Military shortfalls

Russia’s Navy rebuilding program has collapsed because their shipbuilding industry was never able to modernize after 1991 and lost its best people to migration or better jobs elsewhere in Russia. Their Air Force is better off because export orders from China and India kept warplane production and development going, but China was buying mainly so they could clone the latest Russian designs and eventually go on to produce their own designs — which they are now doing. Russia’s Army is stuck with a lot of Cold War-era weapons and a growing personnel shortage.

Russia faking it

Prospects for improvement in Russia are dim and the government has resorted to Iran’s tactic of faking it, which, in this case, means a continuous stream of press releases about new weapons and technologies that, at best, exist in small quantities and in most cases are stuck in development. This works for a while but eventually becomes counterproductive. Military analysts know better, as do American troops who have served near Russian troops. Israel and Eastern European NATO members also provide a lot of useful data. Russia’s military decline is also accelerated by their chronic economic problems and persistent corruption.

Pulled back forces

An Israeli tank fire destroyed what turned out to be an Iranian observation post near the Israeli border in southern Syria, killing two Iranians. As a result of this attack and several recent airstrikes on Iranian bases in Syria, Iran has pulled back its forces from the Israeli border. These forces are being moved to bases closer to the Iraq border, making it easier to move them into Iraq if necessary.

Iraq at peace

The last several months have been the most peaceful in most of Iraq, especially Baghdad, since early 2014. There is still Islamic terrorism activity in Anbar Province and other areas near the Syrian border but that has not, as in the past, spread to major cities like Baghdad and Basra. In addition, regular public protests continue in Basra over the lack of infrastructure and basic services. The federal budget still concentrates on salaries for a lot more government employees than are needed and fringe benefits for corrupt politicians.

Russia weakens

It was bad enough when Russian staff officers and Defense Ministry analysts said it, but now foreign nations are saying it too: Russia is weak and getting weaker, both economically and militarily.

Moving warships

Since late 2018, Russia has been moving warships from the Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea and the Pacific Fleet to the Black Sea to reinforce ships already there in case there is a confrontation with NATO over Russia’s threats to restrict access to the Sea of Azov, imposed on 28 November. As 2019 began, Russian warships and aircraft were patrolling the Sea of Azov and adjacent Black Sea areas more frequently, harassing foreign ships, not just Ukrainian ones.

Port blockade

So far the Russians have seized over 100 ships trying to reach the Ukrainian ports of Berdiansk and Mariupol in the Sea of Azov, putting these ports out of business. The EU and U.S. protested the Russian blockade, but have not done anything to result in change, like sending American warships to conduct a freedom of navigation operation in the Sea of Azov. So far no NATO warships have sought to enter the Sea of Azov, but more NATO warships have entered the Black Sea and visited Ukraine.

Ceasefire violated

A new ceasefire was agreed to on 29 December in Ukraine, but Russian-backed rebels in Donbas began 2019 with several days of heavy attacks on Ukrainian troops. The attackers, many of them Russian, suffered casualties, including several dead and over a dozen wounded, as the Ukrainians held their positions. This ceasefire has continually been violated with numerous small attacks, only to be renewed and violated once more.

Ukraine war

The war in Ukraine is heating up. In Crimea, Russia is still holding three Ukrainian ships that were seized in November 2018, plus the 24 Ukrainians who were on board, while traveling from the ports of Odessa to Mariupol in Donbas, 800 kilometers southeast of Kiev. The incident occurred in order to stop the Ukrainian ships from going under the Kerch Strait Bridge and into the Sea of Azov. Afterwards, Russia stationed warships under the Kerch Strait Bridge to block any unwanted traffic.

Hostile to new rulers

Russia has brought about a 500,000 ethnic Russians into Crimea since the Black Sea peninsula was seized by in 2014. The population then was 2.2 million and a small percentage of those left; those who remained were hostile to their new Russian rulers.

Deconfliction zone

American troops in western Iraq continue to occupy positions just across the border in Syria at the Tanf border crossing near the Jordanian border. There is a 55-kilometer “deconfliction zone” on the Syrian side that is maintained by American forces and unwelcome military forces — Russian, Syrian or Iranian — are banned from entering this zone without permission and the occasional violations have been met with lethal force. Russia, Syria and Iran aren’t happy and, in return, won’t allow supplies to reach the American-run refugee camp within the zone. Most of the 50,000 Syrian refugees are women and children and the U.S. has to bring in all the supplies from Iraq.

Protests in Iran

Russia agreed to lend Iran $5 billion dollars in the form of economic aid projects and euros. Iran has resorted to a wide array of techniques to get around the resumed U.S. sanctions and has had some success, but the economic situation continues to worsen and the public protests are more frequent.

Not safe in Mali

In 2018, tribal and Islamic terrorist violence left about 1,200 dead in Mali; 58% of which were civilians and 7% were Mali soldiers and police. The rest were Islamic terrorists or tribal militia. Life is not safe for the 16,000 UN peacekeepers and support staff service in Mali, which continues to be the most dangerous assignment the UN handles. Since 2013 this UN force has suffered 160 dead and, so far in 2019, 15 have died. Most of the peacekeepers in Mali are from African countries.

Russia & Iran unite

Russia and Iran are united when it comes to opposing a planned Turkish offensive against Kurdish control of most of the Syrian border with Turkey. Russia and Iran see the Turkish plans as reckless and likely to trigger a major military confrontation with the United States. Russia and Iran would not mind seeing Turkey expelled from NATO, but not at the expense of endangering Russian and Iranian forces in Syria.

Unreliable & dangerous

The U.S. and most NATO members want Turkey to act more like a NATO member and less like a Turkey trying to reestablish its imperial influence. The Turks are seen as unreliable and dangerous by just about everyone. The U.S. has tried to negotiate a compromise with the Turks but they don’t seem to be concerned about being expelled from NATO and regarded as a hostile force.

Peacekeepers in Syria

The U.S. is proposing a force of 400 “peacekeepers” to stand between Turkish and Syrian Kurd forces in Syria. Russia backs the U.S. in this respect, as do the Assads as part of their “we are the legitimate government of Syria.” The Assads are willing to grant the Syrian Kurds their autonomy if Iranian and Turkish opposition can be overcome. Russia proposed to supply a similar peacekeeper force, but the Kurds prefer the U.S. whose pro-Kurd efforts have been more reliable and long-term than any other major power has provided.

Terrorists trapped

Leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran met and agreed that there would be no military offensive against the thousands of Islamic terrorists still trapped in northwestern Syria; instead, other unspecified measures would be taken to increase the pressure on them to surrender.

Assads’ supporter

Russia and Iran are competing for the position of the main foreign supporter of the Assad government. The Assads prefer the Russians, who are not as ideologically fanatic, economically weak and diplomatically isolated as Iran, but Russia has to be careful because the Iranian ground forces are the largest infantry force in Syria. Russia doesn’t want a war with Iran, but they also don’t want Iranian forces to remain in Syria because Iran’s plans for Syria will not end well for anyone.

Don’t rock the cradle

Russia once more proclaimed that Israeli airstrikes in Syria were illegal while, at the same time, agreed that Israel has the right to defend themselves. Russia also refuses to open fire on Israeli aircraft or missiles, so to avoid a demonstration of Israel’s countermeasures, a show of which would reduce confidence in Russian weapons and an important export item for them.

Arab league

Syria’s government has openly lobbied Arab governments to allow them back into the Arab League, but many Arab states are reluctant to bring Syria back into the Arab League while there is still a large Iranian mercenary force in Syria.

Wary of China

China is seeking to buy all or part of key Ukrainian defense manufacturers in order to improve weak areas of their defense manufacturing capabilities, such as helicopter production. Ukrainian firm Motor Sich is a world leader in building helicopter engines and other components, as well as turbine engines for warships, but Ukrainians aren’t too willing to see their national treasure fall into Chinese hands. China has been buying components from Motor Sich since the 1990s and wants to get access to their trade secrets and key personnel. The Ukrainians are wary and the Chinese are relentless.

Russia helps Tajikistan

Russia donated $9 million worth of military radar and command-and-control systems to Tajikistan. While second-hand, the equipment is modern and will improve Tajikistan’s ability to monitor and control its air space, especially along its border with Afghanistan. In 2013, the Tajik parliament approved an extension of the military cooperation treaty with Russia to 2042.

Protests in Russia

There have been unusually large number of anti-government protests throughout Russia, and while many of them are purely political, many are over pollution because in several parts of Russia it’s so bad that the falling snow is black, brown and even green, making the heavy pollution even more visible. Another protest staple is government incompetence, along with rampant and obvious corruption among local government officials. There is more to the unrest than pollution, and the most capable Russians are simply emigrating.

Russian support

Russia made it clear that it will support “Arab interests” in Syria and they have already been useful by opposing Turkish plans to occupy a 30-kilometer-deep “security zone” on the Syrian side of the border, which is seen by the Syrian government and most Arab countries as offensive and unnecessary.

IS captured

In eastern Syria, the Kurdish Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) captured about 500 Iraqi IS members— at least its believed they are Iraqi, based on their accent. The SDF is seeking to get Iraq to take all of them and prosecute. The U.S. is helping with this effort using biometric identification equipment to generate ID data compatible with what the U.S. and Iraqis have on known IS members. So far, 280 IS members have been confirmed and Iraq is willing to take and prosecute them, and if found guilty of murder and other serious crimes, Iraq will execute them.

No light sentences

NATO nations are seeking to have Iraq prosecute all IS prisoners who came from NATO countries, including the U.S., and have committed crimes that Iraq knows about. Iraq is willing to do this because they know that European courts will be much easier on IS members, giving shorter jail sentences, then they are back on the street. France recently persuaded Iraq to accept and prosecute 13 Frenchmen who had joined IS.

Small force

The U.S. has agreed to keep a small force of peacekeepers in Syria after most of the current 2,000 advisors and Special Forces troops are withdrawn. The peacekeepers would make it more difficult for Iranian or Turkish forces to misbehave without risking intervention by U.S. forces in neighboring countries. This is a relief to Iraqi Kurds, who still have plenty of American assistance in northern Iraq and have been told that there will always be some American troops in northern Iraq “as long as it is necessary.”

Advisors in Zimbabwe

Russian military advisors in Zimbabwe have been seen working with local security forces. This follows an announcement that Russia had invested in Zimbabwe’s diamond industry and financed two other business deals worth some $270 million.

Cell phone solution

After years of complaints from conscripts, their parents and former soldiers, the South Korean Army has allowed its soldiers to have cell phones in the barracks, but only with certain restrictions. Troops can only use phones in their barracks from 5:30 p.m. until lights out at 10, and on weekends they can use them from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.


Arab states are not pleased with the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and Iranian meddling in Gaza and Yemen.

Cyber attack

Another North Korean cyberwar attack on South Korea was discovered, one that involved hacking an Android bus navigation app being used in four South Korean cities. Once on the phone, the malware transmitted all the information found on the infected phones that contained matching words on a list. The nature of the keywords on the list indicated the malware was designed to collect military and political information that was mainly useful to North Korea. This malware had been in operation since August 2018 and was eliminated by the end of 2018.

No escape

Iraq already has hundreds of IS captives from foreign countries and is prosecuting all of them, including some wives who also committed atrocities. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces have arrested suspected IS members near the Syrian border, especially in Mosul, which is still seen as a good hideout for IS men who know their way around the city. Many IS members fleeing from Syria had fled to Syria in late 2018 as Iraqi forces followed up on the liberation of Mosul from IS in 2017. The returnees include many notorious IS leaders who are responsible for much death and destruction in Iraq.

Out of options

Maduro tried to hire Cuban technical advisors to teach Venezuelan socialists how to establish and maintain a long-term dictatorship, but because there was no money for it, that plan didn’t work out. China, Cuba, Iran and Russia are all in Venezuela and, with all the oil as collateral, Venezuela’s socialists thought they had a safety net that would keep them in business. That option is now gone and Maduro’s government is not only bankrupt, it’s unable to pump and ship enough oil to pay for food and other essential imports.

Greener pastures

Since the current Putin government took control in 1999, nearly two million Russians have left for better economic and other opportunities elsewhere. Worse, nearly half of those who left had a college education and most of them with advanced degrees had better career prospects outside Russia.

Russia’s corruption

Corruption remains a major problem for Russia and years of well-publicized efforts to deal with it have failed. Russia is stuck near the bottom of the list when it comes to clean government, currently ranking 138 out of 180 nations, compared with 2017’s international rankings where they sat at 135.

Flights resumed

Thailand resumed flights to Europe after delaying dozens of them for over 12 hours because of airspace closures in some parts of India and Pakistan. These two nations have had some recent aerial combat and there was a threat of escalation. The commercial flights were rerouted, which takes time to obtain permission to land at other airports and fly through other nation’s airspace, mainly China. These changes may last a while because Indian and Pakistani warplanes have clashed in Kashmir and both countries have imposed bans on commercial aircraft in nearby areas.

Maduro plan backfires

U.S. sanctions meant that much of the overseas assets and money owed to Venezuela’s government went to internationally-recognized interim President Guaidó. One of the first things Guaidó did with this money was to purchase massive amounts of emergency food and medical supplies. Maduro ordered troops to block border crossings where the food was to enter the country, following the advice by Russia to claim the food and medical aid was contaminated. That plan backfired, however, and is one reason Maduro is concerned about the reliability of his troops.

Venezuela sanctions

At the end of January, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company, which is the only means China and Russia have to get over $40 billion in Venezuelan loans paid back. This move encourages China to back interim president Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, over the incompetent socialist incumbent Nicolas Maduro. Guaidó is willing to work with China, but thus far, only the U.S. is on board. Russia is in a less favorable position because it is already heavily sanctioned, but Russia is accustomed to evading sanctions.

Foreign intervention

Venezuela currently owes more than $120 billion to foreign lenders and Guaidó is negotiating with the Russians, who are inclined to follow the Chinese lead in all this. China has not made any decisive moves, other than state that it opposes “foreign intervention,” even if it’s in the form of food and medical aid. China has also urged Guaidó and Maduro to negotiate an end to the crises. This is an ominous suggestion, as Maduro does not consider Guaidó someone he should negotiate with.

Escape plans?

Venezuela needs fuel and other refined products, and getting it from Russia required a sizable price increase to cover the costs of evading the sanctions. Russia was not the only one willing to provide their petroleum products, but Russia was favored because Maduro is trying to persuade Russia to help keep the revolution at bay, or at least get Maduro and his family to safety in an emergency. Russia has apparently already made those plans, as Russian air transports are mysteriously standing ready at Caribbean airports for some unspecified job.

Treasure hunt

In Iraq’s Anbar Province there is something of a treasure hunt going on for Islamic State cash and valuables moved out of Syria, rumored to be worth over $100 million. None of this loot has yet to be found and if it has, no one is admitting to it. If there is a lot of IS “treasure” in Anbar, it is not being made available to recent IS arrivals from Syria.

Legalized corruption

Russia’s parliament is considering a new law that would legalize corruption in some cases, but specifying those exceptions has proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Of the major world economies, Russia is the most corrupt and that explains a lot about what the Russians don’t like about Russia.

Many news items courtesy of strategypage.com & James Dunnigan. All material ©2019, StrategyWorld, Inc.