raw materials in exchange for machinery and capital goods) in bilateral relations was dissolving under the weight of Western sanctions against Moscow. Moreover, the pacifist post-Hitler Germany committed to a military effort of $100 billion (to start with), aimed rejuvenating, strengthening, and expanding the Germany military apparatus. But in everything there is a limit, or a red line. Germany has not been shy with Putin, despite being the European country most harmed by embargoes, limitations and constraints in the Russian oil and gas consumption. Economic war was accepted as inevitable in Berlin. However, caution has been exercised, particularly in the supply of arms to Ukraine. Nonetheless, Germany is, after the United States, the largest net contributor to Kiev’s arsenals [2]. Let’s not forget that. France has also taken its precautions in pressuring the Kremlin, as has the US, despite the rhetoric and the cold war propaganda prevailing for the past two years. That is why Macron’s latest ‘provocation’ has annoyed Berlin so much. Moreover, as usual in his boasts, the French president added insult to injury by suggesting that Ukraine’s delicate fragility demanded more “courage” and less timidity from the allies [3]. Scholz replied with diplomatic and bureaucratic discretion, without any outbursts, recalling that NATO’s decisions ruled out ‘boots on the ground’ (sending troops to Ukraine). But his Defense Minister, Pistorious, could not resist returning the favor and admonishing him for his new moral lesson. The foreign ministers of both countries attempted to ‘diplomatically’ solve the crisis days later, but did not risk holding a joint press conference in order not to show that the political wound between Berlin and Paris was still open. The leak of a meeting of senior German military commanders, spied on by Russian agents, further clouded the atmosphere [4]. Another element unchanged since the Cold War: Berlin may support the European autonomous defense project, but it has never ceased to consider it as subordinate to NATO. The American nuclear umbrella is untouchable, then and now. And not even an eventual (and only speculative, for now) strategic availability of the French nuclear arsenal is capable of changing that axiom [5]. Political factors Apart from strategic considerations, domestic political factors have also played a role in this latest crisis. Macron faces the European elections with the apprehension of a seemingly inevitable victory of the far-right ‘Rassemblement National’. It was once considered a pro-Russian party and even generously funded by the Kremlin. In recent years, the party’s chairwoman has tried to distance herself from the Kremlin but has not entirely succeeded. And Macron wants to exploit this supposed vulnerability of a woman he has defeated twice in the presidential elections, but who seems destined to occupy the Elysée Palace in 2027 if she achieves successful results in this year’s European elections. In this week’s parliamentary debate on the bilateral security agreement with Kiev, Marine Le Pen ordered an abstention. She made it clear that she supports the Ukraine resistance, so that there would be no doubt about her change of attitude towards Russia. But he saw in the initiative of the President’s party a clear intention for electoral gain. Divisions were evident on the left: rebels and communists voted against, while socialists and ecologists voted in favor, but the latter rejected the suggestion of troops deployment. Scholz also faces a challenge from the far right, with elections this autumn that could consolidate the dominance of the AfD (Alternative for Germany) in the eastern states (Eastern Länder). This party has won over citizens who do not have such negative memories of the GDR, but in its rise, it has also bitten into the social democratic base. The chancellor does not want to appear too hostile to an electorate that does not participate in the anti-Russian discourse. Institutional factors In this Paris – Bonn clash, as in previous ones, the structure of the respective political systems also exerts a disturbing influence. The French political system is presidential; the German one is parliamentary. In France, the President has exclusive and personal authority over foreign policy. He does not even need his own majority (in this case, the minority that supports him) to formulate his international proposals. In Germany, by contrast, the Chancellor has to negotiate foreign policy with the coalition partners, and even on rare occasions when there has been a single-party majority government, the Bundestag has exerted considerable influence. Personal factors Finally, personal style is also not to be dismissed. It is not unusual for the Elysée Palace and the Chancellery to be inhabited by like-minded characters. The French President is conditioned by the aura of a political system that relies on an exalted figure and demands real, but also impactful, leadership. Both being and appearing so. The Chancellor, on the other hand, is a sort of ‘primus inter pares’, no matter how prominent. Therefore, since 1945, the personal stature of German leaders has always been framed in firm structures that prevent hyper-leadership. It is the Chief’s (Fuhrer) chastisement. This limitation (historical and political) is sometimes reinforced by a purely personal style. At present, the gap is perhaps the widest in the last eighty years. A French President who likes to talk and a Chancellor who is perhaps the most discreet since the post-war period. De Gaulle and Adenauer cultivated little personal relationship, but neither intended to. Pompidou and Brandt never got along particularly well, although the German took great care that his growing popularity did not irritate in Paris… until the Guillaume scandal ended his career. Giscard and Schmidt gave their cooperation a technical character, forced by the oil crisis following the wars in the Middle East. Mitterrand and Kohl raised the tone of the bilateral relationship but did not always adjust their personal dynamics. The German was the longest-serving post-war chancellor and so, the most mediatic, but the Frenchman never renounced, on the contrary, the solemnity with which the office was exercised. Merkel played down Sarkozy (and later Hollande), but not to highlight her personal qualities, but to put them at the service of Germany’s undisputed economic leadership in post-Cold War Europe. Macron wanted to put an end to this French ‘inferiority’, with difficulty. It is not clear that he succeeded against a retreating Merkel, but he thinks he has it easier with the unremarkable Scholz. Notes [1] “France-Allemagne, un tándem secoué par l’épreuve de la guerre en Ukraine”. PHILIPPE RICHARD & THOMAS WIEDER. LE MONDE, 9 de marzo. [2] “German Chancellor pledges to boost [ammunition] production for Ukraine”. DER SPIEGEL, 5 de febrero (versión en inglés). [3] “Le débat sur l’envoi de soldats en Ukraine révèle les profondes differences de vision de la guerre parmi les allies”. LE MONDE, 6 de marzo. [4] “Now It’s Germany’s turn to frustrate Allies over Ukraine”. THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 de marzo. [5] “Dans cette nouvelle ère où l’affrontement a remplacé la cooperation, la question de la dissuasion nucleaire reprend tout son sens”. SYLVIE KAUFFMANN. LE MONDE, 7 de febrero.

Defense & Security
Map of the Red Sea

Red Sea politics: why Turkey is helping Somalia defend its waters

by Federico Donelli

Somalia and Turkey recently announced that they would expand the terms of a defence agreement first signed on 8 February 2024 to include the maritime sector. This came as tensions rose between Somalia and landlocked Ethiopia. Ethiopia is seeking access to the Red Sea through Somaliland, a breakaway state of Somalia. Federico Donelli, an international relations professor whose research covers Red Sea security and politics, puts this defence agreement into context. What’s the scope of the relationship between Turkey and Somalia? Turkey’s entry into Somalia in 2011 started out as a humanitarian partnership but soon turned into a strategic one. Its support since has been economic and infrastructural and has increasingly included the military. The Turkish government saw Somalia’s failed statehood and the lack of other major international stakeholders as an opportunity to increase its popularity across Africa. Turkey aimed to: - gain international visibility - test its ability to intervene in conflict and post-conflict scenarios - increase market diversification into east Africa - cultivate its image as a benevolent Muslim middle power by promoting Islamic solidarity. Several Turkish faith-based associations and NGOs already active in Africa became directly involved in development and relief projects. Major national brands, such as Turkish Airlines, promoted campaigns to raise funds for Somalia. Within a few years, Turkey’s involvement in Somalia was portrayed by the government and perceived by the Turkish public as a domestic issue. Turkey’s early efforts to bring Somalia back to the table of the international community were successful. With the reopening of Mogadishu’s port and airport in 2014, both managed by Turkish companies, the economic situation in Somalia improved compared to the previous decade. Turkish political elites began to present their involvement in Somalia as a success story. This is despite some remaining critical problems, including failing to root out the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab. Turkey took responsibility for training the Somali National Army in partnership with other stakeholders, including the European Union and the United States. It opened a military base in Mogadishu in 2017. The base trains one of the army’s elite units, the Gorgor Brigades, and serves as a Turkish military outpost in the region. Al-Shabaab’s persistence has convinced Turkey that it needs to provide more active military support for Somalia’s development. Ankara also wants to protect its economic and political investments in Somalia. Finally, behind the Turkish deal with Somalia is the politics around the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). Over the past 12 months, Turkey has moved closer to the United States. It’s positioned itself as an effective ally in Africa to counteract the negative effects of France’s withdrawal – such as the increasing influence of Russia. Turkey’s commitment to Somalia follows its efforts in Libya. In both cases, Turkey has proven willing to take on the security burden that other Nato members, particularly Italy, have refused to meet. Turkey’s engagement in Somalia is, therefore, part of a broader foreign policy strategy to gain more autonomy in global politics. Increased relevance within Nato would help achieve this. What’s the context of the maritime defence pact between Turkey and Somalia? Turkey and Somalia began working on an agreement between November 2023 and January 2024. Turkey agreed to train and equip Somalia’s naval force and help patrol the country’s 3,333km coastline. Turkey’s defence sector has had increasing influence in Ankara’s foreign policy decisions. Turkey sees itself as an exporter of defence industry products, and as a partner in training special forces and police. African countries are among the main targets for the Turkish defence sector. Somalia, therefore, provides an opportunity to spread more Turkish production and items. In 2022, Turkey became, along with the United States, the main backer of a new offensive against Al-Shabaab. It provided logistical support to the Gorgor forces and air cover to the national army. This cooperation has led to the 10-year defence agreement, including maritime security, signed in February 2024. Turkey and Somalia have been working on the accord for some time, but recent regional events have undoubtedly affected the announcement’s timing. An Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding in January 2024 is one such event. Turkey has good relations with Somaliland, but considers the territorial integrity of Somalia to be essential for its stability. At the same time, the Horn of Africa’s political dynamics are shifting. Mounting tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia have led to new coalitions involving regional and extra-regional players. It’s important not to oversimplify, but two factions are emerging. On one side are Ethiopia, Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On the other are Somalia, Egypt, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia. At first, Turkey sought to mediate between the factions to defuse tensions. But its agreement with Somalia reduces Turkey’s room for manoeuvre. Although the relationship with Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed appears to be unaffected, there could be negative repercussions, especially for the many Turkish economic interests in Ethiopia. What is the UAE factor? When it comes to the Horn of Africa, the UAE plays a pivotal role. Turkey and Somalia each have a relationship with the Emirates. From 2014 to 2020, Turkey engaged in bitter rivalry with the Emirates in the wider Red Sea area. This was driven by the two countries’ different visions for the region’s future. Relations improved from 2020. During the 2020-2022 war in Tigray, both Turkey and the UAE supported the Ethiopian government. But recent developments in the Horn of Africa, such as the UAE-backed Ethiopia-Somaliland deal, threaten to create new friction between Turkey and the Emirates. Turkey doesn’t have the political will or material capacity to sustain this. In the past three years, the UAE has supported the Turkish economy with direct investment, changing the balance of the relationship. The situation is similar for Somalia. From a commercial and security perspective, the Emirates is important in Somalia. The UAE manages two key Somali ports – Berbera and Bosaso. It’s also moving to take over Kismayo. And the Emirates has been one of Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s principal backers. It would be risky for the Somali president to break ties with Abu Dhabi. What happens next? There is still much uncertainty about how the Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding and the Turkey-Somalia defence cooperation agreements will be put into practice. What’s clear is that both the UAE and Turkey are becoming more active and influential in the region. And that African dynamics within and between states are closely intertwined with regional and global trends.

Defense & Security
Ukrainian soldier at a tank wreckage

As war in Ukraine enters third year, 3 issues could decide its outcome: Supplies, information and politics

by Tara D. Sonenshine

In retrospect, there was perhaps nothing surprising about Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Vladimir Putin’s intentions were, after all, hiding in plain sight and signaled in the months running up to the incursion. What could not be foreseen, however, is where the conflict finds itself now. Heading into its third year, the war has become bogged down: Neither is it a stalemate, nor does it look like either side could make dramatic advances any time soon. Russia appears to be on the ascendancy, having secured the latest major battlefield victory, but Ukrainian fighters have exceeded military expectations with their doggedness in the past, and may do so again. But as a foreign policy expert and former journalist who spent many years covering Russia, I share the view of those who argue that the conflict is potentially at a pivotal point: If Washington does not continue to fully support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military, then Ukraine’s very survival could be at risk. I believe it would also jeopardize America’s leadership in the world and global security. How the conflict develops during the rest of 2024 will depend on many factors, but three may be key: supplies, information and political will. The supplies race Russia and Ukraine are locked in a race to resupply its war resources – not just in terms of soldiers, but also ammunition and missiles. Both sides are desperately trying to shore up the number of soldiers it can deploy. In December 2023, Putin ordered his generals to increase troop numbers by nearly 170,000, taking the total number of soldiers to 1.32 million. Meanwhile, Ukraine is said to be looking at plans to increase its military by 500,000 troops. Of course, here, Russia has the advantage of being able to draw on a population more than three times that of Ukraine. Also, whereas Putin can simply order up more troops, Zelenskyy must get measures approved through parliament. Aside from personnel, there is also the need for a steady supply of weapons and ammunition – and there have been reports that both sides are struggling to maintain sufficient levels. Russia appears particularly eager to boost its number of ballistic missiles, as they are better equipped for countering Ukraine air defense systems despite being slower than cruise missiles. Increasingly, Moscow appears to be looking to North Korea and Iran as suppliers. After Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, visited Russia in 2023, the U.S. accused Pyongyang of supplying Russia with ballistic missiles. Iran, meanwhile, has delivered to Russia a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and drones. Ukraine, meanwhile, is dependent on foreign military equipment. Supplies were stronger at the beginning of the war, but since then, Ukraine’s military has suffered from the slow, bureaucratic nature of NATO and U.S. deliveries. It wasn’t, for example, until the summer of 2023 that the U.S. approved Europe’s request to provide F-16s to Ukraine. Ukraine needs more of everything, including air defense munitions, artillery shells, tanks and missile systems. It is also running short of medical supplies and has seen hospital shortages of drugs at a time when rampant infections are proving resistant to antibiotics. Perhaps the biggest factor that remains in Russia’s favor when it comes to supplies is the onerous restrictions placed on Ukraine from the West, limiting its ability to attack Russian territory with U.S. or NATO equipment to avoid a wider war. For example, the Ukrainian military had a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System with a 50-mile range that could hit targets inside Russia, but it modified the range to keep the U.S. military satisfied that it would not cross a Russian red line. If this policy could be relaxed, that might be a game changer for Ukraine, although it would raise the stakes for the U.S. The information war The Ukraine conflict is also a war of messaging. To this end, Putin uses propaganda to bolster support for the campaign at home, while undermining support for Ukraine elsewhere – for example, by planting stories in Europe that cause disenchantment with the war. One outrageous claim in the early weeks of the war was that Zelenskyy had taken his own life. The rumor came from pro-Russia online operatives as part of an aggressive effort to harm Ukrainian morale, according to cybersecurity firm Mandiant. More recently, in France, stories appeared that questioned the value of assistance to Ukraine and reminded the public of the negative impact of Russian sanctions on the French. Stirring dissent in this way is a classic Putin play to raise doubts. And investigative reporting points toward a disinformation network being run out of the Kremlin, which includes social media bots deployed on Ukrainian sites spreading stories of Zelenskyy’s team being corrupt and warning that the war would go badly. Given that Putin controls the Russian media and is quick to crack down on dissent, it is hard to really know what Russians think. But one reputable polling agency recently reported strong support in Russia for both Putin and the war in Ukraine. Ukrainians, too, still support the fight against Russia, polling shows. But some war fatigue has no doubt lowered morale. There are other signs of domestic strain in Ukraine. At the end of 2023, tensions grew between Zelenskyy and his top military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny who had complained about weaponry. Zelenskyy ended up firing the military chief, risking political backlash and underscoring that not all is well in the top chain of command. Should disunity and war fatigue continue into the war’s third year, it could serious impair Ukraine’s ability to fight back against a resurgent Russian offensive. The politics of conflict But it isn’t just domestic politics in Ukraine and Russia that will decide the outcome of the war. U.S. politics and European unity could be a factor in 2024 in determining the future of this conflict. In the U.S., Ukraine aid has become politicized – with aid to Ukraine becoming an increasingly partisan issue. In early February, the Senate finally passed an emergency aid bill for Ukraine and Israel that would see US$60.1 billion go to Kyiv. But the bill’s fate in the House is unknown. And the looming 2024 presidential elections could complicate matters further. Former president Donald Trump has made no secret of his aversion to aid packages over loans, calling them “stupid,” and has long argued that Americans shouldn’t be footing the bill for the conflict. Recently, he has made bombastic statements about NATO and threatened not to adhere to the alliance’s commitment to protect members if they were attacked by Russia. And uncertainty about American assistance could leave Europe carrying more of the financial load. European Union members have had to absorb the majority of the 6.3 million Ukrainians who have fled the country since the beginning of the conflict. And that puts a strain on resources. European oil needs also suffer from the sanctions against Russian companies. Whether these potential war determinants – supplies, information and politics – mean that the Ukraine war will not be entering a fourth year in 12 months time, however, is far from certain. In fact, one thing that does appear clear is that the war that some predicted would be over in weeks looks set to continue for some time still.

Defense & Security
Vladimir Putin at United Russia congress

Russia's fateful triangle

by FAES Analysis Group

The news of the death of Alexei Navalny, a symbol of the political opposition to Vladimir Putin's regime, in a prison 60 kilometers from the Arctic Circle, has shocked Western public opinion, but comes as no surprise. Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has resorted to the physical elimination of his political opponents as a tool to stay in power and terrorize the opposition. First he used it against the oligarchs who enriched themselves during Boris Yeltsin's two presidential terms. Then journalists, such as Anna Politovskaya, who criticized him and reported on the Chechen war, were murdered. Then Boris Nemtsov on the Kremlin bridge in 2015, while numerous other opposition politicians were imprisoned. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, several people who opposed the invasion have "committed suicide". Navalny, who had already in 2020 been poisoned with novichok, a chemical nerve agent to whose use only high-ranking government or military officials can have access, had defined Putin's United Russia party as that "of criminals and thieves". He was also the driving force behind the massive anti-regime demonstrations during the winter of 2011-2012 (the largest so far), over alleged electoral fraud in regional elections. The most defiant figure to Putin's regime, Navalny has paid with his life for the one message he insisted on sending to Russians: that they should fight for freedom. Navalny's death is yet another symptom of what is really happening in Putin's Russia. The next presidential elections will be held March 15-17. Putin is certain to win them. The disappearance of the political opposition to the Russian regime has not translated into a mass protest of the population nor - more importantly - into a vote against the government. Boris Nadezdin, baptized by Western journalists as "the candidate for peace" will not be able to run in the elections because the Russian Supreme Court has upheld the decision, taken by the Central Electoral Commission, to invalidate 100,000 signatures endorsing his candidacy, under the generic pretext of "irregularities". Nadezdin advocates an immediate truce and a transition to peace negotiations in trilateral format involving Russia, Ukraine and the West. According to him, the decision on the fate of the territories annexed by Russia should be based on the will of the people who lived there before the conflict. The war in Ukraine, now entering its third year, is the cause of the breakdown of relations between Russia and the West and Russia's growing dependence on the "axis of the sanctioned" (North Korea, Iran and China). Ukraine is losing on the battlefield due to lack of ammunition and war fatigue affecting both its own population and its allies. The prospect of Donald Trump's victory in November this year further darkens its future, as NATO countries will not be able to overcome an eventual suspension of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, as the alliance's secretary general has warned. The war is turning into a competition between the Western and Russian military industries. If Europe does not wake up, Ukraine and its allies will lose everything that Kiev has so far gained, thus fulfilling Russia's goal of turning its neighboring country into a failed state. The Western allies had managed to provide Ukraine with significant political, military and economic support during the two years of war. However, it is not so clear that they are prepared for a long war nor for the containment and deterrence of Russia, although it is well known that investing in deterrence is always cheaper than investing in open warfare. Navalny's death, Putin's electoral victory and the long duration of the war in Ukraine are the fateful triangle that the Kremlin now opposes to the West, a triangle strengthened by the shameful silence of the majority of the Russian population, a silence that is a consequence of the tyranny and information manipulation carried out by the regime, but also of its political apathy.

Defense & Security
Russian and Iranian flags on matching puzzle pieces

Increased Iran-Russia Military Cooperation After the Ukraine Invasion: Impact of US/Western Sanctions

by Ian Dudgeon

Iran and Russia have entered a closer political, economic, and military relationship during the past two years, the trigger widely seen as the upsurge in defence cooperation following Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This new relationship, described variously as a strategic alignment or strategic partnership, was seen by both Tehran and Moscow as necessary to meet mutual and separate critical national needs due to the restrictive effects on both of US and Western sanctions. Iran’s international affairs, since its 1979 Islamic revolution, have been largely shaped by two factors. The first is Iran’s strong adherence to national autonomy, maximum self-sufficiency, and non-alignment. The latter has included, as far as practical, a balance between East and West, or today, Global South and Global West. However, Iranians are cautious about trusting others. While, therefore, a strategic alignment with Russia, or potentially others, could be acceptable, a formal alliance that compromise’s autonomy, would not. The second factor is Iran’s relationship with the US, and in turn with Europe, other Western countries and the UN, and their use of sanctions to deter or change international adversarial differences. Iran-US relations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution have been tense and conflicted, and especially with Iranian-supported regional state and non-state militia. Major US concerns include Iran’s support for “state and non-state terrorism,” human rights abuses, missile development, and their potential, some say intent, to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Decades of broadly-based US sanctions, along with EU and UN sanctions, the latter mostly nuclear related, have strongly impacted the nation. The one short period of Iran-US rapprochement commenced in 2016 when President Barack Obama successfully brought Iran onboard as a signatory to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the JCPOA) or nuclear agreement. Obama’s aim was to firstly resolve the nuclear issue and use this as the stepping-stone to negotiations on other regional security issues. But this two-step process was undone by President Donald Trump‘s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose US primary and secondary sanctions. Trump’s action, and President Joe Biden’s subsequent “failure” to rejoin the JCPOA and repeal related US sanctions, bitterly disappointed a large cast of international stakeholders, including Iran’s moderates and other JCPOA signatories. For Iran, the US could not be trusted to seriously seek rapprochement and repeal US sanctions either before, or foreseeably after, this year’s US presidential elections. This distrust extended also to the Europeans and others who would continue to remain subject to US secondary sanctions. Iran saw its future fundamentally with countries that were willing to openly trade with them, notwithstanding US sanctions, and other countries or organisations that were prepared to overlook or actively circumvent or evade sanctions. Multilateral outreach included Iran joining two major non-aligned groups in 2023, the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and BRICS+6 (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa + 6). These comprise some 40 percent and 46 percent respectively of the world’s population, and some 20 percent and 30 percent of global GDP. BRICS also includes some 40 percent of global oil production. Key members of both include Russia, China, and India. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt are part of the “+6 members” of BRICS, and are also Dialogue Partners of the SCO. Both organisations offer significant additional political and economic networking opportunities and economic options. Bilaterally, the relationship between Tehran and Moscow, from its imperialist Shah/Tsar and post-revolutionary Iran and USSR/Russia iterations to the late 1980s, has had its share of tensions and conflict, including territorial disputes. The past 30-year period from the early 1990s to 2021, however, has been relatively stable. Geographic proximity, including a maritime border across the Caspian Sea, facilitated a significant increase in trade, reportedly from some US$1 billion in 2005 to US$3.3 billion in 2021. Mutual security interests also saw an increase in regional military cooperation, including joint operations against ISIS in Syria, and increased Russian sales of military equipment to Iran. The relationship changed significantly in early 2022 due to Russia’s increased military equipment needs, and to help offset the broad impact of sanctions imposed by the US, the EU, and others on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Militarily, increased Iranian defence sales to Russia have included a range of munitions, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) systems, and potentially Iranian short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). The UAV deal includes the construction of a factory for manufacturing thousands of Iranian drones in Russia’s Tartarstan province. In return Russia has sold, or agreed to sell, to Iran a range of advanced weapons systems, including the S-400 air-defence missile, helicopters, and SU 34 fighters. Enhanced cyber and satellite cooperation was also agreed. Russia has also passed to Iran many of the high technology Western weapons systems captured in Ukraine, enabling Iran to evaluate, copy, and develop counter-measures. Significantly, this new level of Iranian-Russian cooperation has lifted the military capability of both, with implications for the Middle East and Ukraine respectively. But how effective have the sanctions been? Iran has been subject to harsh sanctions since 1979, and developed a “resistance economy” involving official and extensive unofficial trade and financing arrangements. Because many related statistics are unreliable or unavailable, official GDP estimates may be highly inaccurate. Importantly, however, and despite fluctuations, the World Bank shows a consistent decline in Iran’s GDP since 1979. For Russia, due to shifting markets and higher prices for oil since early 2022, their GDP contracted some 2 percent only that year compared to a prediction of more than 11 percent, and has mostly recovered since. Economically, despite the challenges of sanctions, bilateral cooperation is strong, both economies still function, and their governments remain stable. Militarily, sanctions have facilitated closer cooperation between Iran and Russia, contrary to US, NATO, and allied interests. Are there areas for the US to negotiate the lifting of sanctions with Iran and Russia? US priorities for Iran could include rejoining the JCPOA, facilitating a reduction or cessation of state and non-state militia attacks against regional Israeli, US, and related maritime targets, and restricting specified military cooperation with Russia. US priorities for Russia could include various ceasefire compromises involving the war in the Ukraine, and restricting specified military cooperation with Iran. And the likelihood of progress? For the reasons above, progress on any issue between the US and Iran is very unlikely before this year’s US presidential elections. If or when afterwards would depend in large part on who was elected. For Russia, a ceasefire compromise in Ukraine could be possible if it gave them “temporary” retention of vast tracts of land captured post-2022. Timing will be dictated by battlefield outcomes, but the US Senate approval on 13 February of an additional US$60 billion of military assistance to the Ukraine, and its likely approval by Congress, makes a ceasefire in the foreseeable future unlikely.

Diplomacy
Meloni and Selenskiy shaking hands

Ukraine policy in Rome

by Michael Feth , Nino Galetti

Italy top, Vatican flop? The first war of aggression in Europe since 1945 is keeping two global players busy in Rome: the Italian government and Vatican diplomacy. While under the leadership of President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni there is no doubt about Italy's unbroken solidarity with Ukraine, criticism of the Holy See's course to date is growing, and not just in Catholic circles. Is Pope Francis' longed-for reconciliation with the Russian Orthodox Church more important than the future fate of Ukraine? When the right-wing alliance of Giorgia Meloni, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi took power in Rome in October 2022, there was concern in some European government headquarters that the Tiber might be about to change its stance on the war in Ukraine. This mistrust was less directed at the newly elected Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, known as an Atlanticist, who had clearly positioned herself and her party "Fratelli d'Italia" against Moscow's war of aggression and Putin's expansionist ambitions during the election campaign, and more towards her two allies Lega and Forza Italia. Both parties were perceived internationally as Russia-friendly, albeit for different reasons: While in the case of Lega leader Matteo Salvini - similar to his ally Marine Le Pen in France - it was the ideological proximity of the anti-European right-wing populists to the authoritarian regime in Moscow, in the case of the bourgeois-conservative Forza Italia it was Silvio Berlusconi's long-standing personal friendship with Vladimir Putin that triggered fears of Italy's rapprochement with Moscow. These were further fueled by several erratic statements by Berlusconi during the coalition negotiations in autumn 2022, in which he openly adopted the Kremlin's view of the Ukraine conflict and thus caused severe irritation among the allies. His adlatus at the time, Antonio Tajani, felt compelled to fly to Brussels at short notice to hold talks with the heads of the EU Commission, NATO and the European People's Party to reassure them that the new right-wing government in Rome would by no means abandon the EU's common line, but would remain faithful to its commitments. Berlusconi's capers and Salvini's ricochet The situation was different in the case of the right-wing populist Lega, which had achieved a historically poor result of just eight percent in the early elections in September 2022. Giorgia Meloni therefore had her rival Matteo Salvini in her hands and was able to demand loyalty from the potential troublemaker. At the time, the designated head of government openly threatened her two partners with a collapse of the coalition negotiations: there would be "no joint government at any price". She played her cards close to her chest and in the end even brought Silvio Berlusconi into line, who had to make a pilgrimage to the Fratelli d'Italia party headquarters to recant his pro-Moscow remarks. A humiliation for which the Forza Italia patriarch has never forgiven her. Since Berlusconi's death, the capers have ceased: under the leadership of Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Forza Italia is clearly on the side of its Western allies and in line with the EPP. With the approval of the President (who can veto appointments to the government), Meloni chose Guido Crosetto, who originally came from the ranks of the Christian Democrats and is known as an anti-Russian hardliner, as Defense Minister. The fears of the Western partners that one of the most important NATO states could leave the joint phalanx against Putin were put to rest. Meloni counters Putin's friends Meloni set further signals: The memorable joint trip of the three European leaders Mario Draghi, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz to Kiev on June 16, 2022 was still fresh in the minds of Ukrainians suffering from a daily hail of bombs, as Meloni made one of her first trips abroad to Kiev in February 2023 to personally assure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Italy's unwavering solidarity. The two had previously met at various international summits and the chemistry between them was instant. Since then, they have openly celebrated their cordial friendship in front of the cameras at every meeting. Under Meloni's aegis, there has been no hesitation or dithering in Rome on the Ukraine issue to date: Italy is supplying Ukraine with weapons and, together with its German allies, is monitoring the airspace on Europe's south-eastern flank and in the Black Sea from Romania. Rome is also firm in its sanctions policy against Russia: Dozens of accounts, real estate, ships and works of art belonging to Russian oligarchs on the EU sanctions list have been confiscated by the "Guardia di Finanza", the state financial police. And in the area of energy policy, Meloni has maintained the course of her predecessor Mario Draghi, who concluded supply contracts with a whole series of African, Arab and Central Asian states in order to quickly free Italy from its energy dependence on Moscow. During a working visit to Berlin last November, when Meloni and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were connected via video to the first OSCE meeting of heads of state and government since the start of the war, which was also attended by Vladimir Putin, she showed herself to be quick-witted. When the Kremlin ruler demanded a quick end to the war, Meloni immediately countered: "You can have that immediately. All you have to do is withdraw your troops." British Prime Minister Richi Sunak expressly thanked his counterpart for her "global leadership". And US President Joe Biden also never misses an opportunity to praise Meloni for her clear stance in the conflict. However, their closest ally in the Ukraine issue is President Sergio Mattarella. With all the authority of his office and his unbroken popularity, he explains the moral and ethical dimension of the major conflict to his fellow countrymen in detailed formulations at every available opportunity. In doing so, he takes the wind out of the sails of populists on the left and right who - as in Germany - criticize high military spending and complain about rising inflation as a result of "Western interference" in the war in Ukraine. In matters of foreign and security policy, head of state Mattarella, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces in accordance with the constitution, has so far had no reason to get in the prime minister's way. Is the Pope a friend of Russia? On the other side of the Tiber, in the Vatican, however, there are increasing question marks. Of course, the head of the Catholic Church has always and at every available opportunity lamented the suffering of the people in "martyred Ukraine" and called for an immediate end to the fighting. It goes without saying that the Holy See stands by the victims and is doing everything in its power to organize humanitarian aid and bring it into the country. Naturally, the Roman Curia has tried everything behind the scenes to mediate and explore possible negotiated solutions. Accusing the Pope of "moral equidistance" from the attackers and victims is therefore misguided. However, Francis does indeed have to put up with the accusation of "political equidistance". The Holy See is traditionally committed to a policy of neutrality, which aims to use the Pope's unbroken spiritual and moral authority as a non-partisan mediator to resolve a conflict. For this reason, the Holy See always acts discreetly on the international stage and has the long-term perspective in mind. Its actors are not subject to any democratic pressure to succeed and are generally not interested in winning points in the media. However, two years after the start of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, it is clear that the world's oldest diplomatic service has fallen far short of expectations. For many observers, the problem lies in particular in Pope Francis' unclear position. It took seven months after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine for the pontiff to name the attack as such for the first time and to publicly name Russia as the aggressor for the only time to date. Like so many other heads of state, the pontiff was probably unable to imagine until that February 24, 2022, that Putin would allow Russia's tanks to roll towards Kiev, triggering the biggest war in Europe since 1945. The Kremlin ruler had met Francis in person at the Vatican an astonishing three times in the preceding years. Is Francis a "Russia-understander" who is lenient with the aggressors? Many Vatican observers are now asking themselves this question. It is no secret that the Pope "from the other side of the world" (as Francis put it on the day of his election) has a different approach to European history and European sensitivities than his immediate predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentinian who was influenced by social-authoritarian Peronism as a child, does not have an unreservedly positive attitude towards the Western model of order. The first pope to come from Latin America can be said to have a critical view of the USA. It can be assumed that his experiences with the Trump presidency have not diminished his prejudices towards Washington's claim to international leadership. On the other hand, he has a certain soft spot for Russian classics from literature and music as well as for Russian history, as he himself revealed in a video link to a meeting of Catholic youths in Saint Petersburg. Tensions between Pope and Parolin In terms of church policy, there are also two ambitious goals that the 87-year-old has set himself since his election in 2013: Understanding with Beijing and rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church. He has been lenient to the point of self-denial with the political leaders of both powers; he has remained silent about some human rights violations and repression - including against Catholic clergy. A strategy that has repeatedly caused heated discussions in the highest circles of the world church - and not only among notorious critics of Francis. Years ago, the Pope tasked his Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a career Vatican diplomat and conflict expert whom Bergoglio had already come to know and appreciate as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, with the diplomatic implementation. With his help, a bishop of Rome met with a patriarch of Moscow for the first time in February 2016. Today, the two former confidants Francis and Parolin are considered to be at odds - and this is precisely where Putin's war comes into play. Soon after the invasion, Francis caused head-shaking in many places when, from a pacifist position, he refused to supply any weapons to Kiev and thus indirectly denied Ukraine's internationally enshrined right to self-defense. Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin and the Vatican "Foreign Minister" Paul Richard Gallagher, a Briton, corrected these statements in several interviews and corrected their own boss. Of course, they both argued, Ukraine, as a sovereign state, had the right to defend its territorial integrity, and the supply of military equipment and weapons was ethically justifiable. The "Kyrill card" After Putin was unavailable for his calls, Francis played another card: his personal relationship with Moscow Patriarch Cyril. Here, too, the experts warned the Pope that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church would be in the service of the Kremlin. Nevertheless, the pontiff played the "Cyril card". Francis was probably hoping that he could "turn" the patriarch politically with Jesuit cunning. To this day, his literal response to Parolin and Gallagher's warnings is still reported: "But Cyril is still a shepherd!" As expected, the "Cyril card" failed. Francis' bitter realization that the patriarch was an "altar boy of the Kremlin" came too late. The view that the Pope was a "Russophile" had long since become firmly established in Kiev. The suspicion of Russia-friendliness is fueled less by concrete actions than by the pontiff's omissions: to date, he has never addressed Putin directly in all his countless appeals for peace. He could have borrowed from a great predecessor: Immediately before the start of the Iraq war in 2003, Pope John-Paul II addressed US President George W. Bush at the Sunday Angelus prayer in front of running cameras and fervently implored him to refrain from the planned attack. When the city of Sarajevo was besieged for months during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, triggering a humanitarian catastrophe, the Pope from Poland appointed the archbishop of the bombed-out Bosnian capital, the then 48-year-old Vinco Puljic, as its first cardinal in history in 1994. Three consistories with the appointment of new cardinals have taken place in Rome since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: But the Ukrainians have so far waited in vain for a similar sign, although a suitable candidate is available in the figure of the Greek-Catholic Grand Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev. Diplomatic self-restraint of the Pope Francis appointed a high-ranking special mediator far too late: However, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi's shuttle mission between Moscow, Kiev, Washington and Beijing is now considered a failure. It seems that Kiev has lost hope that Vatican diplomacy will have a positive effect. At the same time, Moscow seems to be relying more on the mediation of the United Arab Emirates as the representative of the "global South" than on the Holy See as the supposed representative of the Western world when it comes to humanitarian actions such as the exchange of prisoners. Most serious, however, is the fact that Francis has so far refused any invitation to Kiev. He always repeats the same mantra that he will only travel to the Ukrainian capital if he is allowed to visit Moscow first. Either there is a secret plan behind this curious self-restraint on the part of the pontiff, which even close confidants among the cardinals are unable to see through, or it is a diplomatic staircase joke: Putin is unlikely to have the slightest interest in such a double trip by the Roman pontiff. And even if he did, a visit to Moscow by the Pope would probably give Vladimir Putin the biggest propaganda coup in his long time in office. Months ago, President Zelensky's security advisor announced that Kiev was no longer interested in a Vatican mediation mission. A resounding slap in the face for the Holy See's diplomacy in the most dangerous crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

Defense & Security
Saint Basil's Cathedral as viewed from Red Square.

There Was Once a Counteroffensive

by Pascal Boniface

The war in Ukraine is developing not quite as expected. Kiev's army is on the defense, Moscow's troops are advancing. All the while, the distance between the West and the rest of the world is increasing The year 2023 was a catastrophic year for geopolitical affairs. The war between Russia and Ukraine that began a year earlier continues, followed by the war between Israel and Hamas that broke out on October 7. The expected collapse of the Russian army did not happen. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of PMC Wagner, who openly questioned Vladimir Putin’s authority, died officially by accident. Vladimir Putin’s power is now even more firmly established in Russia. Westerners, who decided to leave Russia to impose sanctions on it, allowed it to recover $100 billion worth of abandoned assets for next to nothing, which the Russian government was able to redistribute among its cronies. The Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in the summer of 2023 has failed. The most likely scenario in this context is, of course, that the military situation will freeze, allowing Russia to retain some Ukrainian territory. This represents a heavy defeat for the West, as they themselves have stated that they will lose their credibility if Ukraine loses the game, and that Putin will win the war by default. The Ukrainian issue is also the subject of intense debate in the USA, with Republicans and Democrats arguing over whether to continue supporting Ukraine on a massive scale. The White House continues to massively support Kiev, but if Donald Trump returns to power next year, American aid to Ukraine will indeed be suspended. Vladimir Putin will be able to prevail, at least from a communications standpoint. The great mistake of the West is that it confused the desirable (Russia’s defeat) with the possible. However, demographics are in Russia’s favor: there are four times as many Russians as Ukrainians. The Russian defense industry is operating at full capacity and is supported by Iran and North Korea. Russia is weakened by the departure of many Russians who fled repression and mobilization. It is cut off from the Western world united against it, but on the other hand, it retains the cards to play in the so-called Global South. You could say that the war in Gaza has benefited its cause. Indeed, on October 7, 2023, Hamas launched deadly attacks against Israel. Israel has launched a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip to root out Hamas. By carrying out massive bombing raids that have already killed more than 24,000 people and created a catastrophic humanitarian situation. Gaza is a children’s graveyard. If nothing justifies the October 7 terrorist attacks, nothing justifies the massive and indiscriminate bombing of civilians who would otherwise be subjected to a blockade. This situation in the Middle East is a real argument for Vladimir Putin against the West. The latter actually continues to ask the countries of the Global South, non-Western countries, to adopt sanctions against Russia that has seized territories by force and bombed civilians, which is forbidden by international law. But the same Western countries recognize Israel’s unconditional right to self-defense, while Israel also occupies territories and bombs civilians. For the affected Israelis, there will be a before and an after October 7. They thought they lived in a safe haven, protected from harm, but found that they did not. These attacks came as an undeniable shock to Israel. But there will also be wars before and after the Gaza war, because the images of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip under Israeli bombardment that we see now may be less visible in the Western world, but are widespread around the world and will also remain in the collective consciousness. In both cases, to varying degrees, there is a difference in understanding between Western and non-Western countries. Western countries condemn Russia and support Israel. Non-Western countries think it is completely abnormal to condemn Russia and not condemn Israel for bombing civilians. This difference in perception is growing and isolating the western world from the rest of the world.

Defense & Security
Ukrainian soldier launching a drone for reconnaissance

How the Drone War in Ukraine Is Transforming Conflict

by Kristen D. Thompson

Drone technology has been used extensively in twenty-first-century armed conflict, but the Russia-Ukraine war is driving innovations in autonomous warfare not seen on other battlefields. From drones that fit in the palm of the hand to drones weighing more than 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms), Ukraine has built and acquired a diverse fleet of remotely piloted aircraft to complicate and frustrate Russia’s advances. The constantly evolving scope of this technology and its ever-growing use signal not only the potential for drones to level the playing field in the Russia-Ukraine war, but also their ability to influence how future conflicts are waged. Why is the war in Ukraine a hotbed for drones? As the war enters its third calendar year, neither side is close to achieving air superiority. Most military analysts expected that Russia, with its superior air power, would quickly seize control of contested airspace early in the conflict. But surprisingly, Ukraine’s defenses, later bolstered by Western systems, were able to repel and deter Russian aircraft from making near-border and cross-border strikes. The inability of either side to break through the other’s integrated air defenses has forced them to increase the agility of their fielded forces and rely more heavily on standoff weapons, including long-range artillery, missiles, and drones. These conditions have led to the development of new drone technologies that could help Ukraine level the playing field in the air battle and possibly turn the tide of the war in its favor. What technologies are in use? Ukraine’s drone deployment has evolved with the changing battlefield. During earlier stages of the war—when Russia’s air defense and electronic-warfare capabilities were less pronounced—Ukraine relied on larger drones such as the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar to great effect. The TB2’s ability to carry multiple air-to-ground munitions and loiter for long periods allowed Ukrainian forces to penetrate Russian air defenses and strike heavy targets. However, as time progressed and Russia took greater control of the skies, it was able to detect and shoot down these larger models more easily. The TB2 may maintain some relevance—its sensor suite and considerable range still enable Ukrainian operators to collect intelligence—but Ukraine has nonetheless shifted to using smaller drone technology to adapt to Russian advances. The more abundant, smaller drones are proving to be serious game changers in that they have given Ukraine better battlespace awareness and more capability to hit targets. The Ukrainians have tapped into commercial technology—the same recreational products available to civilians—to get cheap, off-the-shelf drones onto the battlefield quickly. Many of these “hobbyist” drones have been acquired through grassroots crowdfunding efforts, or “dronations.” At just one thousand dollars per unit, the small drones can be rapidly amassed and repurposed by operators for a specific effect. For example, the popular first-person view (FPV) drones commonly used for racing or filmmaking are retrofitted with makeshift explosives and flown to strike fixed targets at relatively low cost. These drones can carry out single-use strikes with high precision while remaining less susceptible to Russian air defense systems. Additionally, the Ukrainians have repurposed significant aspects of their domestic economy to support the new drone supply chain, increasing their drone-making capabilities through public-private partnerships. One year ago, Ukraine had seven domestic drone manufacturers and it now has at least eighty. As for Russian drone technology, Moscow deploys indigenous models, such as the Orion, Eleron-3, Orlan-10, and Lancet, but Western sanctions on crucial Russian supply chains have prevented Moscow from excelling in drone production. Instead, Russia has turned to Iran for a steady supply. The Russians now boast an extensive fleet of Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones that can carry 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms) of explosives over a range of 1,200 miles (1931 kilometers). How are drones shaping the war? This conflict has demonstrated the battlefield advantages of drones, which have become smaller, more lethal, easier to operate, and available to almost anyone. They compress the so-called kill chain, shortening the time from when a target is detected to when it is destroyed, and they can bolster a military’s ability to reconnoiter the forward edge of the battlefield. Drones with longer endurance profiles can effectively conduct hours of reconnaissance, enabling other, more advanced drones to carry out precision strikes deep inside enemy territory. Other models enable individual soldiers to monitor adversary movement without risking lives or giving up the soldier’s position. Drones can also play an important international humanitarian role, for instance, by conducting battle and collateral damage assessments or exposing war crimes. U.S. drone manufacturer Skydio recently donated nine drones that—with their high-resolution cameras—will be used to help Ukraine document potential Russian war crimes. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), images captured will be used to aid the Office of the Prosecutor General in documenting many instances of human rights abuses. What are the defenses against drones? Drones are susceptible to air defenses. Larger drones with a distinct radar cross-section are easy, slow-moving targets for air defense interceptors and anti-drone guns; both Ukraine and Russia have downed thousands of drones with their interceptors and artillery. However, the continual use of these systems by both Ukraine and Russia can be prohibitively costly, as a single drone could cost thousands or even millions of dollars to intercept. An emerging challenge of counter-drone defense is the need to develop and employ a system that is cheaper than its target. Crucially, smaller drones that can swarm toward a target are more difficult to shoot down. as they can overwhelm air defense systems. A key countermeasure has been to utilize electronic warfare in the form of jammers, spoofers, and high-energy lasers that prevent drones from reaching their target. Jammers—used by both Russia and Ukraine—send out powerful electromagnetic signals that can cause a target drone to fall to the ground, veer off course, or turn around and attack its operator. As the war progresses, both sides are continually investing in and adapting electronic warfare tactics to counter the innovations of their adversary. How will the drone war evolve? The Russia-Ukraine conflict has demonstrated that innovations in drone technology can change the balance of power in the air defense domain especially. While Russia seeks to build pockets of air superiority and bolster its drone production and anti-drone defenses, Ukraine continues to develop both more and less sophisticated solutions. In a recently uncovered partnership project with Iran, Russia finished constructing a drone factory in Tatarstan, 500 miles (805 kilometers) east of Moscow, where it could produce an estimated six thousand Shahed-136 prototypes (renamed the Geran-2 by Moscow) by mid-2025. This expanded drone production could be enough to counter Russia’s shortage of drones on the front lines and turn the tide of the conflict in its favor. However, Ukraine’s ability to acquire and crowdsource commercial drone technology, tactically modify drones in the field based on real-time feedback, and alter tactics to defeat anti-drone systems have proved to be crucial to its war effort. Even while overmatched force-wise, Ukraine has shown how savvy technological adaptation can change twenty-first century warfare and could tip the balance of power in favor of the force that is more innovative. Editor’s Note: Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author.

Diplomacy
Expanding the relationships between Russia and North Korea

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks during talks with Foreign Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Choe Son-hui, Moscow, January 16, 2024

by Sergey Lavrov

Comrade Choe Son-hui, I am very glad to welcome you and all your delegation members to Moscow in the first days of 2024. I would like to once again congratulate you and our Korean friends on the holidays we have celebrated recently and wish you all the best and every success in the new year. The timing of this meeting provides us with a perfect opportunity to conduct a preliminary review of our efforts to carry out the agreements resulting from the summit between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jong-un at the Vostochny Space Launch Centre in September 2023. We are proactively working on these matters. I have warm memories of my visit to Pyongyang in October 2023 and the hospitality you extended to our delegation. The 10th meeting of the Russian-Korean Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation in November 2023 was another important event. There were also other bilateral exchanges at the agency, ministry, and regional levels. We appreciate the fact that DPRK’s Minister of Physical Culture and Sport, Kim Il-guk, took part in the Russia – A Sports Nation international forum in Perm in October 2023, while DPRK’s Minister of Culture Sung Jong-gyu proactively contributed to the 9th St Petersburg International Cultural Forum in November 2023. The visit by a delegation from the Primorye Territory to Pyongyang, led by Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, in December 2023 was also very useful. These contacts mark the beginning of an intensive and demanding, but also fruitful and rewarding, work to expand our relations across the board. We are preparing several other important events, including on cultural and humanitarian matters. I can mention the upcoming performance by Mariinsky Theatre’s Primorye branch in Pyongyang, as well as the participation of Russian performing groups in the annual April Spring festival. Today, we will have a detailed discussion on topical bilateral matters, including ways to further enhance our practical cooperation. As for the international agenda, we are looking forward to continuing our trust-based dialogue on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia in general. Russia reaffirms its principled position on the need to find comprehensive and fair solutions to the existing problems. We have always advocated for talks without preconditions as a path to achieving lasting peace and stability across Northeast Asia. Russia has independently submitted proposals to this effect, as well as together with the PRC, to the UN Security Council. These proposals are currently on the negotiating table. We must recognise that the policy pursued by the United States and its regional satellites to create security threats for the DPRK does nothing to promote any positive advancements. We will continue to call for the rejection of any steps that lead to escalation and heightening tensions. We are working together within a broader geography on security matters in the Asia-Pacific region, where we must uphold universal mechanisms rooted in ASEAN proposals and which have been effectively operating for many decades. However, attempts by the United States and its allies to create closed, bloc-based formats and to expand NATO infrastructure to this region undermine these mechanisms and erode their effectiveness. We have been working closely and very successfully with Pyongyang within the United Nations and at other multilateral organisations. Russia has always supported the DPRK within the UN and appreciates the fact that you have treated Russia in the same manner, including on matters related to the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine. We have a packed agenda, and I am certain that today’s talks will enable us to advance towards delivering on the agreements between our leaders resulting from the September 2023 summit.

Defense & Security
A plane of the Russian airline Aeroflot takes off.

War in Ukraine Disrupts Russian Civilian and Commercial Aviation

by Hlib Parfonov

Originally published by Hlib Parfonov at The Jamestown Foundation on 13. December 2023 Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 190 Over the past month, as many as ten forced landings of civilian aircraft have taken place in Russia. The most serious of these happened over the past week. On December 7, a fire on board an Aeroflot Airlines Boeing 777 forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing. The plane was flying from Kamchatka to Moscow when a passenger noticed smoke coming from under his seat. The preliminary investigation attributed the fire to a short circuit of wiring in the main cabin (T.me/aviatorshina, December 7). That same day, a Tu-204S cargo plane of Aviastar-Tu Airlines with registration number RA-64024 was returning from Zhengzhou airport in China. After takeoff, the pilot reported to air traffic controllers that the left engine had stalled and requested an emergency landing at Ulan-Ude airport (Ruavia.su, December 7). And on December 8, a Siberian Airlines Boeing 737 traveling from Novosibirsk to Moscow made an emergency landing in Tolmachevo. Immediately after takeoff, both of the aircraft’s engines caught fire (T.me/aviatorshina, December 8). These incidents highlight growing problems for Russia’s civilian and commercial aviation. Many of the technical difficulties are tied to Western sanctions prohibiting the import of critical components for the proper maintenance of aircraft. The recent forced landings represent another example of the war in Ukraine increasingly being brought home to Russia. Western sanctions and a critical shortage of technical personnel have hampered Russian civilian aviation since the beginning of the war (see EDM, July 3, September 8). Due to a lack of specialists and necessary spare parts, negligence of management, and Moscow’s fundamental departure from the rules for servicing foreign-made aircraft, much of the Russian civilian fleet could be grounded over the next year, with few prospects for reversing that trend. This is evidenced by the fact that, compared to 2022, the number of flight delays for the Urals MTU of the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) increased by 44 percent this year (880 in 2023 compared to 490 in 2022). At the same time, there have been 739 cases of flights being unable to depart on time due to technical malfunctions (Insightnews.media, December 7). The lack of access to software updates and proper technical advice, as well as skipping regular maintenance intervals, have led many of Russia’s civilian aircraft to gradually break down. Most often, engines, landing gear, and brakes are the first to fail. Problems with flaps, air conditioning and de-icing systems, or internal wiring are less common but have been seen increasingly in recent weeks. Thanks to the Kremlin’s orders not to record any defects in pilots’ logbooks, all civilian aircraft appear to be perfectly serviceable on paper (Insightnews.media, December 7). Moscow’s problems with domestic aviation extend beyond civilian flights to the commercial sector. Russia’s air freight industry is stagnating fast, as it is dominated by the outdated Soviet Ilyushin Il-76 and Ukrainian Antonov AN-24 and AN-26 cargo aircraft. On November 8, the Federation Council held a roundtable discussion on the state of the country’s air transit capabilities (Gazeta.ru, November 9). Some participants expressed fear that up to 25 percent of the commercial fleet will be inoperable in less than five years. The average age of Russian commercial cargo aircraft is 50 years old. These aircraft have not been properly upgraded and maintained due to the mass transfer of foreign aircraft to Russia before the war; the lack of economic feasibility in completing such an overhaul, with costs estimated at billions of rubles; and the inability to gain access to necessary parts to upgrade the Ukrainian cargo planes. The repercussions of Moscow’s war against Ukraine have forced Russian operators to pay minimal attention to the maintenance of civilian and commercial aircraft. While companies can still source some spare parts for the 50-year-old aircraft, they have run into problems tracking down components for more modern equipment, such as parts for Motor Sich engines. In another example, the aircraft of Abakan Air, which operates international flights for Russian entities and provides transportation services for clients from other countries, are constantly out of order. According to internal documents, engines, air conditioning systems, and even radios often fail, and the company has been unable to bring in the necessary parts and technical expertise to solve these issues (24tv.ua, December 5) Similar problems also extend to helicopter aviation. The main bottleneck involves flagging production of modern engines. For example, in April, Russian Minister of Trade and Industry Denis Manturov announced that a shortage of VK-2500 engines was slowing down the production of Mi-8 transport helicopters. For VK-2500 engines, only a single production center was created in St. Petersburg, with a maximum volume of 200 engines annually. Manturov pointed out that Russian officials had tried increasing the volume to 300, though production has struggled to keep up. Today, demand sits at over 500 for these engines (Interfax, April 11). In addition, extending the service life of transport helicopters has further hurt the industry. As early as 2022, Russian airline Utair asked Rosaviatsia to extend the maximum allowable service life of engines for the Mi-8 and Mi-172 helicopters. The airline asked to increase the period from 7,500 to 9,000 hours, arguing that “the resource condition of TV3-117 engines” is already close to the maximum permissible level. According to aviation experts, such a request is madness and will likely lead to more serious technical issues in the near future (RBC, August 16, 2022) All this points to Moscow’s war against Ukraine increasingly coming home to the Russian public, disrupting their everyday lives. The current trend in Russian civilian and commercial aviation points to the possibility that these two sectors cannot adequately support the country’s transit demands. This will result in a redistribution to the already overloaded Russian railways. That reality will have severe economic consequences and further limit the effectiveness of military logistics in resupplying the frontlines with manpower and munitions in a timely fashion.