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Monday, September 1, 2014

Resurgent Russia Part II

Client States - Objectives in the Near Abroad

Image 1: Graphic of the conflict in Ukraine. Russian backed separatists launched a counter-offensive against Ukrainian forces in late August 2014 and are believed to be heading for Mariupol. Image Credit: Swedish Defense Ministry

"Much in Russian foreign policy today is based on a consensus that crystallized in the early 1990s. Emerging from the rubble of the Soviet collapse, this consensus ranges across the political spectrum — from pro-Western liberals to leftists and nationalists. It rests on three geostrategic imperatives: that Russia must remain a nuclear superpower, a great power in all facets of international activity, and the hegemon — the political, military, and economic leader — of its region. This consensus marks a line in the sand, beyond which Russia cannot retreat without losing its sense of pride or even national identity. [emphasis mine] It has proven remarkably resilient, surviving post-revolutionary turbulence and the change of political regimes from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin". - Leon Aron, 2013

The current crisis in Ukraine is often discussed as the latest in a series of events responsible for escalating tensions between Russia and the West which were marked by extensive economic ties and varying degrees of political cooperation only one year prior. Furthermore, President Vladimir Putin is often described as irrational given his refusal to arm Ukrainian separatists destitute the enormous financial and political costs incurred by Russia as a  result of Western sanctions (Judah, 2014). However, a more comprehensive view of the crisis in Ukraine indicates Russia's current actions are consistent with the Russian Federation's long held post-Soviet foreign policy aims and Russian objectives in Ukraine would not have been significantly impacted by more assertive EU or American actions. Maintaining significant influence in Ukraine is a non-negotiable Russian foreign policy interest, a Western aligned Ukraine with possible future EU and NATO membership would have been intolerable.

"'Coercion requires finding a bargain, arranging for him to be better off doing what we want—worse off not doing what we want—when he takes the threatened penalty into account.' However irrational it might seem to the rest of the world, there is no feasible penalty that makes the desired Western outcome in Ukraine acceptable to Moscow." - Samuel Charap, 2014

In relative terms, Russia's interests in Ukraine vastly outweigh American and EU interests and Russia is subsequently willing to go to extreme lengths to pursue what it considers a critical component to its national security policy - establishing Russian regional dominance. No amount of Western punitive action short of war can realistically alter Russian objectives in Ukraine including the often discussed minimalist provisions of arms, intelligence support, etc. that the West could provide to the Ukrainian Government. Russia's support of the separatists and the annexation of Crimea must be put into the context that the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych was a major blow to Russian interests in Ukraine and the new pro-Western elected Government threatened long-term Russian influence. The annexation of Crimea and the continued support of Ukrainian Separatists are frantic attempts to secure long term Russian influence in reaction to the rapid deterioration of Russia's regional posture.  

Image 2: Russian Black Sea Fleet stationed at Sevastopol Crimea. Image Credit AP 

In order to facilitate continued Russian influence in Ukraine inspite of the currently hostile central Ukrainian Government, Moscow desires a federated Ukraine in which eastern provinces would be semi-autonomous and more sympathetic to Russian interests (Gates, 2014). Furthermore, the continued support of armed separatists based in Lugansk and Donetsk effectively prohibits Ukraine from NATO membership; NATO does not admit new member states with ongoing territorial disputes (Vandiver, 2014). The annexation of Crimea secures Russian access to the Mediterranean from Sevastopol and ensues Ukraine will be unable to achieve energy independence. When Russia annexed Crimea, it gained access to 36,000 square miles of territory in the Black Sea adjacent to Crimea which are rich in natural gas deposits.

"Now not only does Russia now control that, Ukraine does not. That was potentially the secret to greater energy independence for Ukraine somewhere down the road. That's now not going to be possible. So, it's kind of been a win-win for Putin in that respect, both security and economically. And so I think -- I think it'll be very tough for a Ukrainian government to move westward given the economic leverage that Russia has." - Robert Gates, 2014

Net Effect of Russian Actions  on Russia's Strategic Outlook

While Vladimir Putin has secured long term Russian influence over Ukraine, the Russian Federation's aggregate strategic position in Eurasia has largely been compromised as a result. Many post-Soviet states such as Moldova, Georgia, and Kazakhstan have openly voiced concern over Russian actions in Ukraine and have reinvigorated their efforts to increase diplomatic ties with the United States. While US options for realistically altering Russian involvement in Ukraine in the short term is limited, the US has been presented with significant long term opportunities to shore up diplomatic and military relationships with other post-Soviet States with the objective being to contest Russian regional hegemony.

"[many post-Soviet states] had taken risks, done things that were of politically unpopular to support the United States whether that was sending forces to Afghanistan and Iraq whether that was signing energy deals favoring US allies, and in response the US wasn't doing enough to protect them either diplomatically or militarily...The ability of Russia's effort to court these states will have a lot to do with how they perceive US interest and commitment to them. Many would like to see a deeper security relationship with the United States including: weapon sales, temporary rotations of forces, and training. Even countries that have very different relations amongst themselves like Azerbaijan and Armenia both seem to have an interest in a higher level of US military support for the other as long as it does not disrupt the balance...The issue for a lot of these countries is that they see they have entered a new world with Russia and they are very much looking to the United States and NATO but toward the United States in particular for some kind of leadership to reassure them that this new world is not going to fundamentally threaten their sovereignty and independence."  - Jeffrey Mankoff, 2014

Image 3: US F-16's prior to training mission at Lask Air Base, Poland. Image Credit: DOD 2014. 

Russian actions in Ukraine have not only reinvigorated the efforts of neighboring countries to pursue ties with the US but also it has severely weakened the Russian economy. While the $100 to $200 billion dollars in capital flight as a result of Western sanctions have certainly contributed toward Russia's downgraded future economic outlook, Russia's self imposed food ban against the US, EU, and Australia is likely to inflict even greater damage toward the Russian economy; Inflation is expected to rise to 7-8% if sanctions continue into 2015 (Filatova, 2014). Russia's planned $720 billion dollar military modernization program through 2020 has only been made possible as a result of continued economic growth over the last decade.

In summary, the crisis in Ukraine has actually constrained Russia's ability to assert regional hegemony rather than promoting it. Members of the United States Congress continue to lament at the relative inaction of the Obama Administration with respect to Ukraine but Putin has clearly established the entity that can inflict the greatest possible damage toward Russia's future strategic prospects is Russia itself. An appropriate response from the United States, detailed in Part III, must be cognizant of the self defeating nature of Russia's Ukraine policy and the desire of many post-Soviet states to pursue closer ties with the United States. 

Author's Note: Future articles will be published on a weekly basis unless otherwise noted (generally every Monday or Tuesday). 

Sources (In addition to Part I)

  1. Ukraine’s Army Slogs Through the Merciless Donbass - Blood, borscht and BTRs, Robert Beckhusen, 2014.                                                                                                                    
  2. Ukrainian military moves to endgame, Tim Ripley, 2014.                                                            
  3. The "Near-Abroad" Factor: Why Putin Stands Firm over Ukraine, Hilary Appel, 2014.
  4. Special Operations: All Glory To The 45th For Conquering Crimea, 2014.
  5. Analysis: Crimea intervention - The increasing sophistication of Russia's military resurgence, Tim Ripley, and Bruce Jones, 2014.                                                                                               
  6. Is NATO Back? That Depends on Germany, Emily Cadei, 2014.                                             
  7. Is NATO a Bulwark in Need of Reform or a Relic?, Hanna Kozlowska , 2014.                       
  8. How NATO Could Confront the Putin Doctrine, David Francis, 2014.
  9. The 'Putin Doctrine' And The Real Reason For Russian-American Conflict, Mark Adomanis, 2013.
  10. Russia Lies About Invading Ukraine as It Invades Ukraine, Anna Nemtsova, 2014.
  11. NATO: These new satellite images show Russian troops in and around Ukraine, Dan Lamothe, 2014.
  12. Why Obama's Coercion Strategy in Ukraine Will Fail, Samuel Charap, 2014.
  13. Arm Ukraine or Surrender, Ben Judah, 2014.                                                                            
  14. Putin's Goal for Ukraine, Nikolas K. Gvosdev, 2014.                                                                 
  15. Kissinger on Russia's global integration, 2014. 
  16. Food imports ban backfires on Russia's economy, Irina Filatova, 2014.                                      
  17. Putin’s new model army, The Economist, 2014.                                                                         
  18. Polish MiGs deploy as NATO steps up air defenses, Bartosz Glowacki, 2014.
  19. The Putin Doctrine Russia's Quest to Rebuild the Soviet State, Leon Aron, 2013.
  20. NATO rejects Russia’s ‘hollow denials’ of Ukraine intervention, John Vandiver, 2014.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hello, first sorry for my English, I'm using google translate. Seeking information about the J-20 and rcs Pakfa I found this blog and want to contribute to this: The formula for calculating the range of radar against RCS:

      (km known)x(RCS?/RCS known)^(1/4)

      Example:we know APG-77 is 240km vs 1m2, and want know 0.01m2: (240)x(0.01/1)^(0.25)= 75.894km

      Example 2: IRBIS E 90km vs 0.01, and want know 1m2: (90)x(1/0.01)^(0.25)= 284.604km

      Example 3:The F-15 & SU-27 have 10m2:
      APG-77: (240)x(10/1)^(0.25)= 426.787km

      I hope that helps, see you soon.

    2. Hi, no problem. Thanks for the equation, I looked it up on and it seems to be pretty useful.

      It depends which aspect of the aircraft you are referring to but generally speaking official figures are scarce. The most credible figure for the PAK FA is from Sukhoi patent documents as reported by IHS Janes:

      "Details of the Sukhoi Design Bureau's work on the stealthy aspects of the T-50 PAK FA fighter aircraft emerged in late December 2013, when the company's patents were published. According to the patent paperwork, taken together, all of the stealthy measures offer significant improvements over legacy fighter designs. The papers claim that the radar cross-section (RCS) of an Su-27 was in the order of 10-15 m 2 , with the intention being to reduce the size of the RCS in the T-50 to an 'average figure of 0.1-1 m 2 '."

      The PAK FA is significantly less stealthy than the F-22 and F-35 due to the engine inlets .0001m^2 & .0015m^2 vs .1m^2 respectively.

      As for the J-20, no equivalent official rcs figure exists, anyone who tells you otherwise is either mistaken or falsifying information; there are only estimates with respect to the J-20. Although the design uses extensive planform alignment and diverterless supersonic inlets, the use of canards significantly reduces its stealth potential as the flight surfaces move frequently throughout flight negating the planform alignment with the wing in a static setting (e.g. occasionally presenting a flat surface area of the canard toward an enemy radar in flight depending upon the maneuver). Thus, I would estimate a frontal rcs between 0.1m^2-.01m^2 as a conservative estimate. I hope that helps, I realize that's an entire order of magnitude range but without a radar testing range and a scale model, rough estimates are the best aviation enthusiasts can do.

      NOTE: The radar cross sections on the rear of both aircraft are significantly larger due to use of conventional engine nozzles.

    3. Yes, China will never disclose information because they need to maintain the myth of emerging superpower.
      The one I "worry" is the J-31. If they copy materials from USA could compete with the F-35 in RCS, although the radar will be much worse than the APG-81 and even worse against the Raptor ... But decades have failed to correctly copy the Russian engines.
      Thanks for the info, I also think J-20 is .01 in a very very very exaggerated case.

    4. "The papers claim that the radar cross-section (RCS) of an Su-27 was in the order of 10-15 m 2"

      During joint exercises Polish and USSR at the beginning of the nineties soviet Su-27 performed attacks on Polish missile systems KUB and KRUG.

      RCS Su-27 front is not as large with quite a small range. Radar station in a set KRUG and KUB has a close range(Fire control radar KUB has a range 130 km ).

  2. Hi Matt, another interesting read. :-)

    On another note, looks like this is a done deal.

    Looks like done deal. Is this the Best Option for Australia?

    1. Hi Stone!

      The Soryu is certainly the best option failing the nuclear powered Virginia class (which is not an option in the first place because of the Greens). The only diesel electric submarine even close is the German Type 212 but bolstering Defense ties with Japan is much more useful to Australia than with Germany.

      From the US perspective, I willing to bet officials in Washington would be delighted to see the deal go though. The Obama Administration rightly encourages US alliance members to have a robust and practical defense capacity. A fleet of 12 Soryu's would make Australia a significant Maritime power in the region. Furthermore, one of the greatest concerns in the Pivot is that the US has no multilateral alliances, US Pacific allies are only bound by the US and in many cases have varying degrees of hostility toward one another. The growth of Australia-Japan defense ties is very promising especially since it costs the US nothing in terms of lost arms exports. China no doubt is going to be very angry with Australia on the purchase of those submarines and Australia has been very careful in its balancing act at least in terms of overt diplomatic gestures thus far toward China so it will be interesting to see what happens.

      I'm also concerned with ASC and a couple of the articles I've read say they are pushing really hard for a domestic production so I hope the MPs don't give in. The Hobart to an extent but certainly the Collins show their incompetence. One thing I was curious though was why the Australians want a downscaled version of the Soryu, do you know why? (at least according to Reuters)

      I also have been reading articles from ASPI to get a better sense of the Australian perspective (they are on the my blog reading list side bar). Let me know what you think :)

    2. Hi Matt.

      "One thing I was curious though was why the Australians want a downscaled version of the Soryu, do you know why? (at least according to Reuters)"

      New to me, everything I have read, is that they are the same one the Japanese are using, with all USA tech in it, as requested by Australia.

      They might be talking about the new version, which can stay 14 days longer under and new AIP with Battery pack, but that from what I know is still in the R&D phase.

      I am Shocked as to how little the Greens are attacking this deal, Have not heard a word. May because they know that the other option is the Virgina Class Sub. If I was PM, I would go with 10 Virgina class, let them protests in the Streets singing Kumbaya. Send them a new Cruse Missile. Might get lock up for it thought.

      As for china, well they are not going to like the deal on so many different levels. What can I say, they are probably happy we are not buying Virgina Class Sub's. ( I am a Half glass Full type of guy) Lot's of Articles down here on it.

      So this is how things work in Australia, leak the deal, let the Labor Party, Unions, Greens Scream then about 4 months later sign the deal. About 98% sure the deal will happen.

      But the pressure is on the Lib's, Unions are going crazy they want to protect there 3000 jobs that will cost us $16 billion dollars.

      The Right news papers are saying we will buy the Sub's for $20 billion and Save $20-25 billion and have 10 sub's that will work and be operational.

      The Left news papers say it will cost up $20 billion dollars and shiped 3000 job's over seas and broken promises.

      The Greens don't want sub's at all, but they don't want F35 at all as well. So the are consistent.

      This is Just round one, and it started yesterday. Next 4 months there will so much politics.

      At least we are going the right direction. I hope XXX

  3. I can't wait to see your next article as well!

  4. The problem of the war in Ukraine lies in the fact that the region east of the Dnieper is the most valuable.

    Russia runs the embargo, as the acquisition of Western Ukraine is an investment future.
    It's like a Second War in Iraq. It is known that it is a fuel.

    The acquisition of this land by Russia will compensate for losses due to the embargo after a few the years.
    Unfortunately, President Obama is not President Ronald Reagan. Wrong man in such difficult times.

    The most amusing us in Poland "great" help our ally - the stationing of 12 obsolete F-16s in Poland.
    Looking at our 10 year help given to the Americans in Iraq, Afganistan, it's like President Obama spit in our face.

    In this case, President Putin will take much of Ukraine if it will be needed.

    1. The United States has a diverse spectrum of national interests across all the regions of the world. The US has prioritized the Middle East and Asia for passive deterrence as opposed to Europe. In a war, I have no doubt the US would shift enormous resources toward aiding Eastern European allies but short of war, I wouldn't expect much more than the current resources devoted to Europe. The US Military is still much more capable than another in terms of conventional power projection, but it is important to realize US limitations. When US power is concentrated in a region or a few regions, it can have a tremendous impact but the US cannot be everywhere at once and all powerful in all regions of the World. Thus, US strategic planners have focused forward deploying US forces in Asia and the ME as the two most important regions for passive deterrence (Iran and China). However, forces would shift should an active event take place in another region e.g. a war in Europe.
      If US military deployments were based solely on merit, than Poland would certainly have the option for permanent US troops stationed there, but clearly deployments are not merit based. The US is tired of establishing permanent bases, Allied Governments often want such bases only to have the local populace to get angry with nationalist protests and try and kick us out after a few years hence the rotational strategy now in use e.g. ongoing protests in Okinawa, the Philippines evicting the US in the early 1990s, demonstrations in Western Europe (particularly sites with nuclear weapons), etc. NATO is also a poor investment from the US perspective in that 70% of all NATO spending is done by the US (I’m aware of the disparity between Western and Eastern European states) vs. the 50% historical average. A stronger NATO is dependent upon states like Germany paying their fair share and spending it on capabilities rather than personnel costs e.g. pensions (which is what many of the European countries spend it on, rather than procurement and operations funds). If a military spends nearly 50% or more of its funds on personnel costs, it’s likely a paper tiger which is many of EU militaries.
      Poland and Eastern European allies deserve of more US resources, but I doubt many in the policy making community will dedicate those resources. Given the current political gridlock, the $1 billion dollar security package was actually remarkable.

    2. This is not about money.
      At the time of the threat ally, the Soviet Union sent a minimum of one regiment of aircraft.
      This meant that sent 36 combat aircraft MiG-23MF or MiG-21. In addition, the regiment was 6 school and combat the MiG-23 UB or MiG-21UM. Total 42 aircraft

      Do you understand now why Americans ridicule by sending 12 F-16?

    3. Well those were different times, more than 300,000 American troops were forward deployed to Europe and nearly half a dozen super carriers and hundreds of ships were ready to depart from the East Coast of the US and respond to a crisis in Europe.

      If there was a risk of war, not saber rattling, the US would have sent a more forceful response. For example, when Iran seriously threatened to cut off the strait of hourmuz, which would have had a huge impact on US Gulf allies, the US sent 3 carrier groups.

      Or when North Korea recently acted up, the US sent B-2s and F-22s into the region.

      The US will deploy proportionately relative to the immediate threat. Russia consistently tries to elicit reactions e.g. flying unarmed bombers on the outskirts of American and Canadian air space or submarines in the Gulf of Mexico. They are not serious threats.

    4. I understand.

      Unfortunately, the problem lies in the fact that it shows indecision America.

      During the Cold War we steel two different pages.
      Therefore, we know Russia better than the Americans.

      Russia is a unique country. If you are not strong you have no respect there. It's always worked for Russia.
      Quoted and strong response marked the border, by which the Russians will never pass.

      Characteristic of America today, is a soft approach to Russia
      Such an approach means that after what time, loss for the ally of America are very large.