Are China and Russia challenging US military dominance?

China is strengthening its military might, while Russia is asserting its foreign policy influence. IISS expert Bastian Giegerich talks to DW about changing US global dominance and the threat of a “great-power war.”

China J-20 fighter jet (Reuters/China Daily)

DW: You note in the IISS 2018 Military Balance report that China has been investing heavily in its air force. Is Beijing now on par with Washington in terms of air dominance?

Bastian Giegerich: China is not yet on par with the United States but it’s catching up. And in some selected areas, our assessment is indeed that China is doing more than just catching up. There are a couple of examples to illustrate that: For instance, we assess that China will add an extended-range air-to-air missile to its inventory this year, and we expect its stealth fighter jet, the J-20, to enter front-line service by 2020. And those are indeed advanced capabilities that challenge air superiority for the United States: At the very least, they will have the effect that the air domain will become a very contested domain again. Operational assumptions over the past two decades for the US, and I would say Western militaries in general, have been that the West and the US own the air domain and can operate in it with great freedom. I think those days now are over.

Your report also notes that China is investing heavily in its navy. What’s the goal in that? 

In the last four years, China has built vessels with a total tonnage that is greater than the total tonnage of the French Navy and is roughly equivalent to the total tonnage of the British Royal Navy. So, clearly the goal for China here is to further develop its blue-water capabilities. In other words, the ability to project force at extended range across the seas.

And the other element which is important to this is that China has opened its first overseas base in Djibouti, which will enable more naval deployments because it will be a base that will help to sustain deployed vessels over time and thereby further contribute to China’s ability to expand power across the oceans.

In Russia, the story seems to be very different. Is Moscow having difficulties when it comes to modernizing its military forces?

Russia has felt that economic difficulties … pose limits to its ability to fund its ambitious defense modernization program. So, in our assessment, that defense modernization program has slowed down a little bit.

The important difference is, however, not just in terms of the ability to spend but the ability to operate and practice. Unlike China, Russia has used, and continues to use, its armed forces in conflicts — in Syria and also with a view to eastern Ukraine. So Russia has gathered a lot of experience using new equipment, using new technologies, putting its personnel through different rotations on operations. It has an advantage there. And China has not yet done that.

Bastian Giegerich International Institute for Strategic Studies (James Clements)Giegerich and his team compiled the 2018 Military Balance report

Under President Donald Trump the US has been urging its European allies to invest more in the military. And this year’s report notes a dramatic increase in European military spending 2017. Do you think this is due to the pressure from Washington?

I think more than anything else it is driven by a recognition in Europe that the world is a dangerous place, that threat perceptions have changed. I would say that is mostly driven by Russia’s more assertive foreign policy behavior, and of course the conflict in Ukraine. American pressure has certainly played a role as well, but it would be wrong to say the spending increases in Europe are a Trump effect — they actually started before Trump took office.

The gloomiest part of your analysis might be the possibility of a great-power conflict. China, Russia and the US are modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Are we returning to the beginning of the 1980s?

I don’t think that’s quite accurate. But I think what we are seeing is a situation where the possibility of a great-power conflict is now probably higher than it was at any point in the past 20 years. That does not mean that a great-power conflict or a great-power military conflict is inevitable … but it is more likely. And part of it is a result of Russia and China challenging the global predominance of the United States and systematically preparing for the possibility of conflict. Nuclear weapons of course are the ultimate deterrence, so to speak. And we’ve looked at the nuclear modernization programs of the three big powers — China, Russia and the US — and all of them are in the process of modernizing their nuclear forces.

Bastian Giegerich is the director of defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). He leads the team that publishes the annual Military Balance report.

COURTESY: DW

Moscow invites BRICS partners to invest in rebuilding post-war Syria

Moscow invites BRICS partners to invest in rebuilding post-war Syria
Russia has invited its partners among the BRICS nations (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) to establish a foothold in the promising Syrian market, according to the Russian Ambassador to the country, Alexander Kinshchak.

“According to Syrian estimates, losses in the real sector of the economy topped $75 billion,” the ambassador told TASS news agency. “UN experts believe that it will take nearly $200 billion to achieve the pre-crisis GDP growth rate,” he added.

“We are aware that the Syrian government will find it difficult to obtain a huge amount of money required for the post-crisis recovery,” Kinshchak explained.

“Therefore, Russia suggested that the international community, first of all, the nations friendly to Syria, should join efforts in order to work out a complex program for its revival,” he added.

Kinshchak said Russia was looking to BRICS and allies like Iran and other states that have independent foreign policies and are motivated to gain a foothold in the promising Syrian market.

In 2016, Damascus and Moscow signed nearly a billion dollars’ worth of agreements to rebuild war-torn Syria. Russia was offered a chance to participate in exploring and developing oil and gas on land and offshore. In particular, it was invited to upgrade the Baniyas refinery and construct a refinery with Iran and Venezuela.

Syria has begun agricultural exports to Russia. The countries also intend to open a bank to facilitate transfers. The bank would be controlled 50-50 by the countries’ central banks.

Courtesy: RT

Bashar al-Assad – the useful tyrant?

President Bashar al-Assad remains at the center of the Syrian conflict. Fighting between troops, rebels and IS has claimed countless lives and the situation is still volatile. How has Assad stayed in power for so long in times of such instability?

Watch video42:31

According to UN estimates, the balance sheet after seven years of war in Syria is devastating: 500,000 dead or missing, 12 million people uprooted, besieged cities, air raids on the civilian population and endless suffering. Bashar al-Assad remains at the center of the conflict. He has been President of Syria since 2000. He succeeded his father Hafiz al-Assad, who ruled the country from 1971 to 2000. The son started as a reformer, initially courted by heads of state in the West. After all, he was considered a guarantor of stability and a partner in the fight against Islamic terrorism. But the “Damascus Spring” ended abruptly after the people’s demands for more freedom outstripped the Syrian leadership’s will to reform. Assad violently repressed the protests that began in Syria in the course of the Arab Spring in 2011. In the subsequent civil war, he stands accused of using chemical weapons against opposition fighters and civilians. Bashar al-Assad maintained his grip on power through a mixture of brute force, skillful tactics and above all through international aid, especially from his allies Russia and Iran. At the beginning of 2017, Syrian troops controlled 19 percent of the country: Now it’s more than half, including the four largest cities, access to the Mediterranean, ten out of 14 provincial capitals and 85 percent of the population. IS has largely been defeated and the area held by the last remaining rebels is shrinking steadily. So who is Bashar al-Assad? How could his clan hold on to power for so long? The film examines how the Assads have repeatedly managed to politically survive through changing international alliances. How does the dictator exploit the geostrategic interests of global players? We talk to close companions and opponents as well as other people who have met him.

Courtesy: DW

Russia looks to dump US dollar in settlements with Iran

Russia looks to dump US dollar in settlements with Iran
Moscow and Tehran are continuing talks on using national currencies in trade, according to Russia’s Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan.

He told TASS that “central banks” working groups have met several times.

“As far as we can understand, negotiations are underway,”Dzhagaryan said.

“We hope that in 2018 we shall achieve progress and will be able to use widely the favorable conditions we may have if we manage to approach final decisions,” he added.

Last year, during the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Moscow, the two sides agreed to continue cooperation aimed at stabilizing the global energy market and ensuring sustainable economic development. They said they will be working on favorable conditions for using national currencies in settlements. Moscow and Tehran have also discussed developing inter-bank cooperation between the two countries and ensuring an increase in trade and investments.

Putin and Rouhani also focused on the potential creation of a free-trade zone between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union, which consists of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Rouhani told journalists that such a trade zone could significantly improve the trade situation and “create new conditions” in regional trade.

In November, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said that the best way to beat US sanctions against Iran and Russia is joint efforts to dump the American currency in bilateral trade.

He told President Putin that by using methods such as eliminating the US dollar and replacing it with national currencies in transactions between two or more parties, the sides could “isolate the Americans.”

Courtesy: RT

71 dead after Russian passenger plane crashes near Moscow, officials say

 

LONDON — A Russian passenger plane crashed shortly after leaving a Moscow airport Sunday, killing all 71 people on board, Russia’s Transport Ministry said.

There were 65 passengers and six crew members aboard the short-haul flight.

“Judging by everything, no one has survived this crash,” Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said Sunday afternoon.

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry told Reuters earlier Sunday that two bodies had been found at the site of the plane crash. NBC News was unable to immediately verify the report. Investigators told Reuters that debris and human remains were spread over a radius of more than half a mile from the crash site.

The Saratov Airlines flight was heading from Moscow to the city of Orsk near the Kazakhstan border before plummeting to the ground outside the capital.

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 71 dead after Russian passenger jet crashes near Moscow 2:14

Russian officials said all passengers aboard the airliner are believed to have been residents of the Orenburg region, where the plane was headed, according to Russian news agency Interfax.

The Russian Ministry for Civil Defense said the plane crashed in the Ramenskoye area, which is around 25 miles southeast of Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. Russian emergency services were on the scene, with over 150 people deployed to deal with the incident, the ministry said.

Footage and stills from news agencies showed fragments strewn across a snowy field with no buildings nearby.

The Saratov Airlines flight #6W703 crashed around five minutes after take off and was falling with up to 22,000 feet per minute, according to Flightradar24, which tracks airplane traffic across the globe.

The tracking service said the flight involved a seven-year-old Antonov An-148 aircraft.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said all possible causes for the crash were being looked into.

Russian President Vladimir Putin put off a planned trip to Sochi in order to closely monitor the investigation. Putin was to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Monday in the Black Sea resort, where the president has an official residence.

Instead, Abbas will meet with Putin in Moscow later on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

Image: Crash site
Emergency services at the site where a Russian passenger plane crashed outside Moscow, February 11, 2018. MAXIM SHEMETOV / Reuters

TASS reported that the passenger plane had been flying since 2010, but was put into storage during 2015-2017 because of a lack of parts. According to the news agency, the plane re-entered service for Saratov Airlines in February 2017. The plane was ordered by Rossiya Airlines, a subsidiary of Aeroflot.

Shabby equipment and poor supervision had plagued Russian civil aviation for years after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, but its safety record has improved markedly in recent years.

The last large-scale crash in Russia occurred on Dec. 25, 2016, when a Tu-154 operated by the Russian Defense Ministry on its way to Syria crashed into the Black Sea minutes after takeoff from the southern Russian city of Sochi. All 92 people on board were killed.

In March 2016, a Boeing 737-800 flown by FlyDubai crashed while landing at Rostov-on-Don, killing all 62 people aboard.

An onboard bomb destroyed a Russian Metrojet airliner soon after taking off from Egypt’s Sharm al-Sheikh resort, killing 244 people in October 2015.

Image: Crash site
The crash site of Russian passenger plane outside Moscow, February 11, 2018. STRINGER / Reuters
Courtesy:NBC NEWS

Alexei Navalny: ‘There is no pro-Putin majority’ in Russia

Opposition politician Alexei Navalny has been barred from running for president in Russia. In an interview with DW’s Zhanna Nemtsova, he explains why he is calling for a boycott of the country’s upcoming election.

Alexei Navalny (DW)

DW: On January 28, you were arrested at an unauthorized demonstration in Moscow. Are you going to spend the election day on March 18 as a free man or behind bars?

Alexei Navalny: The indications seem to be that I will be spending the election day, and I am referring to “election” in quotation marks, in a special prison. That’s the plan, I suppose. On January 28, I was arrested and then immediately released. But I still haven’t been given my papers back. Apparently, I’ve still got 30 days in jail ahead of me. It is probably planned that they will start on February 17, and then I will be released on March 18, 19 or 20.

Read more: Alexei Navalny — the opposition leader captivating Russia’s youth

What sort of consequences should the participants who took part in the demonstrations across the country on January 28 expect?

The current leaders have the ability to proceed against the protest movement in two ways: First, they can prohibit all such actions and second, they can try to impose demonstrative punishments. At least 40 people were arrested. Some of them have already been released, and some are still in custody.

The most important thing, it seems to me, is that people are no longer letting themselves be intimidated. It has become clear to people that if they keep being afraid then the only remaining way to express political beliefs, to march on the streets, will also be barred.

Anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow (Reuters/M. Shemetov)Demonstrators across Russia took to the streets on January 28 to protest against Putin and the presidential election

On January 29, the US Treasury Department presented a report to Congress on Russian oligarchs and top officials, listed according to their assets and proximity to the Kremlin. What do you make of this so-called Kremlin Report?

The list should actually be much longer. These are the people who are the corrupt core in Russia, who are the main beneficiaries of corruption. I would like to see them all subject to individual sanctions. It would also be desirable if they could not live abroad, for example, and travel over to Germany and then come back and tell us how terrible European depravity is, referred to as “Gayropa,” and that we should choose another path here.

What do you hope to achieve by calling for a boycott of this election in Russia? Do you believe that elections can bring about any change in President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime?

Of course I think they can. That’s why I wanted to stand for election. I traveled all over the country. I made speeches. I even made appearances in areas that are considered to be absolutely “pro-Putin,” such as the Kemerovo Oblast. I also spoke in Novokuznetsk. I know full well that it is possible to win an election against Putin. Frankly, he knows that himself. That’s why he wouldn’t let me stand for election.

Read more: Navalny supporters demand ‘Russia without Putin’

It is always said that Russia does not need a revolution or a Euromaidan, which is the name given to the wave of demonstrations and civil unrest that began in 2014 in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. At the same time, it is said that only you can manage to get people out onto the streets. How do you define the limits of what is considered a peaceful protest?

First of all, I’m not the only one who can get people out onto the streets. There are many wonderful people who are undertaking actions in different regions. Secondly, it is not I who brings people onto the streets, but the notion of injustice. Putin himself brings people on the street through his corruption, his incompetent administration of the country.

I certainly believe the people have the right to protest against a tyrannical regime. But what’s happening in Russia at the moment are only absolutely peaceful actions. You can see that the mood of the demonstrators is much more peaceful than that of the authorities, who manage to turn every demonstration into a military operation.

DW's Zhanna Nemtsova interviewing Alexei Navalny (DW)DW’s Zhanna Nemtsova spoke with Alexei Navalny

Is it realistic to expect that the pro-Putin majority will become a majority in society that wants to see change?

There is no pro-Putin majority. There are people for whom the illusion has been created that there is no one else except Putin. We’ve done dozens of surveys in focus groups all over the country. The most important thing they say when they are asked why they vote for Putin: “There is no one else. We don’t like Putin, but there’s no one else.” And that is precisely what the Putin regime is based on. There is no majority.

We can achieve a majority of our own, precisely because we work in real terms and have a real agenda. We are talking about poverty, injustice, the unfair distribution of wealth and the rising costs of healthcare and education. In fact, we form a majority, which already comprises around 30 percent of the inhabitants of the largest cities. If we keep working on it, there will be many more. That is our task. It’s possible to achieve.

A fourth term in office for Putin is inevitable. Many believe that after the elections there will be harsher crackdowns, including against you and your supporters. Are you prepared for this?

Putin has not just been in power for a couple of years, but since 1999. We have seen a general intensification of repression after each re-election. He can’t hold onto power otherwise. That is why the repressions will certainly increase. But we’re ready, we’re not afraid. We’re not giving up.

Blogger and lawyer Alexei Navalny, 41, is regarded as the most influential opposition politician in Russia. He has been barred from running as a presidential candidate, based on previous convictions for financial crimes. The European Court of Human Rights has described Navalny’s suspended sentence as “arbitrary.”

The interview was conducted by Zhanna Nemtsova

COURTESY: DW

Russia deploys nuclear capable missile system in Kaliningrad: reports

The Kremlin has stressed it has the sovereign right to deploy missiles on its own territory after reports Russia deployed the Iskander nuclear capable missile system in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.

Loading a quasi ballistic missile into an Iskander-M missile launcher during a military exercise held by missile and artillery units of the Russian Eastern Military District's 5th army at a firing range in Ussuriysk.

Russia said on Tuesday that it had the right to put weapons anywhere it chose on its own territory after reports that Moscow had deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad drew criticism from its neighbors and NATO,

Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, and the missiles would be able to reach large parts of territory in NATO-members Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The president of Lithuania, which neighbors Kaliningrad, and a senior Russian lawmaker, both said the missile systems had been deployed to the region. Russia has not confirmed the deployment.

Read more: Russia mulls boosting missile capabilities on NATO border

While on a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked about reports of the deployment. “The deployment of one weapon or another, the deployment of military units and so forth on Russian territory, is exclusively a sovereign issue for the Russian Federation,” said Peskov.

“Russia has never threatened anyone and is not threatening anyone. Naturally, Russia has this sovereign right (to deploy weapons on its own territory). It should hardly be cause for anyone to worry.”

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry on deployment of Iskander missile system in Russia’s Kaliningrad region: Russia has never threatened anyone, and I would like to remind that Russia naturally has the sovereign right to deploy hardware and military units on the Russian territory

Read more: Escalation threat high as US-Russia INF anti-missile treaty falters

Watch video02:27

A view of Germany from Kaliningrad

NATO concern over missiles

In Latvia, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said the deployment adds fresh impetus to discussions already underway inside NATO about improving the alliance’s capabilities.

“It means that what we have been talking about — the necessity to discuss strengthening air-defense elements during the NATO summit in July; strengthening the chain of command, to talk about many questions that affect defense of our region and Latvia specifically — it all has been confirmed by the practical actions of Russia,” said Rinkevics.

Reports of the Kaliningrad deployment so close to NATO territory are perceived by some alliance members as a threat at a time when tensions between Russia and its Western neighbors are running high over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“This again makes the situation even more serious because Iskanders in Kaliningrad means dangers for half of European capitals,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite on Monday.

Read more: Russia slams new US nuclear weapons proposal

The Kremlin has often said it would station Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad to counter the US missile shield being developed in eastern Europe. Washington says the purpose of that shield is designed to counter possible missile attacks by Iran. However, Moscow says it is directed against Russia.

A NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “Any deployment close to our borders of missiles that can carry nuclear warheads does not help to lower tensions. In the spirit of transparency, we look forward to hearing more from Russia on this.”

av/aw (Reuters, Interfax, ap)

Watch video04:33

Lithuania’s fence on Kaliningrad border

COURTESY: DW

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