Posts Tagged ‘Hybrid warfare’

Putin Launches Hybrid War of ‘Pure Evil” on the West

March 5, 2018
Reuters via Haaretz

Vladimir Putin’s Russia did not, it must be said, invent hybrid warfare as Israel, Iran and the Gulf states have long employed common hybrid tactics

This video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television on Thursday, March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows Russia's new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile flying over the globe
This video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television on Thursday, March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows Russia’s new intercontinental ballistic missile flying over the globeRU-RTR Russian Television via AP

This month marks the fourth anniversary of Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea, an event that shocked the world and shook European faith in the post-Cold War security order. In retrospect, it has become clear that, for Putin, annexing the peninsula was not so much an end goal as a declaration of future intent, an early escalation in a broader and more ambitious effort that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently termed, with little obvious exaggeration, Russia’s “World Hybrid War” on Western democracy itself.

In an unusually bellicose speech on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin put Moscow’s remilitarization and its confrontation with the West at the heart of his pitch for re-election. His approach to this confrontation, which many now term “hybrid warfare,” mixes nuclear posturing and cutting-edge technology with covert action, and was deliberately designed so as to make it very difficult for the West to respond.

President Vladimir Putin’s Russia did not, it must be said, invent hybrid warfare. Combatants have always looked for innovative ways around the rules and conventions of conflict, and Israel, Iran and the Gulf states have employed common hybrid tactics – including cyber attacks, and the use of armed proxy groups – for years. China’s leaders, too, have found increasingly unorthodox ways to push back against the United States and its allies in their immediate neighborhood; it recently emerged that, while Western nations were distracted by North Korea’s nuclear program, China artificially expanded islands in the South China Sea in support of its territorial ambitions.

To really understand Putin, Trump and Israel – subscribe to Haaretz

What Moscow has successfully done, however, is to refine a variety of old and new techniques to a higher level, and to employ them in a wider range of ways. As with China and Iran, Russia’s aim in developing and perfecting its hybrid warfare capabilities is to weaken and undermine the United States and its allies without sparking all-out war.

Target in Putin’s nuke video looks like FloridaCNN

It’s a dynamic that brings with it some very real dangers, not least of accidental conflict. The American air strikes that killed dozens, if not hundreds, of Russian mercenaries in Syria last month marked the bloodiest confrontation between the two nations in decades. U.S. prosecutor Robert Mueller’s decision to charge 13 Russians and several Russian companies with interfering in the 2016 election also amounts to a significant escalation.

Exactly what prompted Russia’s interest in reheating Cold War-era animosities remains a subject of much debate among Western security analysts. Many, however, see its roots in the anti-government protests that rocked Russia in 2011 and 2012, the most serious such unrest since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin was widely believed to be furious that American diplomats had wooed pro-democracy and anticorruption activists, and to have concluded that Washington hoped to subvert his power.

When Russia invaded Crimea early in 2014, and when a wider conflict erupted in Russian-speaking Ukrainian regions later that year, it acted with ruthless efficiency. By using troops wearing uniforms without insignia or identification – who became known universally as “little green men” – Russia achieved surprise and dominance on the ground before authorities in Kiev, let alone Washington, really knew what was happening.

It would be hard to overstate how much this took U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration by surprise. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, published only days before the Crimea annexation, barely mentioned Russia and prioritized the risk of war with China as well as ongoing action against Islamist militant groups in the Middle East and beyond.

Russia’s seizure of the strategically important Crimean peninsula, and its apparent role in shooting down a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, forced the United States and its European allies to urgently reconsider their beliefs about Russia’s intentions. Since then, NATO has deployed battle groups to Eastern Europe and the Baltic States (in case Moscow is tempted to try out the techniques it used in Ukraine against NATO members).

In some ways, this resembles the Cold War, but it is in many respects a much more dynamic confrontation. Russia is now far more closely intertwined with the West, through investments and business deals, and this gives it new vulnerabilities – to sanctions, for example.

Mueller’s prosecution of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort – who has a long history of business interests to the former Soviet Union – has drawn attention to just how convoluted some of these dealings have become. Russian money has been essential to the success of many Western businesses, possibly including those of President Donald Trump. But many powerful Russians are similarly beholden to the West – which is one reason so many of them have been frantically lobbying Congress to ensure their names aren’t included on upcoming sanctions lists.

NATO members concerned about Russian political interference have recruited armies of bloggers and social media activists to push back against Russian messaging, and established new monitoring bodies to track Russian disinformation efforts. But, in hindsight, they may have interpreted that threat too narrowly. Rather than simply concentrate its efforts on spreading subversion on Europe’s vulnerable periphery, Moscow appears to have concentrated on destabilizing the West’s most powerful countries. The most recent Mueller indictments allege that, by mid-2014, Russia’s preparations for its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections were well underway, and that it had already made significant progress with plans to boost its political influence in Europe. (These plans, the indictment suggests, included paying off the so-called “Hapsburg group” of well-connected former European politicians.)

Meanwhile, the ongoing fighting in Ukraine – as well as Russia’s post-2015 military intervention in Syria – has prompted a major Western reappraisal of Russia’s military capabilities. In addition to its newer hybrid warfare tactics, Russia has proved increasingly adept at combining the use of drones, electronic warfare and more conventional heavy artillery to lethal effect against Ukrainian forces using more traditional Western equipment and tactics.

The seizure of Crimea prompted NATO to deploy a significant, and permanent, ground force to the Baltic countries and Poland. New fronts continue to erupt, and Western analysts increasingly worry over Russian activity in the Western Balkans. Putin’s explicit nuclear threats this week will likely cause the United States and its European allies to reconsider their own nuclear postures. It seems far from impossible that the United States would decide to increase its nuclear footprint in Eastern Europe.

Just over a century ago, a similar welter of international anxiety and confusion formed the base of dry tinder that World War One would set alight. Russia and its rivals must take great care not to allow history to repeat itself.

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist. The opinions expressed here are his own.


Marco Rubio: ‘Vladimir Putin chose to interfere in US elections’

December 14, 2017

US Senator Marco Rubio, who ran against President Donald Trump during the Republican primaries, tells DW’s Zhanna Nemtsova that talk of US President Donald Trump’s impeachment over alleged Russian ties is premature.

 Related image

Watch video18:14

DW talks to US Senator Marco Rubio

DW:US President Donald Trump is making headlines across the world because of his Russia connections [the Robert Mueller-led investigation into alleged US collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election — the ed.]. What might be the final political consequences for him?

Marco RubioWell, one thing about the US, compared to Vladimir Putin’s government, is that we have a system of checks and balances and a system of rule of law. Right now there are suspicions and allegations that have been made that are being investigated by professional investigators who will make decisions based on the facts. Ultimately, we will let it play itself out and go wherever the truth takes us, that’s the way our system works.

And the people that are accused have a right to defend themselves and prove their innocence. And the government has a burden to prove that. We are not at that stage yet. But what is abundantly clear is that Vladimir Putin chose to interfere in the US elections — in my opinion, not so much to favor one candidate over another, but to sow instability. In many ways he blames the United States for the protests against corruption and against him that took place in 2009, 2010, or 2011. He thinks that the United States was behind it. In many ways, this was a part of getting revenge for that. And the other part of it is that he wanted to destabilize the US, to be able to go back and say to his own people and to the world that America is in no position to lecture anyone about democracy, as their own democracy is flawed. I don’t necessarily disagree that we’re not perfect. The difference is that our imperfections are debated openly in a free society and not presented through a state-controlled media, loyal to one person and one regime.

But I’m talking about this particular investigation. If they prove that Trump had connections to Russia, what would the consequences be for him and his political career? How big is the risk of impeachment, for example?

Well, we’re way ahead of ourselves when talking about impeachment. Right now we have an ongoing investigation, and it may lead to nothing. We’ve already seen a couple of indictments, but it may not ultimately prove that the president did something wrong. We need to wait for that. I don’t want to prejudge that — it would be unfair and prejudicial to do so. But ultimately, I am confident that those doing the investigation are serious and professional people. The truth is going to be out there for courts to look at — in the case of the individuals that have been indicted or may be indicted, and for the voters to look at — in the case of anybody else who is in elected office.

In your estimation, how big is the real impact of Russia’s interference in the US presidential election?

Trump and Putin talking to each otherDid you hear the one about me and the Democrats?

I don’t think it impacted the outcome. But we most certainly need to be aware that foreign governments tried to exploit legitimate divisions in American society for purposes of creating chaos. I think that Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal was not the election of one candidate versus another, although he may have personally preferred one candidate. But his ultimate goal was to ensure that whoever was elected the next US president, they did so with their credibility damaged. I also think that he wanted to exploit the already existing divisions in American society for the purpose of forcing us to go through what we’re going through right now — investigations, divisive debates, talk about impeachment, and the like.

It’s destabilizing. This is a pattern that has repeated itself not simply in the US elections — we saw an attempt to do it in France, Germany, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and even potentially in Mexico this year. This is a sort of hybrid warfare type concept that he has adopted, and it is in line with his training as a KGB officer and the sort of propaganda efforts that existed during the Cold War, without the internet and without Twitter and Facebook.


Why China’s Behavior in the South China Sea Is Not Surprising

December 26, 2016


China’s recent actions in the South China Sea (SCS), from the expansion of its military defenses on the disputed Spratlys to the seizure and return of an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) off Subic Bay, should not come as a surprise. China’s responses to what it views as checks and threats to its “core interests” are growing in assertiveness, but they are not unpredictable. China has been consistent in its messaging that the South China Sea is of national strategic importance beyond the issue of sovereignty. For China, the SCS is an existential issue that is intimately tied to the legitimacy of Communist Party rule.

Despite its assertive tenor, none of China’s actions in the maritime domain, whether by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) or the maritime militia, have been overt military kinetic actions that have led to armed conflict. This consistent assertiveness, however, can be perceived as aggressive, particularly when viewed against U.S. security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. From an American perspective, China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea constitutes a type of “grey zone conflict” that may allow Beijing to assert its preferred interpretation of existing laws, rules of the road, and common practices.

Ultimately, China’s behavior in the SCS is a clear demonstration of what Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore’s ambassador-at-large described as the “fundamental asymmetry of U.S. and China interests in the SCS.” These interests do not always converge, particularly when it comes to military activities in the SCS. The military application of data from surveillance operations undertaken by U.S. naval vessels explains China’s uneasy reaction to such operations. Given the divergence of interests and military capabilities, both the U.S. and China have their own strategic rationale for their differing interpretations of what is kosher behavior in the SCS.

When it comes to military activities in the SCS, both the U.S. and China sometimes inadvertently collide — literally. In 2009, a PLAN submarine collided with a sonar array towed by the USS John McCain in an “inadvertent encounter” off Subic Bay. In the SCS, China is increasingly turning to its maritime militia or “Little Blue Men” rather than the PLAN to take the initiative in maritime grey-zone encounters without resorting to war. The strategic advantage of China’s maritime militia in the maritime grey-zone lies in the ability of such a “civilian” force to conduct surveillance, deny access, and deter opponents whilst denying their adversaries the initiative.

Such a grey-zone approach ostensibly allows China to control the tempo of events and reduces the risk of escalation to conventional military conflict. However, in his recent Proceedings piece, Admiral (retd) James Stavridis painted a stark hypothetical scenario of what future grey-zone encounters might look like in the SCS.

South China Sea, 2019

On a summer’s evening in the sweltering South China Sea, a coastal steamer of nearly 2,000 tons approaches a Vietnamese fishing fleet in the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam, some 150 miles off that nation’s coast. The steamer loiters in the area for an hour or two as night falls. Suddenly from the side of the ship three fast speedboats are deployed, each armed with .50 caliber guns and hand-held rocket launchers. For the next hour, the speedboats attack dozens of fishing craft, spraying them with .50 caliber fire, hitting them with grenades, and shooting at survivors in the water. The surviving fishing boats flee toward the coast, frantically radioing distress calls, which are jammed by small drones operating overhead. 

…China insists its armed forces were not involved and says it suspects gangsters running a protection racket, pirates, or domestic Vietnamese terrorists. Using both social networks and official channels, the Chinese immediately offer to provide protection against further attacks, pointing out that Vietnam appears unable to control its claimed waters and asserting the need to do so itself to safeguard Chinese vessels operating nearby. Similar social network campaigns occur throughout the nations around the western rim of the South China Sea. China uses the opportunity to reassert its claims of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.

Admiral Stavridis provides a prescient take on the modalities of future maritime hybrid warfare, but the above hypothetical scenario may not be consistent with Chinese doctrinal concept and intentions. The PLA has not fought a war since 1979 and it has no clear intention of doing so – even a “hybrid warfare”-type scenario that falls below the threshold of a limited war. The Chinese iteration of “hybrid warfare” is rather best explained through the concept of “Three Warfares,” which was officially adopted by the PLA in 2003 at the proposal of then-Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman Jiang Zemin. What distinguishes the “Three Warfares” from other PLA concepts is that all three forms (namely, psychological warfare, media warfare, and legal warfare) are conducted in peacetime as well as wartime.  In practice, China’s adoption of the “Three Warfares” has been applied in foreign propaganda, cultural diplomacy, foreign economic policy, and the legal arena to publicize China’s positions on key international issues, garner support and create a favorable international environment.

A Matter of Invidious Choices?

China’s recent actions in the SCS, though assertive, are very much consistent with its practice of furthering its interests in the SCS through all instruments of its national power. More importantly, China’s behavior in the SCS did not scupper the signing of significant economic and even defense deals between Malaysia and China and the Philippines and China. Malaysia’s purchase of littoral mission ships and patrol vessels is part of a larger $34 billion set of deals signed with China. Similarly, the signed agreements and loan pledges inked between the Duterte administration and Beijing are worth an estimated $24 billion.

Rather than being unprecedented, China’s behavior in the SCS and Southeast Asia has been remarkably consistent with its messaging – the SCS remains a “core interest.” On the other hand, the future of post-Obama U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia, particularly the articulation of its vital interests in the region, remains unclear. As both the United States and China continue to push the boundaries of great power competition in maritime Southeast Asia, the small and medium states of Southeast Asia will respond as they have through the centuries – to instinctively bandwagon, hedge, balance, offset, and pivot to a different suitor. Difficult choices will have to be made and they may be invidious, as Bilahari has pointed out.

Ong Weichong is an Assistant Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is attached to the Military Studies Program at the school’s constituent unit, the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies (IDSS).


Ukraine: Cyberwar’s Hottest Front

November 10, 2015

Ukraine gives glimpse of future conflicts where attackers combine computer and traditional assaults

A woman votes in Kiev in May 2014. A cyberattack ahead of Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election threatened to derail the vote. 
A woman votes in Kiev in May 2014. A cyberattack ahead of Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election threatened to derail the vote. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

KIEV, Ukraine—Three days before Ukraine’s presidential vote last year, employees at the national election commission arrived at work to find their dowdy Soviet-era headquarters transformed into the front line of one of the world’s hottest ongoing cyberwars.

The night before, while the agency’s employees slept, a shadowy pro-Moscow hacking collective called CyberBerkut attacked the premises. Its stated goal: To cripple the online system for distributing results and voter turnout throughout election day. Software was destroyed. Hard drives were fried. Router settings were undone. Even the main backup was ruined.

The carnage stunned computer specialists the next morning. “It was like taking a cold shower,” said Victor Zhora, director of the Ukrainian IT firm Infosafe, which helped set up the network for the elections. “It really was the first strike in the cyberwar.”

In just 72 hours, Ukraine would head to the polls in an election crucial to cementing the legitimacy of a new pro-Western government, desperate for a mandate as war exploded in the country’s east. If the commission didn’t offer its usual real-time online results, doubts about the vote’s legitimacy would further fracture an already divided nation.

The attack ultimately failed to derail the vote. Ukrainian computer specialists mobilized to restore operations in time for the elections. But the intrusion heralded a new era in Ukraine that showed how geopolitical confrontation with Russia could give rise to a nebulous new cabal of cyberfoes, bent on undermining and embarrassing authorities trying to break with the Kremlin.

In the last two years, cyberattacks have hit Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense and the presidential administration. Military communications lines and secure databases at times were compromised, according to Ukrainian presidential and security officials. A steady flow of hacked government documents have appeared on the CyberBerkut website.

Ukraine offers a glimpse into the type of hybrid warfare that Western military officials are urgently preparing for: battles in which traditional land forces dovetail with cyberattackers to degrade and defeat an enemy. It also illustrates the difficulties that nations face in identifying and defending against a more powerful cyberfoe.


Ukrainian leaders are lacking in capabilities needed to mount a response to the electronic attacks. North Atlantic Treaty Organization members last year agreed to fund and build a new cyberdefense command center for Kiev, but legislative and bureaucratic delays have stalled the project. Ukraine is still working on passing a new law designed to step up its digital defenses.

Officials in Kiev are united in their accusations about who is orchestrating or commissioning the hundreds of cyberattacks they have tallied: Russia. They cite Russia’s military doctrine that describes cyberweaponry as a key pillar of the country’s armed forces and the adoption of “enhanced and nonmilitary measures” to achieve military goals. The officials, however, didn’t offer any smoking gun linking the attacks to Moscow’s security services.

“We consider that there is only one country in the world that would benefit from these attacks, and this is Russia,” said Vitaliy Naida, Ukraine’s head of counterintelligence.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the accusations, calling them “absurd” and noting that Russian computers are also regularly attacked by hackers. The Kremlin has denied that Russian military personnel played a role in occupying parts of east Ukraine and in backing rebels there.

CyberBerkut posted its claim of responsibility for the election commission hack on its website a day after the attack. The group presents itself as an independent Ukrainian organization. It didn’t respond to requests sent via its website for comment about allegations that it works on behalf of Russia. It has never revealed the names of its members.

U.S. spies and security researchers say Russia is particularly skilled at developing hacking tools. They blame Russia for breaking into President Barack Obama’s email and infiltrating unclassified servers at the Pentagon and State Department. Russia has denied the accusations.

Ukraine has a plethora of criminal hackers, who are pursued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Ukraine’s recently launched cyberpolice for their alleged role in bank fraud, among other crimes, but the Ukrainian government hasn’t recruited them for cyber counterattacks or defense against Russia, according to Mr. Naida.

When Russia seized Crimea and backed the uprising in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in early 2014, cyberinvaders had easy access to the country’s largely unguarded electronic frontiers.

The country was particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks and espionage, given its high reliance on Russian technology, ranging from the telecommunications backbone to the antivirus software that was running on many government computers. At the same time, Russia loyalists riddled the ranks of the security service, challenging any attempt to put up defenses.

Ukrainian government officials, including those in the security services and military, habitually conducted official business via personal email addresses hosted by Russian-language email platforms with servers based in Russia, according to Mr. Naida, the counterintelligence chief.


Even today, more than half of Ukrainian government computers operate pirated software, lacking proper security updates, and many also use Russian antivirus software, according to Dmytro Shymkiv, the deputy head of the presidential administration and a former Microsoft executive in Ukraine.

These vulnerabilities mean that since last year hundreds of government computers have been compromised by malware designed for espionage, according to Ukrainian officials and computer experts who have investigated the attacks.

Computer engineers say most of those infections trace back to four unique computer virus families that have developed independently of one another but share certain basic characteristics. The virus creators typed in Cyrillic; they worked in a time zone that encompasses Moscow and Kiev; and they included sophisticated coding likely requiring full-time efforts, indicating sponsorship by a nation-state.

“These are very customized,” said Alan Neville, from the computer security response department at Symantec Corp. SYMC -2.19 % , a global computer security company. “No one is going to take time to develop a tool unless they are under orders to do so or have a contract to do so.”

One computer virus strain targeting the Ukrainian government was malware first used in a Russian Ponzi scheme in 2012, which hackers have retooled for cyberespionage, according to security company ESET, which analyzed the malware for its Ukrainian clients.

Another separate strain is an evolved version of malware that attacked U.S. military’s Central Command computer servers in 2008, a virus that U.S. officials believe was developed by Russian state agencies.

Russia has denied this allegation.

The enhanced virus—dubbed Turla, or Snake in English—infected Ukrainian diplomatic computers, according to computer experts familiar with the situation, as an intrusive tool to steal sensitive data.

Primary targets were Ukrainian embassies in Europe, including those in Belgium and France, these people said. Through the summer of 2014, Ukraine’s diplomats lobbied Western capitals to take a stronger stance against Moscow’s aggression.

“Turla started to appear in Ukraine starting with the beginning of the conflict early last year,” says Alex Gostev, chief security expert at Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab.

Dmytro Shevchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said cyberattacks against the ministry’s institutions took place “steadily, all the time” during 2014, aimed primarily at espionage. He didn’t detail the type of viruses.

Mr. Naida said that infections haven’t penetrated the ministry’s classified servers.

Western officials said the Foreign Ministry breach was inconvenient, but that it didn’t adversely affect Ukraine’s diplomatic goals.

The ministry’s attempt to parry the infection last year was to delete work email identities of its diplomats and assign them new email addresses on new servers. Ukraine’s government computer specialists also tackled the infection.

Within the armed forces, cyberattackers have targeted security units battling pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, including a classified computer network at the military headquarters in Kramatorsk, according to Mr. Naida. “The aim was to kill all the information, to destroy all the information on those computers” to cripple intelligence-gathering and decision-making by commanders, he said. He declined to give specifics about the damage caused by the attack.

Political upheaval

By the time of the May 2014 election, Ukraine’s new pro-Western leaders were desperate to cement their authority. Pro-Western demonstrators in Kiev had forced President Viktor Yanukovych to step down. Russia was covertly supporting a territorial grab by rebels in the east, and the new acting president lacked a mandate to lead Ukraine’s troops.

Ukraine itself was divided. Russian propaganda regularly assailed the acting authorities in Kiev as an illegitimate “junta” installed by the West. A large swath of Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east sympathized.

Amid this political friction, election commission officials finished the routine preparations for a national vote. They commissioned a commercial computer company to help set up the necessary IT infrastructure to upload preliminary results and voter turnout numbers.

Three days before the Sunday election, CyberBerkut issued a statement denouncing the vote. “The anti-people junta is trying to legalize itself by organizing this show, directed by the West,” the group said. “We will not allow it!”

At around 3 a.m. Thursday, the group launched its attack, spending hours rooting through the network and destroying data, according to Ukrainian officials and computer experts.

When the workday started, the agency’s staff discovered the damage. They no longer had the ability to provide a real-time tally of the voting results. Although Ukrainian voters would still be able to cast their paper ballots, a lack of immediate official results could hurt the election’s legitimacy.

With just over 48 hours until the start of the election, Ukraine’s cyberspecialists, including those in the security service, camped out at the election agency headquarters, some fueled by Red Bull to keep them awake, as they tried to rebuild the system. “Our people didn’t sleep for five days,” Mr. Zhora said.

The details of the events in the days after the attack come from interviews with four Ukrainian security and election officials and computer experts involved in the investigation.

The specialists immediately had a lucky break: The original team that had set up the network had created a second backup of the system, disconnected from the Internet, giving them a timesaving head start.

CyberBerkut taunted the commission. It released a string of documents from the election agency’s network, including photos of the election commissioner’s bathroom renovation, pictures of his and his wife’s passports and emails sent by Western officials to Ukrainian election organizers.

“Before there were little things—[distributed denial of service] attacks and viruses. But this was a serious, preplanned attack,” said Valeriy Striganov, the head IT operator at the election commission.

The attackers published online what they called a “report on the hack,” which included a detailed map of the Central Election Commission’s computer network. The group claimed to have penetrated the system using a zero-day vulnerability—an unknown hole in a software application—in the network’s Cisco CSCO -0.95 % firewall.

Ukrainian authorities later passed the information to Cisco Systems Inc. The U.S.-based company said it found no vulnerability in its product.

At election headquarters, the team scrambled to bolster the system’s defenses against any fresh attack. They tightened restrictions over who could access the election results data. They also cut off Internet access to computers at commission headquarters.

By the time the sun rose on May 25, the downed system had come back to life, and Ukrainians headed to the polls. But a fresh assault had already started.

Hackers bombed the Central Election Commission website with a distributed denial-of-service attack, attempting to bring the system down again by causing it to seize up from the volume and intensity of computer messages.

The site stayed up, thanks to the stronger defenses.

As Sunday progressed, preliminary results indicated that Petro Poroshenko, a chocolate tycoon and former foreign minister, was on pace to win a majority. Exit polls also suggested a poor showing by far-right candidates, despite Russian state media warning of a fascist takeover in Ukraine.

Then, one of the far-right candidates appeared to get a strange boost. A hoax chart depicting a victory for extreme-right candidate Dmytro Yarosh appeared online. The Central Election Commission seemed to be hosting the file.

Soon, Russia’s most popular state news program was showing the chart on air. Hackers appear to have placed the file on the server that usually hosts the election commission website, and then circulated that Web address, according to people familiar with the incident, who said the image wasn’t accessible to the general public from the main home page at the time.

In a statement, CyberBerkut suggested it wasn’t responsible for the faked results, saying those looking for answers should ask Ukraine’s election commissioner. No other claim of responsibility has been made.

The faked results were almost immediately debunked, and Russian television posted authentic tallies from the election commission. The day ended with Mr. Poroshenko winning 55% of the vote.

The head of the Special Communications Service at the time characterized the election attack as an urgent warning of Ukraine’s vulnerabilities. It was one of the few sizable attacks publicized by Ukrainian authorities, in part because specialists managed to salvage the system.

Attacks that cause irreparable damage tend to go unrevealed. “Very often when there is a real penetration you will never hear [about it], because it’s never disclosed,” says Mr. Shymkiv. “At the same time, when somebody defends it, you will hear the stories.”

Write to Margaret Coker at and Paul Sonne at

Pentagon Is Preparing New War Plans for a Baltic Battle Against Russia — “Russia is no longer a potential partner”

September 19, 2015


But the really troubling thing is that in the war games being played, the United States keeps losing.

Geopolitical reality: Russia is no longer a potential partner


For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Department of Defense is reviewing and updating its contingency plans for armed conflict with Russia.

The Pentagon generates contingency plans continuously, planning for every possible scenario — anything from armed confrontation with North Korea to zombie attacks. But those plans are also ranked and worked on according to priority and probability. After 1991, military plans to deal with Russian aggression fell off the Pentagon’s radar. They sat on the shelf, gathering dust as Russia became increasingly integrated into the West and came to be seen as a potential partner on a range of issues. Now, according to several current and former officials in the State and Defense departments, the Pentagon is dusting off those plans and re-evaluating them, updating them to reflect a new, post-Crimea-annexation geopolitical reality in which Russia is no longer a potential partner, but a potential threat.

Dmitry Medvedev arrives amid a show of Russian power in Syria. Russia’s alliance with Syria goes back half a century, with many Syrian military officers receiving training there and Moscow maintaining a naval base in the port of Tartus. RIA NOVOSTI/AFP/File

“Given the security environment, given the actions of Russia, it has become apparent that we need to make sure to update the plans that we have in response to any potential aggression against any NATO allies,” says one senior defense official familiar with the updated plans.

“Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine made the U.S. dust off its contingency plans,” says Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy and co-founder of the Center for a New American Security. “They were pretty out of date.”

Designing a counteroffensive

The new plans, according to the senior defense official, have two tracks. One focuses on what the United States can do as part of NATO if Russia attacks one of NATO’s member states; the other variant considers American action outside the NATO umbrella. Both versions of the updated contingency plans focus on Russian incursions into the Baltics, a scenario seen as the most likely front for new Russian aggression. They are also increasingly focusing not on traditional warfare, but on the hybrid tactics Russia used in Crimea and eastern Ukraine: “little green men,” manufactured protests, and cyberwarfare. “They are trying to figure out in what circumstances [the U.S. Defense Department] would respond to a cyberattack,” says Julie Smith, who until recently served as the vice president’s deputy national security advisor. “There’s a lively debate on that going on right now.”

This is a significant departure from post-Cold War U.S. defense policy.

After the Soviet Union imploded, Russia, its main heir, became increasingly integrated into NATO, which had originally been created to counter the Soviet Union’s ambitions in Europe. In 1994, Moscow signed onto NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Three years later, in May 1997, Russia and NATO signed a more detailed agreement on mutual cooperation, declaring that they were no longer adversaries. Since then, as NATO absorbed more and more Warsaw Pact countries, it also stepped up its cooperation with Russia: joint military exercises, regular consultations, and even the opening of a NATO transit point in Ulyanovsk, Russia, for materiel heading to the fight in Afghanistan. Even if the Kremlin was increasingly miffed at NATO expansion, from the West things looked fairly rosy.

After Russia’s 2008 war with neighboring Georgia, NATO slightly modified its plans vis-à-vis Russia, according to Smith, but the Pentagon did not. In preparing the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon’s office for force planning — that is, long-term resource allocation based on the United States’ defense priorities — proposed to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to include a scenario that would counter an aggressive Russia. Gates ruled it out. “Everyone’s judgment at the time was that Russia is pursuing objectives aligned with ours,” says David Ochmanek, who, as deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development, ran that office at the time. “Russia’s future looked to be increasingly integrated with the West.” Smith, who worked on European and NATO policy at the Pentagon at the time, told me, “If you asked the military five years ago, ‘Give us a flavor of what you’re thinking about,’ they would’ve said, ‘Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism — and China.’”

Warming to Moscow

The thinking around Washington was that Mikheil Saakashvili, then Georgia’s president, had provoked the Russians and that Moscow’s response was a one-off. “The sense was that while there were complications and Russia went into Georgia,” Smith says, “I don’t think anyone anticipated that anything like this would happen again.” Says one senior State Department official: “The assumption was that there was no threat in Europe.” Russia was rarely brought up to the secretary of defense, says the senior defense official.

Then came the Obama administration’s reset of relations with Russia, and with it increased cooperation with Moscow on everything from space flights to nuclear disarmament. There were hiccups (like Russia’s trying to elbow the United States out of the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan) and less-than-full cooperation on pressing conflicts in the Middle East (the best the United States got from Russia on Libya was an abstention at the U.N. Security Council). But, on the whole, Russia was neither a danger nor a priority. It was, says one senior foreign-policy Senate staffer, “occasionally a pain in the ass, but not a threat.”

Ochmanek, for his part, hadn’t thought about Russia for decades. “As a force planner, I can tell you that the prospect of Russian aggression was not on our radar,” he told me when I met him in his office at the Rand Corp. in Northern Virginia, where he is now a senior defense analyst. “Certainly not since 1991, but even in the last years of Gorbachev.” Back in 1989, Ochmanek thought that Washington should be focusing on the threat of Iraq invading Kuwait, not on the dwindling likelihood of Soviet military aggression. For the last 30 years, Ochmanek has shuttled between Rand, where he has focused on military planning, and the nearby Pentagon, where he has done the same in an official capacity: first in the mid-1990s, when he was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, and then for the first five years of Barack Obama’s administration, when he ran force planning at the Pentagon.

It was there that, in February 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin caught Ochmanek and pretty much every Western official off guard by sending little green men into Crimea and eastern Ukraine. “We didn’t plan for it because we didn’t think Russia would change the borders in Europe,” he says. Crimea, he says, was a “surprise.”

War games, and losing

In June 2014, a month after he had left his force-planning job at the Pentagon, the Air Force asked Ochmanek for advice on Russia’s neighborhood ahead of Obama’s September visit to Tallinn, Estonia. At the same time, the Army had approached another of Ochmanek’s colleagues at Rand, and the two teamed up to run a thought exercise called a “table top,” a sort of war game between two teams: the red team (Russia) and the blue team (NATO). The scenario was similar to the one that played out in Crimea and eastern Ukraine: increasing Russian political pressure on Estonia and Latvia (two NATO countries that share borders with Russia and have sizable Russian-speaking minorities), followed by the appearance of provocateurs, demonstrations, and the seizure of government buildings. “Our question was: Would NATO be able to defend those countries?” Ochmanek recalls.

The results were dispiriting. Given the recent reductions in the defense budgets of NATO member countries and American pullback from the region, Ochmanek says the blue team was outnumbered 2-to-1 in terms of manpower, even if all the U.S. and NATO troops stationed in Europe were dispatched to the Baltics — including the 82nd Airborne, which is supposed to be ready to go on 24 hours’ notice and is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

“We just don’t have those forces in Europe,” Ochmanek explains. Then there’s the fact that the Russians have the world’s best surface-to-air missiles and are not afraid to use heavy artillery.

After eight hours of gaming out various scenarios, the blue team went home depressed. “The conclusion,” Ochmanek says, “was that we are unable to defend the Baltics.”

Ochmanek decided to run the game on a second day. The teams played the game again, this time working on the assumption that the United States and NATO had already started making positive changes to their force posture in Europe. Would anything be different? The conclusion was slightly more upbeat, but not by much. “We can defend the capitals, we can present Russia with problems, and we can take away the prospect of a coup de main,” Ochmanek says. “But the dynamic remains the same.” Even without taking into account the recent U.S. defense cuts, due to sequestration, and the Pentagon’s plan to downsize the Army by 40,000 troops, the logistics of distance were still daunting. U.S. battalions would still take anywhere from one to two months to mobilize and make it across the Atlantic, and the Russians, Ochmanek notes, “can do a lot of damage in that time.”

Ochmanek has run the two-day table-top exercise eight times now, including at the Pentagon and at Ramstein Air Base, in Germany, with active-duty military officers. “We played it 16 different times with eight different teams,” Ochmanek says, “always with the same conclusion.”

The Defense Department has factored the results of the exercise into its planning, says the senior defense official, “to better understand a situation that few of us have thought about in detail for a number of years.” When asked about Ochmanek’s conclusions, the official expressed confidence that, eventually, NATO would claw the territory back. “In the end, I have no doubt that NATO will prevail and that we will restore the territorial integrity of any NATO member,” the official said. “I cannot guarantee that it will be easy or without great risk. My job is to ensure that we can reduce that risk.”

Protect the Baltics

That is, the Pentagon does not envision a scenario in which Russia doesn’t manage to grab some Baltic territory first. The goal is to deter — Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced this summer that the United States would be sending dozens of tanks, armored vehicles, and howitzers to the Baltics and Eastern Europe — and, if that fails, to painstakingly regain NATO territory.

The Pentagon is also chewing on various hybrid warfare scenarios, and even a nuclear one. “As you look at published Russian doctrine, I do believe people are thinking about use of tactical nuclear weapons in a way that hadn’t been thought about for many years,” says the senior defense official. “The doctrineclearly talks about it, so it would be irresponsible to not at least read that doctrine, understand what it means. Doctrine certainly doesn’t mean that they would do it, but it would be irresponsible to at least not be thinking through those issues. Any time there is nuclear saber rattling, it is always a concern, no matter where it comes from.”

There is a strong element of disappointment among senior foreign-policy and security officials in these discussions, of disbelief that we ended up here after all those good years — decades, even — in America’s relations with Russia.

“A lot of people at the Pentagon are unhappy about the confrontation,” says the State Department official. “They were very happy with the military-to-military cooperation with Russia.” There are also those, the official said, who feel that Russia is a distraction from the real threat — China — and others who think that working with Russia on arms control is more important than protecting Ukrainian sovereignty. Not only would they rather not have to think about Moscow as an enemy, but many are also miffed that even making these plans plays right into Putin’s paranoid fantasies about a showdown between Russia and NATO or between Russia and the United States — which makes those fantasies, de facto, a reality. In the U.S. planning for confrontation with Russia, says the Senate staffer, Putin “is getting the thing he always wanted.”

Yet despite this policy shift, the distinctly American optimism is confoundingly hard to shake. “We would like to be partners with Russia. We think that is the preferred course — that it benefits us, it benefits Russia, and it benefits the rest of the world,” the senior defense official says. “But as the Department of Defense, we’re not paid to look at things through rose-colored glasses and hence must be prepared in case we’re wrong about Russia’s actions and plan for if Russia were to become a direct adversary. Again, I don’t predict that and I certainly don’t want it, but we need to be prepared in case that could happen.”

Provocation or preparation?

So far, the Pentagon’s plans are just that — plans. But they are also signals: to Russia that the United States is not sitting on its hands, and to Congress that America’s foreign-policy priorities have shifted drastically since the last Quadrennial Defense Review, which was released as the crisis in Ukraine was unfolding and barely mentioned Russia. It is also a signal that the Pentagon feels that sequestration hobbles its ability to deal with the new threat landscape. In his July confirmation hearing to ascend to the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford made headlines when he said that Russia posed an “existential threat” to the United States and said that America must do more to prepare itself for hybrid warfare of the type Russia deployed in Ukraine.

“It’s clearly a signal to the Hill,” says Smith. “When I come and ask for a permanent presence in Europe or money for a European presence, I don’t want you to say, ‘Gee, this is a surprise. I thought it was all about [the Islamic State].’” Dunford’s statement angered the White House, which saw it as potentially provocative to Moscow, but it was also a signal to everyone else. The commander in chief has the final say on whether to use these new contingency plans, but Obama’s days in office are numbered, and the Pentagon isn’t taking any chances.

Photo at the top: 
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L), Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (2nd L) and WW II veterans watch a military parade during the nation’s Victory Day celebrations in Moscow on May 9, 2011 in commemoration of the end of WWII. Russia was due Monday to march 20,000 soldiers and its most advanced missiles across Red Square in a parade marking victory in World War II and reinforcing the country’s belief in its Soviet-era might. AFP PHOTO / NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA (Photo credit should read NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)


Japan’s defense paper slams China for “coercive attempt” to gain islands and maritime territory — Calls for a halt in oil-and-gas exploration rig construction

July 21, 2015


The lower house of the Japanese parliament has passed bills that could see Japanese troops fight abroad for the first time since World War II, a move Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insists is crucial to counter security concerns in the region.  AFP Yoshikazu Tsuno


TOKYO —Japan on Tuesday slammed Beijing’s bid to reclaim land in the South China Sea as a “coercive attempt” to force through sweeping maritime claims, in a defense paper that comes as Tokyo tries to expand the role of its military.

Tokyo said China was acting “unilaterally and without compromise”, as it also highlighted concern about North Korea’s nuclear program and Russian moves in violence-wracked Ukraine.

The white paper accused Beijing of “raising concerns among the international community” in ramped-up criticism from last year’s report, an annual summary of Japan’s official view on defense matters.

“China, particularly over maritime issues, continues to act in an assertive manner, including coercive attempts at changing the status quo, and is poised to fulfill its unilateral demands without compromise,” said the 500-page report titled “Defense of Japan.”

China is locked in disputes with several neighbors over its claims to almost the entire South China sea and is currently pursuing a rapid program of artificial island construction in the region.

It is locked in a separate dispute with Japan over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands—which it calls the Diaoyus—in the East China Sea, as Chinese ships and aircraft regularly test Japanese forces in the area.

Observers have warned that the Sino-Japanese scuffle could set off an armed conflict.

A Japanese P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft keeps an eye on Senkaku/Diaoyu in the East China Sea

The document repeated Tokyo’s concerns over China’s growing assertiveness and widening naval reach in the Pacific and over what it calls the “opaqueness” of Beijing’s sky-rocketing military budget.

But it also noted that China has worked to set up an emergency hotline with Tokyo to prevent unintended conflicts at sea.

Last week, China criticised Tokyo after the lower house of the Diet passed bills that could see Japanese troops fight abroad for the first time since World War II.

The move is deeply unpopular at home with approval ratings plummeting for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who insists the changes are crucial to counter security concerns in the region.

Japanese forces launched a full-scale invasion of China in 1937 and the wartime history between the Asian powers still heavily colors their relations today.

Referring to the Ukraine crisis, the report said Russia “has engaged in so-called ‘hybrid warfare’ that is difficult to identify definitively as an armed attack by a country, and has attempted to change the status quo by force or coercion”.

“The Russian attempt is considered to be a global security issue possibly affecting the whole international community including Asia,” it said.On North Korea, the report warned of a “greater risk” of Pyongyang deploying ballistic missiles mounted with nuclear warheads “that include Japan in their range”.


By Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan called on China on Tuesday to halt construction of oil-and-gas exploration platforms in the East China Sea close to waters claimed by both nations, concerned that Chinese drills could tap reservoirs that extend into Japanese territory.


Japan’s Defense Ministry added the demand to its annual defense review after hawkish members of the ruling party complained that its original draft was too soft on China, a ministry official said.

China resumed exploration in the East China Sea two years ago, the report said. In 2012, Japan’s government had angered Beijing and purchased a disputed island chain there. Before then, Beijing had curtailed activities under an agreement with Japan to jointly develop undersea resources in disputed areas.

“We have confirmed that China has started construction of new ocean (exploration) platforms and we repeat our opposition to unilateral development by China and call for a halt,” the ministry said.

The platforms are being erected on the Chinese side of a median line delineating the exclusive economic zones of the two countries, the Japanese ministry official said.

Tokyo worries that the platforms will tap into gas fields that overlap the median line and could also be used as radar stations or bases for drones or other aircraft to monitor air and sea activity near the disputed chain of islets, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

China’s defense and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Japanese report.

The report didn’t disclose details of the location or number of offshore platforms being erected by China.

The 500-page report, approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, also commented on the disputed South China Sea where Japan and other countries have criticized Chinese land reclamation projects as a threat to regional security.

For the first time, the report included satellite images of Chinese man-made islands in the South China Sea.

“China has rapidly moved ahead with land reclamation on seven reefs in the Spratly Islands and on some is building infrastructure including runways and harbors. Beginning with the U.S., this is a concern for the international community,” it said.

China claims most of the 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) South China Sea, with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also staking claims.

Flashpoint: Satellite-imagery provider DigitalGlobe shows what is believed to be Chinese

Flashpoint: Satellite-imagery provider DigitalGlobe shows what is believed to be Chinese vessels dredging sand at Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Picture: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Japan has no claims in the area but fears Chinese military bases there would bolster Beijing’s influence over a region through which $5 trillion in trade passes every year, much of it to and from Japan.

China has said its construction work in the South China Sea would be used for defense as well as to provide civilian services that would benefit other countries.

Japan and the Philippines have conducted two joint naval exercises in and around the South China Sea. In June, Abe and Philippine President Benigno Aquino said they would begin talks that could give Japan access to Philippine bases.

Japan has also said it may begin air patrols in the South China Sea. China said it would see that as interference.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Mark Bendeich)


 (The U.S. will not agree with this assessment)

 (Contains links to several related articles)


Experts say this photo shows how China has turned a nearly worthless spit of sand, Fiery Cross reef, into a huge chinese military complex with an airport and seaport

Many of China’s South China Sea neighborhood complain about illegal Chinese fishing


China says it owns all the South China Sea north of the “nine dash line” shown above

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

U.S. to pre-position tanks, artillery in Baltics, eastern Europe — Old Foe, Russia Again Needs Watching

June 23, 2015


The United States will pre-position tanks, artillery and other military equipment in eastern and central Europe, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced on Tuesday, moving to reassure NATO allies unnerved by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

Carter, during a trip to Tallinn, said the Baltic states – Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia — as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Poland agreed to host elements of this equipment. Some of the equipment would also be located in Germany.

After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region last year, NATO leaders agreed to step up exercises and rotations of forces through NATO allies in eastern Europe as well as storing hardware there for use in an emergency.

The United States had not formally disclosed where in Europe the equipment would be stored but news reports about military planning triggered an angry response from Moscow ahead of Carter’s trip to Europe this week.

U.S. Army M109 Paladin self propelled howitzer


A Russian defense ministry official said stationing tanks and heavy weapons in NATO states on Russia’s border would be the most aggressive U.S. act since the Cold War.

President Vladimir Putin announced Russia would add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year. Carter has condemned Russia’s “loose rhetoric” involving nuclear arms.

A fact sheet provided by the U.S. military said the United States’ pre-positioning would include about 250 tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers.

The amount of equipment that would be temporarily stored in each country would be enough to supply either a company, so enough for about 150 soldiers, or a battalion, or about 750 soldiers. Much of it is already in Europe, officials say.

Moscow denies providing troops or arms to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. But neighboring NATO countries, especially the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which have Russian minorities, fear Russia could foment trouble on their territories.

U.S. officials say Ukraine has illustrated the importance of being able to counter “hybrid warfare”, the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure that the West says Russia has used there.

It also involves cyber warfare. Carter also announced plans on Tuesday to work with an Estonia-based NATO cyber center to help allies develop cyber defense strategies and critical infrastructure protection planning.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Ralph Boulton)



NATO Returns Its Attention to an Old Foe, Russia

U.S. Defense Secretary: Russia Wants To Drag Everyone Back To The Past

June 22, 2015

The United States and its allies won’t let Russia “drag us back to the past”, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in an address in Berlin on Monday, as he accused Moscow of trying to re-create a Soviet-era sphere of influence.

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has put NATO allies in eastern Europe on edge and triggered a series of military moves by the NATO alliance, including an acceleration of exercises and the creation of a NATO rapid response force.

Carter, who will view components of that NATO force later on Monday, said the alliance would keep the door open to an improved relationship with Russia but said flatly: “It’s up to the Kremlin to decide.”=

“We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia. We do not seek to make Russian enemy,” Carter said. “But make no mistake: we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us all.”

Carter said on Sunday the United States and NATO were preparing militarily for the prospect that their rift with Russia could even outlast President Vladimir Putin.


During his trip this week, Carter will climb aboard a U.S. warship in Estonia fresh from Baltic Sea drills. In Brussels, he will meet NATO defense chiefs, and could offer more details on plans to pre-position heavy military equipment, officials say.

Moscow has decried the new steps by NATO and threatened to strengthen its own forces and to add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear

arsenal this year.

U.S. officials say Ukraine has illustrated the importance of being able to counter “hybrid warfare,” the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure that the West says Russia has used there.

NATO’s historic focus had been the conventional threats of the Cold War, which ended in 1991. But Carter said NATO “will not rely on the Cold War playbook”, citing instead a combination of military and non-military tools, including sanctions.

He encouraged Europe to keep up its sanctions — which he called the best tool — for as long as it takes to change Russia’s calculus.

“The United States will not let Russia drag us back to the past,” he said.

The United States has refused to provide lethal arms to Ukraine, worried that would only escalate the conflict. Carter at one point said “we’ve provided weapons to Ukraine” but his spokesman, Brent Colburn, said the secretary misspoke.

Turning his attention to Germany, Carter commended Germany’s leadership during the Ukraine crisis. He also sought to encourage a stronger German military role globally. Still, he called for more defense spending “to ensure that Germany’s defense investments match Germany’s leadership role.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Ralph Boulton)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Will Urge Allies To Forget the Cold War Playbook

June 21, 2015


U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Shangri-La diaoloue, May 28, 2015


WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will urge NATO allies to “dispose of the Cold War playbook” during a trip to Europe this week, as the alliance adapts to a new kind of threat from Russia in the east and Islamic State to the south, U.S. officials said.

Carter heads first to Berlin, where he is expected to call for a more muscular global security role from Germany, Europe’s largest economy. Germany remains hesitant to deploy troops abroad, seven decades after the end of World War Two.

“He will encourage Germany, under the firm leadership of the minister of defense, to increase their security role in the world, commensurate with their political and economic weight,” a senior U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Relations between Moscow and the West have plunged to a post-Cold War low since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region. NATO says Russian is still actively providing military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, despite Moscow’s denials.

U.S. officials say Ukraine has illustrated the importance of being able to counter “hybrid warfare,” the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure that the west says Russia has used there. NATO’s historic focus had been the conventional threats of the Cold War, which ended in 1991.

Chinese Gen. Fan Changlong Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, arrives at the Pentagon on June 11, 2015, and stands with US Secretary of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (R) in Washington, DC (AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards)

“Carter … will really push the alliance to think about new threats, new techniques, urge them to kind of dispose of the Cold War playbook and think about new ways to counter new threats,” the official said.

In visits in Germany and then in Estonia, Carter will get a first-hand look at NATO’s new rapid response forces and climb aboard a U.S. warship fresh from Baltic Sea drills, aiming to reassure allies unnerved by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

Carter will likely offer details on plans to pre-position heavy military equipment in Europe, the official said.

All of the moves been decried by Moscow, which has threatened to beef up its own forces and to add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year.

Apart from Russia’s annexation of Crimea, NATO officials say the rise of Islamic State and other militants in North Africa and the Middle East has also dramatically changed NATO’s security environment.

NATO defense chiefs meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels are expected to discuss plans to create an alliance role in Iraq aimed at strengthening Iraq’s institutions. A plan could be approved in July, the U.S. official said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels; Editing by David Gregorio)

NATO Working To Counter Russia’s “Hybrid Warfare”

March 19, 2015


Soldiers from Russia but with no identification or insignia guard Simferopol airport, Ukraine, in February 2014

By Mike Collier with Mary Sibierski in Warsaw

Riga (AFP) – NATO allies are scrambling to protect vulnerable Baltic partners from the threat of hybrid warfare, a Russian tactic that officials and experts say is based on deception rather than formal declaration of war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s use of anonymous “little green men” to slice Crimea away from Ukraine last year sent alarm bells ringing throughout the three small Baltic NATO and EU members.

They endured decades of Soviet occupation after the Red Army rolled in during World War II. While a full-scale invasion is improbable now, hybrid meddling and destabilisation tactics designed to test NATO’s commitment to collective defence are not.

Putin’s brand of hybrid warfare also relies on “misinformation, bribery, economic pressure”, which are designed to “undermine the nation”, according to Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Vejonis.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite did not mince her words when she said: “The first stage of confrontation is taking place — I mean informational war, propaganda and cyber attacks. So we are already under attack.”


– Trojan Horse –


According to James Sherr of Britain’s Chatham House think-tank, hybrid warfare is “designed to cripple a state before that state even realises the conflict has begun.

“It’s a model of warfare designed to slip under NATO’s threshold of perception and reaction.”

NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow has called it a modern example of the ancient Trojan Horse tactic.

NATO is “looking at how we prepare for, deter, and –- if required –- defend against hybrid threats,” the former US ambassador to Moscow said recently at a security conference in the Latvian capital Riga.

Not to be caught off guard amid an increased Russian military presence in the Baltic, alliance members have mounted a series of troop rotations into the region.

The United States also deployed a cargo ship full of heavy armour there this month, including helicopters and tanks for exercises dubbed Atlantic Resolve.

NATO will boost defences on Europe’s eastern flank with a spearhead force of 5,000 troops and command centres in six formerly communist members of the alliance: the Baltic states and Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.

Lithuania revived its pre-WWII Riflemen’s Union to help deter the threat of both conventional and hybrid warfare.

The citizens’ militia boasts over 8,000 members in the nation of three million people, a number almost on par with its 8,000 military personnel and 4,500 reservists.


– ‘Media weaponisation’ –


With roughly a quarter of the populations of Estonia and Latvia being ethnic Russian, some argue that Moscow’s huge TV, radio and Internet presence is part of a hybrid battle for Baltic hearts and minds.

Putin justified his Crimea takeover by insisting that Moscow was coming to the defence of ethnic Russians in the territory, sparking concern here that Russia could deploy a similar policy.

According to Riga journalist Olga Dragileva, a hybrid media war aimed at sowing “dissatisfaction and illusions” among ethnic-Russian Latvians is in full swing in the eurozone member, which is still recovering from a crippling 2008-9 recession sparked by the global financial crisis.

It amounts to “the weaponisation of social media”, according to Janis Karklins, director of NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence.

Based in Riga, the centre works to analyse the official Russian political narrative and suggest responses.

Karklins warns the solution does not lie in creating counter-propaganda: “The old recipes are not effective any longer.”

He proposes instead “to develop skills of media information literacy and critical thinking in our education system to make it harder for adversaries to disorient the population.”

EU leaders are expected to agree at a summit this week to set up a special media unit to counter what the bloc sees as a skilful Russian propaganda campaign during the Ukraine crisis.

– Hybrid response –

Many here believe neighbouring Estonia had a foretaste of hybrid war in 2007 when the nation of 1.3 million suffered a blistering cyber attack against official state and bank websites.

The assault was widely blamed on Russian hackers, although the Kremlin denied involvement.

As in hybrid warfare, aggressors in cyberwarfare are often hard to identify and hence may not fear immediate and targeted retaliation — a key plank of conventional warfare.

Tallinn, home to NATO’s cyber defence centre, is also demanding Moscow release Eston Kohver, an Estonian police officer it claims was snatched at gunpoint by Russian operatives last September from inside Estonia.

Moscow insists Kohver was engaged in a clandestine operation in Russia and has charged him with espionage.

To counter similar murky scenarios, Vershbow says the alliance must develop hybrid responses able to “deploy the right forces to the right place at the right time”.